Operation Garden Plot had its origins in the urban riots of the late 1960s. It is the name of the standing plan for the use of U.S. military forces to control the civilan population during emergencies and civil disturbances.
Operation Garden Plot first came to public attention in 1971, when Senator Sam Ervin (Democrat-North Carolina), chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, held hearings on possible Army spying on U.S. civilians. The hearings revealed the Army had indeed been keeping records on hundreds of thousands of American citizens connected with antiwar and radical politics, and such activities were part of Operation Garden Plot. The Subcommittee also found the Army had engaged in training activities with civilian law enforcement personnel that simulated battles with rioters and large groups of protesters.
Much of our current knowledge of Operation Garden Plot comes from a document titled "United States Air Force Civil Disturbance Plan 55-1, Garden Plot," obtained in 1990 by researchers under a FOIA request. Dated July 11, 1984, the document is over 200 pages long. the opening of Plan 55-1 noted "Although it [Plan 55-1] is unclassified, it is for official use only as directed by AFR 12-30. This plan contains information that is of internal use to DOD and, through disclosure, would tend to allow persons to violate the law or hinder enforcement of the law." It continued, "operations orders and operating procedures must be designed to provide the highest degree of security possible" and "in the event of organized opposition some sort of advisory intelligence gathering capability should be assumed."
Plan 55-1 specifies the targets of Operation Garden Plot as "disruptive elements, extremists or dissidents perpetrating civil disorder." "Civil disorder" is defined as "riot, acts of violence, insurrections, unlawful obstructions or assemblages, or other disorders prejudicial to public law and order." It also defines "civil disturbance" as "all domestic conditions requiring the use of federal forces pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 15, Title 10, United States Code." When will Operation Garden Plot be put into effect? When situations exist "that threaten to reach or have reached such proportions that civil authorities cannot or will not maintain public order." The authority for putting it into effect will be "the Presidential Proclamation and Executive Order in which the Secretary of Defense has been directed to restore law and order" with additional details "further defined by the Letter of Instruction issued to Task Force Commanders by the Chief of Staff, US Army."
And what would
federal troops do when assigned to civilian control duties? Army Field
Manual 19-15, dated November, 1985, says "when at all possible, civil
law enforcement agents are integrated with the military control force
team making apprehensions," but "if police are not available,
military personnel may search people incident to an apprehension."
Further, "authorities must be prepared to detain large numbers of
people. . . . if there are more detainees than civil detention facilities
can handle, civil authorities may ask the control forces to set up and
operate temporary facilities.. . . . . These temporary facilities are
set up on the nearest military installation or on suitable property under
federal control. . . . . supervised and controlled by MP officers and
NCOs trained and experienced in Army correctional operations. Guards and
support personnel under direct supervision and control of MP officers
and NCOs need not be trained or experienced in Army correctional operations.
But they must be specifically instructed and closely supervised in the
proper use of force." The manual includes information on processing
detainees and says "release procedures must be coordinated with civil
authorities and appropriate legal counsel." In an echo of Lincoln's
suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, Field Manual
19-15 further states that if a state court issues a writ of habeas corpus
demanding a detainee be charged or released, the local Army commander
should "respectfully reply that the prisoner is being held by authority
of the United States." Concerning training for Operation Garden Plot,
the manual says the objective is to "develop personnel who are able
to perform distasteful and dangerous duties with discipline and objectivity.
. . every member of the control force must be trained to use his weapon
and special equipment, riot batons, riot control agent dispersers and
CS grenades, grenade launchers, shotguns, sniper rifles, cameras, portable
videotape recorders, portable public address systems, night illumination
devices, firefighting apparatus, grappling hooks, ladders, ropes, bulldozers,
Army aircraft, armored personnel carriers, and roadblock and barricade
INSIDE THE SHADOW GOVERNMENT: National Security and the Cult of Secrecy describes Operation Garden Plot in detail, including excerpts from other military training manuals, and details military combat exercises conducted in American cities during the late 1990s.