The Pentagon has quietly granted itself the power to police the streets of US towns and cities without obtaining state or local consent.
The Long Island Pressreports that the military has altered a regulation in the US Code titled "Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies," adding vague language allowing military intervention in "civil disturbances":
Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.
Rutgers University constitutional law professor and civil liberties attorney Bruce Afran told the Long Island Press that the move constituted "a wanton power grab by the military."
"It's quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control."
Civil liberties advocates are concerned about the measure's vague language. It does not define what "extraordinary emergency circumstances" are, nor how long "temporary" is, nor which military personnel qualify as "federal military commanders."
"These phrases don't have any legal meaning," Afran told the Long Island Press. "...It's a grant of emergency power to the military to rule over parts of the country at their own discretion."
But a Pentagon official who wished to remain anonymous told the paper that "the authorization has been around over 100 years; it's not a new authority."
"It's been there but it hasn't been exercised," the official added. "This is a carryover of domestic policy."
The military is generally barred from domestic intervention, notably under the Insurrection Act of 1807 and the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA) of 1878.
According to the Long Island Press,
"The stated purpose of the updated rule is 'support in accordance with the Posse Comitatus Act,' but in reality it undermines the Insurrection Act and PCA in significant and alarming ways. The most substantial change is the notion of 'civil disturbance' as one of the few 'domestic emergencies' that would allow for the deployment of military assets on American soil."
In 2006, the George W. Bush administration quietly passed a Defense Authorization Bill that made it easier for the government to declare martial law by allowing the president to use US troops for domestic policing in the event of natural disaster, disease outbreak or terrorism.
According to Global Research, "the law also facilitates militarized police round-ups and detention of protesters, so-called 'illegal aliens,' 'potential terrorists,' and other 'undesirables.'"
In 2008, the Pentagon announced the domestic deployment of 20,000 troops that could be used to quell civil unrest in the event of a large-scale terrorist attack or major economic crisis.
During the Obama administration, civil liberties advocates have been alarmed by the president's signing of a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that authorizes the indefinite military detention of American citizens without charge or trial, although Obama has vowed never to apply the measure to Americans.
Concerns have also been raised as the Department of Homeland Security has been targeted by a Government Accountability Office investigation over its purchase of 1.5 billion rounds of ammunition in 2012.