Editor’s note: WND columnist Jerome R. Corsi conducted an exclusive in-depth interview with Col. Tom Muir, U.S. Army, deputy operations officer for Command Center Operations for NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and USNORTHCOM, the United States Northern Command.
Part I of the interview, published yesterday, focuses on the rearrangement of command facilities in Cheyenne Mountain and at Peterson Air Force Base that have resulted from the creation of USNORTHCOM following the events of 9-11.
This portion, Part 2, focuses on the homeland defense mission of USNORTHCOM and how the transformation of the NORAD-NORTHCOM command center structure is designed to assist USNORTHCOM in fulfilling this mission.
The 50-minute June 14 interview was transcribed as close as possible to word-for-word, without any attempt to polish the spoken word into more precise written prose. As a condition for the interview, WND agreed to publish the interview completely, without editing or editorial comment, to allow Col. Muir a full explanation of the command structure changes involved in recent NORAD-USNORTHCOM decisions.
The NORTHCOM seal
Corsi: So, NORTHCOM was created for homeland security …
Muir: The correct term is homeland defense. Homeland security is the mission of the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland defense is the NORTHCOM mission.
Corsi: The homeland defense mission of NORTHCOM can then include not just foreign attack situations, but it could include NORTHCOM being applied to a homeland defense mission in the case of health epidemics or natural disasters such as hurricanes, or a host of domestic situations we might identify as emergencies, with or without a foreign threat.
Muir: You are absolutely right. That’s the second part of the mission we talked about, the defense support to civil authorities mission set. But your examples are perfect. NORTHCOM has provided federal Department of Defense support. In fact, we are the centerpiece, if you will, for that Department of Defense federal response. Indeed, we just got done exercising that during a very large exercise just completed called ARDENT DEFENSE NORTHERN EDGE, which had a hurricane striking the East Coast of the United States, a nuclear detonation in the Midwest of the United States and critical infrastructure threats in Alaska.
USNORTHCAM commander Gen. Victor Renuart
General [Victor] Renuart with his hat as the commander of USNORTHCAM provided U.S. the military response in support of lead civilian agencies to respond to the citizens of the United States. And that’s exactly what we just got finished doing in our last big exercise which we just completed in May.
Corsi: Then the position that the GAO report took on the Cheyenne Mountain facility changes were evaluated on the basis of cost savings. What I am hearing you say is that the Cheyenne Mountain facility changes were done on the basis of mission redefinition rather than cost savings.
Muir: The decision was never made on the basis of cost savings. The decision was made on the basis of how we can best serve the citizens of the United States for the NORTHCOM mission set and to serve the citizens of the United States and Canada for the NORAD mission set to defend the homeland. That is what this transformation is about. How can you best structure our command center? What our analysis has shown us is that domain construct is a fairly robust ability to understand the threats, to deter the threats, to deter-detect-and-defeat the threats long before they reach your shores.
Corsi: One other aspect that seems to be here, at least since the passage of the John Warner Appropriations Act of 2007 which repealed the Posse Comitatus Act, and these recent presidential directives on emergencies signed in May, numbered NSPD-51 and HSPD-20, is that it looks like the president has positioned the military through NORTHCOM to be in a first-response capacity to a wide range of domestic emergencies, with or without foreign attack threats being part of the equation, including health epidemics, natural disasters, possibly even riots or other civil disturbances, in which the military would be a first-responding unit.
Muir: No. We don’t take that same look at that. General Renuart in his role as U.S. commander of NORTHCOM is the Department of Defense lead in what we call the defense support to the civil authorities missions set. This is absolutely part of the NORTHCOM mission. In fact, this is probably the visible part of the NORTHCOM mission to the American public, because the public sees the 82nd Airborne on the streets of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. But I can absolutely tell you that this is in support of a lead federal agency under the dictates of the National Response Plan.
In effect, as we prepare for the 2007 hurricane season which began two weeks ago, on June 1st of this year, which the National Hurricane Center says could be as bad as the hurricane season a few years ago, we have gone to great lengths and General Renuart has personally gone to great lengths to assure the adjutant generals and the governors of the states that we are in support of their efforts. There is no intent of NORTHCOM to be in the lead. It is not our intent, it is not our charter, it is not our mission.
Our mission is to support the primary federal agencies and the state response. We can make the state successful and the state has great capabilities in their National Guard underneath the governor’s control, working for the adjutant general of the states. The only thing NORTHCOM looks for in the 2007 hurricane season is that shared situational awareness of gaps and seams. We ought to be able to at least have a plan to backstop what the National Guard doesn’t have, to backstop what the state responders or local responders don’t have. We need to be prepared to do that if requested and if directed by the president of the United States or the secretary of defense.
Corsi: I guess the question raised by the John Warner Appropriations Act of 2007 and the May presidential directives NSPD-52 and HSPD-20 is whether the president could put the federal response much more as a primary responder in the event the president declares a national emergency. In other words, does the president have to wait until the state and local officials ask for federal involvement to deal with an emergency situation? You may not be a lawyer and you may not be able to respond.
Muir: That’s correct. It’s outside of my league for a guy who runs the command center.
Corsi: In other words, whenever the president calls, you are ready to respond to domestic emergencies and you expect that there will be a civil agency involved in the equation at a federal level.
Muir: Absolutely. Part of the challenge though from where I sit every day is that you have to anticipate the requirements. So what you have to do is to be collaborative in your planning, such that all the agencies that believe they have a response requirement, or all the agencies that believe they could have a response request, understand the capabilities and shortfalls of the other agencies. That has been a large part of our planning effort under this defense support for civil authorities missions set.
You have to understand when the other agencies are going to run out of supplies, equipment, material, personnel, transportation – it runs the gamut when you read the National Response Plan and the Emergency Support Function, the ESF as they lay themselves out to be. Our job is to anticipate that response. That’s why our command center here at NORAD-NORTHCOM reaches out to 150 different agencies, 24-7 across our nation and into Canada with some of our fine international partners. We have to anticipate the requirements.
Corsi: Is NORTHCOM established as the central federal response agency, or not necessarily?
Muir: The Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the Homeland Security Directive 5 establishes the Homeland Security Department, DHS, as the lead agency. As they consolidated 22 federal agencies under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, FEMA is one of those organizations. So, we partner very closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is a direct reporting agency to DHS. We have weekly video teleconferences and planning sessions, as well as an exchange of liaisons. We have two FEMA liaisons that work here at Peterson Air Force Base with us, providing that one-on-one interface. We have liaisons with DHS at the senior executive level between us and DHS. Once again, we want that shared situational awareness.
We ought to understand what the gaps and capabilities are among the different situations. We shouldn’t have to exchange business cards at the scene of the incident or the scene of a disaster. We ought to understand process and procedures, sharing of information, and particularly in this electronic age of posting to portals and web-based shared situational records. That’s where our focus is in that civil defense mission set.
Corsi: Some concern is that under these new May 2006 directives, the president could declare an emergency and take over the direction of all federal, state, and local governments. In the riots of the 1960s, the president had to wait until the National Guard was called in by the state governor and until the state governor asked the president to send in the U.S. military. When the military was involved in the civil riots of the 1960s, it was a two-step process. First, the governor had to call in the National Guard and then the governor had to ask the president for assistance. Only then did the president send in the U.S. military. Under the John Warner Act and these new directives, it looks like the president could step in immediately and say, “This is an emergency and I am in charge, even to the point of federalizing the National Guard.” Now, again, that may be a question for a lawyer, more of a legal question, beyond what your mission and responsibilities are.
Muir: I absolutely think that question is a legal question. It’s hard for us in the command center to comment on legislation or on presidential national security or homeland security directives. Our mission set is fairly clear from our NORAD-NORTHCOM perspective.
Corsi: I had to ask the question, so if there was something you wanted to comment on, then you had the chance to do so. What’s clear is that the question is not within your responsibility. You are prepared to act once the president or the secretary of defense gives you the order to do so, and you expect there will be one or more civil agencies you are required to support.
Muir: That is absolutely correct. The defense support for civil authorities is one half of our mission. The other half of our mission is homeland defense, where clearly the Department of Defense is in the lead, is the other part of our mission set. That involves defending the approaches to our homeland. Of course, you want to defend your homeland from as far away from your homeland as you can. You don’t defend your ports from inside your ports, you defend the ports along the maritime approaches. That’s very much part of the NORTHCOM mission set, that is defense of the homeland. You’re looking primarily at foreign state actors, but also at asymmetric actors as well, when you think of the terrorist threat. There are rogue nation-states, there are non-state actors, in the particular of terrorist actors that are still part of our mission set.
Corsi: I think it’s easier to comprehend the traditional role of the military when you imagine there’s a foreign actor involved in a threat to the United States. The military is involved in the national defense of the United States. When the definition of the emergency in which NORTHCOM can be involved does not involve a foreign actor threatening the United States at all, for instance, a hurricane, or a health epidemic, it’s a different mission altogether, it’s the application of the military in a strictly domestic emergency.
Muir: Right, and I am sure you can appreciate that the military has been responding to domestic situations throughout the history of the United States.
Corsi: Yes, it’s just one of the more difficult legal lines to define, in relation to the state command of the National Guard or the state and local command of the police.
Muir: You mention the National Guard. We are very much partners with the National Guard. In our command center, we have a National Guard officer that sits watch with us and links us to the National Guard bureaus joint operations center just outside of Washington, D.C. This provides us tremendous visibility and transparency, if you will, on reporting what the National Guard is doing on a state level.
As you correctly point out, the state governors through their adjutant generals have direct command and control of the National Guard units assigned to that state. The states use the National Guard very often to support state emergencies, domestic emergencies. Indeed, the first folks to show up in uniform in almost each and every case are going to be National Guard airmen or National Guard soldiers, at the direction of the state governor or the state emergency management director, acting in a state capacity.
The National Guard is very much a partner for NORTHCOM. It’s that shared situational awareness with the National Guard of what their response is, what equipment don’t they have, what are their shortfalls, how can we be prepared with a federal military response, if necessary, in order to assist the National Guard in meeting the state requirements.
Corsi: Certainly when the National Guard is federalized and used in a foreign war like in Iraq, the National Guard falls under the federal command, not the state command at that time. There appears to be some of these legal changes which would allow the president to federalize the National Guard and use them in these domestic emergencies of the epidemic or hurricane kind which may not have a foreign national actor as a threat. This is a different issue too.
Corsi: Some command functions, as I understand it, are going to be relocated to Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Muir: That’s hard for us here to answer for Air Force Space Command or US Strategic Command. The GAO report stated that some of those questions are best answered by Air Force Space Command. They are here at Peterson, they are just in a different headquarters, different color uniform, responding to USSTRATCOM. They are better to answer what Air Force Space Command or US Strategic Command are doing.
Corsi: Also, there’s the Air and Space Operations Center, the AOC, which is at Tyndall Air Force Base.
Muir: Northern Command, of course, is a relatively new command, four years in the making now. Northern Command has various service components, just like any other geographical combatant command. One of our service components, Air Forces North, or AFNORTH, the acronym that they use, also happens to be dual-hatted as a NORAD region. NORAD, if you are familiar with the NORAD structure, is broken up into three regions – a Continental NORAD region or CONR, a Canada NORAD region or CANR, and an Alaska NORAD region or ANR.
Getting back to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, the CONAR commander sits there. He is also dual-hatted. He is also the head of Air Force North, or AFNORTH commander, the air component commander of USNORTHCOM. He just did a ribbon-cutting ceremony on his world class Air Operations Center, AOC, which enables him both as the AFNORTH and as the CONR commander to execute his air missions.
Corsi: Are their other AOCs?
Muir: Every numbered Air Force throughout the globe and every air component through the globe has their own Air Operations Center.
Corsi: Okay. So, Tyndall Air Force Base is just one of many AOCs and it really is a separate function from what goes on in the command function at Cheyenne Mountain or at Peterson.
Corsi: The GAO report seemed to struggle whether these moves would involve costs savings and they raised the question of what cost was involved in hardening the new facilities, such as Building Two at Peterson. Was that fair on the part of the GAO, to be concerned about what these costs might be?
Muir: As we talked with the GAO during their several visits here and as we have discussed with the Congressional leadership and the staffers from the Congressional committees, there are current on-going studies. The studies relate to security; the studies relate to physical protection, if required, for various systems. The studies relate to primarily what is the threat to the various systems you are looking at.
Remember our conversation earlier, when I said we are moving no systems out of Cheyenne Mountain. The systems which are currently in Cheyenne Mountain will still reside in Cheyenne Mountain. What we are migrating is some functions. Where do the watch-standers sit that monitor some of those systems? Should they sit here, at Peterson Air Force Base, or should they sit in Cheyenne Mountain? And once again, we believe that these questions are threat-dependent. What is the threat to our nation? What is the threat to the military command and control structure that supports that nation? Are there strategic indications and warnings that would cause you to make decisions that it might not be safe in Peterson, or perhaps that it might not be safe to be in Cheyenne Mountain? Cheyenne Mountain is not necessarily safe from all threats that one can think of.
That threat analysis we think is kind of critical in determining how “hard” hard has to be, if you will. What we’re looking at, you kind of brought it up in your earlier conversation, we’re looking not just at the most catastrophic threat, which would be a global thermonuclear exchange, if you will, in 2007, 2010, and 2020 terms, not in 1950s or 1960s terms. But what other kinds of threats exist in the year 2020 or 2030 that would be a threat from a nation-state, or a rogue nation-state, or even a non-state actor. Then, of course, as you brought out so rightly so, there are other threats out there, looking at pandemic influenza and looking at national disasters, and other threats.
So, essentially, we have on-going studies, the GAO mentions them, that still need to be analyzed. But the bottom line is that we will not place any of our mission set at risk. We owe it to the citizens of the United States and Canada to never do so. We will insure that all threats are capable of being defeated by this command structure that we set in place.
Corsi: These presidential directives signed in May established a National Continuity Coordinator in the executive office of the president. This is an office that Frances Townsend now occupies.
Corsi: Is her continuity command structure integrated in any way with your NORAD or NORTHCOM command structure, or is it separate?
Muir: We, of course, read the National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD-51) and the Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-20), and Department of Defense is coming up with its own supporting plans to what the president has directed all the supporting agencies to come up with. You’re correct. The directives do name Ms. Townsend, who is also the Homeland Security advisor to the president, as the lead federal coordinator. I’m sure that over the days and coming months that she or her office will be in charge of issuing directives to the federal agencies that support the plan. But right now, we’re not aware of any requirements of Department of Defense specifically, and certainly not NORAD or NORTHCOM specifically, in relation to those two directives that you mentioned.
Corsi: So, there’s no attempt or thought at this time to coordinate any command center that Ms. Townsend might require in executing her responsibilities under these directives with your command structure are doing in NORAD and NORTHCOM in relationship to Cheyenne Mountain and Peterson Air Force Base?
Muir: We have no directive from the Department of Defense that would link those two.
Corsi: We certainly appreciate the time you have taken to explain your command structure to our readers.
Muir: I’d like to leave you with one last example. This example best describes the synergies we are looking for in this transformation process. If you remember not too long ago, there was an aircraft crash into a high-rise building in downtown Manhattan. It was a tragic event that involved Corey Little, the pitcher for the New York Yankees.
Corsi: Yes, it was a fatal crash.
Muir: You’re exactly right. But if you remember, at that time the thoughts running through most people’s heads was that this could be another 9/11.
Corsi: Yes. The incident was being carried live by the cable news stations.
Muir: Right. Now, as part of the air warning center done by NORAD right now, out of Cheyenne Mountain, we were able to trace back where that aircraft took off, who was the registered owner, when it departed, and what flight path it was on. We got aircraft good radar tracks for that aircraft itself. The plane was off what we call a visual rule path. So, we were able to make the assessment early on that the incident was most likely a tragic accident and not a terrorist attack.
But NORAD’s ability to immediately have aircraft airborne over citizens in cities in the United States and Canada, as the United States government with the FBI in the lead sorts out what exactly happened in that crash – was it a terrorist attack or was it not a terrorist attack – our ability to talk directly with the FBI in the inter-agency piece enabled us to determine very quickly with our NORAD assessment and the FBI assessment that it was an accident and not a terrorist event.
At the same time that was happening, there was an epoxy plant in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, that had a toxic release reaching out to about 5 miles, which included three elementary schools. That shared situation awareness that we had here in the NORAD-NORTHCOM command center and the dialogue between the centers of our agency partners at the state and federal level, as well as our military partners across the nation and into Canada for the bi-national NORAD piece, allowed us to make an assessment that this was an industrial accident and not a coordinated terrorist event with the plane crash in Manhattan attacking the citizens of the United States.
That is the situation that we find ourselves in today. You don’t know what you have until you figure it out. It’s that collaboration with our inter-agency partners, with our federal military partners, with the state agencies, National Guard in the states, partners in Canada with CANADA COMMAND, the bi-national cooperation that NORAD brings that quick assessment that allows citizens to rest easy at night, knowing that NORAD and NORTHCOM are on watch.
Corsi: Having watched the 9/11 Commission hearing and read the report, a lot of what you are saying reflects to me the after-action assessment of the attempts to scramble military aircraft on 9/11, the attempts to figure out what was going on with the airplane hijackings, and the inability of the military systems in place at that time to assess the situation as it was unfolding and to respond.
Muir: Absolutely. Our real-time linkages with the Federal Aviation Administration give us a network that is press-to-talk 24-to-7 for the center for across the nation for the FAA. We have FAA watch-standers sitting now as part of our combined command center at Cheyenne Mountain that will be part of the seats that will now be occupied at the command center down at Peterson Air Force Base as part of our transformation.
In that one instance we just referred to, you have potential air threats, you have an air response, you are looking for other threats to the maritime domains, a potential threat in the land domain now with the chemical release at the epoxy plant, we’re looking at cyber networks, your information networks, for potential attacks – all working out of one command center, responding to the commander, who is on the phone with the secretary of defense, on the phone with the minister of defense in Canada, and on the phone with the president of the United States to provide his assessment and his response, including what should the military response be.
We don’t have a chance to get it wrong. We have to be timely, we have to be unambiguous, and we have to be correct 100 percent of the time. I think that’s what the American people demand.
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