Militarizing the Home Front

September 25, 2007

Militarizing the Home Front

The new U.S. doctrine also poses dangers to civil liberties in the United States itself. The Clinton Administration doubled federal spending on counterterrorism between 1996 and 2000, and presided over a massive build-up of national counterterror bureaucracies linking the military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies.[1] Two 1996 laws passed by Congress and signed by Clinton, the Immigration Reform Act and the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, revived the use of secret evidence in deportations and endangered other rights. Old laws restricting the military role to territorial defense (such as the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act) were undermined by a growing trend to give military forces internal security roles (including interdicting drugs and providing security in U.S. cities), and to militarize police forces.

In 1999 the Joint Chiefs of Staff formed a Joint Task Force for Civil Support to carry out "homeland defense," enabling the military to conduct security operations within the United States—a move unprecedented even during the height of the Cold War. The general who heads the command, a former CIA and naval intelligence officer, presides over military planning and coordination with civilian agencies to respond to a projected chemical, biological, or nuclear attack in the United States. The Pentagon is also providing instruction to police and fire departments in 120 U.S. cities, infusing law enforcement with military tactics and mindsets. Many cities formed paramilitary units, including SWAT teams, in the 1990s, and the Pentagon supplied such units with 1.2 million pieces of surplus military hardware, including 73 grenade launchers and 112 armored personnel carriers.[2]

On the Mexican border, Justice Department forces increasingly rely on military equipment and intelligence, and employ low intensity conflict strategies to control civilian populations and illegal immigration.[3] In 1989 Joint Task Force-6 (JTF-6) was established under President George Bush and Defense Secretary Richard Cheney to coordinate military and law enforcement counterdrug operations.[4] Military intelligence officers served with JTF-6 to train law enforcement agencies, and operated in New York, Miami and Puerto Rico.[5] In 1997 an 18-year-old Hispanic Texan herding goats was killed by a U.S. Marine Corps anti-drug patrol operating with JTF-6.[6] The Special Operations Command secretly sent military commandos to monitor the 51-day siege at Waco, and the military provided the FBI force there with $1 million worth of surveillance equipment, helicopters, tanks, personnel carriers and weapons.[7] In the United States, too, the new paradigm blurs the line between internal security and national defense.

Earlier this year, news reports revealed that in 1997, former Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey's office—abundantly provisioned by Congress with a budget of $1 billion over five years—secretly reviewed television scripts and provided "guidance" to writers and editors (and also bought television time and ads in the U.S. media) to propagate the anti-drug message. Many prime-time TV shows incorporated government-approved characters or plots depicting the dangers of drugs in exchange for ad buy-backs worth millions of dollars.[8] These attempts to politically influence the mass media—and their ominous implications for the democratic process—received little attention in the U.S. press.

J. Patrice McSherry is Associate Professor of Political Science at Long Island University-Brooklyn and author of Incomplete Transition: Military Power and Democracy in Argentina (St. Martin's Press, 1997). She is a member of NACLA's editorial board. This article draws from her paper "The Argentine Military-Security Forces in the Era of Globalization: Changes and Continuities," presented at the International Congress of the Canadian Association for Latin American and Caribbean Studies/Canadian Association for Mexican Studies, Vancouver, March 1998.

Militarizing the Homefront
1. See, for example, Robert Dreyfuss, "The Phantom Menace," Mother Jones (Sept-Oct 2000), pp. 40-91; George C. Kisor, "Military Policing of the United States," The Humanist, Vol. 57, No. 3 (May-June 1997), pp. 32-33; and Peter Cassidy, "Guess Who's the Enemy?" The Progressive, Vol. 60, No. 1 (January 1996), pp. 22-23.
2. Timothy Egan, "Soldiers of the Drug War Remain on Active Duty," New York Times, March 1, 1999.
3. See Timothy Dunn, The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexican Border, 1978-1992 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996).
4. Chad Thevenot, "The `Militarization' of the Anti-Drug Effort," NewsBriefs (July 1997) []
5. Michael Massing, "A Veteran of the Drug War Fires at U.S. Policy," Washington Post, February 6, 2000.
6. NewsBriefs (July 1997) [].
7. Journalists discovered the SOF presence through the Freedom of Information Act. Philip Shenon, "Documents on Waco Point to a Close Commando Role," New York Times, September 5, 1999.
8. Max Frankel, "Plots for Hire," New York Times Magazine, February 6, 2000, pp. 32-33.

Tags: US foreign policy, militarization, neoliberalism, US immigration, death penalty

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