05/08/2013 12:40 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2013

Operation Urban Shield: Protecting the Homeland

Shortly after the bombing of the Boston Marathon that took three lives and seriously injured scores of others, three black helicopters, accompanied by heavily armed soldiers, were spotted buzzing downtown Chicago. Before this report is dismissed as the paranoid meanderings of Alex Jones, some independent research confirmed that the exercise was conducted by the Pentagon utilizing a combination of special force troops and local law enforcement. A similar military drill that took place prior to NATO 's Chicago conference in 2012 was described by City Hall as a 'routine military training exercise."

So how 'routine' is it for military drills to take place in highly populated, dense metropolitan neighborhoods that includes simulated gunfire and strafing runs, troops rappelling out of helicopters, building breaching for practice amidst assorted flares and smoke bombs? Although the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibits military forces from acting as civilian law enforcement on American soil, similar full-scale military exercises, known as Operation Urban Shield (OUS), continue to occur in many of the country's largest municipal areas including Miami, Houston,San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston and have irreparably damaged the Act's legal authority.

While OUS exercises are conducted by "military personnel, designed to ensure the military's ability to operate in urban environments," its roots can be traced to Presidential Policy Directive #8. entitled "National Preparedness." The Directive provided the framework to create the Urban Security Areas Initiative (USAI) dedicated to"support for high-threat, high-density urban areas to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from threats or acts of terrorism." As an agency within FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), USAI isfunded by the Department of Homeland Security.

The City of Boston's earlier Urban Shield drills, one in May, 2011 and another inNovember, 2012, offer an ideal opportunity to consider how well the program functioned during a true-life emergency 'situation,' whether it is a valuable tool in terrorist situations and whether anything of significance has been accomplished to justify the dismantling of the nation's once-sacrosanct civil liberties. Such scrutiny is not intended to be critical of the officers and emergency personnel who were diligent in their efforts to protect the greater population of Boston. We now know it was the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) that issued the 'shelter-in-place' order on April 19th. Utilizing a high-tech 'wireless emergency area' message system, described as 'phone sirens", MEMA sent a media advisory announcing the upcoming house-to- house search as part of the ensuing tracking operation.

To reiterate from my two previous posts (here and here) these are the facts as we know them: a wounded 19 year old, who turned out to be unarmed, eluded a massive dragnet for almost twenty four hours, mostly in broad daylight, until he was discovered by an observant neighbor who spotted drops of blood. In other words, a massive 9,000 member dragnet with every technological advantage at its fingertips was unable to track an amateur-terrorist who had no after-plan or escape route to follow. What gives with that?

Not surprisingly, our well-funded intel agencies appear to have been caught flat-footed by not more closely following up on earlier alerts from the Russian government warning about Tamerlan Dzhokhar - although details about the nature of the relationship of those agencies with the older brother are still ambiguous. While authorities remain tight-lipped about the details of the Thursday night shoot-out that killed Tamerlan, it would be essential to know if Urban Shield recommends a 'no kill' order or use of a sophisticated laser stun-gun to subdue a critically-valuable suspect. If so, we might have considerably more relevant information than we have today.

Since there was no way for OUS to predict the bombing, the inescapable conclusion is that such full-scale military trainings are of limited use after a 'situation' has occurred, therefore, leaving open the question of why military training needs to take place in urban areas and where and when will such training be necessary. The argument that Urban Shield will prevent a future attack neglects the reality that OUS was not directly responsible for the capture of the suspect. More to the point, the intel game plan that asserts Operation Urban Shield strategic value has apparently failed to calculate the inherent complexity of conducting a house-to-house search and a massive dragnet within the tight confines of a densely crowded urban neighborhood.

Despite the advantages of Federal government largesse of unlimited funding and manpower and an enormous bureaucracy, there remains a fundamental question of whether any amount of money, training or preparation can defend against or anticipate a lone-wolf, homegrown kind of attack - and at what cost to the Bill of Rights.