11. FEMA: THE "EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT" AGENCY
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was created by President
Jimmy Carter in 1978 in response to the federal government's disorganized
efforts to deal with the Mount St. Helens eruption [sic: Mt. St. Helens
5/18/80]. A subsequent FEMA report on the likelihood of future natural
disasters focused almost entirely on one very predictable event: a major
earthquake in Northern California.
On October 17th, 1989, a major earthquake in Northern
California tested FEMA and it failed miserably; as it had failed shortly before
in responding to the tragedy of Hurricane Hugo in South Carolina. Angered over
the agency's failure, U.S. Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC) called FEMA administrators
"a bunch of bureaucratic jackasses." The obvious question was: What
had FEMA been planning for during the past decade?" An investigation by The
San Francisco Bay Guardian, which included interviews with FEMA-watchers in Washington,
background interviews with FEMA personnel who asked not to be identified to protect
their jobs, and research into internal FEMA documents, revealed that FEMA had
become a center of the nation's right wing preparations for resisting civil insurrection
and surviving nuclear war.
Instead of preparing for a coordinated effort
by federal, state, and local government agencies to respond to natural disasters,
FEMA concentrated on developing plans to incarcerate demonstrators, to take over
the government during times of social unrest, and build secret bunkers from which
military leaders could run the country after a nuclear attack. It appears that
during the Reagan administration, the agency became a dumping ground for right-wing
ideologues and survivalists who were obsessed with the futile task of planning
for nuclear war.
Under the leadership of Director Louis Giuffrida, a former
California National Guard general and close friend of former Attorney General
Edwin Meese, the agency expanded into counterinsurgency, anti-terrorism, and domestic
intelligence-gathering. Working with its National Security Council liaison, Lieutenant
Colonel Oliver North, the agency drew up plans to essentially take over the government
during a major national crisis, such as a nuclear attack or political insurrection.
Giuffrida, North, and others are no longer involved with FEMA, critics charge
that some of the "true believers" are still there planning on ways to
survive a nuclear attack at the expense of preparing for natural disasters. FEMA
documents openly tout the Integrated Emergency Management System approach to disaster
planning which assumes that all disasters are sufficiently similar, so that FEMA
can prepare for hurricanes and earthquakes simply by preparing for nuclear war.
of FEMA's critics, however, argue that the agency's various tasks are contradictory.
"You've got an agency that the public assumes is there for disaster relief
-- earthquakes, floods and such -- but the bulk of its money is spent on a military
spook mission," said Donald Goldberg, an investigator for the Senate Judiciary
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: JANIE BARRETT
SOURCE: THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN 520 Hampshire Street, San Francisco,
TITILE: "HURRICANE FEMA"
AUTHOR: CRAIG McLAUGHLIN
COMMENTS: Investigative journalist Craig McLaughlin suggests
that one reason this story wasn't covered earlier was because the media
tend to wait for a crisis before investigating a story. "And once
a story breaks into the news," he added, "it is rarely pursued.
Washington based journalists should have examined whether FEMA had really
changed (after Louis Giufridda left under pressure), but they didn't.
The story was complicated and hard to explain. I think it had more to
do with lazy journalists than with any conspiracy by some power elite.
But unless a scandal comes up, the federal government generally sets
the news agenda out of Washington."