Posse Comitatus? Its a Stupid Law Anyways

The Posse Comitatus Law of 1878 is about to get shoved into the dustbin of history.

The U.S. military expects to have 20,000 uniformed troops inside the United States by 2011 trained to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear terrorist attack or other domestic catastrophe, according to Pentagon officials.

The long-planned shift in the Defense Department’s role in homeland security was recently backed with funding and troop commitments after years of prodding by Congress and outside experts, defense analysts said.

There are critics of the change, in the military and among civil liberties groups and libertarians who express concern that the new homeland emphasis threatens to strain the military and possibly undermine the Posse Comitatus Act, a 130-year-old federal law restricting the military’s role in domestic law enforcement.

But the Bush administration and some in Congress have pushed for a heightened homeland military role since the middle of this decade, saying the greatest domestic threat is terrorists exploiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, dedicating 20,000 troops to domestic response — a nearly sevenfold increase in five years — “would have been extraordinary to the point of unbelievable,” Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said in remarks last month at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But the realization that civilian authorities may be overwhelmed in a catastrophe prompted “a fundamental change in military culture,” he said.

Ahh a classic example of Higgsian growth of government.

In Crisis and Leviathan, Robert Higgs shows that the main reason lies in government’s responses to national “crises” (real or imagined), including economic upheavals (e.g., the Great Depression) and especially war (e.g., World Wars I and II, Cold War, etc.). The result is ever increasing government power which endures long after each crisis has passed, impinging on both civil and economic liberties and fostering extensive corporate welfare and pork. As government power grows, writes Higgs, it achieves a form of autonomy, making it ever more difficult to decrease its size and scope, and to resist its further efforts to increase its reach, so long as the citizenry remain uninformed of its true effects.

In resposne to the war on terror we have a new federal department that has a cabinent level appointee, considerably more spending, and now watring down if not the outright removal of a 130 year old law limiting the use of U.S. military on U.S. soil. How long before mission creep has the military aiding in drug enforcement, crowd control and other such endeavors without the need for declaring a state of emergency?

FILED UNDER: Government, Military Affairs, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    This is a bad idea. Let’s start getting National Guard units home and get them the tools they need to do the job.

  2. just me says:

    I am not thrilled with this idea either.

    But then I wasn’t a fan of the new cabinet level post either. While I certainly supported the concept of having various agencies share information with regards to security, I never thought it could best or only be achieved through having another layer of bureaucracy.

    I see a huge potential for mission creep here, and once the ball starts rolling down the hill I am not so sure it will be possible to stop it.

  3. tom p says:

    In resposne to the war on terror we have a new federal department that has a cabinent level appointee, considerably more spending, and now watring down if not the outright removal of a 130 year old law limiting the use of U.S. military on U.S. soil. How long before mission creep…

    Ah yes, the “war on terror”… so much like another so-called “war”, the “war on drugs”…

    In the immortal words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

  4. How long before mission creep has the military aiding in drug enforcement, crowd control and other such endeavors without the need for declaring a state of emergency?

    Fifty-one days.

  5. Bob says:

    Getting National Guard units home will have exactly ZERO impact on this. This is about the realization that a single event will probably overwhelm local resources. And that the only agency which works is the DOD. And, in the DOD, resourcing is going to flow towards this because frankly Congress says so. If you think this is so bad where were you when Clinton was using Active Army units to fight forest fires? This has been going on for a long time.

  6. odograph says:

    I also like the current system, with National Guards.

    If they are overwhelmed, the President can break the law. It’s been done before. That escape clause, through illegality, is better to me than establishing central command of military forces with the President as the status quo.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    Bob, Bob, Bob…so much anger.

    Yes, this kind of thing has been going on for a long time. With the militarization of the police, and now using the military as a police force. It is a bad thing.

  8. tom p says:

    Fifty-one days.

    Just out of curiousity, Charles, were you so worried in 2002? Or did it only hit you when Obama was elected? (this is an honest question)

  9. charles johnson says:

    Back before the GOP got control, FEMA was a very competent agency. So competent, that conspiracy people thought they constituted a mighty shadow government. Even the x-files incorporated that into their show. FEMA plus the national guard where they belong, not Iraq, would be enough to handle most anything.

    Like I said, before the GOP.

  10. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    And just where is it they will station these troops so they can respond to an emergency half way across the country. Terrorists do not usually wait for respondes to react before they commit their heinous acts. A citizens right to keep and bear arms is a much better solution than to fortify America. It does not bode well for freedom to had a standing army deployed on our soil.

  11. How long before mission creep has the military aiding in drug enforcement, crowd control and other such endeavors without the need for declaring a state of emergency?

    I fear it won’t take too long (and not for paranoid or partisan reasons). Power expansions have a way of continuing to expand especially with vague phrases like “other domestic catastrophe” in play.

  12. James M. says:

    I had heard about this some weeks back and had hoped someone would make a serious effort to stop it. I am a former National Guardsman, signed my discharge papers last week, and feel without a doubt this is a very bad idea and sets the scenario up for a really strong military police state. This is what happens when people leave complete control of national security to politicians when they are afraid. You become the sheep being protected by the wolves.

  13. anjin-san says:

    It is also worth noting that one of our surveillance satellites is now spying on us.

    This seems to be an issue that has both Democrats and the GOP saying “Lets not do this”. Good chance for us to work together for a worthwhile goal.

    Don’t tread on me!

    (The Intelligence Daily) — While America’s attention has shifted to the economic meltdown and the presidential race between corporate favorites John McCain and Barack Obama, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Applications Office (NAO) “will proceed with the first phase of a controversial satellite-surveillance program, even though an independent review found the department hasn’t yet ensured the program will comply with privacy laws.”

    As I wrote in June, NAO will coordinate how domestic law enforcement and “disaster relief” agencies such as FEMA use satellite imagery intelligence (IMINT) generated by U.S. spy satellites. Based on available evidence, hard to come by since these programs are classified “above top secret,” the technological power of these military assets are truly terrifying.

    More at:

    http://www.inteldaily.com/?c=126&a=8374

  14. Franklin says:

    While I understand that another terrorist attack on the U.S. is considered almost inevitable, I also totally agree with the above posts regarding the National Guard.

    To Zelsdorf Ragshaft III: While I have no problem with guns, a few packing citizens aren’t going to stop a nuke blast. Although one could definitely argue that they could put a dent in a Mumbai-style attack.

  15. AllenS says:

    Just think about how much more fast and effective this force will be when there is another Ruby Ridge or Waco, when you need pure speed and fire power to remove civilians you don’t like.

  16. Bithead says:

    This seems to be an issue that has both Democrats and the GOP saying “Lets not do this”. Good chance for us to work together for a worthwhile goal.

    Wasn’t the Lightworker the one you wanted?
    And were you this worried back in 2000?
    Gee. A little early for ‘Buyer’s remorse’, I should think.

  17. anjin-san says:

    Wasn’t the Lightworker the one you wanted?
    And were you this worried back in 2000?
    Gee. A little early for ‘Buyer’s remorse’, I should think.

    Ahhh bitsy? News flash, Obama is not yet President. This idea has been around for a while, it did not come from him.

    Do you read the supporting articles for posts, or do you just start ranting right out of the gate?