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  • Fred Cohen
    Washington Post March 1, 2002 Shadow Government Is At Work In Secret Spurred by Terror Threat, Bush Ordered 100 Officials to Bunker Duty to Ensure Federal
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2002
      Washington Post
      March 1, 2002
      Shadow Government Is At Work In Secret
      Spurred by Terror Threat, Bush Ordered 100 Officials to 'Bunker Duty' to
      Ensure Federal Survival
      By Barton Gellman and Susan Schmidt, Washington Post Staff Writers
      President Bush has dispatched a shadow government of about 100 senior
      civilian managers to live and work secretly outside Washington, activating
      for the first time long-standing plans to ensure survival of federal rule
      after catastrophic attack on the nation's capital.
      Execution of the classified "Continuity of Operations Plan" resulted not
      from the Cold War threat of intercontinental missiles, the scenario
      rehearsed for decades, but from heightened fears that the al Qaeda terrorist
      network might somehow obtain a portable nuclear weapon, according to three
      officials with first-hand knowledge. U.S. intelligence has no specific
      knowledge of such a weapon, they said, but the risk is thought great enough
      to justify the shadow government's disruption and expense.
      Deployed "on the fly" in the first hours of turmoil on Sept. 11, one
      participant said, the shadow government has evolved into an indefinite
      precaution. For that reason, the high-ranking officials representing their
      departments have begun rotating in and out of the assignment at one of two
      fortified locations along the East Coast. Rotation is among several changes
      made in late October or early November, sources said, to the standing
      directive Bush inherited from a line of presidents reaching back to Dwight
      D. Eisenhower.
      Officials who are activated for what some of them call "bunker duty" live
      and work underground 24 hours a day, away from their families. As it settles
      in for the long haul, the shadow government has sent home most of the first
      wave of deployed personnel, replacing them most commonly at 90-day
      The civilian cadre present in the bunkers usually numbers 70 to 150, and
      "fluctuates based on intelligence" about terrorist threats, according to a
      senior official involved in managing the program. It draws from every
      Cabinet department and some independent agencies. Its first mission, in the
      event of a disabling blow to Washington, would be to prevent collapse of
      essential government functions.
      Assuming command of regional federal offices, officials said, the
      underground government would try to contain disruptions of the nation's food
      and water supplies, transportation links, energy and telecommunications
      networks, public health and civil order. Later it would begin to
      reconstitute the government.
      Known internally as the COG, for "continuity of government," the
      administration-in-waiting is an unannounced complement to the acknowledged
      absence of Vice President Cheney from Washington for much of the past five
      months. Cheney's survival ensures constitutional succession, one official
      said, but "he can't run the country by himself." With a core group of
      federal managers alongside him, Cheney - or President Bush, if available -
      has the means to give effect to his orders.
      While the damage of other terrorist weapons is potentially horrific,
      officials said, only an atomic device could threaten the nation's
      fundamental capacity to govern itself. Without an invulnerable backup
      command structure outside Washington, one official said, a nuclear
      detonation in the capital "would be 'game over.'"
      "We take this issue extraordinarily seriously, and are committed to doing as
      thorough a job as possible to ensure the ongoing operations of the federal
      government," said Joseph W. Hagin, White House deputy chief of staff, who
      declined to discuss details. "In the case of the use of a weapon of mass
      destruction, the federal government would be able to do its job and continue
      to provide key services and respond."
      The Washington Post agreed to a White House request not to name any of those
      deployed or identify the two principal locations of the shadow government.
      Only the executive branch is represented in the full-time shadow
      administration. The other branches of constitutional government, Congress
      and the judiciary, have separate continuity plans but do not maintain a
      24-hour presence in fortified facilities.
      The military chain of command has long maintained redundant centers of
      communication and control, hardened against thermonuclear blast and
      operating around the clock. The headquarters of U.S. Space Command, for
      example, is burrowed into Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs, Colo.,
      and the U.S. Strategic Command staffs a comparable facility under Offutt Air
      Force Base in Nebraska.
      Civilian departments have had parallel continuity-of-government plans since
      the dawn of the nuclear age. But they never operated routinely, seldom
      exercised, and were permitted to atrophy with the end of the Cold War. Sept.
      11 marked the first time, according to Bush administration officials, that
      the government activated such a plan.
      Within hours of the synchronized attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade
      Center, Military District of Washington helicopters lifted off with the
      first wave of evacuated officials. Witnesses near one of the two evacuation
      sites reported an influx of single- and twin-rotor transport helicopters,
      escorted by F-16 fighters, and followed not long afterward by government
      According to officials with first-hand knowledge, the Bush administration
      conceived the move that morning as a temporary precaution, likely to last
      only days. But further assessment of terrorist risks persuaded the White
      House to remake the program as a permanent feature of "the new reality,
      based on what the threat looks like," a senior decisionmaker said.
      Few Cabinet-rank principals or their immediate deputies left Washington on
      Sept. 11, and none remained at the bunkers. Those who form the backup
      government come generally from the top career ranks, from GS-14 and GS-15 to
      members of the Senior Executive Service. The White House is represented by a
      "senior-level presence," one official said, but well below such
      Cabinet-ranked advisers as Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and national
      security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
      Many departments, including Justice and Treasury, have completed plans to
      delegate statutory powers to officials who would not normally exercise them.
      Others do not need to make such legal transfers, or are holding them in
      Deployed civilians are not permitted to take their families, and under
      penalty of prosecution they may not tell anyone where they are going or why.
      "They're on a 'business trip,' that's all," said one official involved in
      the effort.
      The two sites of the shadow government make use of local geological features
      to render them highly secure. They are well stocked with food, water,
      medicine and other consumable supplies, and are capable of generating their
      own power.
      But with their first significant operational use, the facilities are showing
      their age. Top managers arrived at one of them to find computers "several
      generations" behind those now in use, incapable of connecting to current
      government databases. There were far too few phone lines. Not many work
      areas had secure audio and video links to the rest of government. Officials
      said Card, who runs the program from the White House, has been obliged to
      order substantial upgrades.
      The modern era of continuity planning began under President Ronald Reagan.
      On Sept. 16, 1985, Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 188,
      "Government Coordination for National Security Emergency Preparedness,"
      which assigned responsibility for continuity planning to an interagency
      panel from Defense, Treasury, Justice and the Office of Management and
      Budget. He signed additional directives, including Executive Order 12472,
      for more detailed aspects of the planning.
      In Executive Order 12656, signed Nov. 18, 1988, Reagan ordered every Cabinet
      department to define in detail the "defense and civilian needs" that would
      be "essential to our national survival" in case of a nuclear attack on
      Washington. Included among them were legal instruments for "succession to
      office and emergency delegation of authority."
      The military services put these directives in place long before their
      civilian counterparts. The Air Force, for example, relies on Air Force
      Instruction 10-208, revised most recently in September 2000.
      Civilian agencies gradually developed contingency plans in comparable
      detail. The Agriculture Department, for example, has plans to ensure
      continued farm production, food processing, storage and distribution;
      emergency provision of seed, feed, water, fertilizer and equipment to
      farmers; and use of Commodity Credit Corp. inventories of food and fiber
      What was missing, until Sept. 11, was an invulnerable group of managers with
      the expertise and resources to administer these programs in a national
      Last Oct. 8, the day after bombing began in Afghanistan, Bush created the
      Office of Homeland Security with Executive Order 13228. Among the
      responsibilities he gave its first director, former Pennsylvania governor
      Tom Ridge, was to "review plans and preparations for ensuring the continuity
      of the Federal Government in the event of a terrorist attack that threatens
      the safety and security of the United States Government or its leadership."
      Staff researcher Mary Lou White contributed to this report.
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