November 17, 2011
Thank you for your letter. We understand you served in the military for 15 years. Examination of your service record reveals that only a portion of those 15 years was spent on active duty, while the remainder was spent with National Guard and Reserve units in New Mexico. Be that as it may, in responding to letters it is customary, when warranted, to acknowledge and express appreciation for military service as a preliminary matter. Though few of us at this agency have served in the military, many of us view our work as being military in nature, so we feel we understand and
share in the sacrifice of the military, and view the distinction between our jobs as a matter of semantics and pay grades.
As of this time, the use of drone strikes by the Department of Homeland Security against U.S. citizens residing within the U.S. (or within foreign territories readily accessed by ground forces) has not been authorized. We decline at this time to comment on any potential future plans to implement drones within our Department given the highly sensitive nature of such operations.
Your concern that the military is preparing for war against its own people is hugely unwarranted. Although there have been high-level discussions regarding the possible deployment of troops onto domestic battlefields—in the event conflict were to surface—these contingencies would only occur after all other courses of action had failed. It is our official position that the militarization of domestic police forces over the last decades, most notably in the wake of 9/11, has been so successful as to make the reliance on military forces for domestic peacekeeping operations anachronistic. In any event, if military forces were to be deployed in a domestic situation, rest assured that care would be taken to ensure that no Soldier, Sailor, or Marine would be deployed in or around his HOR (Home of Record). Retired generals serving as top military consultants have been adamant that no Servicemember should be put in the difficult position of having to choose between following a lawful order and firing upon known persons. The fact that some infantry and MP units have already been subjected to regional and state vetting of the manner described in no way indicates an actual plan for Homeland action.
Agencies such as ours are routinely tasked to consider the probable as well as the possible, the wildly unlikely as well as the absurd, just as was done in Iraq, when the Department of Defense was called upon to contemplate the highly implausible scenario of a civil insurgency and the need for a long-term occupation to secure and impose order following the invasion. While it is true that our national response to that scenario, which included your surprise deployment with the 98th Infantry Division—a reserve unit last tested in WWII—was not a contingency that was actually planned for, the cooperation of all military men and women of any branch and certification to get the job done however possible was something the Nation was thankfully able to count on.
But let me now address the meat of your letter. Your concern that Constitutional rights are being violated across the country, and that these violations are indicative of something greater—what you describe as a “concerted effort to dismantle and reduce our civil liberties and cow the citizenry”—is a matter I take deeply to heart given my position within this bureaucracy. Let me tell you this. The local, regional, and state police forces of this country are highly trained, highly skilled professionals. Many of them have received similar training that you received as a combat soldier. Many of them have been, with the offering of a few incentives, through courses offered by the Department of Homeland Security. Their weaponry and equipment is unmatched among police forces in other advanced Western nations. Their familiarization with firearms is not limited to handguns, but extends even to military firearms like the M-4 carbine. Additionally, their training in and real world use of non-lethal munitions such as rubber bullets and sandbags is also worthy of mention, and has undoubtedly helped save lives. Bottom line: the questioning of the professionalism of our Country’s first responders is something I am not willing to tolerate. They do a dirty job and they do it well, for too little pay, and they should be considered as much on the front lines of a war as any soldier serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The crowd control and eviction operations that have taken place across this country over the last two months, from New York City to Seattle, have been largely untelevised in part because of the admirable level of restraint exercised by the officers involved. It is highly likely that had these operations been conducted in another country, the human toll in terms of injury and possible death would have been much higher (and consequently the media coverage much greater). So it is a good thing that the media coverage has been so minimal. Furthermore, the debilitating defense sprays used against resisting individuals and crowds, although resulting in temporary blindness and intense pain, cause no permanent or lasting damage. The use of these defense sprays, by giving officers an alternative to lethal force, is actually of immense benefit to the public. We find your objection to their use, particularly your description of their effects as “cauterizing the senses,” unduly dramatic.
The Department of Homeland Security has always had as its central goal the protection, not the abuse, of the American people. If you look closely at the patches worn by Homeland Security agents—those that are in uniform—you can see what appears to be a bubble surrounding the United States. This bubble is a vivid reminder and representation of the shield of protection that our Department casts across the length and breadth of this Country through a highly organized and effective network of interconnected agencies and thousands upon thousands of highly trained and deeply loyal personnel. As a 15-year Army veteran who has experienced and understands loyalty to Country, it should give you great comfort to know that our Department is employing the same type of training and indoctrination that you received in order to create effective and obedient Homeland Security agents, willing to serve the needs of their Country in difficult times and under immense pressures, such as those that are developing now.
In closing, we assure you that this Department is comporting itself with the same honor and integrity as that found within the military branches with whom you served, and we will continue to treat and monitor all our citizens with the same tact, discretion and concern that you yourself receive.
(name redacted for security purposes)
Department of Homeland Security