Did You Hear the One about U.S. Internment Camps?

A leaked Army document on mass detentions has extremists boiling over on both the right and the left.

As soon as you see the title, you know you're in trouble -- "Army Field Manual 3-39.40: Internment and Resettlement Operations."

When you click on the link, as thousands already have, you get a 326-page PDF describing how the U.S. military would go about imprisoning and relocating massive populations -- it's a best-practice document for rounding up thousands of militants in a foreign country or in the event of a massive terrorist attack or natural disaster on U.S. soil.

Wait, what was that last part?

A handful of references to domestic applications -- the prospective internment and resettlement of U.S. citizens -- have fueled the spread of FM 3-39.40 like wildfire through the world of online political dissent, where it is being discussed by everyone from the Patriot movement on the right to Occupy on the left to Anonymous, anarchists, organized racists, survivalists, and plain old conspiracy theorists in between.

The document responsible for this perfect storm of radical chatter appears to have first leaked on the website, which is similar to WikiLeaks but has until now maintained a lower profile. From there, it was picked up by the conspiracy-oriented news site Prison Planet, and after that there was no stopping it.

FM 3-39.40 is an Army operations guide dated February 2010 with headings that include "Capture, Detention, and Initial Screening," "Detainee Flow," "Theater Internment Facility," "Strategic Internment Facility," "Detainee Rehabilitation Programs," and much, much more.

The manual has been around in one form or another since 1978, when it was first written to assimilate lessons learned from the resettlement of tens of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees to the United States after the Vietnam War. It has been substantially rewritten since then, most recently to include scenarios encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

FM 3-39.40 is, essentially, a how-to guide for taking control of thousands or tens of thousands of people in a specific area, sorting them out afterward, and controlling them while in detention or in the midst of a resettlement.

For domestic extremists and radicals in search of evidence to support their forgone conclusion that the government is on the verge of declaring a police state, the field manual is a rhetorical gold mine -- even if it didn't specifically discuss how to apply these techniques to American citizens on U.S. soil.

Unfortunately, FM 3-39.40 discusses exactly that. Here are a few choice excerpts:


2-39. Civil support is the DOD support to U.S. civil authorities for domestic emergencies, and for designated law enforcement and other activities. (JP 3-28) Civil support includes operations that address the consequences of natural or man-made disasters, accidents, terrorist attacks, and incidents in the U.S. and its territories.

2-40. The I/R [internment/resettlement] tasks performed in support of civil support operations are similar to those during combat operations, but the techniques and procedures are modified based on the special [operating environment] associated with operating within U.S. territory and according to the categories of individuals (primarily DCs [dislocated civilians]) to be housed in I/R [internment/resettlement] facilities. [...]


10-33. Military police will typically be required to account for DCs and report to higher headquarters. This may require the issuance of ISNs [internment serial numbers] or control numbers that are specific to DCs. Commanders conducting resettlement operations ensure a proper understanding of the ISN issuance policy before assigning an ISN to a DC. Even in civil support operations where social security numbers may be used, a supporting system will be required for those without social security numbers. [...]

The field manual also broadly discusses a variety of psychological operations for use in managing detainees, including identifying "malcontents, trained agitators, and political leaders" in detainee communities in order "to reduce or remove antagonistic attitudes."

Passages like these reflect lessons learned from the operation of internment facilities in Iraq, where psychological operations officers performed an intelligence function in managing camps that held as many as tens of thousands of detainees at their peak.

At the beginning of the Iraq war and even through the 2008 surge, there were few guidelines and regulations to help soldiers conduct these massive detention operations, according to a former military officer who conducted detainee operations in internment facilities in Iraq.

"I would have loved to have this [field manual] five years ago," he said. The vast majority of guidance in the manual is intended for use in foreign theaters, he said, noting that only a handful of paragraphs from the 326-page manual address domestic operations of any kind.

An Army spokesman, speaking on background, said the current spate of online postings had taken passages from the manual significantly out of context, conflating wartime operational guidance (such as psychological operations) with peacetime operations in which a limited number of the manual's principals would be applied on U.S. soil, in exceptional cases such as during relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

Not that the folks most outraged by this document see the handling of Katrina relief as benign. FM 3-39.40 lands during a time of skyrocketing paranoia and grievance among domestic radicals of virtually every stripe, in many cases fueled by their interpretations of real government actions, from the use of informants and undercover operations against would-be terrorists to the Patriot Act to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act and its provisions for the military detention of American citizens.

Some of their talking points have even spilled over into mainstream politics, as in the case of the Kansas state legislature's condemnation of the U.N.'s Agenda 21 sustainable energy initiative, which many radicals see as undermining U.S. sovereignty.

Because of its content and authenticity, FM 3-39.40 has a bit more tooth than some of its predecessors in conspiracyland. Within two weeks of its first appearance online, the document has produced more than 237,000 hits on Google.

Radicalization is driven in large part by victimization narratives, whether it's a fear of Big Brother watching, big banks looting, big government seizing one's guns, or a big, global war on Islam. A document like FM 3-39.40 is read as confirming the worst fears of an unusually wide spectrum of political dissenters, radicals, and would-be violent extremists from the right, left, and "other." Gasoline, meet match.



5 Easy Ways to Solve the Greek Crisis

If, that is, the economists were in charge.

If there's one thing economists don't like, it's politics. We can draw up any number of fantastic policies on paper, but getting them through legislatures and central bank committees is another story. Politics has been a big part of the problem in Greece. Not only are the politicians there incapable of choosing a way out of the fiscal crisis they created; they can't even form a government. But what if economists were in charge?

With politicians pushed aside, economists could offer at least five paths, some of them not mutually exclusive, out of Greece's current straits. Here's how they would work.

1. Default officially. Greek bonds have been trading at huge discounts for months now, and negotiations to reduce the Greek government's debts have been running non-stop behind the scenes. Puzzlingly, however, the government has continued to pay all the interest owed to select groups of creditors. An official default would allow Greece to go through a more orderly sort of bankruptcy process, determining the "seniority" of various claims -- basically, which ones get paid first -- and then negotiating with creditors while payments remained frozen. Afterward, Greece would have a hard time borrowing from global credit markets for some time, perhaps several years. Its leaders would have to form a durable government, which in turn would have to demonstrate the ability to spend responsibly in order to win back the markets' confidence.

Sounds tough -- but by no means impossible. Many countries in Latin America managed to return to global credit markets within a few years of defaults in the 1980s and 1990s. Others have taken their time. Argentina has had a rocky relationship with its creditors since defaulting on its debts in 2001, and recent discussions about returning to the markets have been soured by the renationalization of energy company YPF and fears about inflation and budget deficits. Of course, Argentina's commodity wealth has allowed the country to grow quickly without the markets' help for a decade since the crisis; resource-poor Greece might not be so lucky.

2. Drop the euro. The euro is a huge obstacle to Greece's return to fiscal health. In a country with its own currency, a government can use inflation to reduce the value of its debts relative to its tax revenue. Issuing more currency makes prices and wages rise, but the amount owed to debtors stays the same. The Greek government can't issue more euros, however; only the European Central Bank can. Nor can the Greek government depress the value of its currency to help its exports, a common strategy for hastening an economic recovery.

A return to the drachma would put the tools of monetary policy back in Greek hands. It would almost certainly lead to a default, too, since the government would have a hard time putting together enough depreciated drachmas to pay its euro-denominated debts. But after an initial scare, the country would be well equipped for future growth. Tourism and other exports would undoubtedly benefit from having a flexible currency, as would purchases of Greek assets by foreigners.

3. Raise taxes. At the moment, the Greek government's revenue is about 42 percent of GDP. That's a middling-to-low figure for the euro area, where the IMF predicts that Belgium, Finland, and France will all top 50 percent this year. Raising tax rates and improving tax collection could bring the government's revenue more in line with its spending and eventually balance the budget.

Fans of the Laffer Curve might argue that raising tax rates wouldn't necessarily result in higher revenue. But, experienced and skilled as the Greeks appear to be in avoiding taxes, there's evidence that the country is still on the left-hand side of the Laffer curve. In fact, a recent study suggests that Greece could enhance its revenue by up to 5.6 percentage points of GDP before the curve started to slope downward.

4. Cut spending. The Greek government has come under enormous pressure to cut spending in exchange for EU and IMF bailouts. Right now, the budget deficit is still about 7 percent of GDP and on track to stay around 5 percent in the long term. That's already a lot lower than the 11/10 percent figures of two years ago. Like them or not, more cuts would finish the job.

Of course, cuts could also hamper the Greek economy's recovery by doing away with government jobs and spending in other areas. With such little confidence in Greece amongst investors and corporate managers, it's hard to believe the private sector would instantly fill the gap. Cuts would end the fiscal crisis, but not the broader economic one; stagnation in Greece could drag on for several more years as a result.

5. Liquidate. Though a small country, Greece has a lot of valuable stuff. Its monuments are recognized around the world. Its countryside and beaches are beautiful. Its museums are filled with the riches of early Western civilization and some of the East as well. And for a small country, it has a lot of fancy embassies and consulates dotting the globe, not to mention the snazzy military hardware it has bought at a higher rate than China. All of these assets can be sold, and indeed some of them already have been. But there's a further step -- selling the country.

When a company goes bankrupt, its creditors have the option of chopping it up into pieces to recoup their debts and claim their shares. Greece could do the same, offering all or part of itself to other countries in Europe and beyond. Along its northern and western edges are large, ethnically Albanian, Macedonian, and Turkish communities that have occasionally been the subject of extraterritorial claims by groups in neighboring countries. These countries might be willing to pony up a lot of cash in return for a change in Greece's borders. Foreign billionaires who enjoy their Mediterranean holidays might also be persuaded to pick up an island or two. There's plenty of precedent for cash-for-land deals -- Seward's Icebox, anyone?

More likely, the threat of liquidation would encourage Greek voters to consider the other four options more seriously. But that's a ploy for politicians.


Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images