The Trump administration has drawn up secret standby orders to put the military in power in the event the civilian authorities are disabled by the coronavirus pandemic, a Newsweek report has it, outlining the details of the emergency plan in what’s called "extraordinary circumstances”.
More specifically, it is Terrence O’Shaughnessy, a four-star 56-year-old general and former fighter pilot who is reportedly the designated “combatant commander". So, what do we know about him so far?
- He is the head of US Northern Command (Northcom) - a military authority in charge of homeland defence under the Continuity of Government Commission’s contingency plans.
- Terrence O’Shaughnessy also doubles as the chief of the North American Aerospace Defence Command, which has of late been frequently deployed by Trump to deal with illegal crossings at the Mexican-American border - a central issue to his domestic policies. One of the latest examples - the large-scale Operation Faithful Patriot, from October-November 2018.
- The Gen. was previously Deputy Commander at the United Nations Command Korea and led the US Pacific Air Forces Command, being in charge of joint operations in a region encompassing over half of the globe and as many as 36 nations.
- The senior general is a fighter pilot with 3,000 hours of flight time, including 168 combat hours in the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Pentagon chief Mark Esper reportedly signed standby orders on 1 February, instructing Northcom to fulfil plans for a pandemic (even before it was declared) and urging it and East Coast military units to “prepare to deploy” for possible “extraordinary” missions, while not completely ruling out martial law.
Seven contingency plans are understood to have been approved, three of them overseeing missions to rescue and relocate President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their families, move the secretary of defence and other national security leaders, and congressional and court grandees to a secure location.
Government operations will reportedly be maintained from a bunker in Maryland. Another plan, codenamed Granite Shadow, envisages domestic ops involving weapons of mass destruction.
According to a military planner who spoke to the author of the Newsweek report, martial law is a “pretty straightforward process” that applies when one city or region has been devastated, “but with coronavirus, where the effect is nationwide, we’re in territory we’ve never been in before", he concluded unambiguously.
The raging epidemic has been sweeping across the globe, with the number of cases in the US currently at 34,717. The tally indicates the country is the third-most affected in the world, after China and Italy. The death toll in the US, meanwhile, is 452, one of the lowest. Trump's inner circle, including POTUS himself, have so far tested negative for the novel viral infection, although a number of White House staffers self-isolated and have been working from home as a preventive anti-coronavirus measure.