I don't know. But on July 6 -- a holiday-weekend Friday -- the White House posted an Executive Order setting up Napolitano's Department of Homeland Security as the uber-communications authority during a national emergency with some peculiar little clauses that make me wonder. (Hat tip: John L. Work.)
Obama's Order creates an Executive Committee for National Security/Emergency Preparedness (NS/EP) under the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security, and a Executive Committee Joint Program Office under the Secretary of Homeland Security to support the Executive Committee.
That's the blah-blah part. The parts enumerating duties and powers, however, despite the same mind-numbing official patois, seem like anything but hot air.
Sec. 5.2. The Secretary of Homeland Security shall:...
(d) receive, integrate, and disseminate NS/EP communications information to the Federal Government and State, local, territorial, and tribal governments, as appropriate, to establish situational awareness, priority setting recommendations, and a common operating picture for NS/EP communications information;
(e) satisfy priority communications requirements through the use of commercial, Government, and privately owned communications resources, when appropriate;
I sure hope Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, et al have read this part. Then again, it is not only "communications resources" featuring conservative radio hosts that could come under such a wide-open clause. Is DHS now waiting in the wings to seize -- sorry: "satisfy priority communications requirements through the use of commercial ... and privately owned" radio networks "when appropriate"?
It sounds far-fetched, a midsummer night's heatstroke of a dream, but consider the context. No White House waits until a hot, holiday Friday to release non-news, and particularly not this White House. In these parlous times of ever-expanding government controls over our privacy and movement, a vague order robustly expanding executive powers over "communications" -- broadcast speech --during some undefined crisis sounds all too close to pulp science fiction, or to patterns that should be familiar to us from totalitarian studies.
We already have, in effect, Government Media in the body of a supine White House press corps. That aside, it is the long, long-standing case that radio and TV news networks and cable outlets reliably provide the president with airtime when events call for them. It's news, after all, and, in an emergency, vital news. Why is the White House now conferring powers on the DHS Secretary, "when appropriate," to take control of "commercial ... and privately owned communications resources"?
This is a question Americans need to have answered. This is a question Congress needs to ask. Mitt Romney should seek the answers, too.
The DHS Secretary shall also:
(f) maintain a joint industry-Government center that is capable of assisting in the initiation, coordination, restoration, and reconstitution of NS/EP communications services or facilities under all conditions of emerging threats, crisis, or emergency;
(g) serve as the Federal lead for the prioritized restoration of communications infrastructure and coordinate the prioritization and restoration of communications, including resolution of any conflicts in or among priorities, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense when activities referenced in section 5.1(a) of this order are impacted, consistent with the National Response Framework. ...
As I read Federalese, this means that Janet Napolitano, after having "satisfied communications priorities through the use of commercial ... and privately owned communications resources" -- read: seized radio networks in a public emergency -- gets to pick and choose who gets to go back on the air and when.
Now, the Secretary of Commerce gets into the act.
Sec. 5.3. The Secretary of Commerce shall: ...
(d) develop plans and procedures concerning radio spectrum allocations, assignments, and priorities for use by agencies and executive offices;
(e) develop, maintain, and publish policies, plans, and procedures for the management and use of radio frequency assignments, including the authority to amend, modify, or revoke such assignments, in those parts of the electromagnetic spectrum assigned to the Federal Government;
Maybe I'm wrong, but I read authority over radio "assigned to the Federal Government" as including whatever comes under Napolitano's control, "when appropropriate" (see above).
The Commerce Secretary also shall:
(f) administer a system of radio spectrum priorities for those spectrum-dependent telecommunications resources belonging to and operated by the Federal Government and certify or approve such radio spectrum priorities, including the resolution of conflicts in or among such radio spectrum priorities during a crisis or emergency.
Sec. 5.5. With respect to the Intelligence Community, the DNI [Director of National Intelligence], after consultation with the heads of affected agencies, may issue such policy directives and guidance as the DNI deems necessary to implement this order.
This all seems quite power-expanding and alarming. Now, policies driven by the specter of a national crisis are necessarily alarming, but the fear- or chaos-factor of such a crisis itself is not what I mean. There seems to be in this Executive Order more than the provision for uninterupted communications. It seems to be a blueprint for executive control of more power than is necessary -- an excess of power that bodes ill for our liberty.
Heatstroke? Or does anyone agree?