Though often discussed in relation to nuclear war or a similarly chaotic scenario, “Continuity of Government” plans can be triggered even by popular, nonviolent opposition to an unpopular war abroad. It exists solely to keep the current system in place, regardless of the cost.
Last week, Newsweek published a report entitled “Inside The Military’s Top Secret Plans If Coronavirus Cripples the Government,” which offers vague descriptions of different military plans that could be put into effect if the civilian government were to be largely incapacitated, with a focus on the potential of the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to result in such a scenario.
The article’s author, William Arkin, largely frames these plans as new, though — buried deep within the article — he eventually mentions that such contingency plans can be traced back to the Eisenhower administration (though they were in place before) and have since been developed and updated by most subsequent administrations, largely through the issuance of executive orders. Arkin also points out that some of these “Continuity of Government”, or COG, plans include the “devolution” of leadership and Constitutional authority, which he notes “could circumvent the normal Constitutional provisions for government succession, and military commanders could be placed in control around America.”
Yet, there are key aspects of COG and its development that Arkin leaves out. For instance, in his timeline on how such plans have developed in the post-World War II era, he conveniently fails to mention any of the Reagan administration’s major changes to COG, including the Reagan-era Executive Order on which all current COG programs are based. Indeed, many of the “extra-Constitutional” aspects of COG that Arkin mentions began during the Reagan administration, when these plans were redrafted to largely exclude members of Congress, including the Speaker of the House, from succession plans and even moved to essentially eliminate Congress in the event of COG being implemented, with near total power instead being given to the executive branch and the military. It was also during this time that the “devolution” aspect of COG was hammered out, as it created three president-cabinet “teams” to be stationed in different parts of the country outside of the nation’s capital. Arkin’s decision to not mention how COG was a major focus of the Reagan administration is striking given that that administration poured hundreds of millions of dollars annually into COG planning and development and also conducted COG drills on a regular basis.
Furthermore, the Miami Herald revealed in 1987, that the COG programs of that era were deeply connected to what the Herald termed “a virtual parallel government outside the traditional cabinet departments and agencies” that began operating “almost from the day Reagan took office” and included military and intelligence operatives as well as many of Reagan’s closest advisers, including then-CIA Director William Casey. The Herald further claimed that this “parallel government” had been responsible for the Iran-Contra scandal (i.e. “involved in arming the Nicaraguan rebels”) as well as “the drafting of martial law plans for national emergencies,” i.e. COG, as well as “the monitoring of U.S. citizens considered potential security risks.” This “parallel government” planned to use COG to install itself as the ruling power of the country and to detain potential opponents of a U.S. war with Nicaragua in the event that the Reagan administration moved to invade the country.
Other key players in those Reagan-era COG developments, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Director James Woosley and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, are also left unmentioned in Arkin’s article. Not mentioning Cheney and Rumsfeld are particularly glaring omissions given that they were involved in the implementation of aspects of those COG plans that went live in the wake of the September 11 attacks, when both men were serving in key posts in the George W. Bush administration.
While Arkin’s omission of the role of the Reagan administration and leading neoconservatives in the development and use of COG is significant, arguably more significant is his failure to mention one of COG’s major components, one that has gone essentially unmentioned by well-known media outlets for well over a decade – Main Core.
The government’s database of “potential troublemakers”
When Reagan issued Executive Order 12656, he created COG plans that could be implemented during “any national security emergency,” which the E.O. loosely defines as “any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological emergency, or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States.” E.O. 12656 also put the National Security Council (NSC) in charge of developing and administering COG policies. The NSC official placed in charge of this “secret” COG program was Oliver North, whose name would later become infamous for the key role he played in the Iran-Contra Scandal. During the Iran-Contra hearings in the late 1980s, then-Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) attempted to ask the following question to North: “Colonel North, in your work at the NSC, were you not assigned at one time to work on plans for the continuity of government in the event of a major disaster?” Brooks, however was immediately cut off by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who stated ” I believe that question touches upon a highly sensitive and classified area, so may I request that you not touch upon that, sir.” Brooks protested, but North was ultimately not required to give an answer.