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In the wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, certain parties in the Department of Interior are using the nation’s heightened concerns about security to advance a long-standing agenda that would turn DOI into one of the nation’s “top cop” agencies – right up there with the FBI, BATF and the other law-enforcement agencies of the Justice and Treasury departments.

Under legislation drafted but not yet introduced, officers of the Department of Interior’s five law enforcement agencies would be able to exercise extensive subpoena, warrant and arrest powers, not only on federal land areas under their agencies’ jurisdiction but on non-federal property as well. Moreover, they could be moved hither-and-yon across the country in response to “emergencies.”

The title of the one-page bill is “Department of Interior Law Enforcement Clarification Act of 2001.” There is also a draft of a letter to the speaker of the House and president of the Senate detailing the alleged need for the legislation and awaiting only the signature of Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

“This legislation is needed to ensure that DOI law and enforcement resources are used effectively to uphold the laws of the United States and safeguard the American people,” the letter reads.

Note: The websites of all agencies of the Department of Interior have been shut down temporarily in response to a court order and may not be accessible.


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Interior Secretary Gale Norton

The draft bill and unsigned letter, along with a memo and two secretarial orders signed by Norton, came to light just before Thanksgiving when a DOI employee leaked them to the office of Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash.

“We don’t want to be a mobile-police occupation force,” the employee explained to Nethercutt’s staff.

The employee, who asked not to be identified, was particularly concerned that DOI law enforcement officers would find themselves frequently embroiled in the kind of uncomfortable situation they were placed in last summer when personnel from the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service were sent to Klamath Falls, Ore., to guard the headgates of the irrigation dam from protesters who objected to the court-mandated denial of irrigation water to local farmers in Oregon and California. The effort bypassed and undercut the local law enforcement authorities, which had not requested their assistance.

Norton silent

After a close analysis of the bill, Nethercutt wrote a letter to Norton apprising her of its contents and the letter drafted in her name. He asked if she was aware of the bill and if so, did she support it.

“This is a divisive bill that would naturally incite conflict and parochialism between the federal agents, local law enforcement and the public,” Nethercutt wrote. “It would position federal agency law enforcement above local law enforcement, which would further erode safety, communication, coordination and relationship building.”

Nethercutt said he would like to meet with the new Interior secretary at her earliest convenience to discuss the matter.


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Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash.

There was no response.

A week went by. Two weeks went by. Nearly three weeks later, having heard not a word from Interior, Nethercutt sent a copy of his letter and the leaked documents to Stewards of the Range, a nonprofit advocacy group headquartered in Boise, Idaho. Stewards of the Range, in turn, sent the documents to Liberty Matters News Service, an e-mail alert service maintained by Stewards of the Range, which posted the documents with commentary on its website and distributed them via its e-mail list.

“Circulating inside Interior is a draft bill which would give specific DOI employees full law enforcement authority,” Liberty Matters stated. “It specifically authorizes DOI officers to carry firearms, make arrests without a warrant, execute orders, warrants or subpoenas and other powers usually reserved to Federal Law Enforcement agencies and local sheriffs and police.”

This is not a new idea. Liberty Matters noted that “at every opportunity, DOI has tried to acquire this authority, most recently by rewriting regulations during the Babbitt administration. But all attempts to do so have wisely been struck down by Congress and public opposition. Unfortunately, DOI is using the recent terrorist attacks as justification for expanding its agencies’ law enforcement authority.”

Liberty Matters asked its members to contact their representatives in Congress and Norton to express their concerns. Shortly thereafter, Nethercutt’s office was contacted by the Department of the Interior and informed that the secretary had been unaware of the proposal and was opposed to the concept.

“She said she was totally appalled at its contents and promised it was not going to happen, that she did not support it,” said a staff contact in Nethercutt’s office. “Evidently, she knew nothing about it.”

Requests have been made for Norton to put her views in writing. A written and signed statement is promised but has yet to be received.

Despite verbal protests about the legislation, on Oct. 26 Norton signed two secretarial orders. The first institutes various organizational changes within the department, including the establishment of a new Office of Law Enforcement and Security, to be headed by a director responsible to the assistant secretary for policy, management and budget.

The second order gives details about the structure of the new office and its functions, including the coordination of all law enforcement units in the department. An organizational chart shows the office as a bureaucratic pyramid of 39 positions with the director at the top.

The office is to serve “as the central point of contact for DOI law enforcement and security policy and programs.”

The move spells increased authority for the agencies within the department that are presently limited as to their law enforcement functions and powers.

WND’s watchdog work

Reporting federal agencies’ attempts to gain more power is not new to WorldNetDaily.

In August and September 1997, the fledgling newssite published a series of articles titled “Armed and Dangerous: Federal agencies expanding use of firepower” that detailed the increasing federalization of law enforcement and the astonishing buildup in the numbers of armed officials. The first story focused not on the BATF, FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration, but on the National Park Service, one of the five agencies within the Department of Interior with law enforcement authorities.

The Park Service in January 1997 had conducted a mid-morning SWAT raid on a private bow-and-arrow hunting lodge on Santa Cruz Island, one of the Channel Islands off the California coast. Twenty heavily armed National Park Service law enforcement officers and local sheriff deputies descended on ropes from a military helicopter. Snipers took up their positions along the perimeter, while other agents staged dynamic entries. The raid resulted in the arrests of three unarmed men on charges of robbing Chumash Indian graves, but its real target was the 6,500-acre hunting ranch on which the lodge was located.

The ranch, which covered 10 percent of the island, was the last bastion of private property in the group of islands that Congress had declared a national park. Congress had recently authorized the NPS to seize the ranch through condemnation, but apparently the Park Service saw an opportunity to provide its agents with some on-the-job training in special weapons and tactics.

WorldNetDaily recalled another case that occurred five years earlier: the gunning down of millionaire Donald Scott in the bedroom of his home near Malibu, Calif., in October 1992, just one month after the U.S. Marshals Service launched its attack on Randy Weaver and his family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

Scott’s property was in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a sweeping expanse of coastal land under the auspices of the National Park system. Fourteen agencies took part in the armed assault, including NASA, Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, but the Park Service was the lead agency. The purported reason for the assault was an allegation by the Park Service that Scott was growing marijuana, but internal departmental documents show clearly that the true motivation was a desire to acquire Scott’s very beautiful and valuable property, which he had refused to sell. No marijuana or drugs of any kind were found.

These accounts illustrated the kind of power National Park Service agents already possessed and were willing and able to deploy. They have full arrest and firearm authority granted by statute, though its exercise is limited to NPS-controlled land. WorldNetDaily also presented figures showing the number of gun-toting agents, not only in the NPS but throughout the federal agencies. There were at least 80,000 – enough for a small army.

“The last couple of years has witnessed the biggest arms buildup in the history of the federal government,” wrote WND Editor Joseph Farah in 1997. “No, I don’t mean the Defense Department is growing. Far from it. That would actually be constitutional. It might even make sense.

“No. The kind of arms that are proliferating in Washington these days are the kind pointed at our own civilian population and carried by a growing number of federal police forces with ever-larger budgets and ever-deadlier arsenals,” Farah wrote.

He noted that it was the environmental and land agencies that were increasing their firepower and jurisdiction and were reaching for more.

“A few months ago [in early 1997], Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt tried to arm the Bureau of Land Management, thus forming yet another division of enviro-cops. … in justifying its need to carry weapons and exert police authority over its 268 million acres of land in the western states, the BLM had cited the long and growing list of other federal agencies – like the EPA and Fish and Wildlife – with criminal law enforcement powers. Following such logic, it’s only a matter of time before officials at the National Endowment of the Arts are authorized to carry guns,” quipped Farah.

It appears the Department of Interior wants to be part of that trend.

Most of the agencies with large numbers of armed personnel are in the Justice and Treasury departments (such as the FBI, INS, DEA, IRS, BATF), but over 3,500 are in five agencies of the Department of Interior: 1,966 were in the NPS as of June 30, 1995, according to the Government Accounting Office. Of these, 1,305 were rangers, the rest were with the U.S. Park Police, a part of the NPS.

According to the latest figures published by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Statistics, as of July 30, 2000, there were 2,195 full-time law enforcement agents in the Park Service authorized to pack heat, conduct investigations and issue arrests without a warrant. WorldNetDaily has not determined how many of these are trained to climb down ropes from hovering helicopters, but apparently a number of them are.

The following chart shows the number of Interior law enforcement personnel with full arrest and firearm authority in five Interior agencies. Total: 3,604.


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An interdepartmental memo signed by Norton puts the number of law enforcement personnel at 4,300 – the difference could reflect either an actual increase in armed personnel between July 30, 2000 and the present, or could be achieved by counting 985 “support personnel” – agents who assist in the investigations but do not have firearm authority and were therefore not included in the above figures. When these 985 support personnel are added to the armed personnel, the number of law enforcement officials totals 4,589.

The 2,195 figure for the NPS breaks down into 1,551 engaged in “ranger activity” and 644 U.S. Park Police.

Like law enforcement officers of other federal agencies, these receive substantial training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Glynco, Ga. This chart shows the number of FLETC graduates for the Department of Interior for four years.


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Off to Klamath Falls

Most U.S. Park Police officers are in the Washington, D.C., area, but they are on call to provide police services to the entire national park system. They did so last summer when a detachment was sent on July 14 to Klamath Falls to relieve a group of U.S. Marshals that earlier that month removed protesters from the headgates without incident. The headgates were deemed to be under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation. The Park Police from the National Park Service were followed Aug. 6 by Bureau of Land Management rangers, who were followed Sept. 2 by a contingent of special agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The only Department of Interior agencies with law enforcement authority that didn’t put in time at Klamath Falls were the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is responsible for the enforcement of federal law on Indian reservations, and the DOI Office of Inspector General.

“There’s a serious problem,” said a contact in Nethercutt’s office, commenting on what she had gleaned from conversations with numerous DOI employees. “These people don’t want to be a mobile-police occupation force. That is not what they went to work as a ranger for. … They want to work on the wildlife refuges or patrol campgrounds. They don’t want to be sent to places like Klamath Falls to keep the farmers from getting their water. That was a mobile-police occupation force in action.”

And, if the draft bill is enacted, that kind of action likely would be routine.

“The bill grants equal powers to law enforcement officers of the Interior agencies, and because there are no restrictions limiting where these officers may serve, it allows other agencies, say the U.S. Marshals, to draw on the Department of Interior for personnel,” said Fred Kelly Grant, an attorney who serves on the board of Stewards of the Range as the organization’s legal consultant.

“For example,” Grant continued, “Let’s say there was a terrorist coming across the Canadian border and the U.S. Marshals Service arrests this guy and they’ve got to take him somewhere for security. I can see the Marshals Service enlisting immediately all the DOI people because they would consider that more important than carrying out the duties of managing and protecting the public lands.”

A floating law enforcement agency

In Grant’s view, “What DOI would become is a floating law enforcement agency that any other law enforcement agency, including the state police, could call on. They would be on call to leave their duties on the land to take care of problems in other places. You would end up having the DOI guys being a supplementary arm of the U.S. Marshals Service or the FBI.”

That was the scenario at Klamath Falls, but Grant pointed to a recent instance in Idaho where the governor became concerned about his safety, and for a month state police officers rented and occupied the condominium adjacent to his.

“Can’t you imagine a case like that where the state police chief says he can’t afford to take his officers off the roads and asking the local BLM to guard a governor for a month?” Grant asked. “I can see that happening all over the place. If I were the superintendent of state police, I’d want to do that. I certainly wouldn’t want to take my troopers off the roads.”

Towards a national police force

What this kind of activity and legislation like the Clarification Act ultimately leads to, according to critics like Grant, is a national police force with powers above and beyond those of the states and local governments.

A move in that direction was made during the mid-1970s by certain factions in Congress and the Carter administration. This was attempted not by introducing specific legislation to set up such a force, but through the back door, by legislation to revise the statutes of Title 18 of the U.S. Code. During the process of rearranging the statutes and repealing a few obsolete ones, the proposed legislation would “harmonize” the powers of federal agents by granting essentially identical and equal authority and jurisdiction to all federal law enforcement agencies, creating, in effect, a national police force.

The legislation, which was strongly promoted by Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, nearly passed during several sessions of Congress but was beaten back each time by an unprecedented coalition of organizations from all points of the political spectrum – from the American Civil Liberties Union and National Committee Against Repressive Legislation on the left to the Libertarian Party and the John Birch Society on the right.

But the promoters of the code revision effort did not give up. They simply changed tactics, advancing their agenda in piecemeal fashion.

The proposed Clarification Act is right in line with an overall goal to establish a national police force.

In addition to granting all Interior law enforcement officers the authority to exercise their powers anywhere in the country, on or off the federal lands under their jurisdiction, it allows Interior law enforcement agents to carry firearms, execute and serve subpoenas and warrants, make arrests without warrant, conduct investigations and administer oaths.

“Other federal agencies hold such authority,” the bill’s anonymous author complains in the draft of the accompanying letter to Congress. The Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S Coast Guard, U.S. Postal Service, and the FBI are offered as examples of agencies having the kind of powers the author would like Interior bureaus to have.

Furthermore, “Scope of authority … severely limits the ability of DOI officers to address such violations,” he writes. “For example, if visitors to a National Wildlife Refuge tell a FWS officer that they saw someone in the Refuge parking lot, the officer does not have the authority to arrest that individual under FWS laws. If a Ranger outside the boundaries of a National Park counters [sic] an individual wanted under an outstanding felony arrest warrant for a crime unrelated to the Park, the Ranger does not have the authority to take that individual into custody. If BIA special agents find a person selling a sawed-off shotgun to someone off the reservation, they cannot take enforcement action.”

“Actually, they can do much of this now,” said Grant. “They don’t have to be only on federal land to issue a citation. If they find evidence that somebody has violated a provision of the federal law, they can issue a citation anywhere. But they better have a sheriff with them when they do. Besides, a sheriff can deputize these people if he wishes; then they can make arrests. And they can make citizen arrests now.”

The bill author also overlooks the fact that agencies like the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI were set up with law enforcement as their basic mission. The Interior agencies were not. Their primary purpose is the management and stewardship of the public lands and natural resources. Law enforcement is a secondary or even tertiary responsibility. A change of mission for the Department of Interior has not been authorized by Congress.

Another gripe of the author is that enforcement authority for Interior agencies is scattered through the U.S. Code.

“No single primary enforcement exists for DOI agencies,” he declares. “Enforcement authority for BLM is found in 42 USC 1733 [an error: the correct citation is 43 USC 1733]; NPS/USPP in 16 USC 1a-6; and BIA in 25 USC 2803.” Fish and Wildlife enforcement authority is in several sections of Title 16, Conservation, including 16 USC 35, the Endangered Species Act.

That’s true, though the same can be said for the traditional policing agencies. Their powers are authorized in various parts of the code, and some are not even spelled out. For example, according to the Government Accounting Office, IRS agents do not have statutory authority to carry firearms.

But what really annoys the author is the fact that the granted authority is not uniform. BLM officers, for example, do not have the same clear-cut powers that national park law enforcement personnel have. And it is debatable how much power they actually do possess.

A long-standing debate

“It’s been a long-standing debate as to whether that provision of FLPMA [Federal Lands Policy Management Act, 43 USC 1733] really authorizes the secretary of Interior by regulation to allow law enforcement powers, or whether what it’s really saying is, ‘We recognize that local law enforcement is primary,’” said Grant.

The problem, as Grant sees it, is that the Interior agents are not certified police officers under state law and do not meet the state statutes.

“The FBI does, other agencies do, but Interior doesn’t,” Grant said. “There’s where the big debate has come. Proponents of federal authority argue that there is statutory authority for them exercising their powers, and I can’t deny that if I were an attorney with the federal government I would rely on that language to say that there is authority for it.

“But there’s no doubt in my mind that it is arguable,” Grant continued. “That’s the reason, I’m sure, why this draft bill that’s surfaced is called the ‘Clarification of Law Enforcement Authority.’ If there were no doubt about it, they wouldn’t need clarification through such a bill.”

Grant noted that in the raids conducted by the Park Service on Santa Cruz Island and Donald Scott’s estate, the NPS agents were accompanied by sheriff’s deputies.

“If the bill passes, they wouldn’t even need to check with the local sheriff, and that’s going to create real problems,” he said.

The ultimate police power

For Grant, his worst fear is not about gun-toting rangers, but the granting of power to make arrests without a warrant.

“What this bill would do if it’s passed is to give to these guys who are land management monitors, it would give them the ultimate power of a peace officer – they would have a gun on their hip and authority to make arrests with or without a warrant,” said Grant. “That is one of the most sacred of the peace officer’s powers. Every police academy, the FBI academy, the police standards councils in most of the states, spend an awful lot of time training officers as to when and how to make arrests without a warrant. It’s a very carefully held power, and you don’t just go giving that willy-nilly. …

“To me, that provision is worse than the carrying of the guns. You can train people to carry guns. Citizens can carry guns. That’s not as scary to me as the power of arrest, particularly without a warrant. The power of arrest is the power to take away a person’s liberty and detain them. That’s a critical issue to me because of my belief in the Constitution. Peace officers need to respect that Constitution. It’s one of the most critical powers there is in the country, and that’s why it’s so safely guarded.

“When I saw that in the draft bill I just couldn’t believe it. I was afraid the thing would get through because everybody is in the mode of protecting us against terrorism. I was afraid it would slip through, and frankly, I think that’s why it was proposed at this time.”


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Selected earlier stories:

Even Feds can’t count all their hired guns

The secret national cops

A national police force in training?

Armed and dangerous: Federal agencies expanding use of firepower

Related column:

Clinton’s militarization of the government

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