Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected next week to appoint a field-tested general to lead the California National Guard, an agency battered with internal strife, a legislative investigation and allegations of spying on civilians.
Brig. Gen. William Wade II -- who has served as commanding general of the Multinational Brigade in Kosovo, a province of Serbia and Montenegro, since March -- will be tapped to become adjutant general of the California National Guard as soon as next week, sources familiar with the appointment said Friday.
Retired Adjutant Gen. Robert C. Thrasher, who resigned as leader of the guard after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, said Wade was a “very energetic, mission-driven kind of guy -- enthusiastic, knowledgeable, troop-oriented. He is a combat leader. He has served in all the positions that you would expect.”
Wade’s expected appointment comes at a critical point for the state National Guard. Like other units around the country, California’s Guard has increasingly been asked to assist the regular military with its overseas missions rather than preparing only for in-state disasters, its traditionally recognized duty.
There are about 15,700 men and women serving in the California Army National Guard and about 4,600 in the state’s Air National Guard. About 5,400 are on active duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Guantanamo Bay and Egypt.
Amid the large deployment, the California Guard has been hit with a series of scandals in the front office. Major Gen. Thomas Eres resigned as its leader last month amid reports that he had not passed a required shooting-range test before traveling to Iraq last Thanksgiving -- even though a top aide had told the Pentagon otherwise.
Wade, who would have to end his one-year Kosovo command seven months early to lead the California Guard, brings with him more than three decades of service. He has been a Guard platoon leader, company commander, battalion commander and brigade commander -- all critical positions within the Guard.
Thrasher said Wade definitely can lead the service. But he voiced skepticism about the political atmosphere surrounding the agency, which is the subject of a state Senate investigation and which must cope with continual and sometimes conflicting pressure from the Pentagon and the governor’s office.
“How in God’s name do you prepare any human being for that?” Thrasher said. “There is no school for that.... When you get that kind of dynamic, is he able to handle it? Hell no -- unless he has the support of the Legislature, the governor and the press.”
This month, the state Senate is investigating the activities of an intelligence unit within the Guard that “monitored” a Mother’s Day antiwar rally in May at the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the state Capitol. The incident and the controversy over Eres were first reported in the San Jose Mercury News.
A Schwarzenegger press aide had e-mailed the Guard to inform officials of the May protest. The e-mail was passed along to a top Guard officer, who forwarded it “to our Intell. folks who continue to monitor,” according to an e-mail quoted in the Mercury News.
Guard officials said “monitor” meant watching news reports of the protest to see how the Guard was portrayed. They said the Guard does not spy on civilians; its intelligence unit tracks media reports on possible disturbances in California, and mainly communicates with the Pentagon and overseas units on troop levels and movements.
“It’s not a surveillance group,” said Lt. Col. Doug Hart, spokesman for the agency. “That is a term the media use. We don’t surveil anything or anyone” in California.
The Army inspector general also is investigating the incident, as well as allegations that the Guard improperly shifted drug-enforcement funds to anti-terrorism efforts.
State Sen. Joe Dunn, a Democrat from Orange County who is leading the legislative investigation, said the California Guard needs a top-down review. Dunn has requested subpoenas from the Senate Rules Committee seeking documents from Guard officials. Dunn said that the Guard has failed to provide what he needs, and that now he might hold hearings about that as well.
“I can tell you in two words: Clean house,” Dunn said. “At the leadership level is a bureaucracy out of control, with longtime allegations of financial improprieties, retaliation by Guard leadership against Guard members who are trying to help put it back on track.”
Wade’s appointment would have to be approved by the state Senate.
Under a federal law known as the Posse Comitatus Act, the military is prohibited from conducting law enforcement activities on U.S. soil. But Dunn said there appears to be a “gigantic loophole” in the law.
The key, Dunn said, is whether Guard personnel doing the surveillance are considered “activated” in a federal military capacity. If they are non-activated, he said, they would broadly be considered in the service of the state and not governed by the Posse Comitatus Act.
Dunn said he wants to introduce a California version of the act -- so state Guard units cannot investigate residents. Either way, Dunn said, privacy laws and common sense dictate that the Guard should not be conducting surveillance of people.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has asked Schwarzenegger, who carries the title of commander in chief of the California Guard, to disband the intelligence unit. ACLU officials say the law prohibits the Guard and law enforcement groups from conducting surveillance of lawful free-speech activities if there is no evidence of a crime.
“Local law enforcement could alert the National Guard if there is really a serious event,” said Mark Schlosberg, a staff attorney at the ACLU. “If there is a riot or a state of emergency, they will find out about it. That is very different from this mom-and-apple-pie protest activity.”