America built a secret network of remote underground bunkers during the Cold War in case of a nuclear strike by the Russians. But they were not made to protect civilians – the hideouts were just for top government officials.
“And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:” Revelation 6:15,16 (KJV)
In a plan as brutal as it was logical, the President and his inner circle would be saved while tens of millions of ordinary Americans would be incinerated. Realizing that there was no way to save the population, the conclusion was that ‘the government would protect itself and let the rest of us die’ writes national security expert Garrett M. Graff.
According to his new book, ‘Raven Rock: The Story of the US Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself‘, the governments of Presidents Kennedy, Eisenhower, Roosevelt and Truman publicly assured people that a nuclear strike could be survivable.
Privately they built nuclear-proof facilities inside mountains staffed 24 hours a day and perched on giant springs to cushion them from the impact of a blast. Springs were also put on toilet seats so people would be comfortable should they happen to be relieving themselves when an A-bomb landed above them.
A bunker was built under the White House in the 1950s that would first be used on 9/11 when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The secret, shadow world of planning extended to every branch of government and at the National Archives the Declaration of Independence was to be saved before the Constitution.
From Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr Strangelove’ to the TV series starring Kiefer Sutherland ‘Designated Survivor’, our obsession with a nuclear blast has been with us for nearly a century.
Graff’s book sets out to explain how ‘nuclear war would have actually worked – the nuts and bolts of war plans, communication networks, weapons, and bunkers – and how imagining and planning for the impact of nuclear war actually change as leaders realized the horrors ahead’.
In: ‘Raven Rock: The Story of the US Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself’, he says that the Cold War began before the Second World War ended thanks to the Manhattan Project to develop a nuclear bomb in America, and the Soviet response.
As late as the early 1910 visitors could sit at the President’s desk if he was not at home, but that changed with the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. Within hours, the Secret Service was looking for a an armored limousine for President Franklin Roosevelt.
They settled on a Cadillac 341A Town Sedan once owned by Al Capone which had been impounded by the Treasury. The President used this until armor was fitted to his Lincoln limousine, creating the first of version of the Presidential vehicle that has been known as the ‘Beast’
The White House was renovated and all staff members were issued with gas masks – Roosevelt’s was attached to his wheelchair.
White House architect Lorenzo Winslow built the first bunker under the building; workers added thick concrete walls to a 40ft by 40ft area in the basement under the East Wing to create two rooms that could fit 100 people inside.
The rooms contained rations, water, medical supplies and could withstand a 500lbs bomb. Workers dug a sloped tunnel to the neighboring Treasuring building so Roosevelt could get to the larger 10 room shelter in its basement.
Washington was ordered to improve its nuclear preparation as well; during the first air raid drill in 1941 the only warning siren was left over from World War One and barely made a squawk when it was sounded.
In the mid 1940s the Pentagon drew up a list of 49 Russian cities it needed to destroy to paralyze the country.
By their estimates they needed 100 bombers and 200 bombs but this was unrealistic as David Lilienthal, the first chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, discovered – America had just 13 nuclear warheads.
Officials began remedying this with gusto and started an arms race. Today, America has 6,800 warheads, second only to Russia which has 7,000. In 1950, the White House was in a state of disrepair. The second floor ceiling was partially caved in and the renovations were the perfect cover to install a secret bomb shelter.
President Truman authorized a new bomb shelter which had a four inch thick door behind which was a shower room for people to rinse off radioactive fallout. The President’s private suite was 8ft by 10ft and had four bunk beds, an en suite bathroom mostly taken up by a chemical toilet which would have stunk as there was no ventilation.
Graff writes that as the Cold War escalated paranoia that too much of government being concentrated in Washington.The National Security Act of 1947 ordered officials to draw up plans to relocate critical industries and functions to ensure continuity in the event of a strike.
Such fears spread across the country. There was even a Wall Street Journal ad for a 15 acre estate in upstate New York from the time talked about a large house with a garden and ‘good bomb immunity’.
Another property was advertised as being ‘out of the radiation zone’.
In 1950 Truman created the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA), a precursor of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and its first head was Millard Caldwell. Caldwell wrote Project East River, a 1,000 page, 10 volume report which asked the kinds of difficult questions that needed to be asked, such as what happens if Wall Street is hit by a bomb.
In 1953, Russia exploded its first thermonuclear device known as RDS-6, or Joe-4 in the US.
America’s response was to triple the size of its staff working on nuclear tests from the Manhattan Project, growing from a few sites and 55,000 people to 142,000-person staff and machinery which consumed seven per cent of the nation’s GDP.
The FCDA created dozens of informational films with blunt titles like: ‘Surviving Under Atomic Attack’ which included advice like lying flat on your stomach, preferably under a table. In New York officials enlisted the 35,000 taxi drivers in the ‘Emergency Taxi Corps’ to ferry police and fire crews around.
Another of Truman’s directives was to set up plans for Continuity of Government (COG) which required all federal agencies to develop their own plans for what they would do in the event of a civil defense emergency.
Park rangers in Philadelphia planned to evacuate the Liberty Bell to the Appalachian mountains and the IRS concluded that up to $2 trillion in property would be destroyed by an attack from the Russians
Graff writes that the IRS ruled that in the unlikely event your house did survive, and your neighborhood was not a radioactive wasteland, you would not have to pay tax at the same level as you had before
The book says that IRS officials found that ‘it seemed unfair to assess homeowners and business owners on the pre-attack tax assessments of their property’. The idea for Raven Rock was to have a military base that would function as an alternative to the Pentagon and would be dug out of a mountain and deep enough to survive any Russian attack.
A site was chosen six miles from Camp David, the Presidential retreat in Maryland, and work began in 1951 on the $17 million project Some 300 men worked round the clock in three shifts to carve a 3,100ft tunnel out of the granite; engineers invented technology as they went along including blast doors and blast valves.
Inside the facility there was 100,000sq/ft of office space in five parallel caverns big enough to hold a three story building in each. The entire facility could fit 1,400 people and was placed on giant springs to reduce the impact of a blast.
A similar site was started the next year in Virginia and became known as Mount Weather which had a TV studio for post attack broadcasts, 20 barracks for troops inside the mountain and luxury rooms for VIPs.
The two facilities became the core of the government’s Doomsday plans and remain so today.
America’s secret nuclear bunkers:
- RAVEN ROCK, PENNSYLVANIA: The military complex was constructed following the end of the Second World War, just six miles north of Camp David. It is believed there is a secret tunnel linking the facility with the presidential retreat which could be used in the event of attack. The facility was opened in 1953 and can hold about 1,400 people, according to the book. President Obama allowed members of the public to visit the facility on weekends. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, some government officials believed the facility should have been shut. However, it was thoroughly refurbished following 9/11.
- PETERS MOUNTAIN, VIRGINIA: Buried beneath the Appalachian Mountains, the facility was branded as an AT&T communications station. But in reality, it housed space for hundreds of staff to help provide continuity in government in the event of disaster. Bluemount, Virginia: The US civilian leadership, including the cabinet, president and Supreme Court would be taken to this facility to ride out the attack.
- MOUNT WEATHER, VIRGINIA: This facility houses the ‘survivor list’ of 6,500 names and addresses of people needed to help rebuild the US in the event of disaster. It is located in Mount Weather, Virginia approximately 60 miles west of the White House.
- NORAD: COLORADO SPRINGS: Probably the most famous ‘secret bunker’ in America. The North American Aerospace Defense Command complex is responsible for defending the United States and Canada from air attack. The complex was completed in the 1950s and is believed to be able to withstand the electromagnetic pulse associated with a nuclear attack. Although, soon after it was completed, NORAD on Christmas Eve began providing a popular Santa tracker service so people can warn their children to go to bed before his arrival. The complex is built inside Cheyenne Mountain and in the event of an emergency, it can house 1,000 people for a month.
- NORTH LAWN, 1,600 PENNSYLVANIA DRIVE, WASHINGTON DC: According to Graff, underneath the North Lawn of the White House, there is the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC). Dick Cheney was rushed into the complex during the 9/11 attacks in 2001, however it is only designed to be used for a short period. Graff believes President Obama ordered a $376 million upgrade of the facility, which officially was to improve the facility’s air conditioning.
The Federal Reserve opened its own Doomsday bunker in 1969, a 140,000 square foot facility in Virginia which would become the electronic hub for 5,700 banks and allow up to $120 billion a day to flow between them. source