Reagan had installed at FEMA a counterinsurgency team that he had already assembled as governor of California. The team was headed by Army Col. Louis Giuffrida, who had attracted Reagan’s attention by a paper he had written while at the US Army War College, advocating the forcible warrantless detention of millions of black Americans in concentration camps.“ Reagan first installed Giuffrida as head of the California National Guard, and called on him “to design Operation Cable Splicer. … martial law plans to legitimize the arrest and detention of anti-Vietnam war activists and other political dissidents.” These plans were refined with the assistance of British counterinsurgency expert Sir Robert Thompson, who had used massive detention and deportations to deal with the 1950s Communist insurgency in what is now Malaysia.
At the time few people (including myself) attached much importance to the Chardy story about COG. Chardy himself suggested that Reagan’s Attorney General, William French Smith, had intervened to stop the COG plan from being presented to the President, and in 1985 Giuffrida was forced out of office for having spent government money to build a private residence. But COG planning not only continued, it expanded.
Seven years later, in 1994, Tim Weiner reported in the New York Times that what he called “The Doomsday Project” – the search for “ways to keep the Government running after a sustained nuclear attack on Washington” –had “less than six months to live.”
Weiner’s language was technically correct, but also very misleading. In fact COG planning now simply continued with a new target, terrorism. On the basis of Weiner’s article, the first two books to discuss COG planning, by James Bamford and James Mann, both reported that COG planning had been abandoned. Recently Tim Shorrock in 2008 repeated that “the COG program was abandoned during the Clinton administration,” and Shirley Anne Warshaw in 2009 wrote that “the Clinton administration… shut down the super-secret Project.” But on this narrow point, all these otherwise excellent and well-informed authors were wrong.
What Weiner and these authors did not report was that in the final months of Reagan’s presidency the purpose of COG planning had officially changed: it was no longer for arrangements “after a nuclear war,” but for any "national security emergency." This was defined in Executive Order 12656 of 1988 as: “any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological emergency, or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States.” In this way a totally legitimate program dating back to Eisenhower, of planning extraordinary emergency measures for an America devastated in a nuclear attack, was now converted to confer equivalent secret powers on the White House, for anything it considered an emergency.