On June 29th, Public Record Media (PRM) received a second set of documents pertaining to the 2014 military training exercise that occurred in the Twin Cities metro area. During that weeklong event, military Special Forces personnel conducted a variety of ground and air operations under cover of night, just as they had two years earlier. The 2014 exercises began with minimal public announcement, and their use of low-flying helicopters over residential areas of Minneapolis and Saint Paul stirred media coverage and controversy.
After the exercises, PRM sought government records from both local and federal agencies in order to better understand the scope and nature of the military action. The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) produced documents in January of 2015. More recently, PRM obtained internal records and correspondence from the Saint Paul Police Department (SPPD) that chronicled the operation and its genesis.
Initial discussions handled through SWAT
Documents obtained by PRM include a series of detailed planning e-mails between SPPD and an unidentified military official, whose name was redacted from all correspondence.
The planning process began months prior to the August event, and involved the same key Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) personnel as in 2012 – Robert Skoro of MPD, and Tim Flynn of SPPD. While permission was sought from each city’s police chief, the military used SWAT as the primary departmental interface for planning purposes. A January, 2014 e-mail from the unnamed military official set out a proposed project schedule that involved meeting with SWAT leaders prior to briefing each city’s mayor. Such a meeting, the official wrote, would “allow us to be a united front” in the subsequent mayoral briefings.
New military training “template”
Early in the chain of correspondence, a new Department of Defense (DOD) “template” was mentioned in relation to the training exercise, but its specifics were not discussed in any significant detail. However, SPPD’s data release contains a DOD document that illuminates some of the policy changes encompassed by this template. The document is labeled “Department of Defense Instruction 1322.28,” and it dates from March of 2013. The document provides operational guidance for “realistic military training (RMT) off federal real property.”
The DOD document outlines the policy rationale for using “real-world” locations for urban warfare training by noting that “urban environments are the most complex and difficult to emulate on federal property,” and are also the most desirable for training opportunities. The 1322.28 document states that it is DOD policy to use such locations “once they have been properly coordinated with local authorities.”
The document offers detailed guidance to a wide variety of DOD components on how to implement RMT operations, including Special Forces troops, and the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM). The document explicitly exempts some operations and personnel, however, including DOD drone activities that are not tied to “other ground maneuver or targeting exercises.”
Military support for law enforcement
In addition to setting out parameters to govern the training of active duty military forces, the 1322.28 document also explicitly seeks to “expand efforts … to coordinate military training requirements with civilian law enforcement support.” Such support generally involves military training of law enforcement personnel, or the provision of logistical assistance for natural or manmade disaster relief. Such “civil support” operations stem from executive orders and statutory changes enacted during the Reagan and Clinton administrations, as well as from modifications made after the 9/11 attacks.
The 1322.28 document explicitly seeks to further civil support opportunities by making them part of the matrix of considerations governing the training of active duty military forces. “DOD will deepen collaboration with civilian law enforcement agencies,” the document states, in order “to maximize military training opportunities that concurrently and legally support law enforcement and homeland security requirements.” The document further elaborates that “where possible, DOD will strongly consider law enforcement needs in the planning and execution of military training.”
The laws that underpin civil support operations act as exceptions to the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. That post-Civil War law bars the use of the U.S. military to “enforce the laws of the United States” unless a separate statute provides otherwise. Even with existing exceptions, the Posse Comitatus Act continues to prohibit active duty military personnel from conducting searches, or engaging in seizures or arrests in the domestic arena. Language in the military’s location license agreements for the 2014 training appears to indicate this, noting that overhead imagery collected during the exercises would “not be utilized to support local, state, or federal law enforcement investigations.”
Since the high-profile use of military hardware by local police in Ferguson, Missouri, military support for law enforcement has been the subject of increased media attention and controversy. Public concern over military hardware transfers led the Obama administration to announce changes to the DOD’s “1033” hardware transfer program earlier this year. Such changes, however, do not reach the logistical and training support offered to state and local police – support that appears to be more tightly coordinated under the terms of the 1322.28 document.
It is worth noting that a training approval letter sent to Mayor Hodges in January of 2014 identifies the preservation of evidence “for criminal prosecution” as a goal of the Twin Cities training exercise. However, evidence collection for domestic law enforcement purposes is not listed as a permissible activity in the DOD’s most recent instruction document (3025.21) on “Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies.” It is conceivable that the reference might encompass evidence collection overseas, as was the case during the 2011 Special Forces raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.
“OPSEC” and training publicity
The DOD’s 1322.28 document also establishes parameters that govern “operational security” (OPSEC) for military training, thereby setting constraints on the dissemination and disclosure of information to both civilian officials and the general public alike.
The document establishes three risk categories for training operations – minor, moderate, and “high and above” risk. It holds that local officials should be approached to provide approval for training operations that occur within their jurisdictions. At the same time, the document contains provisions stating that local approval is not necessary for low to moderate risk events if the approval process would “violate OPSEC requirements.” The document notes that “at minimum, a senior level official” from the locality should be notified.
Among its many details, the 1322.28 document sets out guidance about how to engage with local officials, while at the same time maintaining OPSEC. “To the maximum extent possible,” the document states, “local civilian officials will be briefed in person.” In Minneapolis, the military’s initial outreach to Mayor Hodges was via letter, followed by a February visit from Navy officials. Military personnel also met directly with St. Paul’s deputy mayor in early 2014, as Mayor Chris Coleman was away at the White House at the time of the briefing. Correspondence between DOD and SPPD indicates that the DOD had done “research” on Mayor Hodges and Chief Harteau prior to meeting with them. Based on this evaluation, the DOD official noted that approval of the training operation in Minneapolis “was not automatic.”
The 1322.28 document provides guidance on public outreach regarding military training, but the specifics vary based on OPSEC requirements. In general, the document’s posture leans toward minimizing public exposure, although it also states that in some circumstances, prior notice of military exercises “may allay concerns of the citizens in the affected area” and “reduce disruptive media impacts.”
For the 2014 Twin Cities exercise, military planners stressed the importance of keeping the profile of the event as low as possible. A DOD Power Point presentation on the proposed operation includes several pages devoted to strategies for reducing media exposure and avoiding “adverse public reaction.”
Local police officials appear to have cooperated with the military’s OPSEC strategy regarding the training exercise. In a May, 2014 e-mail, Tim Flynn of SPPD recounted how he had dissuaded a Saint Paul Port Authority staffer from approaching the city council about the proposed operation. “I called him and talked him out of it,” wrote Flynn. “I spoke to him about confidentiality, who needs to know and when they need to know it.”
“He is going down a path we want to avoid,” the unidentified DOD official replied. “If anything goes before the city council it needs to be a closed session with no media present.”
The mayors of both cities ultimately signed-off on the training operation, and preparations began. SPPD e-mails reveal a preliminary mission profile that included “live shots,” helicopter work, and the use of fixed-wing aircraft integrated into ground operations.
A Power Point overview of the proposed exercise contains a list of possible training sites, ranging from the old West Publishing building, to the Ford plant and the former Macy’s store. Some of the locations – like a Saint Paul paddleboat site – had been previously utilized during the 2012 training. Others, such as the Transfer Road Amtrak facility, had been identified as desirable locales in the run-up to the 2012 exercise, and were sought out again. “Military training sites are not sufficient to support all urban training,” DOD wrote to Eric Romano of Amtrak, “because they lack the variety of building layouts and mass transit platforms our troops face.”
The DOD’s introductory letters to the Twin Cities mayors spelled out the particulars of the military’s training needs, including “explosive breaching, low-altitude precision helicopter operations” and “rooftop fast-rope insertion” exercises. Those elements – the helicopter operations in particular – posed challenges to obtaining locations permits, as the managers of several prospective facilities balked at the liability issues involved. “I wish we had better news to share,” wrote the controller of the Ford Plant facility, “(but) we will not be able to accommodate your request.”
Ultimately, the final training locations encompassed over a dozen sites, ranging from the old Macy’s store in downtown Saint Paul, to the nearby Ecolab Building, which was used for high-rise helicopter operations.
The training exercise ran from August 18 to 22, and began with joint air/ground operations on the initial evening. On that first night, low-altitude helicopter maneuvers alerted residents to the previously unannounced exercise, and media attention began in earnest.
The next day, the SPPD reacted to the deluge of media inquiries and citizen phone calls from the previous evening. On the morning of August 19, a draft press release was circulated among city and DOD personnel. The early drafts note that, “last night, a Department of Defense training exercise was conducted in the Twin Cities metro area in close coordination with local law enforcement. We apologize for any alarm or inconvenience this training may have caused.”
“Those are great,” the DOD official replied. “Get them through the first night” and people “should be more understanding the rest of the week.”
Later that same day, Saint Paul City Council member Dave Thune sent a tersely worded e-mail to his fellow council members, and copied many city staff. “This was a bonehead blunder from the start,” Thune wrote. SPPD should not be “engaging in military training” with active duty forces, he continued. Thune’s message concluded by noting that he would have “a lot of questions to ask” at subsequent budget hearings.
Military training for SPPD?
SPPD Assistant Chief Todd Axtell also sent a message to the City Council on the 19th. “I am sorry that not everyone was up to speed on the timing of the drills,” Axtell wrote. “I can tell you that there was no intent to keep anyone in the dark or jeopardize public safety in any way.” Axtell further noted that, “we are waiting for a draft press release from (the military) which we are hoping will publicly clarify their training and the fact that the only SPPD role is to ensure the public safety in and around the training areas.”
Later that same day, city staff e-mailed SPPD media relations and asked that subsequent press releases address “confusion that the military is training SPPD in these actions.” The city’s Kristin Beckman asked, “Can you add more clarity that DOD is not training SPPD during the night?”
A draft press release that was circulated that afternoon stated that SPPD officers were “not taking part in the night training,” but were “in place to ensure public safety.”
However, the matter of military training for SPPD personnel is raised in an e-mail exchange between Tim Flynn and the unnamed DOD official on Aug 26, 2014. In that exchange, the DOD official stated that he was “getting inquiries from Minneapolis PD about us training you.” He further noted that, “we are directing all our folks to remain on all your local social media and capture anything that comes out in release. What’s at risk here – our future relationship. Your trip this way next year and our future trips that direction.” The official notes in conclusion that Saint Paul “is already on the “cliff” with their recent town councilman’s actions. It must be controlled.”
Editor’s note – Documents from both the 2012 and 2014 Twin Cities military training exercises are available on the PRM web site.