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Context of 'December 1990: Despite Years of Investments, Post-Nuclear Communication System Still Malfunctioning'

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The National Preparedness Directorate within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is responsible for overseeing parts the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, develops and maintains a high-tech fleet of mobile command centers, known as Mobile Emergency Response Support (MERS) units. The MERS vehicles, crafted out of 18-wheel tractor-trailer trucks, are meant to provide federal leaders with the ability to not only escape a nuclear attack, but also monitor information and communicate with the rest of the government while on the move. The MERS units cost billions of dollars to develop and are packed with sophisticated technology. According to Cox News Service: “Sensitive radio, telephone, and satellite gear—much of it classified—is stored in custom-built trucks that resemble mobile bank vaults.… The mobile units can operate for a month without support. They include generators capable of powering a three-story airport terminal and a fuel tanker that can suck diesel fuel from whatever service stations survive the nuclear blast.” One truck carries a pop-up satellite dish and weighs 24 tons. Early models, however, are inundated with problems. When the first two MERS prototypes are tested in 1984, one gets wedged beneath a highway overpass because it is too tall, while the other causes a road to collapse because it is too heavy. There are also technical flaws. The communication system at the heart of the Continuity of Government program does not function properly from late 1985 until at least December 1990 (see Late 1985 and December 1990). Despite the complications, FEMA eventually constructs 300 MERS vehicles and stations them at secure facilities in Washington State, Massachusetts, Denver, southern Georgia, and rural Texas. Most of the MERS vehicles are used rarely, if ever. “Billions of dollars were spent on such equipment, much of which is now gathering dust in Army depots,” the New York Times reports in 1994. [Emerson, 8/7/1989; Cox News Service, 2/22/1993; New York Times, 4/18/1994]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Preparedness Directorate

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Longtime US Army intelligence officer Tom Golden is assigned by the CIA to oversee government contracts within the highly classified Continuity of Government program, which is designed to keep the government functioning in times of disaster. Golden, who has served 20 years in the Army and has a history of tracking down misspending and malfeasance in classified programs, will now serve as chief of the operations security branch at the Information Systems Command in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Future staff director of the House Armed Services Committee Rudy DeLeon will later say Golden has a “very clearly established track record for honesty” as a whistleblower. Golden will report several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse in July 1987 (see July 1987) and will soon after become the target of a retaliatory smear campaign (see After July 1987). [Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16/1990; Knight Ridder, 12/18/1990]

Entity Tags: Tom Golden, Central Intelligence Agency, House Armed Services Committee, US Army Intelligence Security Command

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Officials from the National Program Office (NPO), responsible for the highly classified Continuity of Government program, fake an exercise in front of congressional leaders in order to cover up equipment failures. At a secret site near Great Falls, Montana, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (D-MA) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-WV) gather with other key officials to witness the first major test of a new post-nuclear communication system. The high-tech system, worth millions of dollars, is meant to provide government leaders with the ability to communicate during and after a nuclear war. Much of the equipment, however, was purchased from separate contractors and is technically incompatible. The multi-million dollar system does not function properly, but NPO officials rig the exercise, paving the way for additional funding. As one participant will later explain: “At one point information was supposed to be sent out, and even though lights were blinking and the wheels were turning, the message was being sent by payphone about a block and a half from the site where the exercise was taking place.… Millions of dollars worth of equipment failed to function correctly and 25 or 50 cents worth of change and a pay telephone got the message through.” The visiting congressmen, who are responsible for allocating funds for the project, are fooled into thinking the system is fully functional. Money will continue to flow into the shoddy equipment for years to come. Sources will tell CNN five years later that the system is still not working properly. “Very few people knew about the scam and because the program is so classified there was no one they could tell,” CNN will report in 1991. [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Robert C. Byrd, Thomas Phillip ‘Tip’ O’Neill, Jr, National Program Office

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Members of the Army Inspector General’s Office travel to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to investigate indications of corruption within the highly secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, commonly referred to as the Doomsday project, which is designed to keep the government functioning in times of emergency. The investigators approach veteran Army intelligence officer Tom Golden, who was assigned to a watchdog position within the secret program in 1984 (see January 1984). Golden informs the Army Inspector General’s Office of several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse inside his unit at the base (see July 1987). He speaks personally with chief of the inspector general’s intelligence oversight division, Colonel Ned Bacheldor, who assures Golden his status as a whistleblower will be kept confidential. Bacheldor will in fact leak Golden’s name to members of the COG program, who will in turn launch a retaliatory smear campaign against Golden (see After July 1987). Bacheldor leaves the Army Inspector General’s Office midway through the investigation to join the COG unit at Fort Huachuca. The Army Inspector General’s Office expands its investigation to include the leak, but word of the new investigation is released to those on the base. Before investigators can be dispatched, members involved with the COG project at Fort Huachuca destroy documents pertaining to the probe. Despite facing several obstacles, the investigation concludes that two recently awarded no-bid contracts are illegal and whistleblower Tom Golden has been targeted for retaliation. The contracts are canceled and a high-ranking general is reprimanded, but questionable practices will continue within the program and the smear campaign against Golden will last for years (see After July 1987). “The Army couldn’t even stop what was going on,” Golden will tell CNN in 1991. “It was a program the Army did not have jurisdiction over.” The House Armed Services Committee will have similar troubles investigating Golden’s case, but will reach conclusions similar to the Army (see Summer 1988-1989). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Ned Bacheldor, Fort Huachuca, Tom Golden, Office of the Inspector General (US Army )

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Longtime US Army intelligence officer Tom Golden, who is currently acting as a watchdog within the ultra-secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program (see January 1984), notifies the Army Inspector General’s Office of several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse within the highly classified COG project. Golden additionally speaks in confidence about his findings to the chief of the inspector general’s intelligence oversight division, Colonel Ned Bacheldor. Golden tells the Inspector General’s Office that contracts are being awarded based on personal relationships among military officials and company employees. He says government personnel have rotating careers at contracted companies and some are being hired at excessive rates for limited work. Golden says the multi-billion dollar communication system at the heart of the COG program does not function properly and is costing exorbitant amounts of money to fix, and alleges the problems are being covered up by military officials (see Late 1985 and December 1990). Golden reports a high-ranking officer within the COG program, Brigadier General Eugene Renzi, who was awarded a multimillion-dollar no-bid contract to the BETAC Corporation, which employed the general’s son. US News and World Report describes BETAC as a “consulting firm composed of former intelligence and communications specialists from the Pentagon.” Golden also notes the BETAC contract included $400-a-day consultant jobs for several COG officials, including one of Renzi’s aides. As a result of Golden’s report, two contracts will be found to be illegal and will be subsequently canceled. Renzi will also be reprimanded. The Army assures Golden his name will remain confidential, but his status as a whistleblower will be leaked weeks later by Bacheldor, who will soon leave the Inspector General’s Office to join the COG program. Golden will soon become the target of a retaliatory smear campaign led by members of the secret project, including Renzi and Bacheldor (see After July 1987). [Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16/1990; Knight Ridder, 12/18/1990; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (US Army ), BETAC Corporation, Eugene Renzi, Ned Bacheldor, Tom Golden

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Longtime US Army intelligence officer Tom Golden, who is assigned to a watchdog position within the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program (see January 1984) and who recently reported irregularities inside the program (see After July 1987), is targeted by a lengthy and deliberate smear campaign. The effort to discredit Golden is organized by members of the secret COG project in retaliation for the whistleblower reporting instances of waste, fraud, and abuse to the Army Inspector General’s Office (see July 1987). Federal agents go door-to-door telling Golden’s neighbors they are investigating him for drinking and other embarrassing personal behaviors. Rumors are spread within the government about Golden having personal issues and spying for the Soviet Union. Those responsible for spreading the allegations include Brigadier General Eugene Renzi, who was exposed by Golden for awarding a no-bid contract to a company that employed the general’s son (see July 1987); Army intelligence officer Robert Rendon, an admitted black-marketer hired by the COG project in 1983 (see July 28, 1983); and Army Colonel Ned Bacheldor, who formally worked for the Army Inspector General’s Office and leaked Golden’s whistleblower status to members of the COG program. Rendon is ordered by his superior, Bacheldor, to spread insulting gossip about Golden. A classified document depicting Golden as a security risk is drawn up by Rendon and other members of the COG project and sent to the Justice Department in January 1990, leading to an official investigation of Golden’s background (see January-November 1990). In August 1990, Rendon insinuates to a fellow Army officer that Golden is a Soviet spy (see August 1990). “It leads people to believe you are in trouble,” Golden tells CNN in 1991, “and it damages your credibility, it damages your standing in the intelligence community, it really boils down to a smear campaign.” Separate investigations by the Army (see Summer 1987), the House Armed Services Committee (see Summer 1988-1989), and the FBI (see January-November 1990) conclude that Golden is guilty of no wrongdoing and is the target of a lengthy effort to intimidate whistleblowers inside the highly secretive COG program. “It cost myself and my family three years of living in absolute hell,” Golden says as he tears up during an interview with CNN, “my family paid a high price.” When asked if he would do it all over again, Golden nods and says, “Probably.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16/1990; Knight Ridder, 12/18/1990; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: Eugene Renzi, Tom Golden, Ned Bacheldor, Robert Rendon

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Members of the House Armed Services Committee investigate a smear campaign against veteran US Army intelligence officer and whistleblower Tom Golden, who was assigned to a watchdog post within the highly secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program in 1984 (see January 1984) and informed the Army Inspector General’s Office of several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse within his unit at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, in July 1987 (see July 1987). Golden was removed from his position shortly after speaking to Army investigators and has since been targeted by members of the COG program for further retaliation (see After July 1987). Attempts by the committee to investigate claims of retaliation against Golden are thwarted by the secrecy of the program. Most of the congressmen lack the necessary security clearances to hear testimony on the COG project. Still, in a classified 1989 report, the House Armed Services Committee will conclude that Golden is the target of a lengthy and deliberate smear campaign. The Army Inspector General’s Office has reached a similar conclusion (see Summer 1987), as will the Justice Department (see January-November 1990). Despite the findings, the effort to discredit Golden will continue for years (see August 1990). During the investigation, the Congressional committee learns enough to fear for Golden’s safety and urges the Army to transfer him to Huntsville, Alabama, which it does. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16/1990; Knight Ridder, 12/18/1990; CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: House Armed Services Committee, Office of the Inspector General (US Army ), Fort Huachuca, Tom Golden

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US Representative Lester Aspin (D-WI), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, sends a letter to Army Secretary John Marsh criticizing the Army Inspector General’s Office for failing to keep the identity of a key whistleblower confidential and for botching an investigation into corruption within the highly secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program (see Summer 1987). The House Armed Services Committee is currently investigating the case of Army intelligence officer Tom Golden, who was retaliated against after revealing to Army investigators several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse within the COG unit stationed at Fort Hauchuca, Arizona (see July 1987 and After July 1987). Aspin expresses “concern about the objectivity and competence of the investigation,” noting that “confidentiality was breached almost immediately by the head of the inspector general inspection team,” referring to Colonel Ned Bacheldor, formally the chief of the inspector general’s intelligence oversight division, who spoke with Golden personally and later leaked his identity to the very officers Golden had implicated. Bacheldor left the inspector general’s office midway through the investigation of Golden’s case to join the COG unit at Fort Hauchuca. Aspin’s committee will conclude that Golden is the victim of a retaliatory smear campign led in part by Bacheldor. The Army Inspector General’s Office has reached a similar conclusion (see Summer 1987), as will the Justice Department (see January-November 1990), but the effort to discredit Golden will continue (see August 1990). [Emerson, 8/7/1989; Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16/1990; Knight Ridder, 12/18/1990]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (US Army ), Lester Aspin, Fort Huachuca, House Armed Services Committee, Ned Bacheldor

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department investigates and clears veteran US Army intelligence officer Tom Golden, who has been the target of a smear campaign since blowing the whistle on corrupt activities within the highly clandestine Continuity of Government (COG) program (see July 1987 and After July 1987). In January 1990, the Justice Department receives a 21-page document, classified higher than top secret, from within the COG project. Members involved with the secret program, commonly referred to as the Doomsday project, allege Golden is a security risk and depict him as Soviet spy with personal issues. The document offers as evidence detailed conversations provided by an informant, Army officer Robert Rendon, who is a convicted criminal and admitted black-marketer who worked in the COG program at the same time as Golden (see July 28, 1983). The FBI opens an investigation of Golden based on the document, but finds he is guilty of no wrongdoing and concludes he is in fact the target of a retaliatory smear campaign spearheaded by Rendon and other members of the COG project. The Army Inspector General’s Office and the House Armed Services Committee have investigated the issue and reached the same conclusion (see Summer 1987 and Summer 1988-1989), but the effort to discredit Golden will continue (see August 1990). [Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16/1990; Knight Ridder, 12/18/1990]

Entity Tags: Robert Rendon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Tom Golden

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Army Warrant Officer Robert Rendon, an admitted black-marketer once assigned to the highly secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program (see July 28, 1983) who is currently working in an Army unit known as the Foreign Counterintelligence Activity at Fort Meade, Maryland, suggests to a fellow unidentified officer that Tom Golden, an Army intelligence veteran and whistleblower, is a security risk and possible Soviet spy. Golden has been the target of a smear campaign led by Rendon since alerting Army investigators to several instances of waste, fraud, and abuse within the clandestine COG project, commonly referred to as the Doomsday program (see July 1987 and After July 1987). Rendon makes several disparaging remarks regarding Golden to the officer, who will later report the conversation to his superior. “Rendon made a lot of derogatory comments about Tom Golden,” the superior will say, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. According to this officer, Rendon “was just bad-mouthing him, making a lot of innuendoes and implications—that Golden fit the profile of John Walker,” referring to the naval intelligence officer convicted in 1985 of spying for the Soviet Union. “That’s pretty low, a guy with a very good reputation is being smeared,” he says. Three other Army intelligence officers will tell the Inquirer that the conversation fits a pattern going back three years. “Rendon has cast doubts on Tom and others for a long time,” one officer will say. The Army Inspector General’s Office (see Summer 1987), the House Armed Services Committee (see Summer 1988-1989), and the Justice Department (see January-November 1990) have all investigated Golden’s case and concluded he is guilty of no wrongdoing and has been targeted for retaliation by members of the secret program. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/16/1990]

Entity Tags: Fort Meade, Robert Rendon, Foreign Counterintelligence Activity, Tom Golden

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Despite several years of multi-million dollar investments, the high-tech communication system at the heart of the Continuity of Government program does not work properly. The system has been malfunctioning since it was first established. Officials from the National Program Office (NPO) faked the broken system’s first major test in 1985, successfully fooling the congressmen responsible for allocating funds for the project (see Late 1985). Five years later, federal agencies are still unable to “talk” to one another with the equipment. “It was like, ‘So what, we’ll catch up with it later,’” a former NPO official will tell CNN, “but later never came.” Sources familiar with the system say a lack of oversight has allowed problems within the Continuity of Government program to go unchecked and spiral out of control. [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991]

Entity Tags: National Program Office

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Damage from Hurricane Andrew, in Dade County, Florida.Damage from Hurricane Andrew, in Dade County, Florida. [Source: Greenpeace]Approximately three years after facing harsh criticism for its response to Hurricane Hugo (see September-November 1989), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is denounced for not providing adequate relief in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. The storm, which devastates regions of southern Florida and Louisiana, claims dozens of lives, leaves up to a quarter million people temporarily homeless, and causes more than $26 billion in damage. [National Hurricane Center, 12/10/1993; National Hurricane Center, 8/1/2005] Nearly a week after Andrew passes, local officials and citizens in the hardest hit areas are still waiting for assistance from the federal government. Days after the storm, the New York Times reports it is still “unclear just who is in charge of the Federal relief effort.” [New York Times, 8/27/1982] “Blame for the government’s delayed response to Hurricane Andrew is being placed squarely at the feet of the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” the Associated Press reports. Even after FEMA moves in, relief is delayed by a lack of resources and bureaucratic red tape. [Associated Press, 8/29/1992] In some cases, the agency brings equipment designed for a nuclear war instead of basic supplies. When the city manager of Homestead, Florida, requests 100 hand-held radios, FEMA is only able to provide high-tech mobile command vehicles (see 1982-April 1994). As Cox News Service will later report: “FEMA sent high-tech vans, capable of sending encrypted, multi-frequency radio messages to military aircraft halfway around the world.… FEMA equipment could call in an air strike but Homestead never got its hand-held radios.” Franklin, Louisiana, which is reportedly “flattened” by the storm, is similarly offered a communications vehicle instead of basic relief. “They offered a mobile communications unit and I told them that was unacceptable,” says Representative Billy Tauzin (D-LA). Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) says the government’s response to the storm is “seen by many of Hurricane Andrew’s victims in Florida as a disaster itself.” Unbeknown to most of the public and government, FEMA is secretly preoccupied with preparations for a nuclear doomsday (see April 1, 1979-Present). [Associated Press, 8/29/1992; Cox News Service, 2/22/1993]

Entity Tags: W.J. (“Billy”) Tauzin, Barbara Mikulski, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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