Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Groups of Note: ACTION

Individual supers are good to know about, but organizations are pretty important too. Today I'll start by talking about the biggest and most important one any supervillain should be aware of.

The American Counter-Terrorism Intelligence Operations Network, or ACTION, was created by the UNCLE SAM Act, passed in April of 1996 and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. If you were curious, UNCLE SAM here stands for Upholding National Counter-terrorism and Law Enforcement by Supporting American Metahumans. I hope you guys know that there's interns on Capitol Hill who do nothing but think up witty acronyms.

American superhumans had contributed a great deal of effort in cleanup and rescue operations in the immediate wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, and the public reaction to the supers' presence was extremely positive. Newspapers, television stations and media figures all clamored for the government to reward these heroes somehow, and to "do more" (though just what more could be done wasn't clear).

An early draft of the legislation was making the rounds among super advocacy groups, modeled on the Peace Corps Act of 1961. After a newspaper editorial famously declared that "these incredible men and women and their god-given gifts have bravely sacrificed for their fellow man, and they deserve to see some action from the government", the law was rewritten for the particulars of the moment and passed with a healthy majority in both chambers of Congress.

The UNCLE SAM act provided the following:
  • Health care benefits identical to those of firefighters and other first responders, for any volunteers who made a "significant effort" toward rescue efforts. Practically speaking, this was unnecessary given the recuperative powers of superhumans - but it made a big difference when a court case in 1997 extended these rights to immediate family members.
  • An agreement to "respect and honor the anonymity of persons rendering significant assistance" to such rescue efforts. Without this clause, most supers would be reluctant to help.
  • Additional college tuition or credit incentives for American superhumans who joined law enforcement bodies.
  • The creation of ACTION, a joint effort from national intelligence agencies and law enforcement organizations who would in turn contribute their expertise to NGOs and private super-teams.
What ACTION Supposedly Does

On paper, the agency was meant to do the following things:
  • Eliminate inter-agency barriers and share intelligence information (subject to regulation) between organizations like the CIA, the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI, and so forth.
  • Facilitate the granting of security clearances to individual supers or teams of supers, subject to appropriate background checks and a record of reliability.
  • The sharing of relevant intelligence information with cleared individuals.
  • Tasking individual supers or super-teams based on intelligence gained.
Members of ACTION are U.S. Marshals, FBI special agents, or similarly trained individuals. They will possess a security clearance and are pretty hard-assed about sticking to it.

ACTION falls under the purview of the Executive Branch, though it isn't a separate department the way the FBI falls under the Department of Justice. It's more like a shared agreement between DOJ, DOD, the Secret Service, and other departments. As a result, it's immune to many types of Congressional oversight (if Congress calls your department head in for questioning, your activities shift to another department), but vulnerable to a lot of Congressional meddling.

What ACTION Actually Does

These days, ACTION acts as the "super-cops". If there's a supervillain committing crimes (go us!), they theoretically have jurisdiction because of the way laws about using powers have been written. The use of superpowers in the process of committing a crime automatically raises the "act of terror" flag and that lets the Feds come in and wave their dicks around.

One of the reasons this works is that state and local law enforcement frequently do not have the budget, training, time, or interest in working up a super-crimes division internally. ACTION provides the muscle and picks up the tab, but no cop likes having someone from out of town come in and throw their weight around - and especially not when they keep secrets like ACTION does.

ACTION can't directly involve the military, but they can get the National Guard mobilized without too much effort, which is often good enough to deal with a newbie Stage 4. If that isn't sufficient, they can deputize friendly supers to help out.

They are well trained in anti-super tactics. Unlike the Grasscutters, their goal is generally containment rather than assassination. They use power-jamming chemical cocktails developed by people like Transhuman Research Solutions (now Persona).

Dealing With ACTION

In general, if you attracted their attention, you've made it to the big leagues. They don't have unlimited resources, and often let local heroes deal with villains who aren't endangering large numbers of civilians or destroying property en masse. But once they're on your trail, you had better be awesome.

I've had ACTION after me since their founding - I've been around for forty years, kids - but they always find someone more important to chase. I'm not enough of a public menace to merit a dedicated squad, which means I'm free to do the things I really want to do. And that is how to be a supervillain.