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Context of '11:10 a.m. December 1, 1974: TWA Jet Crashes near Secret Underground Bunker'

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Fears of a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union inspire the US government to construct a network of 96 nuclear-resistant fallout shelters around Washington, DC. The underground “Federal Relocation Centers,” collectively known as the “Federal Relocation Arc,” are designed to serve as both living quarters and command bunkers for a post-nuclear government. The underground installations will later be described as the “backbone” of the ultra-secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is meant to keep the government functioning in times of national emergency. Under Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, the US government spends billions of dollars carving out caves and assembling the underground fortresses in preparation for nuclear war. Upon completion, the bunkers are said to resemble small cities, each capable of sustaining a population in the thousands for months at a time. Each facility is equipped with its own self-generating power supply, fresh water source, living quarters, food rations, command posts, telecommunications equipment, and other requirements for housing officials and running the federal government from deep underground. In the event of a crisis, high-ranking officials, most notably the president and those in the presidential chain of command, are to be secretly whisked away to the underground installations in order to ensure the continuation of government functions. Some of the known underground locations include Mount Weather, fortified within the Blue Ridge Mountains about 50 miles west of Washington, DC (see 1952-1958); Site R, along the Maryland-Pennsylvania border near Camp David (see 1950-1954); and the Greenbrier, underneath a hotel resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia (see 1959-1962). [Progressive, 3/1976; Time, 12/9/1991; Washington Post, 5/31/1992; Time, 8/10/1992; New York Times, 12/2/2000; Gannett News Service, 6/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Dwight Eisenhower, Mount Weather, Site R, Harry S. Truman, Greenbrier

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A roughly 200,000-square-foot facility known as Mount Weather, codenamed “Operation High Point,” is constructed deep within an isolated strip of the Blue Ridge Mountains, approximately 50 miles west of Washington, DC. The installation, finished in 1958 at the cost of more than $1 billion, will serve as the flagship of a secret network of nuclear resistant shelters currently being constructed around the nation’s capital (see 1950-1962). Mount Weather is designed to be the headquarters of a post-nuclear government in the event of a full-scale war with the Soviet Union. Construction of the facility is authorized under the highly classified Continuity of Government program, meant to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of extreme emergency. The enormous complex resembles a miniature city, capable of supporting a population in the thousands for months at a time. Mount Weather is equipped with its own streets and sidewalks, dormitories, offices, a hospital, television and radio studios, reservoirs of drinking and cooling water, dining halls, stockpiles of food, a power plant, a sewage treatment plant, a crematorium, government and military command posts—everything needed to sustain and run an underground government during and after a nuclear war. A parallel executive branch will be stationed at Mount Weather to take over the functions of the federal government in the event of a disaster (see March 1976). In the 1960s and 1970s Mount Weather will develop a “Civil Crisis Management” program, designed to monitor and manage potential resource shortages, labor strikes, and political uprisings (see 1967-1976). Mount Weather will be accused in the 1970s of spying on US citizens (see September 9, 1975). In December 1974, a passenger airliner will crash into the mountainside, drawing public attention to the secret installation for the first time (see 11:10 a.m. December 1, 1974). [Progressive, 3/1976; Emerson, 8/7/1989; Time, 12/9/1991; Time, 8/10/1992]

Entity Tags: Mount Weather

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Mount Weather, a secret underground government installation located about 50 miles west of Washington, DC (see 1950-1962), maintains a “Civil Crisis Management” program aimed at monitoring and managing civil emergencies, such as resource shortages, labor strikes, and political uprisings. The installation is a key component of the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is meant to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of national emergency. “We try to monitor situations and get them before they become emergencies,” says Daniel J. Cronin, assistant director of the Federal Preparedness Agency (FPA), which is responsible for managing parts of the facility and program. As part of the program, Mount Weather collects and stores data regarding military and government installations, communications, transportation, energy and power, food supplies, manufacturing, wholesale and retail services, manpower, medical and educational institutions, sanitary facilities, population, and stockpiles of essential resources. The Progressive reports in 1976, “At the heart of the Civil Crisis Management program are two complicated computer systems called the ‘Contingency Impact Analysis System’ (CIAS) and the ‘Resource Interruption Monitoring System’ (RIMS).” The complex systems apparently interpret crisis situations, predict future outcomes, and provide possible solutions for emergencies. According to a 1974 FPA report obtained by The Progressive, CIAS and RIMS are used in close cooperation with private US companies “to develop a range of standby options, alternative programs… to control the economy in a crisis situation.” The Civil Crisis Management program is put on standby during several national anti-war demonstrations and inner city riots in 1967 and 1968. The program is activated during a 1973 Penn Railroad strike and is put to use again in 1974 when a strike by independent truckers threatens food and fuel shipments. By March 1976, the Civil Crisis Management program is being used on a daily basis to monitor potential emergencies. Senator John Tunney (D-CA) will claim in 1975 that Mount Weather has collected and stored data on at least 100,000 US citizens (see September 9, 1975). [Progressive, 3/1976]

Entity Tags: Federal Preparedness Agency, Mount Weather, John V. Tunney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Nixon signs Executive Order 11490, updating the nation’s secretive Continuity of Government (COG) plans. Under the vague title, “Assigning Emergency Preparedness Functions to Federal Departments and Agencies,” the order directs government leaders to ensure the continuation of “essential functions” in the event of a crisis. The order grants a wide range of emergency powers to the executive branch. It directs department heads to have emergency plans for succession of office, predelegation of authority, safekeeping of records, alternative command facilities, and other “emergency action steps.” The plans are to be overseen by the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP). Conservative writer Howard J. Ruff will express concern over the scope of the order. “The only thing standing between us and a dictatorship,” Ruff writes, “is the good character of the president and the lack of a crisis severe enough that the public would stand still for it.” In 1984, Attorney General William Smith will object to attempts by the Reagan administration to expand the powers granted in the order (see August 2, 1984). President Reagan will officially update the plans in 1988, replacing and expanding Executive Order 11490 with Executive Order 12656 (see November 18, 1988). [Executive Order 11490, 10/28/1969; Reynolds, 1990]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Office of Emergency Preparedness (1968-1973)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Trans World Airlines Flight 514, a Boeing tri-jet 727 carrying 85 passengers and seven crew members from Columbus, Ohio, to Washington, DC, prematurely descends and slams into a 2,000-foot-high peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains, approximately 50 miles west of the nation’s capital. All 92 people on board are killed. The crash occurs near a highly classified underground installation known as Mount Weather. The incident will draw significant public attention to the secret bunker for the first time since its construction in the 1950s (see 1952-1958). A federal spokesman will refuse to answer questions regarding the complex, but will say the facility is run by the Office of Preparedness, which is responsible for “continuity of government in a time of national disaster.” The Office of Preparedness was formally known as the Office of Emergency Preparedness (see October 28, 1969).
Misunderstanding Blamed for Crash - The National Transportation Safety Board will later rule by split decision that the crash was caused by a misinterpreted instruction given to the pilots by an air traffic controller at Dulles International Airport. The controller alerted the pilots that the flight was “cleared for approach,” which the flight crew incorrectly assumed gave them a clear path to descend to 1,800 feet. Experts will tell the NTSB that the phrase “cleared for approach” is open to misunderstanding. Three of the five board members will fault the plane crew for misinterpreting the command, while the other two will place responsibility on the air traffic controller for not specifically telling the flight to maintain its altitude. [Associated Press, 12/2/1974; Associated Press, 1/22/1976; Emerson, 8/7/1989]

Entity Tags: Mount Weather, Washington Dulles International Airport, National Transportation Safety Board, Trans World Airlines

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senator John V. Tunney, chairman of the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, claims Mount Weather, a secret government facility located about 50 miles west of Washington, DC (see 1952-1958), has collected and stored data on at least 100,000 US citizens. During a Congressional hearing into reports of domestic surveillance, Tunney alleges, “computers—described as ‘the best in world’—can obtain millions of pieces of information on the personal lives of American citizens.” Mount Weather maintains a state-of-the-art surveillance system as part of the facility’s Civil Crisis Management program (see 1967-1976). General Robert T. Bray, who is called to testify at the hearing, refuses to answer repeated questions regarding the data collection programs. Bray says he is “not at liberty” to disclose “the role and the mission and the capability” at Mount Weather, “or any other precise location.” Mount Weather and nearly 100 other “Federal Relocation Centers” are considered a key aspect of the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program (see 1950-1962), which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of national emergency. Bray admits to committee members that Mount Weather stores data relating to “military installations, government facilities, communications, transportation, energy and power, agriculture, manufacturing, wholesale and retail services, manpower, financial, medical and educational institutions, sanitary facilities, population, housing shelter, and stockpiles.” Senator James Abourezk says, “the whole operation has eluded the supervision of either Congress or the courts.” Senator Tunney says Mount Weather is “out of control.” [Progressive, 3/1976]

Entity Tags: Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, James Abourezk, Mount Weather, John V. Tunney, Robert T. Bray

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The existence of Mount Weather, a secret underground government installation located about 50 miles west of Washington, DC (see 1950-1962), which houses a parallel executive branch that is prepared to take control of the country in the event of a national emergency, is revealed in an article published by The Progressive. According to the article, the secret government-in-waiting is part of the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is meant to keep the government functioning in times of disaster. The backup executive branch at Mount Weather attempts to duplicate the functions of the federal government on a day-to-day basis. Should a catastrophe kill or incapacitate the nation’s leaders, the parallel branch will be ready to assume power and re-establish order. The secret government-in-waiting at Mount Weather includes the departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Agriculture, Health, Interior, Labor, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development. High-level government officials tell journalist Richard P. Pollock of The Progressive that each federal department at Mount Weather is headed by a single person. These officials form a parallel cabinet and are even referred to by subordinates as “Mr. Secretary.” These alternate cabinet members are appointed by the White House and serve indefinite terms. Many of the officials have held their positions through several administrations. There is also an Office of the Presidency at Mount Weather. According to The Progressive, the Federal Preparedness Agency (FPA) “apparently appoints a special staff to the presidential section, which regularly receives top-secret national security estimates and raw data from each of the federal departments and agencies.” The Progressive adds: “According to a source within the FPA, Mount Weather publishes its own independent reports and drafts its own evaluation of the policies and programs of the federal government. The underground installation also prints in-house reports on hundreds of national and regional topics, including the state of the nation’s economy, health, education, military preparedness, and political trends, the source said.” Pollock comments, “How can a parallel—even if dormant—government be constitutionally acceptable, if Congress has played no significant role in its formation and exercises no control over its day-to-day operations?” [Progressive, 3/1976]

Entity Tags: Federal Preparedness Agency, Mount Weather

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a letter to National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Attorney General William French Smith strongly objects to martial law plans developed by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Smith learns the full extent of the plans upon reviewing a proposal by the Reagan administration to change Executive Order 11490 (see October 28, 1969). The Reagan administration is holding the drafted changes, along with standby legislation to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act (see September 25, 1984), in preparation for any emergency that may require a military-style takeover of the nation’s resources and population. The plans cover a range of crisis situations, including a nuclear attack, natural disasters, and civil unrest. Smith writes: “I believe that the draft executive order raises serious substantive and public policy issues that should be further addressed before this proposal is submitted to the president. In short I believe that the role assigned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the revised executive order exceeds its proper function as a coordinating agency for emergency preparedness.” Smith continues: “This department and others have repeatedly raised serious policy and legal objections to the creation of an ‘emergency czar’ role for FEMA. Specific policy concerns regarding recent FEMA initiatives include the abandonment of the principle of ‘several’ agency responsibility and the expansion of the definition of severe emergencies to encompass ‘routine’ domestic law enforcement emergencies. Legal objections relate to the absence of presidential or Congressional authorization for unilateral FEMA directives which seek to establish new federal government management structures or otherwise task cabinet departments and other federal agencies.” Despite the objections of the Justice Department, FEMA and the Reagan administration will not abandon the emergency doctrine. Before leaving office, Reagan will dramatically expand the government’s emergency powers and officially override Executive Order 11490 with Executive Order 12656 (see November 18, 1988). [Miami Herald, 7/5/1987; Reynolds, 1990]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Reagan administration, Robert C. McFarlane, William French Smith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Ronald Reagan signs Executive Order 12656, assigning a wide range of emergency responsibilities to a number of executive departments. The order calls for establishing emergency procedures that go far beyond the nation’s standard disaster relief plans. It offers a rare glimpse of the government’s plans for maintaining “continuity of government” in times of extreme national emergency. The order declares the national security of the country to be “dependent upon our ability to assure continuity of government, at every level, in any national security emergency situation,” which is defined as “any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological emergency, or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States.” The order instructs department leaders to establish various protocols for crisis situations, including rules for delegating authorities to emergency officials, establishing emergency operating facilities, protecting and allocating the nation’s essential resources, and managing terrorist attacks and civil disturbances. The plans are to be coordinated and managed by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The presidential order suggests certain laws may have to be altered or expanded to carry out the plans. Although it encourages federal agencies to base the emergency protocols on “existing authorities, organizations, resources, and systems,” it also calls on government leaders to identify “areas where additional legal authorities may be needed to assist management and, consistent with applicable executive orders, take appropriate measures toward acquiring those authorities.” According to the executive order, the plans “will be designed and developed to provide maximum flexibility to the president.” Executive Order 12656 gives specific instructions to numerous federal departments:
bullet The Department of Justice is ordered to coordinate emergency “domestic law enforcement activities” and plan for situations “beyond the capabilities of state and local agencies.” The Justice Department is to establish plans for responding to “civil disturbances” and “terrorism incidents” within the US that “may result in a national security emergency or that occur during such an emergency.” The attorney general is to establish emergency “plans and procedures for the custody and protection of prisoners and the use of Federal penal and correctional institutions and resources.” The Department of Justice is also instructed to develop “national security emergency plans for regulation of immigration, regulation of nationals of enemy countries, and plans to implement laws for the control of persons entering or leaving the United States.” The attorney general is additionally instructed to assist the “heads of federal departments and agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector in the development of plans to physically protect essential resources and facilities.”
bullet The Department of Defense, acting through the Army, is to develop “overall plans for the management, control, and allocation of all usable waters from all sources within the jurisdiction of the United States.” The secretary of defense is to arrange, “through agreements with the heads of other federal departments and agencies, for the transfer of certain federal resources to the jurisdiction and/or operational control of the Department of Defense in national security emergencies.” The secretary of defense is also instructed to work with industry, government, and the private sector, to ensure “reliable capabilities for the rapid increase of defense production.”
bullet The Department of Commerce is ordered to develop “control systems for priorities, allocation, production, and distribution of materials and other resources that will be available to support both national defense and essential civilian programs.” The secretary of commerce is instructed to cooperate with the secretary of defense to “perform industry analyses to assess capabilities of the commercial industrial base to support the national defense, and develop policy alternatives to improve the international competitiveness of specific domestic industries and their abilities to meet defense program needs.” The Commerce Department is also instructed to develop plans to “regulate and control exports and imports in national security emergencies.”
bullet The Department of Agriculture is ordered to create plans to “provide for the continuation of agricultural production, food processing, storage, and distribution through the wholesale level in national security emergencies, and to provide for the domestic distribution of seed, feed, fertilizer, and farm equipment to agricultural producers.” The secretary of agriculture is also instructed to “assist the secretary of defense in formulating and carrying out plans for stockpiling strategic and critical agricultural materials.”
bullet The Department of Labor is ordered to develop plans to “ensure effective use of civilian workforce resources during national security emergencies.” The Labor Department is to support “planning by the secretary of defense and the private sector for the provision of human resources to critical defense industries.” The Selective Service System is ordered to develop plans to “provide by induction, as authorized by law, personnel that would be required by the armed forces during national security emergencies.” The agency is also vaguely instructed to establish plans for “implementing an alternative service program.”
bullet The Transportation Department is to create emergency plans to manage and control “civil transportation resources and systems, including privately owned automobiles, urban mass transit, intermodal transportation systems, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, and the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.” The Transportation Department is also to establish plans for a “smooth transition” of the Coast Guard to the Navy during a national security emergency. The Transportation Department is additionally instructed to establish plans for “emergency management and control of the National Airspace System, including provision of war risk insurance and for transfer of the Federal Aviation Administration, in the event of war, to the Department of Defense.”
bullet The Department of the Treasury is ordered to develop plans to “maintain stable economic conditions and a market economy during national security emergencies.” The Treasury Department is to provide for the “preservation of, and facilitate emergency operations of, public and private financial institution systems, and provide for their restoration during or after national security emergencies.”
bullet The Department of Energy is to identify “energy facilities essential to the mobilization, deployment, and sustainment of resources to support the national security and national welfare, and develop energy supply and demand strategies to ensure continued provision of minimum essential services in national security emergencies.”
bullet The Department of Health and Human Services is instructed to develop programs to “reduce or eliminate adverse health and mental health effects produced by hazardous agents (biological, chemical, or radiological), and, in coordination with appropriate federal agencies, develop programs to minimize property and environmental damage associated with national security emergencies.” The health secretary is also to assist state and local governments in the “provision of emergency human services, including lodging, feeding, clothing, registration and inquiry, social services, family reunification, and mortuary services and interment.” [US President, 11/18/1988]

Entity Tags: US Department of Agriculture, Selective Service System, US Department of Labor, US Department of Defense, US Department of Commerce, Ronald Reagan, National Security Council, US Department of Health and Human Services, US Department of Transportation, US Department of the Treasury, Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Department of Justice, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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