“In the United States of America there is a hidden government about which you know nothing.”
So begins a revealing television exposé aired by CNN in 1991. The hour-long Special Assignment presented the findings of a yearlong CNN investigation into the ultra-secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, commonly referred to as the “doomsday government” or the “shadow government”.
The COG program was originally designed in the 1950s to ensure the survival of the federal government in the event of a nuclear attack. The highly secretive emergency plans were substantially upgraded during the 1980s and have become a focus point of the current administration, particularly since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The COG program, which until recent years was believed to be reserved for nuclear disasters, was officially activated for the first time during the 9/11 attacks. The program, according to the most recent reports, was never completely shut down. Portions of the “shadow government” are presumably still operating to this day.
Recent efforts to reform and expand the emergency protocols, according to the best available reports, have been led by Vice President Dick Cheney, who played a major role in the COG program during the Reagan Administration.
The underground program is historically run out of the office of the Vice President through a clandestine agency, identified by CNN as the National Program Office (NPO).
In 1991, CNN found the Continuity of Government program and National Program Office to be rife with waste, fraud, and abuse.
The CNN report also disclosed the existence of a secret succession plan that would allow individuals outside of government to take positions of power in the event of a national emergency.
According to the traditional legal line of succession, should the President of the United States be killed or incapacitated the Vice President will take his place, followed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President pro tempore of the Senate, the Secretary of State, all the way down to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the most recently added Secretary of Homeland Security.
According to CNN, however, the COG program maintains its own “top secret” succession plan, known only to a few select individuals.
Once activated, the alternative succession plan, known officially as the Presidential Successor Support System, or PS3, would suspend the traditional line of succession and allow a small group of officials to appoint a new government.
CNN revealed the names of several individuals that could assume power should the plan be put into effect. These included current Vice President Dick Cheney, former White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker, former CIA Director Richard Helms, former ambassador and National Security Council member Jeane Kirkpatrick, former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director James Schlesinger, former Attorney General and National Security Council member Edwin Meese, former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, and the late former congressman Tip O’Neill.
“In the event of disaster,” CNN reported, “one of them could become president.”
Critics with knowledge of the program said the secret plans violated the Constitution.
“When you compare this program with the Constitution,” one high-level government official said, “the two don’t match up.” The COG plans, according to this source, “could put the American system of checks and balances in the deep freeze.”
William Van Alstyne, a constitutional scholar from Duke University, said the program’s secrecy undermined its credibility. “If no one knows in advance what the line of succession is meant to be,” he noted, “then almost by hypothesis no one will have any reason to believe that those who claim to be exercising that authority in fact possess it.”