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Radio Interview with Assistant Secretary of Defense McHale on the Mark Davis Radio Show

Presenter: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale
May 16, 2006

            Mark Davis:  We welcome you for our second hour on this Tuesday, the 16th of May, 2006.

            It is an interesting and busy day at the Pentagon.  As we speak, now that the Moussaoui trial is over, they are releasing the video of Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon just to hopefully extinguish the strains of geekery that have probably flooded your e-mail box, certainly have mine, with the ridiculous video, that 9/11 was fake, and blah, blah, blah, blah.

            It’s a great opportunity that we have to talk about a couple of things with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, Mr. Paul McHale, who joins us from the Pentagon.  It’s a pleasure to have you sir, how are you doing?

            Secretary McHale:  Mark, I’m doing great.  Glad to be with you.

            Mark Davis:  The timing here is perfect because our goal here, of course, the President was talking about a lot of National Guard functions last night, I want to dive right into those.  And we have the opportunity to talk just briefly, and I appreciated your thought just talking to me off the air, about the silliness of not taking at face value what 9/11 meant.  Let’s talk about taking at face value where the war is going and where our immigration story is going.

            I get an e-mail probably five times a day from somebody who says why don’t we just line up the military along the border?  Now we have the National Guard going to the border by presidential edict in association with the states.  What are the rules?  There will always be somebody who says well, you know, you can’t exactly use the National Guard for this or that, and their guns didn’t have any bullets when they were patrolling the streets of New Orleans after Katrina, and da, da, da, da, da.  So what kind of rules and line do we have to walk in terms of what the National Guard can and cannot do?

            Secretary McHale:  Mark, actually we’ve got fairly broad discretion in terms of how we utilize the Guard and in what capacity we use them.  The direction from the President was that we were not to take over the mission that’s been assigned to the Department of Homeland Security. 

            Securing our nation’s borders is a civilian law enforcement function and DHS has that duty, but the President recognized that there was a lot that we in DoD had to contribute to support that DHS-led mission, and last night he made it clear to us and to the nation that we better get about the business of doing it.

            So we anticipate that beginning in early June as many as 6,000 National Guardsmen will be deployed to the area around the border.  We’ll be in supporting roles not functioning in a security capacity.  We’re not going to take over law enforcement. But there are a lot of things we can do and have been doing really back since 1989 to assist Customs and Border Protection in the execution of their mission.  I’d be happy to talk about some of those things, but it’s pretty wide-ranging.  It’s everything from aerial surveillance to ground-based sensors, to construction of barriers, to intelligence assessment and analysis.  A lot of things that we do that assist DHS to get their job done a little bit better.

            Mark Davis:  Is it a challenge to observe those lines of what the military can do and can’t do?  I can hear the listenership yelling at me.  “Mark, ask him about Posse Comitatus,” which is some 1878 post-Reconstruction thing about prohibiting federal troops from supervising elections and since then takes on a larger notion of what the military can do in a non-military realm.

            Is that a non-issue?  Is there any line we need to walk with regard to that?

            Secretary McHale:  Well, if we execute the mission properly, and we intend to in this case, it’s really a non-issue.  The 1878 statute, Posse Comitatus, says that we can’t use active duty military forces for purposes of law enforcement.

            In this case we don’t intend to use the forces for law enforcement.  And number two, the status of the National Guard, we call it Title 32, is exempt from Posse Comitatus.  So both in terms of what we intend to do and the status of the National Guard in which they do it, Posse Comitatus is not a limitation.

            Obviously there is a legitimate public policy question of what the role of the military should be within our own country.  If you go back and look at the Federalist Papers.  When I left Congress I taught a course on that for a couple of years.  It is a serious, sobering question to examine and ensure that the military will not become too powerful or too active within the domestic boundaries of the United States of America.  That’s not the kind of country we are.  But within those limitations there is a lot that we can do to help DHS and others secure our borders and we intend to do it.

            Mark Davis:  Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, Mr. Paul McHale, with us from the Pentagon.

            About a minute ago in your answer you said that we’re not using the National Guard for law enforcement, per se.  Where is that line crossed?  What would be things the National Guard guys and gals will not be doing because that would be stepping into law enforcement?

            Secretary McHale:  We’re not going to engage in arrest, search and seizure.  We’re not going to be involved in the direct apprehension of those who try to cross the border illegally.  Customs and Border Protection will do that.  We’re not going to run detention facilities.  We’re not going to be involved in searching individuals for purposes of apprehension.  We’re not going to provide security through our department at the facilities that will be used to hold those folks who are apprehended illegally crossing the border.  All of those are law enforcement functions. 

            Some of those things could be done by the military, but by choice, as a matter of policy, we’re not going to militarize the border with Mexico.  The legitimate, extremely important law enforcement functions will be performed by civilian law enforcement officers.  We’ll be providing backup.  We’re going to make it easier, for instance, using aviation platforms –- helicopters –- as we have since 1989.  We will observe from the air movement on the ground, day and night.  We will report that movement, when we see it, to Customs and Border Protection officers who are on the ground.  They will go out as law enforcement officers, interdict those who are crossing the border, take them into custody, and do all the processing that is properly done by a law enforcement official.

            We will make it possible for them to execute their mission, but we’re not going to take it over.

            Mark Davis:  Do we have enough Border Patrol guys to answer all the calls they’re probably going to get from the National Guard guys?

            Secretary McHale:  The answer is no.  We’ll have enough officers on the ground in terms of Customs and Border Protection to process the kinds of notices that we give, but taking your question more broadly, there’s no doubt, we need more officers within Customs and Border Protection.  The President has indicated that over a two year period of time we’re going to increase by I believe it’s 6,000 the number of officers that we have.  We’re going to double the number of officers over a period of time, trained to serve in those law enforcement capacities.

            So we will have enough officers to respond to the notices that we give, but certainly we as a nation will be more secure along our border when we have additional officers trained in those law enforcement functions.

            Mark Davis:  The President referred to this entire National Guard angle as temporary.  We learned when some civilian guys, the Minutemen went down there, we just learned that more eyes and ears can have an immediate effect on dissuading illegal crossing into our country.

            Secretary McHale:  Absolutely.

            Mark Davis:  I’m thinking once we get those National Guard guys down there and they start working in a coordinated partnership with the Border Patrol, I’m thinking everyone is going to like it.  I think we’re going to have stories of fewer border incursions, fewer waves of illegal immigrants, and people are going to look around and say you know, we might be onto something here.  So how difficult will it be to reach a point where, or what will have to happen where we get to the point where we tell the guys okay, everybody loves this, let’s stop it.

            Secretary McHale:  I think what we do will have an effect.  Certainly that’s the President's intent and we intend to make that happen.

            The presence that we establish with military personnel along the border will, as I said, enable DHS to apprehend those who are crossing the border.  But frankly, my hope is that the fact that we’re going to have up to 6,000 National Guardsmen on the border during the first year will not only enable detection and apprehension, but provide greater deterrence.  We want to send a message to those who would cross the border illegally that they ought not to try because there will be consequences if they try to cross the border and they are likely to be caught in part because of the enhanced National Guard presence.

            So as we look at what’s success, what defines success in this case, we’re going to have to look not only at the number of people who are apprehended because of the improved capabilities, but also get a metric, get a sense of what kind of deterrent effect we have had on the flow of illegal immigrants across the border and hopefully by deterrence decrease that number.

            Coming back to your question, we’re going to have to make sure that at the end of the two year period of time which is the cap on the National Guard deployment, that we have infrastructure in place, that we have barriers, that we have fencing, that we have other infrastructure in place that when completed will make it more difficult to cross the border illegally, and most significantly, we’re going to have to make sure that as we pull Guardsmen off the border and the border area that we have professional trained and an increased number of civilian law enforcement officials, principally within Customs and Border Protection, to have them move in and assume the responsibilities for law enforcement that will build upon the infrastructure that we have put in place.

            So clearly we’re a transition.  This is not going to be a permanent National Guard mission, we don’t want it to be a permanent National Guard mission.  It’s similar to the counter-narcotics work we’ve been doing for 20 years, but we’re going to have a very substantial number of Guardsmen on the border, we want that to be successful, but when it is successful and the civilian capabilities are built up, we want to pull the Guard off and put the civilians back on.

            Mark Davis:  Paul McHale is with us just a few more minutes.  He’s our Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense.

            Is this a new post?  Are you the first person to occupy it?

            Secretary McHale:  I am.  I had served as a member of Congress back in the 1990s and had retired, had gone back to Pennsylvania and back to private life, and then was in the Marine Reserve on September 11, 2001.  When the Congress considered creating the position that I now hold Secretary Rumsfeld contacted me and asked if I would accept the appointment as the first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense.  After 9/11 I didn’t think anyone could say no to that kind of --

            Mark Davis:  I was going to say, how do you hang up that phone call?

            What are the definitions of the terms?  You are responsible for the supervision of all homeland defense activities of the Department of Defense.  I know what those words mean, but like what?

            Secretary McHale:  Basically I’ve got the responsibility to supervise the activities of our combatant command, NORTHCOM, that has been assigned for the United States and the areas adjacent to the United States the warfighting defense of the United States of America.  The protection of our airspace, the defense against maritime threats that might approach our coast, and to a lesser degree in coordination with civilian law enforcement, the land border defense of the United States.

            In addition, my office has the responsibility for military support to civilian authorities of we have a domestic catastrophic event or a major disaster, whether it’s an event like Katrina or an attack by terrorists involving weapons of mass destruction.

            So it’s a pretty sobering portfolio.  The intent is to defend the United States against any threat and be prepared to respond if a threat actually strikes oru country.

            Mark Davis:  The first thing that occurs to me as you describe that is have you seen United 93?

            Secretary McHale:  I have not yet, but I intend to. 

            Mark Davis:  It is so remarkable.  The reason I ask is it is so remarkable and so takes us back to the kind of feelings that refresh our spirit on why we’re at war.  And very understandably, part of it takes place in a kind of a military environment that I think you’re now well familiar with, some control room where they’ve got to scramble fighters, and we don’t quite know what the rules of engagement are, and can we ram the plane and have the guy eject?  It’s a confusion, but it’s a very understandable –- We had never, never, these guys don’t come across looking bad, they come across looking very surprised.  Is that your understanding of how that day went?

            Secretary McHale:  I think that’s accurate.  The chapter in the 9/11 Commission report that deals with this issue was entitled “Improvising Homeland Defense”.  The good news is we have moved far beyond that.

            The kinds of challenges that were unprecedented on September 11th have now been incorporated into our training and our tabletop exercises.  And NORAD which has the defense of American airspace, is now well prepared to deal with those kinds of challenges.  We are no longer improvising our homeland defense.

            Mark Davis:  What a pleasure to meet you sir, and thank you.  And history will observe that you are the first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, and thank you for the work you do every day.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.

            Secretary McHale:  My pleasure and my privilege.

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