UPDATED: Please see the end of this post for additional confirmation.
Another conspiracy has gone viral on Twitter, this one regarding a "special army unit" to be deployed on American soil just before the November midterms. The tweets link to a blog citing an unnamed source in the "military," and the blogger speculates on whether the unit would obey an order to open fire on US citizens.
The unit in question is the CBRNE Consequence Management Response Force (CBRNE stands for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive incidents). It is a combat support unit originally comprised of about 4,700 soldiers (not the 80,000 troops cited in the blog), and its capabilities include SAR, decontamination, medical/MEDEVAC, aviation, communications and logistics support. At full strength in 2011, the unit could have as many as 20,000 troops, with three task forces: Task Force Operations, Task Force Medical and Task Force Aviation. While it's part of a combat unit and therefore receives some combat training, its mission is not warfighting--it's support. In a domestic deployment, its role would be to provide support for local and state first responders in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. The only combat-level training it receives is in self defense and non-lethal crowd control, which includes beanbag bullets, spike strip deployment and roadblock construction.
It is important to remember that the use of active duty military units in domestic police enforcement was severely restricted by passage of the Posse Comitatus Act in 1878. The law expressly prohibits active duty Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and federalized National Guard troops from acting in a law enforcement role, unless that role is expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress.
News of the unit's stand-up on 1 October 2008 received considerable scrutiny from bloggers and media outlets, ranging from The Cato Institute to CNN. The wiki link above includes a section on the "Sea Smurfs."
I love a good conspiracy theory as much as the next right wing nutcase, but this one is all about nothing. For starters, this is a disaster response unit. It's not a peace keeping force, and the Posse Comitatus restrictions are clear. Second, even at full projected strength, the unit is one-fourth the size noted in the rumors. Third, none of the three task forces have combat or traditional law enforcement roles.
Extra Point: The unit has little (if any) lethal force capability, so even if a mob has to be subdued, it's going to be done so using beanbags and/or tear gas--the same tools police use to control angry mobs of anarchists and "peace activists" at leftwing demonstrations.
UPDATE (04/15/10): Yesterday, I spoke with Lt. Commander Gary Ross, Public Affairs Officer for HQ Northcom, asking for clarification and correction of any known factual errors contained in the Examiner blog post. LT CMDR Ross referred me to Don Manuszewski, Chief, Office of Public Affairs for US Army North, Ft. Sam Houston.
In a telephone interview with me this morning, Mr. Manuszewski confirmed the accuracy of my description of the unit's makeup organization and mission. Mr. Manuszewski stated that the Sea Smurf unit in question is not a combat unit, that it is not scheduled to deploy and that the original Army Times story that formed the genesis of this rumor was in error. He then emailed me a link to a corrected Army Times story. The correction is found at the bottom of the page and (surprisingly) isn't mentioned by any of the blogs or media outlets propagating the rumor:
A non-lethal crowd control package fielded to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, described in the original version of this story, is intended for use on deployments to the war zone, not in the U.S., as previously stated.So, not only will the the troops that are deployed domestically not have lethal weaponry, they won't even have the non-lethal packages of bean bags, spike strips and roadblocks.
Mr. Manuszewski noted to me that the Sea Smurfs have been deployed domestically very recently--to Southeast Texas in response to 2008's Hurricane Ike, where they performed such threatening duties as logistics, operations management and medical support.While the Ike deployment date precedes the unit's formal stand-up date, they were deployed nonetheless. Photos are here, here, and here.
"We have spent quite a bit of time trying to contact bloggers and media outlets to correct the inaccuracies," said Manuszewski. "The Sea Smurfs are a well trained, well equipped hard working unit, as are all of our troops. We appreciate your help in correcting inaccuracies and stopping some of these rumors. We know times are tough and people are worried, but they don't need to be scared of the Sea Smurfs."
I agree. Cased closed.
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