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REPOST: [coldwarcomms] Recent UK article on Mt Weather

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  • Albert LaFrance
    ... From: ozob99 To: Sent: Sunday, September 17, 2006 4:12 PM Subject: [coldwarcomms] Recent UK article on
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 20, 2006
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "ozob99" <ozob99@...>
      To: <coldwarcomms@yahoogroups.com>
      Sent: Sunday, September 17, 2006 4:12 PM
      Subject: [coldwarcomms] Recent UK article on Mt Weather

      Is this Bush's secret bunker?

      Mount Weather is a top-security underground installation an hour's
      drive from Washington DC. It has its own leaders, police, fire
      department - and laws. A cold war relic, it has been given a new lease
      of life since 9/11. And no one who's been inside has ever talked.

      by Tom Vanderbilt | Guardian Newspapers | August 28, 2006

      'Actually, you may want to just put those down a minute," Tim Brown is
      telling me, as I peer through binoculars at a cluster of buildings and
      antennae on a distant ridge. "The locals might get a bit nervous." A
      Ford F-150 cruises by, and the two men inside regard us casually as
      they pass.

      We are sitting, hazards blinking, in Brown's BMW on a rural road in
      Virginia's Facquier County, a horsey enclave an hour west of
      Washington DC. The object of our attention is Mount Weather,
      officially the Emergency Operations Centre of the Federal Emergency
      Management Authority (Fema); and, less officially, a massive
      underground complex originally built to house governmental officials
      in the event of a full-scale nuclear exchange. Today, as the Bush
      administration wages its war on terror, Mount Weather is believed to
      house a "shadow government" made up of senior Washington officials on
      temporary assignment.

      Following the collapse of the USSR, Mount Weather seemed like an
      expensive cold-war relic. Then came September 11. News reports noted
      that "top leaders of Congress were taken to the safety of a secure
      government facility 75 miles west of Washington"; another reported "a
      traffic jam of limos carrying Washington and government license
      plates." As the phrase "undisclosed location" entered the vernacular,
      Mount Weather, and a handful of similar installations, flickered back
      to life. Just two months ago, a disaster-simulation exercise called
      Forward Challenge '06 sent thousands of federal workers to Mount
      Weather and other sites.

      Mount Weather is not hard to find. From the White House, we take Route
      66 west until it meets Highway 50. Fifty miles later, we turn off on
      Route 601, a small two-lane rural feeder that snakes up a ridge. That
      road seems to be going nowhere until suddenly, at the crest, we come
      into a clearing, bounded by two lines of tall, shiny, razor-wired
      fencing, marked with faded signs that say: "US Property. No
      Trespassing." Behind sits a grouping of white aluminium sheds and a
      few cars.

      We have arrived at the edge of the known republic. What lies beyond is
      obscured by Appalachian scrub and the inky black of government
      classification. No one has ever been allowed to tour the underground
      complex at Mount Weather and tell of what they saw. Occupying 500
      acres of Blue Ridge real estate, it functions like a rump
      principality, with its own leaders, its own police and fire
      departments, and its own set of laws.

      Mount Weather is more easily viewed from outer space than down the
      block. Earlier in the afternoon, I had been looking at grainy
      1m-resolution aerial images of Mount Weather assembled by Brown, a
      national security researcher and aerial imagery expert. He pointed to
      small notches on the side of a hill (tunnel entrances), helipads, and
      a series of "military-style above-ground soft support housing". The
      mountain straddles the two entrances, he noted. "It's something like
      200ft of shelter on top of you at the highest point."

      Just driving round the perimeter of Mount Weather, you can see the
      traces of recent work. "See how they've obscured this," he says,
      pointing to the black sheeting threaded through a length of fence.
      "You used to be able to see the helipad through that fence." He
      gestures towards the new entrance. "Look at the truck barriers. When
      you turned, there'd be no time to build up speed. They got smart."

      The changes to its exterior landscape - not to mention the gossip
      among local residents - are just one sign that that something very
      important has been going on at Mount Weather, a level of activity not
      seen here since the days when Eisenhower and his advisers trooped out
      here during drills. For some, this is a sign of prudent planning in a
      world where the security calculus has been for ever altered; for
      others, it is the symbol of an administration with a predilection
      towards exercising power in secret. As we pull away from Mount
      Weather, Brown says, "I wouldn't want to be driving a rental truck and
      have it break down in front of the gate."

      Mount Weather first caught the American imagination on December 1
      1974, when a Dulles-bound TransWorld Airlines 727, struggling through
      heavy rains and 50mph winds, crashed into the top of the mountain,
      less than a mile and a half from the site. The crash briefly severed
      the underground line linking to the Emergency Broadcast System, and
      teletype machines in news offices across the country began spitting
      out garbled transmissions.

      The story might have died there. With Vietnam and Watergate in the
      air, however, the words "secret government facility" did not exactly
      induce a frisson of patriotic glee. The Progressive, in 1976,
      published an article, entitled The Mysterious Mountain, which said
      Mount Weather, a place little known even to Congress, was home not
      only to a replica mini-government, but to files on at least 100,000
      Americans. In 1991, Time published the fullest exposé, describing
      (based on conversations with retired engineers) a sprawling
      underground complex bristling with mainframe computers, air
      circulation pumps, and a television/radio studio for post-nuclear
      presidential broadcasts.

      What information has emerged about Mount Weather has always been
      rather sketchy. At some point in the 1950s, however, it seems that a
      drilling experiment into the mountain's rugged foundations of
      Precambrian basalt was turned into an exercise in underground city
      building, with the army corps hollowing out of the "hard and tight"
      rock a complex of tunnels and rooms with roofs reinforced by iron bolts.

      The base formed part of a "federal relocation arc", an archipelago of
      hardened underground facilities, each linked by a dedicated
      communications system and equipped with amenities ranging from showers
      to wash off nuclear fallout to filtration systems capable of sucking
      air clean down to the micron level. The sites, staffed by "molies",
      were spartan steel-and-concrete expanses, subterranean seats of power:
      the president could repair to Mount Weather; Congress had its secret
      bunker under the Greenbrier Hotel in Virginia; the Federal Reserve had
      a bunker in Culpepper, Virginia; the Pentagon was given a rocky
      redoubt called Site R in the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania;
      while the nation's air defences were run out of Norad's (North
      American Aerospace Defence Command) Cheyenne Mountain facility. "The
      nuclear age has dictated that these men carry out their
      responsibilities inside a solid granite mountain," wrote the defence

      Mount Weather's secrecy was never absolute. In the 1957 novel Seven
      Days in May, the authors referred to a shadowy facility called Mount
      Thunder, all but revealing its location. Driving around those Blue
      Ridge byways today, a curious mixture of secrecy and openness still
      prevails. On Route 601, an Adopt-a-Highway sign is sponsored by
      employees of the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Centre. But pull
      off toward the entrance of that facility, and things get a bit
      strange. Looking for the home of a local resident, I hail an exiting
      Mount Weather employee. As we begin to chat, cars side by side, I
      suddenly hear a strange, siren-like sound and notice that a black SUV
      has loomed into my rear-view. The occupant, wearing sunglasses,
      hastily points me in the right direction.

      This contradictory world of sunshine and shadow is at one with the
      parallel nature of the facility itself. On the one hand, it is, as
      Fema describes it, "a hub of emergency response activity providing
      Fema and other government agencies space for offices, training,
      conferencing, operations and storage". Less discussed is Mount
      Weather's obliquely assumed status as one of the key "undisclosed
      locations" of the Bush administration. "Look, there are two Mount
      Weathers - there's the Fema one and the Mount Weather one," says John
      Weisman, a writer of military and spy thrillers and a neighbour of the
      facility. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if [the vice-president,
      Dick] Cheney had been here before, and if [the secretary of defence,
      Donald] Rumsfeld had been here before, because they were part of some
      hugely sensitive stuff that was going on in the 1980s."

      Weisman is referring to a series of classified programmes, described
      by the journalist James Mann in The Rise of the Vulcans, in which
      Cheney and Rumsfeld were said to be "leading figures". According to
      Mann, the resurgence of tensions with the Soviet Union during the
      Reagan administration lent new urgency to "continuity of government"
      programmes. With a secret executive order, and an "action officer" in
      the form of Oliver North, top officials pondered such constitutional
      quandaries as whether it would be necessary to reconstitute Congress
      following a nuclear attack (the answer was no).

      On September 11 2001, Mann writes, the long-dormant plan was
      activated, and any number of top officials - possibly including Cheney
      himself - were shuttled to Mount Weather.

      Residents on the mountain did not need to read the newspapers to
      discern that something was going on there. Joe Davitt, a retired civil
      servant who lives in a small A-frame house a mile or so away, told me
      that on September 11 2001 his wife was returning home from Florida. At
      the bottom of the hill, he says, she was stopped by state troopers,
      who asked for identification. At the facility itself, he says, "The
      Mount Weather guards were not only armed, they had their guns in
      firing position." John Staelin, a member of the Clarke County Board of
      Supervisors, says that on September 11, the county's 911 line received
      a call from an agitated local woman. "She said, 'I wouldn't have
      believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, but the whole
      mountain opened up and Air Force One flew in and it closed right up. I
      wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.' So
      they said, 'Yes, ma'am.' "

      Whatever else, Mount Weather makes for an interesting neighbour. "My
      God," says Davitt, as we sit on his back porch, "they put a plough up
      there at the first forecast of snow. They've always been good at
      keeping the road ploughed."

      "We call our house ground zero," says Weisman. "This mountain has its
      interesting moments, between the helicopter flights and the people
      coming and going." Where for years "Mount Weather was nothing but a
      sleepy little byway", Weisman complains that the post-9/11 security
      adjustments have only served to draw attention to the facility. "It
      now says, 'Boy, am I important!' "

      The local people are, by and large, perfectly happy to talk about
      Mount Weather. Sometimes, however, a veil of secrecy descends. When I
      asked about Mount Weather at the Daily Grind coffee shop in nearby
      Berryville, a woman smiled nervously and told me one woman she knew
      saw "missiles" being taken there. I was forwarded an email from a
      mountain resident (with the .mil domain that suggests a military
      background) that contained complaints about late-night helicopter
      flights, as well as recent episodes of nocturnal machine-gun fire and
      even a "massive explosion" that had shaken the house. My email seeking
      further comment received an immediate, terse response demanding that
      the sender not be associated with the story.

      Inquiries to Fema yield little more light. "There's been a general
      upgrade of security at all federal installations around the country,
      and Mount Weather is one of them," says spokesman Don Jacks. "I
      answered your question in a very general way. We're not going to talk
      about Mount Weather, period. It's not that I can't, we just don't."

      A request to talk to Reynolds Hoover, the director of Fema's Office of
      National Security Coordination, dies on the vine. And forget about
      James Looney, Fema chief at Mount Weather. "To talk to Mr Looney you
      would have to talk about Mount Weather," Jacks reminds me. "And we
      don't talk about Mount Weather."

      One afternoon, I went to have lunch with Jim Wink at the Horseshoe
      Curve, a saloon tucked away near the hamlet of Pine Grove. It has been
      the unofficial canteen of Mount Weather for as long as anyone can
      remember. "I've seen Seabees [members of the US Navy Construction
      Battalions] come out of the tunnels at the end of the day and come
      down to the bar for a few beers," says Weisman. A Comanche pickup in
      the parking lot has a bumper sticker that says Terrorist Hunting Permit.

      "I checked you out last night," Wink says by way of introduction. "So
      did Ray." He's talking about Ray Derby, a former Mount Weather
      employee whom I had visited the night before, who has suddenly
      appeared today. Wink, an Irish-blooded South Philadelphian with a
      tight smile and a steely, penetrating stare, does not seem like a man
      of whom you would like to run afoul. A retired counterterrorism expert
      with stints in the CIA, the Secret Service and any number of other
      agencies, he seems to have been in every place in the world at the
      most politically sensitive time. He was one of the last several
      hundred US personnel in Vietnam in April 1975, until he heard the song
      White Christmas - a coded message to get out of the country.

      His office is filled with memorabilia culled from the more occluded
      arenas of US foreign policy; there is a plaque signed by the team
      tracking the Shining Path leader, Abimael Guzman, in Peru; a
      collection of Wink's identity cards from various intelligences
      agencies around the world (he's wearing sunglasses in most of them);
      and, among other souvenirs, a photograph of the slain drug lord Pablo
      Escobar. "There's your richest man in the world," he says, handing me
      a snapshot of a bloated, blank-eyed corpse. "He did not die a good death."

      There's a Vets for North sticker on one wall, and, on another, one
      that says: "Even My Dog is Conservative."

      Wink came to Mount Weather in the 1980s. "I needed a training facility
      and they offered a great deal up here."

      When he came with the Secret Service one day to the Curve for a beer,
      he met his future wife, Tracee, whose grandfather had owned the bar.
      "Cheney and Rumsfeld, they've been here," he says, gesturing to the
      bar. "And Ollie. We all worked here together years ago. She can even
      tell you what they drank." His eyes shift toward his wife, behind the
      bar. "When I used to run exercises we'd bring 1,000 people," he says.
      "Most of the things we did, they didn't let 'em off the post." He
      talks vaguely of one training exercise. "We had to do the psychology
      of being locked up," he says. "We started with submarines."

      There have been curious visitors to Mount Weather from the start, he
      says, including the Russians. "The State Department, in their infinite
      lack of wisdom, allowed the Russians to have a R&R center on the river
      here, right below Mount Weather." The Curve, which sits off an
      entrance to the Appalachian Trail, attracts wayward visitors. "One
      hiker came in and said he was hiking all the facilities. Said you
      could get closer that way. He was trying to find out a little too much."

      Local people, Wink says, like to help Mount Weather maintain its low
      profile. "They won't talk about it," he says. "As a matter of fact,"
      he says, fixing his eyes on me, "you might meet a local cop if you ask
      too many questions about it. Many of the men around here served in the
      second world war," he continues. "Consequently they don't discuss
      those things."

      I had encountered a similar line of thinking the night before from
      Derby, a long-time federal emergency coordinator and civil defence
      officer who is now retired and living in nearby Winchester. "All the
      employees of Mount Weather have always been told, rightly so, that no
      matter what someone asks you, just don't say if it's true or not true.
      Just ignore the question. You'll get that if you ask," says Derby, a
      chain-smoker with neatly Brylcreemed hair who drinks what he calls
      "martoonis" out of a tumbler. His office, in the upstairs of his
      split-level suburban home, is filled with various presidential
      commendations, as well as a photograph of what looks like a emergency
      conference room.

      "I designed that," he says, peering through a dense curl of cigarette
      smoke, "but I can't tell you where it is".

      Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
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