America Might Be a More Gilded Cage than Egypt ... But It Still Looks Like a Cage

George Washington's picture

Washington’s Blog

As the New York Times' Lede wrote yesterday:

is an excerpt from "Why It Is Wrong to Believe a Word Mubarak said,"
one Egyptian activist's detailed response to President Hosni Mubarak's
speech on Tuesday:

What has Mubarak left out in his speech:


Emergency law is still effective, which means oppression, brutality,
arrests, and torture will continue. How can you have any hope for fair
democratic elections under emergency law where the police have absolute

America is obviously very different from Egypt. Or is it?

Let's honestly compare and contrast the situation in the United States.

State of Emergency

The United States has been in a declared state of emergency
from September 2001, to the present. Specifically, on September 11,
2001, the government declared a state of emergency. That declared
state of emergency was formally put in writing on 9/14/2001:

national emergency exists by reason of the terrorist attacks at the
World Trade Center, New York, New York, and the Pentagon, and the
continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.
THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of
America, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President by the
Constitution and the laws of the United States, I hereby declare that
the national emergency has existed since September 11, 2001 . . . .

declared state of emergency has continued in full force and effect from
9/11 to the present. President Bush kept it in place, and President
Obama has also.

For example, on September 10, 2009, President Obama issued his continuation of the declaration of national emergency:

Notice of President of the United States, dated Sept. 10, 2009, 74 F.R. 46883, provided:

with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d),
I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency declared on September
14, 2001, in Proclamation 7463, with respect to the terrorist attacks
of September 11, 2001, and the continuing and immediate threat of
further attacks on the United States.

Because the terrorist
threat continues, the national emergency declared on September 14, 2001,
and the powers and authorities adopted to deal with that emergency,
must continue in effect beyond September 14, 2009. Therefore, I am
continuing in effect for an additional year the national emergency the
former President declared on September 14, 2001, with respect to the
terrorist threat.

This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.
Barack Obama.

An on September 10, 2010, President Obama declared:

202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), provides
for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, prior to
the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the
Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that
the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date.
Consistent with this provision, I have sent to the Federal Register the
enclosed notice, stating that the emergency declared with respect to
the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001, is to
continue in effect for an additional year.


The terrorist threat
that led to the declaration on September 14, 2001, of a national
emergency continues. For this reason, I have determined that it is
necessary to continue in effect after September 14, 2010, the national
emergency with respect to the terrorist threat.

The Washington Times wrote on September 18, 2001:

by proclaiming a national emergency on Friday, President Bush
activated some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing
him to impose censorship and martial law.

the Times correct? Well, it is clear that pre-9/11 declarations of
national emergency have authorized martial law. For example, as summarized
by a former fellow for the Hoover Institution and the National Science
Foundation, and the recipient of numerous awards, including the Gary
Schlarbaum Award for Lifetime Defense of Liberty, Thomas Szasz Award for
Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties, Lysander
Spooner Award for Advancing the Literature of Liberty and Templeton
Honor Rolls Award on Education in a Free Society:

1973, the Senate created a Special Committee on the Termination of the
National Emergency (subsequently redesignated the Special Committee on
National Emergencies and Delegated Emergency Powers) to investigate the
matter and to propose reforms. Ascertaining the continued existence of
four presidential declarations of national emergency, the Special
Committee (U.S. Senate 1973, p. iii) reported:

These proclamations give force to 470 provisions of Federal law. . . . taken together, [they] confer enough authority to rule the country without reference to normal constitutional processes.
Under the powers delegated by these statutes, the President may: seize
property; organize and control the means of production; seize
commodities; assign military forces abroad; institute martial law;
seize and control all transportation and communications; regulate the
operation of private enterprise; restrict travel; and, in a plethora of
particular ways, control the lives of all American citizens.

(Most or all of the emergency powers referred to by the above-quoted 1973 Senate report were revoked in the late 1970's by 50 U.S.C. Section 1601.
However, presidents have made numerous declarations of emergency
since then, and the declarations made by President Bush in September
2001 are still in effect).

It is also clear that the White House
has kept substantial information concerning its presidential
proclamations and directives hidden from Congress. For example, according to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy:

the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the [George
W.] Bush Administration to date, the titles of only about half have
been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text
in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are
dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national
security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.

Continuity of Government

Continuity of Government ("COG") measures were implemented on 9/11. For example, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, at page 38:

9:59, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House
Military Office joined the conference and stated he had just talked to
Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The White House requested (1) the implementation of continuity of government measures, (2) fighter escorts for Air Force One, and (3) a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, D.C.

Likewise, page 326 of the Report states:

secretary of defense directed the nation's armed forces to Defense
Condition 3, an increased state of military readiness. For the first
time in history, all nonemergency civilian aircraft in the United States
were grounded, stranding tens of thousands of passengers across the
country. Contingency plans for the continuity of government and the evacuation of leaders had been implemented.

The Washington Post notes that Vice President Richard Cheney initiated the COG plan on 9/11:

From the bunker, Cheney officially implemented the emergency continuity of government orders . . . .

See also footnotes cited therein and this webpage.

CNN reported that - 6 months later - the plans were still in place:

Because Bush has decided to leave the operation in place,
agencies including the White House and top civilian Cabinet
departments have rotated personnel involved, and are discussing ways to
staff such a contingency operation under the assumption it will be in place indefinitely, this official said.

Similarly, the Washington Post reported in March 2002 that "the shadow government has evolved into an indefinite precaution." The same article goes on to state:

Assessment of terrorist risks persuaded the White House to remake the program as a permanent feature of 'the new reality, based on what the threat looks like,' a senior decisionmaker said.

As CBS pointed out,
virtually none of the Congressional leadership knew that the COG had
been implemented or was still in existence as of March 2002:

congressional leaders say they didn’t know President Bush had
established a “shadow government,” moving dozens of senior civilian
managers to secret underground locations outside Washington to ensure
that the federal government could survive a devastating terrorist attack
on the nation's capital, The Washington Post says in its Saturday

Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) told
the Post he had not been informed by the White House about the role,
location or even the existence of the shadow government that the
administration began to deploy the morning of the Sept. 11 hijackings.

An aide to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said he was also unaware of the administration's move.

Congress's GOP leadership, aides to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert
(Ill.), second in line to succeed the president if he became
incapacitated, and to Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) said
they were not sure whether they knew.

Aides to Sen. Robert C.
Byrd (D-W. Va.) said he had not been told. As Senate president pro
tempore, he is in line to become president after the House speaker.

Similarly, the above-cited CNN article states:

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Friday he can't say much about the plan.

have not been informed at all about the role of the shadow government
or its whereabouts or what particular responsibilities they have and
when they would kick in, but we look forward to work with the
administration to get additional information on that


the White House has specifically refused to share information about
Continuity of Government plans with the Homeland Security Committee of
the U.S. Congress, even though that Committee has proper security
clearance to hear the full details of all COG plans.

in the summer 2007, Congressman Peter DeFazio, on the Homeland
Security Committee (and so with proper security access to be briefed on
COG issues), inquired about continuity of government plans, and was refused access. Indeed, DeFazio told Congress that the entire Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress has been denied access to the plans by the White House (video; or here is the transcript). The Homeland Security Committee has full clearance to view all information about COG plans. DeFazio concluded: "Maybe the people who think there’s a conspiracy out there are right”.

As University of California Berkeley Professor Emeritus Peter Dale Scott warned:

members of the Homeland Security Committee cannot enforce their right
to read secret plans of the Executive Branch, then the systems of
checks and balances established by the U.S. Constitution would seem to
be failing.


To put it another way, if the White
House is successful in frustrating DeFazio, then Continuity of
Government planning has arguably already superseded the Constitution as a higher authority.

Indeed, continuity of government plans are specifically defined to do the following:

  • Top
    leaders of the “new government” called for in the COG would entirely
    or largely go into hiding, and would govern in hidden locations
  • Those within the new government would know what was going on. But
    those in the “old government” – that is, the one created by the framers
    of the Constitution – would not necessarily know the details of what
    was happening
  • Normal laws and legal processes might largely be suspended, or superseded by secretive judicial forums
  • The media might be ordered by strict laws – punishable by treason – to only promote stories authorized by the new government

See this, this and this.

Could the White House have maintained COG operations to the present day?

I don't know, but the following section from the above-cited CNN article is not very reassuring:

triggered the precautions in the hours after the September 11 strikes,
and has left them in place because of continuing U.S. intelligence
suggesting a possible threat.


Concerns that al Qaeda could have gained access to a crude nuclear
device "were a major factor" in the president's decision, the official
said. "The threat of some form of catastrophic event is the trigger,"
this official said


This same official went on to
say that the U.S. had no confirmation -- "and no solid evidence" --
that al Qaeda had such a nuclear device and also acknowledged that the
"consensus" among top U.S. officials was that the prospect was "quite


Still, the officials said Bush and other top White House
officials including Cheney were adamant that the government take
precautions designed to make sure government functions ranging from
civil defense to transportation and agricultural production could be
managed in the event Washington was the target of a major strike.


is apparent from a brief review of the news, the government has, since
9/11, continuously stated that there is a terrorist threat of a
nuclear device or dirty bomb. That alone infers that COG plans could,
hypothetically, still be in effect, just like the state of emergency is
still in effect and has never been listed.

In addition,
investigative reporter Larisa Alexandrovna (lead journalist at Raw
Story), writing about the 2001 Department of Justice memorandum that
found that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military
operations, wrote:

seems to me that this administration has justified its crimes by NOT
suspending the state of emergency that went up on September 11, 2001.
They are using emergency powers if you look at the whole of the spying,
military actions inside the US, etc. I would wager that if asked, this
administration will admit that we have been in a state of emergency for
their tenure in office.

Alexandrovna not only believes that
we have been in a state of emergency since 2001 (which the White House
itself has verified, see above), but that the government has been using
its emergency powers -- i.e. powers justified by a state of emergency
-- in spying, carrying out military actions inside the U.S. (see this), and taking other extra-Constitutional actions.

As Tim Shorrock wrote at Salon:

contemporary version of the Continuity of Government program was put
into play in the hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Vice
President Cheney and senior members of Congress were dispersed to
"undisclosed locations" to maintain government functions. It was during
this emergency period, Hamilton and other former government officials
believe, that President Bush may have authorized the NSA to begin
actively using the Main Core database for domestic surveillance. One
indicator they cite is a statement by Bush in December 2005,
after the New York Times had revealed the NSA's warrantless
wiretapping, in which he made a rare reference to the emergency program:
The Justice Department's legal reviews of the NSA activity, Bush said,
were based on "fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to
the continuity of our government."

In 2007, President
Bush issued Presidential Directive NSPD-51, which purported to change
Continuity of Government plans. NSPD51 is odd because:

cases of actual insurrection, the President may now use military
troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a
disease outbreak, terrorist attack, or to any ‘other condition.’
Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public
airing. But these new Presidential powers were slipped into the law
without hearings or public debate.


  • Everyone from "conservative
    activist Jerome Corsi [to] Marjorie Cohn of the [liberal] National
    Lawyer's Guild have interpreted [the COG plans contained in Presidential
    Directive NSPD-51] as a break from Constitutional law ....

  • As a reporter for Slate concluded after analyzing NSPD-51:

    see nothing in the [COG document entitled presidential directive
    NSPD51] to prevent even a "localized" forest fire or hurricane from
    giving the president the right to throw long-established constitutional
    government out the window

  • White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that "because of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the American public needs no explanation of [Continuity of Government] plans"
  • Much Ado About Nothing?

    This may seem like much ado about nothing. But as I pointed out last September:

    According to Department of Defense training manuals, protest is considered "low-level terrorism". And see this, this and this.


    An FBI memo also labels peace protesters as "terrorists".


    Indeed, police have been terrorizing children, little old ladies and other "dangerous" people who attempted to protest peacefully.


    And a 2003 FBI memo describes protesters' use of videotaping as an "intimidation" technique, even though - as the ACLU
    points out - "Most mainstream demonstrators often use videotape
    during protests to document law enforcement activity and, more
    importantly, deter police from acting outside the law." The FBI
    appears to be objecting to the use of cameras to document unlawful
    behavior by law enforcement itself.


    The Internet has been labeled
    as a breeding ground for terrorists, with anyone who questions the
    government's versions of history being especially equated with


    The government is also using anti-terrorism laws to keep people from learning what pollutants are in their own community. See this, this, this and this.


    Claims of "national security"
    are also used to keep basic financial information - such as who got
    bailout money - secret. That might not bode for particularly warm and
    friendly treatment for someone persistently demanding the release of
    such information.


    The state of Missouri tried to label
    as terrorists current Congressman Ron Paul and his supporters, former
    Congressman Bob Barr, libertarians in general, anyone who holds gold,
    and a host of other people.


    And according to a law school professor, pursuant to the Military Commissions Act:

    Anyone who ... speaks out against the government's policies could be declared an "unlawful enemy combatant" and imprisoned indefinitely. That includes American citizens.

    And see this.

    So the U.S. might be a much more gilded cage than Egypt ... but it still looks like a cage.

    Didn't 9/11 Change Everything?

    have claimed that 9/11 changed everything, and Americans can no longer
    abide by the idealistic ideas set forth in the Constitution.


    • The Afghanistan war was planned before 9/11 (see this and this)
    • Cheney apparently even made Iraqi's oil fields a national security priority before 9/11
    • Cheney dreamed of giving the White House the powers of a monarch long before 9/11
    • Cheney
      and Rumsfeld actively generated fake intelligence which exaggerated
      the threat from an enemy in order to justify huge amounts of military
      spending long before 9/11. And see this
    • The decision to threaten to bomb Iran was made before 9/11
    • It was known long before 9/11 that torture doesn't work to produce accurate intelligence, but is an effective way to terrorize people

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    Salinger's picture

    “This swift action by our Homeland Security Investigations New York special agents and analysts sends a clear message to website operators who mistakenly believe it’s worth the risk to take copyrighted programming and portray it as their own,”

    U.S. Seizes Domains of 6 Sports Streaming Sites

    this is one of the sites taken down note the nice graphic obviously designed to engender confidence and a feeling safety and security.


    Dr. Gonzo's picture

    Our media sucks U.S. government dick. There is no way we can possibly become informed by relying on them. Their job is not to report the news. It is to suppress information and form opinions for us that are favorable to our fascist state. You can't have a free state if you don't let journalists report the truth. The truth is so fucked up that they can't report it without implicating their masters with treason. Everyone in power now is compromised. 

    Zero Govt's picture

    I watched a programme the other day on the secret Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Over 500 check-points, the Plaestinians having to move through cattle grids every day to get too and from work, church even shopping, on their own land. The oppression and authoritorism by the Israeli State is disgusting.

    Then i switched over and saw Homeland Security ruffling up people in the US at a bus station having extended their stop-and-search from airports.

    What are we coming to when you can't get on a bus or plane for the 0.000001% chance there may be a madman aboard. Fuk the State intrusion that 99.99999% of the time is a waste of time for 99.999999% of the people harassed who are just ordinary citizens. I'll take the ultra-microscopic risk and freedom to move thanks

    apberusdisvet's picture

    It's time we realize that  the terrorist straw man is a psyop and to rethink the 9/11 conspiracy theories.  Examine closely the 1st 10 Constitutional Amendments and ask yourself, honestly, how many "rights" are still available to anyone who would openly dare, in any forum, to critcize government policy which, before 9/11, would never have been an issue of concern but now most definitely is.

    topcallingtroll's picture

    I still prefer the soft tyranny over the hard stuff.  After all, we are still too queazy to do our own torture.  We contract that out although we probably should ask for bids because two billion dollars a year to egypt is a little much for the amount of torture we got out of it.  We will get through this.  At least people aren't put to death for questioning transubstantiation like a few hundred years ago.  Overall the trend is good.  Life is good for most.  As a fan of H.L. Mencken I can echo him and say there is still plenty to eat and plenty to drink.  Many people had their expectations too high thinking a college degree was going to put them on easy street and that somehow american labor was inherently more valuable than all the others.  This is the shit that happens every time there is a dislocation. The radicals of all sides get stirred up, and we become a little more suspicious and willing to give up a few rights for some faux security.  The pendulum will swing back to freedom eventually. We will rebalance in a way that looks suspiciously like the old balance.  Ranters will still rant.  People will still blame the system or the cabal for their failings and humanity will muddle through.  Once we have settled down and freedom is on the rise again many people won't notice, because they will still be glued to their TV's hearing of wars and rumours of wars and watching the latest poor people riot.

    topcallingtroll's picture

    We make an exception for water torture, but you have to admit that is an improvement from the iron maiden, or the boiling in oil.

    WaterWings's picture

    Yeah, you get to be Prometheus 183 times.

    Yancey Ward's picture

    Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Now shut the fuck up, feed me, and change that damned newpaper already!

    wackyquacker's picture

    dude, you need to get a life.

    Gordon Freeman's picture

    Please don't tell me that ZH is only now coming to the realization that the U.S. is a fully established Police State...

    InconvenientCounterParty's picture

    Anyone need further proof that both political parties are complicit in stripping away freedom? Fear is the primary tool of persuasion in all this. Hope is an emotion that mature, well adjusted people see as positive. It is a general response to exhaustion from the constant fear.

    The fear mongers would have you believe that hope is negative and fear is healthy and positive. LOL! in fact, anything but abject fear is unpatriotic.

    You gettin all this, faux heads? wake the fuk up.

    Cognitive Dissonance's picture

    The declaration and continuation of the 9/11 national emergency in America was and is the basis for all that has followed over the last 9 plus years. Meaning wholesale financial fraud and thieving, wars of empire and resource control and the steady erosion of our legal and civil rights.

    Of course, as long as we can remain in denial of the proximity of the danger to us personally, it's all someone else's problem.

    Our denial of the lies and outright violations brings new meaning to the term NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). As long as I can claim it is someone else's problem, I can safely declare I am blameless and not responsible. Plausible deniability isn't just for politicans and corporate CEOs.   

    WaterWings's picture

    I have read some respected opinions around here lately that there is no real big bad conspiracy. The facts suggest, if not prove, otherwise.

    Sure, not everyone in positions of power and influence are "bad" - but if they don't step down or blow the whistle they are comlicit.

    Bank robbery drivers get it the same.