‘Emergency’ plans to ‘shut down or seize control’ of communications revealed in Bush-era docs

As an increasing number of Americans contemplate the potential of a true dystopian nightmare unfolding across the nation under the Biden administration, newly disclosed Bush-era documents reveal the extraordinary powers granted to a president in the event of an emergency — including the spine-chilling ability to shut down communications.

Thanks to Freedom of Information Act requests, the Brennan Center for Justice has obtained more than 500 pages generated during 2004, 2006, and 2008 reviews by the George W. Bush administration of a set of secret plans known as “presidential emergency action documents,” or PEADs.

Developed under President Dwight Eisenhower, PEADs were originally a response to the threat of nuclear war and provided a playbook for maintaining the continuity of government in the event of an apocalyptic scenario. In the wake of 9/11, reviewing presidential emergency powers became, according to one Bush official, an “urgent and compelling security effort, especially in light of ongoing threats.”

Today, given that the Biden administration has attempted to frame concerned parents as domestic terrorists and has tried to form its own “Ministry of Truth,” those previously classified emergency powers are now a clear cause for concern.

Take, as the Brennan Center notes, a president’s power to “shut down or seize control of ‘any facility or station for wire communication'” should the administration proclaim “that there exists a state or threat of war involving the United States.”

Congress granted the president the ability to implement such drastic measures during World War II when “wire communication” was limited to telephone calls and telegrams. But the language used to grant the authority is “frighteningly expansive,” according to the Brennan Center, and “a president willing to test the limits of his or her authority might interpret ‘wire communications’ to encompass the internet — and therefore claim a ‘kill switch’ over vast swaths of electronic communication.”

The declassified documents reveal that the Bush administration was particularly interested in the expansive nature of the language and, in the course of the review, added “three more documents on the same subject” following 9/11.

Suspending habeas corpus is also on the table in the event of an emergency — a matter of some importance to the Bush administration.

“An internal memorandum from June 2008 specified that a document under the Justice Department’s jurisdiction was ‘[s]till being revised by OLC [Office of Legal Counsel], in light of recent Supreme Court opinion,'” the Brennan Center reports.

While the memo didn’t name the opinion in question, the Brennan Center argues it “must refer to the landmark decision in Boumediene v. Bush, which recognized Guantanamo Bay prisoners’ constitutional right to challenge their detention in court.”

“This strongly suggests that the early-Cold War PEADs purporting to suspend habeas corpus had survived, at least in some form, and were part of the Bush administration’s review,” the Brennan Center adds.

William Arkin, a PEADs expert, noted that the materials disclosed in the FOIA mainly relate to civil agencies, rather than the military’s role in a crisis and warned this is likely due to a higher classification level for the “black side” of presidential power.

“By implication,” says the Brennan Center, “the most daring claims to presidential power may have been entirely excluded from this tranche of documents.”

“The bottom line is that these documents leave no doubt that the post-9/11 emergency actions documents have direct and significant implications for Americans’ civil liberties,” the Brennan Center’s Elizabeth Goitein told The New York Times. “And yet, there is no oversight by Congress. And that’s unacceptable.”


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