Northcom & NORAD: Eyes on the Future

Last of three parts New and invisible enemy on radar Homeland security is about more than terrorism these days. The threat of a bird-flu pandemic has defenders scrambling.

Peterson Air Force Base – Military commanders called together
government emergency-

response officials recently for a brainstorming session at this
Cold War base turned headquarters for homeland defense.

But rather than dirty bombs or suicide attacks, they wanted to talk

Convinced that pandemic influenza inevitably will strike inside the
United States, military leaders contend the failure of civilian
agencies, like after Hurricane Katrina, could happen again.

It’s an example of how U.S. Northern Command military forces
charged with homeland defense quietly are assuming broader,
nontraditional roles.

Those perched around conference-room tables here knew the latest
worst-case scenario assessments too well: pandemic flu could kill
as many as 2 million Americans.

The recent spread of the H5N1 bird-flu virus to birds in Africa and
southeastern Europe, just as birds begin seasonal migrations, has
piqued concerns the virus could mutate to spread from birds to
humans and among humans. Experts say that could touch off a global

At the meeting here, civilian officials could only dream of
acquiring the beds, vaccines, ventilators and worldwide outbreak-
detection data available in the military system. Department of
Health and Human Services officials say these military assets could
more than double the national capacity of 970,000 staffed beds and
100,000 ventilators.

But Northcom chiefs emphasized: The military system would treat
soldiers, veterans and their families first.

Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kelly, Northcom spokesman, said military capacity
figures “aren’t available yet, but we do not believe we’d be able
to double the national capacity.”

Yet, spurred by President Bush during his recent visit here,
Northcom officials are preparing to:

Share early-warning data on outbreaks with civilian health

Inspect passengers at airports and seaports for signs of flu.

Slow travel and help police communities, short of attempting
full-blown quarantines.

Move medicines to hard-hit areas and victims to clinics for

Back up civilian doctors by working shifts at overloaded

Possibly share vaccines, beds and ventilators.

“This thing could hit next week, for all we know,” said Col.
Joseph Bassani, Northcom’s chief of planning.

While defense once meant mobilizing armed forces to confront
foreign armies and control turf, homeland-defense forces over the
past year participated in such activities as border control and
firefighting. On Monday, Northcom convened military and National
Guard leaders to talk about how to handle hurricanes this year.

Bush has said the military would play an important role in
responding to pandemic flu. Bush also said that “the best way to
deal with a pandemic is to isolate it in the region in which it
begins,” and suggested Congress debate quarantines.

Civilian response leaders here – representing diplomatic,
environmental protection, emergency management and transportation
agencies – welcomed the prospect of military support.

Military forces “have assets we don’t have. They move tons of
equipment every day. They’re also the best at planning,” said
Capt. Lynn Slepski of the U.S. Public Health Service, now serving
as a senior health adviser in the Department of Homeland Security.

Compared with civilian hospitals that often are hard-pressed to
meet noncrisis needs, the military’s medical system can treat
thousands of soldiers in critical condition at once.

Fixed and mobile clinics give a “surge capacity” that civilian
health officials in cities such as Denver are struggling to

After Hurricane Katrina, military doctors and nurses treated
hundreds of victims. Helicopters evacuated victims to the 500- bed
USS Bataan floating hospital.

Military medical teams track disease outbreaks by testing tissue
and blood samples at surveillance centers in Egypt, Kenya,
Indonesia, Thailand and Peru.

Meanwhile, civilian hospital emergency rooms turn away as many as
500,000 people a year, according to recent studies.

The new defense budget includes millions of dollars to prepare for
pandemic flu, including streamlined vaccine production.

If pandemic influenza strikes, the military is likely to be needed
to stabilize communities and enable an effective response, said
Colorado College professor Andrew Price-Smith, author of “The
Health of Nations” and an authority on pandemic threats to the
economy and security.

U.S. communities aren’t as cohesive as in the past, and “the
fragmentation in the government response evident in Katrina is,
unfortunately, likely to be replicated during a pandemic,”
Price-Smith said. “Do we rely on the military to make up for the
diminished capacity in various states? Unfortunately, we are going
to need their resources. The question is: How much can the military

Government worst-case scenarios suggest pandemic flu could infect
90 million Americans, with half needing medical treatment. Up to 40
percent of workers would stay home, and the economic impact could
match that of a major recession, according to a new Congressional
Budget Office assessment.

The pandemic flu in 1918-19 killed more than 500,000 Americans and
50 million people worldwide.

The problem, military leaders told civilians here, is that military
facilities likely would be overwhelmed, too.

These exist primarily to serve soldiers and their families, and
they’d be treated first in a pandemic, said Navy Adm. Timothy
Keating, chief of Northern Command, in an interview.

“Our job in the Department of Defense is principally to fight and
win the nation’s wars,” Keating said. Tens of thousands of
soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan “need to know that their
families are being taken care of. That’s a significant effort.”

But “simultaneously, or as soon as we can,” military forces would
mobilize “to stabilize and ease human suffering,” Keating said.

Military planners said soldiers would not attempt large-scale
quarantines. Quarantine “really isn’t effective with influenza,
because influenza is so contagious,” said Dr. Tanis Batsel,
Northcom’s chief of preventive medicine.

Americans likely would stay home anyway, she said. “Most
convincing will be that people are going to be dying. Everybody
will know somebody.”

Soldiers instead would screen travelers at airports and perhaps
restrict movements of those who are infected.

Homeland defense officials also plan an aggressive public
information campaign: Vaccinate. Follow cough etiquette. Wash
hands. Avoid large groups. Reach out to the homeless and infirm.

By calling civilian emergency planners together, Northcom hoped to
encourage agencies “to come up with requests for assistance” as
soon as possible, Batsel said.

Then military chiefs can review them and “give a reality check.”

Editor’s note

This is the final article in a three- day series on U.S. Northern
Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, both
based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, and their
efforts to prepare for 21st-century threats to the nation’s

Sunday: Northcom expands its mission to monitor the high seas for
terrorist threats aboard ships worldwide.

Monday: The future of NORAD’s command post deep inside Cheyenne
Mountain is in question as the nation’s homeland defense priorities

Today: Northcom quietly plans to respond to a disease pandemic that
could sicken or kill millions of Americans.

More online: Read previous installments in the series and find
links to the Northcom and NORAD websites.

Northcom & NORAD: Eyes on the Future

Second of three parts

Fate of defense post iffy

War on terror could reshape centers’ roles

NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain command post has seen many of its duties duplicated at other bases.

Cheyenne Mountain – Thousands of feet under granite in a command
post built to withstand Soviet nuclear blasts, Canadian Maj. Pat
Audet quietly supervised one of the U.S.-Canadian surveillance
crews that for nearly 50 years have scanned North American skies
guarding against enemy intruders.

But on this recent morning, Audet faced cardboard “top secret”
signs taped over two of his surveillance screens. For “U.S. eyes
only,” he said.

Such barriers to sharing information hint at changes reshaping this
Cold War-era defense complex just southwest of Colorado Springs as
well as the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, the
U.S.-Canadian partnership that runs it.

U.S. officials increasingly look to U.S. Northern Command, or
Northcom, set up in 2002, to pursue broadening homeland-defense

Meanwhile, Canada – which joined Europe and Mexico in opposing the
U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and objects to the Pentagon’s
missile-defense project – on Feb. 1 launched Canada Command to
defend its nation.

Today, the very existence of the NORAD mountain command post is up
in the air.

U.S. Navy Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of Northcom and NORAD,
says he recently launched “an internal study” of whether to keep

Built in the 1960s for $142 million, the command post inside a 4
1/2-acre excavated grid of chambers and tunnels consists of 15
multistory buildings mounted on springs. Personnel at workstations
inside, wired into data networks, were to survive and win a nuclear

U.S. and Canadian forces here number 200 to 300 on a shift, about
800 overall.

But today, with the emergence of Northern Command, a separate,
newer command post carries out much of the same surveillance, with
access to all the same data. That post lies northeast of Cheyenne
Mountain at Peterson Air Force Base, where the Central Intelligence
Agency, FBI, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency
and others have offices.

“It would be logical for you to think: Could there be some
economies and efficiencies by combining functions? And we are
looking at that,” Keating said in an interview.

U.S. officials estimated that NORAD operations cost $350 million a

That money could fund important defense projects, Keating said.

“We would use it to partner with industry and provide … a single
radio” system to link federal, state and local civilian police
with military forces, he said.

In the future, terrorists may well wield nuclear weapons, “but it
still may not be worth the money of burrowing in that deeply,”
said Michael O’Hanlon, military analyst at the Brookings
Institution think tank in Washington, D.C.

“It actually would be desirable, to be blunt, if terrorists would
attack a military command facility rather than a city, but it’s not
likely to be a target,” he said, adding that it’s appropriate to
consider melding two surveillance centers into one.

As for U.S.-Canadian military teamwork, nobody expects this will
end, despite recent political differences. Diplomats are
renegotiating terms of the NORAD partnership agreement, which is
scheduled to expire in May.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, military officials
from both countries formed a planning group to explore common

“I can see Northern Command, Canada Command and NORAD all becoming
one,” said Canadian Lt. Gen. Eric Findley, deputy commander of

Yet effective cooperation against terrorism requires mutual
recognition of a need to share information as smoothly as possible,
Findley said.

A few Canadian academics have questioned U.S. assertions that
Northcom now defends all of North America.

Findley shrugged: “If it makes people feel any better, I think the
United States is part of Canada’s area of responsibility.”

Canada certainly is “a trusted and valued partner,” Keating said.
“The trade and commerce we do with them is staggering. What harms
them would harm the United States, and vice versa.”

But he added: “I don’t know that the NORAD of today is going to be
the same NORAD in 2011, five years from now.

“They are standing up their Canada Command, which will be similar
to Northern Command. You’ll have this combatant command in Canada,
and you’ll have a combatant command (Northcom) in the United
States, separated by 7,000 miles of border.”

Today, for the 170 or so Canadians posted at Northcom, just
handling e-mail grows increasingly difficult. Canada’s Capt.
Richard Bergeron, co-director of the joint planning group, pointed
at separate U.S. and Canadian computer systems on his desk.

Inside Northcom’s newer command center, predominantly American
surveillance crews, surrounded by wall-sized flat screens, focus
increasingly on potential threats inside the United States.

“We can certainly pass information to the FBI,” U.S. Army Col.
Tom Muir, director of the center, said on a recent shift. “In
fact, we do that all the time.”

A Canada Command liaison officer sits in the room.

Inside the Cheyenne Mountain post, commanders described how
surveillance crews today have access to Federal Aviation
Administration radar data for tracking about 11,000 flights at a
time inside U.S. airspace – they regularly hear cabin conversations
– in addition to scanning airspace outside the U.S.

Word is out that an internal study has begun into whether to keep
the NORAD mountain command post. And practically everyone bristles.
The mountain post is steeped in tradition after decades of
close-quarters cooperation.

“There are things that can happen here that cannot be duplicated
downtown,” U.S. Air Force Maj. Charles Thinger said, casting
Northcom operations as “complementary” during a recent shift.

Canadian Cmdr. James Hayes, scanning his surveillance screen for
incoming missiles, said rapidly increasing data from “all these
sensors” makes this “a very valuable place … a powerful system,”
even if similar work is done elsewhere.

“In times of trouble,” he said, “this will be very useful.”

Northcom & NORAD: Eyes on the Future

Anti-terror fight takes to the seas From sites in Colorado Springs, the military keeps a close eye on worldwide shipping to thwart threats.

Peterson Air Force Base – A federal agent working with port
authorities in South Asia sounded the warning: A cargo container
had tripped sensors that detect possible chemical, biological and
nuclear weapons. The container was gliding west through the
Mediterranean Sea on a ship bound for New York.

Here, at the military’s homeland defense headquarters in Colorado
Springs, surveillance crews melded that tip with radar and
satellite data. Surrounded by wall-sized screens, the high-tech
trackers located the ship and followed it across the Atlantic

About 200 miles off the East Coast, Coast Guard forces intercepted
and boarded the freighter and searched the cargo containers until
they knew all of them were safe.

Military officials wouldn’t say more about this classified incident
that occurred in November, but the way it was handled begins to
reveal how secretive military forces in Colorado – the center for
airspace surveillance through the Cold War – increasingly target
the high seas to reduce what commanders see as a major

This is part of broadening military activity driven by U.S.
Northern Command, or Northcom, to confront a wider array of
security threats that are as varied as computer hackers and suicide

Northcom commanders contend terrorists will try to hijack ships and
use them to smuggle people and weapons, or turn the vessels into
giant floating bombs.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently granted new authority to
Navy Adm. Timothy Keating – commander of both Northcom and the
U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD – to call up aircraft carriers, submarines and other sea craft for maritime operations to deter and disrupt enemies and collect intelligence.

High-seas surveillance soon will expand, deploying new fleets of
unmanned aerial drones and blimps with infrared capabilities over
oceans, Keating said in an interview.

The new defense budget devotes billions of dollars to developing
this technology and integrating it into daily operations over the
next few years.

Blimps and drones will give pinpoint visual detail on ships,
Keating said. Blimps equipped with cameras and possibly radar, will
hover 70,000 feet above areas of interest while drones eavesdrop in
close. Abnormal behavior, such as vessels traveling outside regular
shipping lanes, would trigger increased surveillance.

“Our job is to deter and prevent any and all attacks on the United
States, whatever the means. We have thousands of miles of
coastline. … We have radar that can track an airplane. … For us to
do our mission, we felt we needed to ramp up maritime domain
awareness,” Keating said.

For nearly 50 years, NORAD’s early-warning operations – run from
deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, southwest of Colorado Springs – focused on airspace, watching for incoming nuclear missiles and warplanes.

Today, NORAD crews still scan airspace imagery, much of it sent
from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora. They scramble fighter jets
several times a week in response to possible threats, such as a
private plane flying near Air Force One.

A reorientation spurred by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
drives the broadening air-land- and-sea approach.

Northcom surveillance crews, working in a new operations center at
Peterson Air Force Base, scan growing amounts of airspace, maritime
and other data integrated with intelligence from spy agencies, the
FBI and others.

Officials from those agencies work at Northcom headquarters.

Fusing this data to track ships and land threats – such as
suspected suicide bombers – is essential to protecting Americans,
said Anthony Cordesman, a veteran defense analyst at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

“Your worst-case threats don’t yet exist. You have to deal with
all kinds of low-level activity and possibilities,” Cordesman

“To even begin to create the capability (of effective homeland
defense), you have to make a fundamental change to cover land
borders, ports, seas, coasts and the air. If you miss any of those,
you don’t have homeland defense.”

Each year, some 7,500 foreign-flag ships make 51,000 calls at U.S. ports. They deliver millions of cargo containers that move by rail and truck across the nation.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, security officials have been wrestling with
the possibility that enemies could use ships to smuggle weapons and

To help counter the potential threat, federal agents have been
deployed at 44 ports worldwide. Customs officials also use a
computerized targeting system to review shipping manifests,
identifying potentially dangerous containers for inspection.

Now, military forces are getting more involved supporting these
efforts by tracking and intercepting ships. Last year, U.S. naval
forces boarded more than 2,000 vessels, according to congressional
testimony by Pentagon officials.

By posting agents in foreign ports, “you get the smell and the
flavor” of a port, but agents can be tricked, said Navy Cmdr.
Robert Nestlerode, a former nuclear submarine chief now working at
Northcom. Terrorists on ships also can elude surveillance by
turning off transponder beacons, he said.

Maritime specialists at Northcom said that in October 2001, Italian
police seized a Canada-bound ship from Egypt at an Italian port. Aboard, they found an Egyptian man hiding in a cargo container equipped with a bed, toilet, cell and satellite telephones, Canadian passports, airplane tickets and an airline mechanic’s certificate valid for airports in
New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Italian authorities released the Egyptian on bail, then he

The massive volume of shipping makes inspecting every cargo
container impossible, “and we don’t want to stop 95 percent of
ships on the ocean,” said Navy Cmdr. Richard Farrell of Northcom’s
future operations division.

Yet, “we can’t afford to have a 9/11 in the maritime domain,”
Farrell said. “We’re looking at all avenues to make those
containers visible. … A lot of our next steps are classified. We’re
trying to be a little more anticipatory.”

The scope of these operations is global, looking increasingly
beyond coastal waters to vital shipping routes, such as the Red
Sea, where piracy is on the rise.

Even nuclear submarines, built to deter an attack by the Soviet
Union, may be rolled into homeland defense.

A few years ago, U.S. forces – including a sub – trailed a North
Korean ship off Yemen, near Osama bin Laden’s ancestral homelands.
Eavesdropping U.S. crews heard every sneeze. When Spanish forces
raided the ship, they found Scud missiles.

“A submarine can approach in a very clandestine manner and track
(a ship) if need be,” Keating said. If Northcom crews observe a
ship “behaving erratically” with cargo that isn’t on a manifest,
“or it has been alongside another ship that we don’t trust,”
calling in a nuclear-powered attack submarine might make sense, he

All would assist, he added, in the overriding goal of “being able
to respond with increasing rapidity as far away from our shores as

Peterson Air Force Base is nation’s eye on land, seas, skies and space


Launched to fight terrorism at home in 2002, U.S. Northern Command
became fully operational a year later. Northcom – based at Peterson
Air Force Base in Colorado Springs – is responsible for land,
aerospace and sea defense of the United States.

Operations include global surveillance as well as support of civil
authorities in dealing with attacks and natural disasters.

Northcom is one of several regional commands that coordinate U.S.
military operations in various parts of the world. Its area of
operations includes the United States, Canada, Mexico, parts of the
Caribbean and surrounding waters out to 500 miles.

About 950 men and women, 360 of them civilian, serve at Northcom
headquarters. Its annual budget is about $70 million.

Northcom forces also include an 87-member civil-support task force
based at Fort Monroe, Va., and a 140-member counterdrug task force
at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Another 30 Northcom personnel serve on a force protecting

Northcom calls up outside military units for operations and
activities worldwide.

In addition to air, land and sea surveillance, Northcom commanders
have run dozens of operations, including training drills nationwide
with local first-responders and simulated response exercises with
military commanders. Recent operations also included border patrol
and helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.


Peterson is also headquarters of the U.S.-Canadian North American
Aerospace Defense Command. For decades, NORAD crews have scanned
North American skies for incoming warplanes and missiles from an
operations center deep inside Cheyenne Mountain on the southwest
side of Colorado Springs.

Those operations now include surveillance of U.S. airspace.

Much of the satellite data used by NORAD surveillance crews comes
from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.

U.S. Navy Adm. Timothy Keating commands both Northcom and NORAD.


The U.S. Air Force Space Command also is based at Peterson,
overseeing units nationwide, including the Space Warfare Center,
which conducts missile-defense work, and the 50th Space Wing, which
runs military satellites, both based at Schriever Air Force Base,
east of Colorado Springs.

Editor’s note

This is the first article in a three-day series on U.S. Northern
Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, both
based at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, and their
efforts to prepare for 21st-century threats to the nation’s

Today: Northcom expands its mission to monitor the high seas for
terrorist threats aboard ships worldwide.

Monday: The future of NORAD’s command post deep inside Cheyenne
Mountain is in question as the nation’s homeland defense priorities
evolve. Officials are studying whether to keep the underground

Tuesday: Northcom quietly plans to respond to a disease pandemic
that could sicken or kill millions of Americans, and prepares to
treat military personnel and their families if disaster strikes.

More online: Find links to the Northcom and NORAD websites.