By Matthew Rothschild on April 30, 2009

The swine flu outbreak raises a lot of fears.

Here’s one you might not have thought of yet: The Pentagon may be taking over more and more of our civil society in this crisis.

Back in 2002, President Bush created NorthCom, the Pentagon’s Northern Command, which has jurisdiction over the United States.

And NorthCom has been running preparedness drills in the event of a flu pandemic for at least the past three years.

Making things more alarming, NorthCom got assigned its own fighting unit six months ago—the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, which had spent much of the last five years battling things out in Iraq.

The assignment of that fighting unit alarmed the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “This is a radical departure from separation of civilian law enforcement and military authority and could, quite possibly, represent a violation of law,” said Mike German, ACLU national security policy counsel.

Testifying in March, General Victor Renuart, head of NorthCom, said it would provide “assistance in support of civil authorities” during an epidemic. And, he added, “when requested and approved by the Secretary of Defense or directed by the President, federal military forces will contribute to federal support.” But he boasted: “USNorthCom does not wait for that call to action.”

He noted that NorthCom has prepared for a flu outbreak from Mexico. “Because Mexico is our neighbor and disasters do not respect national boundaries, we are focused on developing and improving procedures to respond to potentially catastrophic events such as pandemic influenza outbreak, mass exposure to dangerous chemicals and materials, and natural disasters,” he testified.

NorthCom also has a “private sector cell,” Renuart said in a talk to the Heritage Foundation on August 20, 2008. “We have great participation from industry and from other organizations around the country.”

One private sector group that has worked with the FBI and Homeland Security on pandemics is InfraGard. This is group of more than 30,000 businesspeople who have special access to confidential FBI information and may be assigned special—and lethal—duties in times of an emergency (See “The FBI Deputizes Business”).

An InfraGard chapter held a meeting at NYU Medical Center on February 21, 2007 on “Pandemic Preparedness Planning: the Case for Public-Private Collaboration”.

InfraGard also participated in a conference entitled “Surviving the Pandemic,” held in Madison, Wisconsin, October 12, 2006. That conference was co-sponsored by the Southeast Wisconsin Homeland Security Partnership, two centers at the University of Wisconsin, the Madison Area Technical College, Alliant Energy, and American Family Insurance.

InfraGard wants to be a player in pandemic response. “Utilization of their expertise will help local communities prepare for a possible pandemic event to ensure minimal disruption and quick recovery,” one InfraGard press release stated.

Whether and how InfraGard and NorthCom might be working together in this swine flu outbreak is unclear.

Similarly, it is unclear what actions NorthCom might take if an all-out pandemic ensues.

One last concern: George W. Bush bestowed upon the Presidency enormous powers, essentially to be in charge of every branch of government, as well as state and local and tribal governments and the private sector, in the event of a “catastrophic emergency.” (See National Security Presidential Directive 51)

We’re in a public health emergency now. It’s not “catastrophic” yet. But it appears to be up to the President—and the President only—to make that determination, according to the directive.

Congress needs to hold hearings on NorthCom, InfraGard, and National Security Presidential Directive 51.

We must insist on our rights, even in emergencies.

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

Subscribe to The Progressive and Get A Free 2015 Calendar

By Victor Menotti

At a time when most Americans agree that the country has too...

By David Bacon

"The products coming in from the U.S. had government support and subsidies. Mexicans couldn’t...

From a puny real-estate deal to campaign finance scandals, Walker's stench is in the air.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter