Tuesday, September 8, 2009

2,000 from National Guard could bolster G-20 security - Activist calls combat troops overreaction

Monday, September 07, 2009
By Gary Rotstein, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Officials overseeing security during this month's G-20 summit appear likely to tap the Pennsylvania National Guard as a major source of personnel -- perhaps the biggest.

Lt. Col. Chris Cleaver, the National Guard's state public affairs officer, said the 19,000-member force is expecting word soon on just how many troops will be sought to supplement efforts by the U.S. Secret Service and Pittsburgh police.

National Guard representatives have been part of discussions throughout the summer, led by the Secret Service, on how other agencies could assist the city's 900-member force. Local officials have said about 4,000 security personnel are being sought to handle traffic, crowd control and other duties during the Sept. 24-25 gathering of world leaders at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

The Pennsylvania State Police is expected to bring in at least 1,000 officers from around the state. Lt. Col. Cleaver said the National Guard might supply as many as 2,000, primarily from its 2nd Brigade Combat Team in Washington, Pa., although nothing is official yet.

"We're not going to be in a lead role. We are in support of [other units of] law enforcement," the lieutenant colonel said, noting that the Washington, Pa., brigade also had a large role providing security on streets of the nation's capital for President Barack Obama's inauguration.

The brigade has more than 2,400 members, most of them civilians who would be activated, as they were in 2005 for a tour of duty in Iraq. The 171st Air Refueling Wing, based at Pittsburgh International Airport, would also be activated to assist if authorities confirm the National Guard is needed.

"Not only do we have a robust ability to bring a lot of people -- we have unique aspects like helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and specialized units for an event like this," Lt. Col. Cleaver said.

He said the federal government would pay any costs that occur from mobilizing the National Guardsmen.

Officials are seeking a large security presence in part because of the threat of widespread protests that could occur during the summit, from various groups unhappy with policies of the G-20 nations.

One local activist helping plan those protests, David Meieran, issued an e-mail call yesterday for people to contact both Gov. Ed Rendell's office and the White House condemning the message that large use of National Guard troops would send.

"There is no state of emergency in Pittsburgh, there is no natural disaster," he said, "only the placing of military combat troops in the Steel City, which will repress and intimidate democratic free speech and dissent."

Lt. Col. Cleaver responded that the nature of the National Guard's work has changed somewhat as a result of 9/11, taking on a more proactive role for security needs such as protecting airports and nuclear facilities.

"I would view this as a core mission of the National Guard," he said of G-20 security.

While Gov. Rendell would give the official order to mobilize troops, it will depend on a formal request being issued soon by Secret Service and Pittsburgh police officials, Lt. Col. Cleaver said.
Gary Rotstein can be reached at grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.