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Against the strong protests of the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, several key strategic military commands, including NORAD and NORTHCOM, are moving ahead with a Department of Defense decision to abandon the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center, the center of U.S. missile defense since the Cold War, to make way for what a GAO report says could be used as a “continuity of operations relocation facility.”
In an extraordinary report issued by the GAO May 21, Davi D’Agostino, GAO director of defense capabilities and management and the author of the report, considered the military’s decision to abandon Cheyenne Mountain so unfounded that the agency urgently called for congressional hearings.
GAO asked Congress to block the Pentagon plans to use funds for relocating NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and NORTHCOM, the United States Northern Command, and the other military operations that were scheduled to be moved from Cheyenne Mountain until complete operational and cost-savings studies could be conducted.
The GAO report pulled no punches in asserting DoD had failed to conduct the required analysis to evaluate the operational effects of the move or to validate any anticipated cost savings.
D’Agostino said yesterday in a telephone interview that NORAD and NORTHCOM had given “shifting explanations” of the future of Cheyenne Mountain, which is located near Colorado Springs, Colo.
“At first we were told that the NORAD and NORTHCOM commander intended to establish command centers at Peterson Air Force Base, placing the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate in ‘warm standby’ status,” D’Agostino said. “Then NORAD and NORTHCOM said the abandoned facility would be used as an alternative command center or a continuity of operations relocation facility, and a training center.”
D’Agostino said she could not comment on whether the term “continuity of operations relocation facility” language suggested any relationship to presidential directives NSPD-51 and HSPD-20, published on the White House website, giving the president extraordinary powers should he declare a national emergency.
The question is whether under banner of “preserving the continuity of constitutional government in an emergency,” the president and key administration officials could establish a White House emergency command post in Cheyenne Mountain from which to direct the U.S. military in homeland security or national security operations.
As WND previously reported, NSPD-51 and HSPD-20 were posted on the White House website May 9, without any comment or discussion from the administration in the press release announcing the president had signed these new emergency directives.
As WND commented, NSPD-51 and HSPD-20 give the president nearly dictatorial powers when the president self-declares an emergency exists under a loose definition that describes “catastrophic emergency” as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”
WND has also reported NORTHCOM is a domestic military command structure that now includes Canadian military command. It has been conducting domestic military exercises under the code name ARDENT SENTRY 07.
A wide variety of emergencies have been the subject of NORTHCOM domestic military exercises, including emergency scenarios involving health epidemics, national disasters, terrorist acts, insurrections and acts of domestic violence involving riots or conspiracies.
The discussion of moving key military strategic commands from Cheyenne Mountain dates back to July 2006, when Adm. Timothy Keating, then commander of both NORAD and NORTHCOM, made the surprise announcement to the Denver Post.
Keating explained the decision to the paper by claiming the government’s best intelligence “leads us to believe a missile attack from China or Russia is very unlikely.” Keating further told the Post the growing likelihood of terrorist suicide bombers “is what recommends to us that we don’t need to maintain Cheyenne Mountain in a 24/7 status.”
Since the Cold War, Cheyenne Mountain has been the center of U.S. airspace and missile defense military command. Keating’s announcement was particularly surprising given the recent renovation of the Cheyenne Mountain facility.
Keating announced that his plans were to move certain NORAD and NORTHCOM functions from Cheyenne Mountain to create an integrated command center at Peterson Air Force base in Colorado Springs, a move Keating projected would save between $150 and $200 million per year.
At the same time, USSTRATCOM, a military command that controls the nuclear weapons assets of the United States, announced plans to relocate its missile warning systems from Cheyenne Mountain to Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado.
As WND has previously reported, “continuity of operations” is the term utilized in NSPD-51, the new White House office of National Continuity Coordinator, a position created by the May presidential directives. Frances Fragos Townsend, the president’s current homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser, has been appointed to be the first national continuity coordinator.
The GAO report commented on the traditional strategic mission of Cheyenne Mountain, noting, “The mission of the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate is to monitor, process and interpret air, missile and space events that could threaten North America or have operational effects on U.S. forces or capabilities.” The GAO commented that the Air Force’s modernization of the attack warning systems within Cheyenne Mountain will cost more than $700 million from fiscal years 2000 through 2006.
The GAO charged: “NORAD and USNORTHCOM could not provide documentation to support the $150 million to $200 million savings projected by the former commander from moving functions from Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson Air Force Base.”
The report concluded: “We believe Congress should consider restricting DoD’s authority to use funds to renovate all proposed locations to accept functions designated to move out of Cheyenne Mountain until such time as all security analyses are complete, the full costs of the move are determined and DoD provides Congress with an analysis of the operational effects of the proposed realignments.”
Upon release of the GAO report, Keating again shifted ground, claiming to the press that “mission efficiency,” not cost savings, was the sole reason he recommended moving national defense operations out of Cheyenne Mountain and into a building on Peterson Air Base.
Construction at Peterson under Keating’s relocation plan is scheduled to begin this month.
Prior to the release of the GAO report, the House voted May 17 to support an Armed Services Committee decision to withhold $9.2 million of Cheyenne Mountain relocation funds from the 2008 defense authorization. The House inserted language into the bill asking DoD to evaluate the risks associated with moving the key strategic military defense operations from Cheyenne Mountain.
The Senate has yet to vote on the 2008 defense authorization bill.
Cathy Travis, spokeswoman for Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Texas, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the Subcommittee on Readiness of the Committee on Armed Services has sent a letter to the GAO asking for additional information. D’Agostino had addressed to Ortiz the cover letter of the GAO report on Cheyenne Mountain.
On March 23, Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr. became the 20th commander of NORAD and the third commander of NORTHCOM, taking over from Keating.
White House spokesman Chris Isleib referred questions about Cheyenne Mountain to NORAD.
Maj. April D. Cunningham at the NORAD-USNORTHCOM headquarters at Peterson Base in Colorado promised in a telephone interview yesterday to answer today by e-mail the two questions initially put to the White House: 1) What military use will be made of Cheyenne Mountain after NORAD and NORTHCOM pull out? and 2) Could Cheyenne Mountain be used as a White House emergency command post according to the recent presidential directives NSPD-51 and HSPD-20?
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