ABC News' Elizabeth Gorman reports:
It's the nightmare scenario.
The Continuity of
Government Commission released its report today, "The
Presidency," that includes an 8-page scenario in which the President,
his Cabinet, and most of the House and Senate, are all killed by an al Qaeda
operative at a State of the Union address, using the same methods as 9/11.
"The current system would be inadequate in the face of a catastrophic
attack that would kill or incapacitate multiple individuals in the line of succession,"
states the report.
President Bush's former
Homeland Security advisor, Frances Townsend, said that scenario is not
unfathomable, and "that our enemies understood" from public discussion
the debilitating effects an attack would have had during Obama's
"Even out of government a year later I watch the inauguration with
pride, but holding my breath waiting for everybody to get off that dais,"
Townsend said. "Given that we didn't have Cabinet secretaries sworn in for
the new administration, given everybody in the governmental power structure was
there [at the inauguration], you can imagine."
The commission recommends swearing in the Cabinet nominees the day before
the Presidential inauguration, to prevent a gap in leadership after an attack,
and creating four to five new federal offices located outside Washington –
just in case.
"The idea is to have a backstop behind the key people in the line of
succession if the worse were to happen and we would have to turn to people
outside of Washington,"
said John Fortier, a research fellow at AEI on
In 2007, President Bush signed the National
Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive that gave him special
powers in case of a "catastrophic emergency" to ensure national continuity. Details are classified.
"The President shall lead the activities of the Federal Government for
ensuring constitutional government," the policy states.
And the National Continuity Coordinator, a position formally held by Townsend, oversees the plan "to
promote interoperability of Federal Government continuity programs and
procedures with State, local, territorial, and tribal governments, and
private sector owners and operators of critical infrastructure, as
"President Obama inherited a far superior . . .by almost any standard
of anything else we understand about our allies around the world — a far
superior system where his long term and not just his, but a legacy in terms of
the continuity of the Presidency that is much stronger than anything that
anybody would have contemplated," Townsend said.