Other documents outlining orders and messages the US president can issue in the event of an apocalyptic crisis, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and made public.
These government records are part of a larger collection of documents that discuss the nature, scope and use of secret presidential emergency action documents: they are executive orders, announcements and declarations to Congress which are all ready to be signed and sent as soon as possible. an apocalyptic scenario occurs. PEADs are meant to give the US Commander-in-Chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.
PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain silent and their exact details are not known to the public.
That said, records revealing internal government discussions and policies on the development and use of PMCPs have, over the past few years, been collected and published by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit organization focused on legal policy, through freedom of information requests. These records cover PEADs written under various administrations, from President Dwight Eisenhower during the Cold War to Donald Trump during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The survival of the presidency could be in doubt
“Through these records, we know there were 56 PEADs in effect in 2017, up from 48 a few decades earlier,” says the center’s homepage for its collection.
For example, it appears that some of these emergency measures included an authorization to censor news reports, to detain anyone designated as an enemy alien, to suspend the habeas corpus order and to authorize the search and seizure of persons and goods.
Take for example this report [PDF] from 1962 by the Emergency Planning Committee during the presidency of John F. Kennedy which addressed the issue of a nuclear strike on the capital, potentially wiping out not only the president, but anyone who might replace them, requiring plans to avoid this and decentralize government functions if necessary.
“The survival of the presidency could be in doubt during a critical period of decision-making if the president-elect were lost, since all eligible successors typically live and work in the Washington DC area and could fall victim to the same attack” , according to the filing, shared by the center of Brennan, said.
The dossier also describes rationing to prevent hoarding of essentials like food and water, and efforts to maintain public morale and basic freedoms after an attack.
Revealed: How a 1967 weather forecast stopped nuclear war
another document [PDF] from 1959 describing the aftermath of a Soviet nuclear attack, 48 million people would die, leaving 12 million survivors making up the American population. Nuclear apocalypse remained the primary risk to the US government during the Cold War. The fear of terrorism took over after 9/11. The White House said [PDF] the Department of Defense, for example, will provide the fingerprints of all known or suspected terrorists to the FBI in 2004.
When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a national emergency, Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) proposed [PDF] a bill to try to force the president to subject any PEAD that comes into effect to legal review. These documents should be declassified within 180 days with a redacted version to be made public.
“The Brennan Center’s Freedom and National Security Program studies PEADs and advocates for greater transparency and oversight of them,” the think tank said.
The center has had a modest archive of these files on its site since mid-2020. Today, the center obtained about 500 pages from the George W. Bush Presidential Library – some 6,000 could not be released because they remain classified.
These documents brought to light the fact that the Bush administration questioned whether it had the authority to operate an emergency communication “kill switch” that would cut off Internet connectivity as well as telephone lines. Officials also wrestled with the issue of an emergency suspension of habeas corpus in light of a court ruling that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay had the right to challenge their detention in front of a judge.
Locking down the use of US passports to prevent travel was also on the table in the GWB era, and more. Much of it is dry, but if you like browsing through declassified information, you’ll probably find weekend reads here. The main thing to remember is that there is virtually no oversight of these emergency powers.
“With Congress unable to fulfill its constitutional role of checks and balances on the executive, there remains the possibility that modern MDPs, like their historical predecessors, will sacrifice Americans’ constitutional rights and the rule of law in the name of planning. emergency,” the Brennan said. noted Benjamin Waldman of the center.
“Congress should pass Sen. Ed Markey’s REIGN Act, which has been incorporated into the Protecting Our Democracy Act and the National Security Reforms and Accountability Act, to hold these dark powers to account. .” ®