How Cheney and “Cabal” of Lawyers Expanded Executive Power after 9/11

by Vins
Published: Updated:

“Continuity of Government” (COG), as implemented by Vice President Dick Cheney on September 11, 2001, had pre-planned impacts that continue to reverberate, according to a report by Peter Dale Scott in the Journal of 9/11 Studies. He reports that, under cover of COG, Cheney used “devious means to install a small cabal of lawyers–most notoriously John Yoo–who proceeded conspiratorially in the next weeks to exclude their superiors, while secretly authorizing measures ranging from warrantless surveillance and detention to torture.”

Originally, under the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, COG planning was intended to deal with the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear attack on the nation by ensuring that the US government could continue to function. Under Reagan, COG planning expanded to cover any emergency—and to include plans for extralegal surveillance and detention of citizens.

According to Peter Dale Scott, Cheney and Donald Rumsfield (the Secretary of Defense from 2001-06) had been secretly planning vastly expanding executive power under COG since 1982. Drawing on newspaper accounts from the 1980s, Peter Dale Scott describes the planning process as “secret, extra-constitutional, and unaccountable.” According a 1987 news report by Alfonso Chardy of the Miami News, “The plans envisaged suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the government over to the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], emergency appointment of military commanders to run state and local governments and declaration of martial law during a national crisis.” Despite reports in the New York Times that the Clinton administration had abandoned the COG program, Cheney and Rumsfield remained “part of the permanent hidden national-security apparatus of the United States” (as described in James Mann’s 2004 book, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet).

On 9/11, Vice President Cheney effectively took command of national security operations. As part of the implementation of COG, he ordered the evacuation from Washington of three top Justice Department officials to a designated underground COG site. With John Yoo—a lawyer who had been in government for only two months at the time—effectively in command of the Justice Department that day, Cheney had unrestricted powers. As Peter Dale Scott describes, Cheney and Yoo “shared the eccentric legal belief, repudiated by most Bush administration lawyers, that a president in times of emergency had almost unrestricted powers.

A “War Council”—consisting of Cheney’s lawyer, David Addington; Timothy E. Flanigan, the deputy White House counsel; Alberto R. Gonzalez, White House counsel; Yoo; and William Haynes, Pentagon general counsel—formed a team, directed by Cheney, that “issued secret directives, sometimes without notifying their nominal superiors, that continued to implement COG plans and up-end[ed] established constitutional restraints on executive power.”

Corporate media have not adequately covered the ongoing impacts of the implementation COG on 9/11 by Cheney and his “War Council.” For example, an NBC News report in September 2016, on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, focused on defense infrastructure such as protective bunkers and anti-aircraft batteries that had been activated under COG that day. But, the NBC report, “The Secrets of 9/11,” made no mention of the Authorization of Military Force (AUMF), approved by Congress on September 14, 2001, which gave the President the right to deploy the US military inside the US in the event of a terrorist attack, and the right to authorize searches without warrants, despite the Fourth Amendment and laws previously passed by Congress prohibiting wiretaps and surreptitious surveillance.

Source: Peter Dale Scott, “Dick Cheney, John Yoo, and COG on 9/11,” Journal of 9/11 Studies, September 2016,

Student Researcher: Riley Mohr (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Suzel Bozada-Deas (Sonoma State University)