President Obama has quietly signed Executive Order 13603, which gives him extraordinary power over private property rights and national resources in times of peace and war alike.
Obama put his signature on 13603, otherwise known as the National Defense Resources Preparedness Order, on March 16. In effect, the order gives the federal government permission to seize all manner of property or take virtually any actions it deems necessary in the interests of national security “in peacetime and in times of national emergency”—without defining either of these terms.
Obama’s authority to assume such responsibilities derives from the terms of the Defense Production Act of 1950, according to Fema.gov.
Under the new directive, Obama may delegate broad authority to the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Interior, State, Health and Human Services, and Transportation to commandeer all manner of material. This includes food, construction materials, livestock, fertilizer, farm equipment, energy, water resources, transportation (including private cars, boats and airplanes) and anything else considered necessary for “national defense.”
The Executive Order is of particular concern to Native citizens because it comes on the heels of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Obama signed on New Year’s Eve. Section 1031 of the NDAA allows the president to seize anyone who is suspected of terrorism or of providing aid to terrorists or “associated forces” anywhere in the world, and to detain them without charge or trial indefinitely.
What is particularly disturbing about this provision is its broad and vague wording. It is not inconceivable, for example, that Natives who have invoked their tribal sovereignty to protest government actions could be detained indefinitely as “associated forces” opposed to federal authority. At the very least, Section 1031 would supersede the rights granted by the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968.
The executive order allows the heads of the government agencies to allocate services and facilities for use “as needed” to defend the nation. The government gets to define “as needed.”
Among other things, the heads of agencies are to identify requirements for “the full spectrum of emergencies” both military and civil and evaluate the availability and quality of critical resources and production sources, “including subcontractors and suppliers, materials, skilled labor, and professional and technical personnel.” The agency heads are “to take actions necessary” to make sure those critical resources and production sources are available – without defining what those actions might be. They are to “foster cooperation” between the defense and “commercial sectors” for research and development and production of “materials, services, components, and equipment to enhance industrial base efficiency and responsiveness.” The agencies are also authorized to enter into and provide government-guaranteed contracts and loans to these “commercial sector” corporations.
The order also delegates to the agency heads the president’s authority to require contracts or orders for the materials, services or facilities promoting “national defense” to take precedence over any other contracts or orders. Each agency head is assigned control over particular resources.
The Secretary of Agriculture’s realm includes “food resources, food resource facilities, livestock resources, veterinary resources, plant health resources, and the domestic distribution of farm equipment and commercial fertilizer.” This includes control and command of “all commodities and products, (simple, mixed, or compound), or complements to such commodities or products” that are eaten by humans or animals including “potable water packaged in commercially marketable containers, all starches, sugars, vegetable and animal or marine fats and oils, seed, cotton, hemp, and flax fiber.”
The Energy Secretary will control “petroleum, gas (both natural and manufactured), electricity, solid fuels (including all forms of coal, coke, coal chemicals, coal liquification, and coal gasification), solar, wind, other types of renewable energy, atomic energy, and the production, conservation, use, control, and distribution (including pipelines) of all of these forms of energy.”
The health resources under the Secretary of Health’s control means “drugs, biological products, medical devices, materials, facilities, health supplies, services and equipment required to diagnose, mitigate or prevent the impairment of, improve, treat, cure, or restore the physical or mental health conditions of the population.”
Civil transportation under the Secretary of Transportation provides for controlling the movement of people and property “by all modes of transportation in the United States, its territories and possessions, and the District of Columbia and facilities including public storage and warehousing, ports, services, equipment and facilities, such as transportation carrier shop and repair facilities.” The order says that civil transportation “shall include direction, control, and coordination of civil transportation capacity regardless of ownership.”
The Secretary of Defense will control all forms of water resources, military production and construction, military assistance to foreign nations, military use of civil transportation, stockpiles (of chemical and biological warfare materials, for example) managed by the Department of Defense, space, and directly related activities as well as the use of petroleum and gas pipelines, and coal slurry pipelines “used only to supply energy production facilities directly.”
The secretaries are also authorized to provide “subsidy payments” to sources “to ensure the supply of raw or nonprocessed materials” – such as oil – “from high-cost sources, or to ensure maximum production or supply in any area at stable prices of any materials in light of a temporary increase in transportation cost.”
Critics have pounced on the Executive Order. “Obama may have quietly placed the United States on a war preparedness footing, perhaps in anticipation of an outbreak of war between Israel, the West, and Iran,” wrote Edwin Black on HuffingtonPost.com. Calling Obama’s action “creepy,” Matthew Rothschild wrote in The Progressive, “This is the military-industrial complex on steroids, and it’s devouring our democracy.”
But in the International Business Times, Ashley Portero wrote, “Nothing about the scope of Obama’s presidential authority has changed with the new order—and the country is far from being under martial law.” Portero also wrote, “almost every commander in chief since Harry Truman has signed similar orders.”