Homeland Offense

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Americans have
become so inured to the sight of federal troops fighting fires,
rescuing flood victims from rooftops, and engaging in drug interdiction
on the border that few eyebrows were raised when news broke that
20,000 active-duty infantry would soon be deployed on American soil
for so-called homeland defense.

But critics
say this development – announced by U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM)
in October – is unprecedented and further evidence of a military
mission-creep into domestic affairs, particularly in areas for which
the National Guard and Reserves are already suited.

“I don’t
get it. I don’t understand why they are further encumbering
active-duty brigades with this kind of mission,” says Winslow
Wheeler, author of America’s Defense Meltdown: Pentagon Reform
for President Obama and the New Congress and one of Washington’s
few civilian experts on the Pentagon’s Byzantine budget. “It
sounds like someone is expanding his empire.”

Pentagon officials
say that having a permanent, ready-reaction force capable of responding
to a catastrophic event – natural or manmade – is a sensible
and necessary outgrowth of post-9/11 national security. But the
move has constitutional experts, civil libertarians, and retired
and active military scratching their heads. Politicians are now
demanding answers, wondering how close the military is to violating
the Posse Comitatus Act, the 1878 federal law passed after Reconstruction
to prevent federal troops from conducting domestic law enforcement.
A separate Department of Defense directive prohibits the Navy and
Marines from engaging in such activities.

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February
27, 2009

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