Documents Reveal Internet As Focus Of New Secret Government Order

( Newly revealed documents reveal secret executive branch planning for catastrophic circumstances, such as after a nuclear assault, when the president may activate wartime powers for national security crises.

Public understanding of the government’s classified directives, which use emergency and wartime powers given by Congress or claimed by presidents, was confined to declassified accounts from the early Cold War. They included martial law, gathering dangerous people, and blocking foreign news.

Modern instructions, called presidential emergency action memos, have never been made public or disclosed to Congress. Newly released papers on the Bush administration’s efforts to amend draft directives after Sept. 11 give hints.

Several papers given by the Brennan Center for Justice to The New York Times reveal that Bush-era efforts centered on a provision that allows the president to shut down communications networks in wartime. The government may have created or updated this directive in response to the internet’s fast expansion in the 1990s.

Another file from 2008 mentions Justice Department attorneys amending an anonymous draft order in light of a Supreme Court judgment, highlighting how little legislators and the public may assume. The document doesn’t mention the verdict, but the court had just given significant rulings on gun rights in the U.S. and Guantánamo inmates’ rights to court hearings.

Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University commented, “These records provide little question that post-9/11 emergency measures documents have immediate and severe ramifications for Americans’ civil freedoms.” Congress doesn’t oversee. That’s wrong.”

Ms. Goitein said the guidelines have likely grown beyond a nuclear assault since the Cold War’s end. Later versions expanded from one to seven categories, although their themes remain classified and fall under separate agencies’ jurisdictions.

When Bush started office, there were 48 directives; by 2008, there were 56. The VP’s office “cleared” the directives. The docs don’t mention Congress.

Several Bush administration officials identified in the materials described the endeavor as bureaucratic “good housekeeping.” After Sept. 11, the administration refocused on national security, they added.
The Brennan Center for Justice got the Bush presidential library’s emergency action records via FOIA. Five hundred pages were disclosed, while 6,000 were classified.

The revelations come after the House enacted a bill in December that will constrain executive power after the Trump years and mandate the disclosure of emergency action documents to legislative overseers.

Protecting Our Democracy Act won’t pass the Senate, where Republicans may filibuster it. With bipartisan backing, supporters of limiting presidential emergency powers consider attaching a provision to “must-pass” military legislation later this year.

It’s unclear if emergency action materials will be provided. Senator Edward J. Markey, D-Massachusetts, who authored the clause in 2020, said Congress could improve emergency preparation.

Markey said that as lawmakers, we must insist that the executive branch turn over papers so Congress can examine the validity of any future president’s emergency powers grab.

President Trump claimed “complete” power in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak and proclaimed it a national emergency.

Some 1950s and 1960s draft emergency action directives were referenced in declassified memos. Directives included instituting martial law, restricting border-crossing information, and halting court sessions for detainees. The present set may comprise comparable activities.

Another 1950s emergency action order banned specific persons from military zones. The command mirrored World War II when Japanese and Japanese Americans were restricted from broad portions of the West Coast and interned. A 1967 Justice Department document released in 2019 suggested dumping it.

“The broad-scale criticism of the Japanese relocation program is well-founded,” the 1967 letter said. “It is open to serious question whether any such program should be approved.”

Other directives from that era included declaring a state of war, reconvening Congress at a secure place, and creating an agency with broad economic control. This agency might requisition private property and supplies, impose wage, price, rent restrictions, ration, and settle labor disputes.

The Obama Justice Department’s budget records said the Office of Legal Counsel began reviewing 56 presidential emergency action paperwork in 2012. The Trump Justice Department reiterated the phrase in its 2017 budget proposal, after which it was dropped.

Subsequent budget documents haven’t revealed what modifications Obama and Trump made.