Thursday, January 28, 1999
On Saturday, March 13, the U.S. Marine Corps proposes to conduct an Urban Warrior Advanced Warfighting experiment in Monterey--the largest of its kind, according to reports, ever held in a U.S. city.
According to the plan, several hundred Marines will cruise into Monterey Bay early that morning on five large warships. After landing on an area beach in smaller, amphibious crafts (LCACs), they''ll storm the Naval Postgraduate School (NPGS) looking for a presumed chemical weapon. Discovering that it''s not there, they''ll convoy over Monterey city streets to the Presidio, where, after mock battles and "terrorist" activity, they''ll recover the secret weapon and be on their way.
According to a public notice placed in area newspapers, the purpose of the action "is to experiment with new technologies and procedures for conducting civil/military operations in a dense urban setting."
Apparently their top brass will have a mainframe computer on board one of the ships, by which they can monitor and control the movements of their onshore troops via satellite signals to transmitters worn by the invading fighters. "Kind of like in Clear and Present Danger," explains Scott Kathey, enforcement and regulatory coordinator for the National Marine Sanctuary, which the Marines will be passing through on their way to and from the experiment.
Who gave the OK for this? The Marines will be passing through an environmentally sensitive and federally protected area, will be landing on and convoying through city streets, and will be utilizing the services of an as-yet-undetermined number of city workers from the police, fire, public works and managerial departments.
Did the Monterey City Council give the green light? "It has not come in front of the City Council," says councilmember Don Edgren. "We have not discussed it."
Edgren says, however, that he''s not concerned about that. Often such matters, regarding outside use of city property, are decided "administratively," and councilmembers simply receive a memorandum to keep them informed. "I don''t know in this case whether I heard about it first in the >[Herald] or whether we got a memorandum," Edgren says.
Deputy City Manager Fred Cohn, who has been working closely with the Marines on the proposed operation, says that "three to four dozen" city employees will probably be involved in the experiment, helping with crowd control, escorting the military convoy through city streets, and operating the city''s new emergency operations center.
Could the city have said no to the Marines? "Sure," says Cohn. But the city considers this a worthwhile exercise. "We are very supportive of the operation," Cohn says. It will give the city, he says, its first opportunity to test many aspects of its new emergency operations center in a "live" situation.
Test for what? A terrorist attack in Monterey? "Unfortunately, the potential for terrorist activity exists," he says. "Generally, it''s the city and local governments that are the first responders. We would be very remiss if we did not prepare."
"The NPGS hosts a lot of foreign military leaders," adds Kathey. "A lot of them are princes. Anyone can drive through there." And some of those guys might be targets for disgruntled and armed co-nationals. "Terrorists don''t care if they take out a bunch of people on the way to their target."
What about environmental concerns? In San Francisco, where the Marines propose to hold four more days of the operation after their foray into Monterey, the National Park Service nixed their original plan of landing 6,000 fighters at Baker Beach, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area at the Presidio. Such an operation was "clearly not appropriate for a national park," according to Michael Alexander, chairman of the Sierra Club''s Presidio task force.
Surely Monterey''s National Marine Sanctuary is as deserving of protection? It is, Kathey says, but he''s been working closely with the Marines since they first proposed the operation to make sure, he says, that "the impact caused will be minimized as much as possible."
Representatives from both the Sanctuary and the Coast Guard, and perhaps the Department of Fish and Game as well, will act as "spotters" on the Marines'' amphibious landing craft, to look out for marine mammals, kelp beds and low-flying birds in the way of the fast-moving LCACs. The Marines will not go over the dunes when they land, and have already agreed to lay down matting on the beach for extra protection. Marine biologists will survey the landing area ahead of time, to make sure there are no endangered snowy plovers nearby. And because this is an administrative, rather than a tactical landing, the Marines won''t be "storming" the beachhead, "so there will be no spent cartridges or explosives" going off along the Monterey coastline, Kathey adds.
Helicopters will be involved in the operation, but Monterey''s part of the Sanctuary is not a "no-fly" zone, so there are no federal restrictions on overflights. Even so, Kathey says, he''s worked to ensure the Marine aircraft will stay as far away as possible from areas such as Cannery Row, where marine mammals congregate.
The greatest environmental threat posed by the operation is probably noise, he says. And there''s already plenty of daily noise at Cannery Row and the area around Wharf #2, where the Marines will land if wave conditions are too rough at the NPGS and Sand City beaches. "The animals and birds are pretty used to it," he says, although he acknowledges that the March 13 operation will be "noisier" than usual.
Noting that the Marines have prepared a draft environmental assessment of the proposed operation, which is available for public perusal at the Monterey and Seaside city libraries, Kathey says; "As long as they do what they say they''ll do, the impact on the ocean will be minimal. If there were a clear threat to marine resources, or a violation of regulations, we could have said no to them."
Lt. Col. Gary Schenkel, who has been to Monterey several times to coordinate activities with city and Sanctuary personnel, says the National Parks Service opposed the Marine plans to land in San Francisco not because of fears of what the Marines would do to the flora and fauna. "They were concerned about the spectators the press would bring with them," he says.
Kathey confirms that. "The Parks Service has no way to deny public access to that park, and the concern was that the public that would come to see the spectacle would trample the dunes," he says.
Schenkel states that the San Francisco operation "is moving ahead" as planned. "We have conceded to the Park Service''s concerns, and are looking for another place to go ashore," he says.
Some locals are concerned that Monterey''s large-scale operation was presented to residents as a done deal. At this point, the only public input possible is comments regarding the draft environmental assessment, which are due by Feb. 9.
Rachel Saunders, with the Center for Marine Conservation, says she first heard of the plan when it was presented to the Sanctuary Advisory Board, on which she sits as conservation rep. "It came to us as pretty much a done deal," she says. Saunders adds, however, that she trusts the Sanctuary administration''s assessment.
"Our preference, of course, would be that this type of activity not occur here," she says. "But if it does, we want to make sure the safeguards are in place."
Saunders notes that Department of Defense activities are exempt from many Sanctuary regulations, if they are conducted in the name of national security. While that is "unfortunate," Saunders also says she''s "heartened" that the Marines "have chosen to cooperate with the Sanctuary" voluntarily.
"That still begs the question of why they''re doing it here," she queries. "One would think the status of this area as a marine sanctuary would minimize the number of military exercises here. I don''t know why they chose this area rather than Southern California, where there are nice, flat beaches."
Brian Willson, recently elected co-chair of the Monterey chapter of Veterans for Peace, deeply distrusts the entire military operation.
Willson gained international renown when he lost both legs to an on-coming train a decade ago during a demonstration outside the Concord Naval Weapons Station to protest U.S. arms shipments to Nicaragua. He is presently being interviewed by Newsweek for an upcoming article on the most important political voices of this century.
"The military combatting terrorism in the U.S. begins to erode a long-standing principle that the U.S. military not be involved in domestic law enforcement," he comments. "It''s a dangerous extension of their [mandate]. There''s a threat to civil rights if this happens."
The operation brings back memories of Oliver North and the Iran-Contra Affair. "North had developed plans to use the military to round up domestic dissidents if there were going to be large scale protests against Reagan''s Central American policies." The March 13 operation is, Willson says, "an ominous sign that the military is thinking this way, and developing practice sessions to implement it. And that the City of Monterey has already approved it."
"They want to land troops on the beach, on a Saturday?" exclaims Barbara Murphy, owner of Portofino Presents. "That''s crazy. There are a lot of people that come through here on Saturdays, including tourists. Was this approved by the City Council?"
Murphy is surprised there was no public input. "It seems unbelievable that they would do this in our city. Why don''t they do it at Fort Ord? Why the middle of Monterey? I think they could have chosen a more appropriate place." cw