Tevlin: Big negotiations went into recent military training exercises

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 24, 2014 - 6:34 AM

I’ve never been one of those “black helicopter” guys. You know, the conspiracy theorists who see government secrecy and snooping around every corner. Well, at least I wasn’t until I actually saw the black helicopters.

I’ve never been one of those “black helicopter” guys. You know, the conspiracy theorists who see government secrecy and snooping around every corner.

Well, at least I wasn’t until I actually saw the black helicopters.

I heard them first: a heavy thumping that rattled my condo windows as they darted like bats through the valley of apartment complexes near Loring Park. Over and over.

Like a lot of other residents of the Twin Cities, I had spent part of the night watching scenes from Ferguson, Mo., where police using military gear and weapons went after demonstrators and reporters with rubber bullets and tear gas.

The exercises, coupled with this newspaper’s story last week about tons of military equipment being given to police departments, including a grenade launcher to tiny Royalton, are disconcerting. Sen. Claire McCaskill, chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, is concerned enough to plan hearings soon.

The helicopters creeped me out, and I wasn’t alone. I know the exercise was planned months in advance, but the timing was terrible.

The military unit was the Night Stalkers, an Army regiment that specializes in night missions using Blackhawk helicopters, and it does these exercises in several cities each year.

If this week’s maneuvers were similar to those that happened here in 2012, the secrecy was intentional.

The nonprofit watchdog Public Record Media obtained 2012 agreements and mail between the Navy and Twin Cities officials that shed light on what likely happened this week.

The 2012 agreements allowed the military to conduct “low visibility movement, military operations in urban terrain, manual and low weight explosive breaching, low-altitude precision helicopter operations, live fire, simunitions; flash bang and surveillance.”

Those documents show that Minneapolis purposely found a way around notifying the City Council by using the city’s water works plant to give permission for the training.

“Documents indicate that the city was sensitive to publicity about the exercises, and sought to enter into a contract without City Council process so as to keep the training out of the public eye,” PRM found.

Navy attorney Billy Holt wrote to Corey Conover, an assistant city attorney: “That’s great news that this will hopefully allow your client to sign without placing this before the City Council.”

Both cities’ mayors, R.T. Rybak and Chris Coleman, were aware of the 2012 maneuvers and even wrote cheery welcome letters.

The documents, however, also show significant concerns about public safety.

“If a helicopter crashes into a softening plant killing 10 people, seven employees and three visitors, shouldn’t they protect us from all liability, whether or not they were negligent? I’m not expecting they will be willing to do that,” Conover wrote.

Minneapolis eventually got the Navy to agree to stricter liability terms, something Matt Ehling, PRM’s president, commends.

Ehling said there were some “weird, unanswered questions” about the 2012 actions.

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