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March 1969: Civil Disturbance Exercise Conducted in California

A large exercise, codenamed Cable Splicer II, is conducted in California to test and develop the ability of local, state, and federal officials to deal with political protests and urban rioting. Operation Cable Splicer is a regional subplan of the Pentagon’s Operation Garden Plot (see Winter 1967-1968). A month earlier, Governor Ronald Reagan and other officials ceremoniously kicked off the war game (see February 10, 1969). The exercise, which simulates a variety of civil disturbances, is spread across 23 political jurisdictions and includes National Guard officers, Army advisers, senior police and sheriff officers, and private executives. According to New Times magazine, “over 1,200 preplanned intelligence reports on supposedly imaginary events, people, and organizations” are pasted on index cards and handed to the participants to help “generate the make-believe war.” The magazine will later report: “The players listen to a special intelligence summary, learning the background of the civil disturbance that has led to the current ‘emergency.’ At that point, the ‘controllers’—usually senior National Guard officers and their Army advisers—begin play, feeding the IBM-card preplanned intelligence reports of dissident activity to the players. Seated at rows of desks dotted with telephones, facing a ‘situation map’ of their community, the players respond to the unfolding scenario.”
Storyline - In the first phase of the exercise, an arrest and shooting “provoke crowd unrest and threats against public officials.” Fourteen simulated hours later, rioters attack a police car and injure an officer. A member of a minority group is killed and two others are wounded. There are threats of retaliation against police officers. Mock intelligence reports suggest widespread rioting is likely, as dozens of apparent radicals are flown in on a “chartered flight” and picked up at the airport by 20 separate vehicles. The second phase of the exercise begins with “the ambush of several police cars, the attempted assassination of the mayor, the bombing of local armories, the destruction of vehicles and ammunition stocks, and the gathering of thousands of people in the streets.” The exercise participants call in police from outside jurisdictions and cities, but they are unsuccessful at quelling the violence. In the third phase of the exercise, according to New Times, “intelligence reports pouring into the Emergency Operations Center disclose more fire bombings, attempted assassinations of public officials, hoarding of water in certain areas, and sniping of fire trucks. The streets remain filled with thousands of people, and the National Guard is called to active duty.” As the crowd turns increasingly violent, the Army is called upon to take over for the National Guard. The crowd is finally dispersed, although the details of exactly how are unknown. “At their disposal,” New Times reports, “there are heavy artillery, armor, chemical and psychological warfare teams, and tactical air support.” The third phase concludes with a few “loose militants” unable to gain popular influence. [New Times, 11/28/1975]

Entity Tags: California National Guard, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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