Wired News - August 1, 2000
Army Battle-Ready for Convention by Declan McCullagh
PHILADELPHIA -- The U.S. Army is prepared to respond to disruptions ranging from civil disobedience to nuclear explosions at the Republican National Convention, a confidential government document says.
The terrorism response plan includes flying giant C-5 Galaxy cargo planes loaded with military gear into Willow Grove Naval Air Station, about 25 miles outside the city, and assembling troops at three National Guard armories near the downtown protest areas.
"Preparedness for nuclear, biological, chemical, and civil disturbance events, as well as potential weather-related disaster events, must be considered," says the Federal Emergency Management Agency document, obtained by Wired News from a source who asked to remain anonymous.
A FEMA spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the document, but said he did not have any information that a terrorist attack was likely to happen during the GOP convention.
"We try to plan for any event like this as we would plan for a hurricane," said Ross Fredenburg, FEMA's regional public information officer.
The 75-page operations manual, labeled on each page "For Official Use Only," says: "There is a greater probability that an act occurring during the RNC could result in high-risk situations and possibly necessitate a tactical response by the local, state, and federal governments."
Security is already at an all-time high for a convention, with flight restrictions in place over central Philadelphia, nearly all city police on duty, and guards equipped with mirrors searching for bombs under vehicles that approach the First Union Center.
The document, created by FEMA to supplement its usual procedures, says that the U.S. First Army will, if necessary, execute Operation Garden Plot to quell any serious civil disturbances.
Operation Garden Plot has long been an object of speculation by conspiracy theorists, but the watchdog group Federation of American Scientists describes it as the military's overall plan for "support related to domestic civil disturbances" that was last used during the Los Angeles riots in 1992.
Critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union have protested the recent trend to use military troops for law enforcement purposes.
The FEMA plan even goes so far as to spend 12 pages listing hospitals and numbers of licensed beds -- including places as far away as St. Luke's Hospital in Quakertown, a 40-mile drive.
"The RNC will dominate national headlines," the FEMA document says. "The potential occurrence of an event that would reflect negatively on Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or the United States demands that every effort to preclude such an event be taken."
It notes that the convention, which ends Thursday, means a "high concentration of dignitaries, worldwide media coverage, and increased population density."
But the document says the Secret Service, from its "multi-agency communications center" at 20th and Johnson streets, is in charge of handling convention security. The FBI's "forward command center" is also located there.
If a terrorist attack happens, FEMA is responsible for aiding the FBI. But if the president declares martial law in response to looting, vandalism, or civil unrest, FEMA works with the Defense Department.
In case of a catastrophic attack on Philadelphia -- a nuclear assault, for example -- a backup FEMA regional command post is located at the U.S. Army Reserve Center at Willow Grove. "The Willow Grove NAS has been designated the mobilization center for the staging and/or movement of federal consequence management resources for the RNC," the plan says. "This is a closed facility with a pass required for entry."
Fredenburg said FEMA would be called out if the president decides state and local officials can't handle a serious situation at the convention. "... Bringing in federal assets is a worst-case scenario."
Fredenburg said the California FEMA office has prepared a similar plan for the Democratic convention in mid-August.
Under the 1984 Stafford Act, FEMA is in charge of coordinating military responses to natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or thunderstorms. In August 1992, for instance, the Army was deployed in South Florida under FEMA direction to aid in recovering from Hurricane Andrew.