Profile: Mount Weather
Mount Weather was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL), who is third in line for the presidency, is evacuated from the US Capitol building and flown to a secret underground bunker in Virginia, where he remains until late in the afternoon. [ABC News, 9/11/2001; ABC News, 9/15/2002] Around 9:48, the Capitol building had begun evacuating (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). At that time, Hastert was on the House floor. Two members of his security detail now enter the chamber and tell him, “We’re going to evacuate the Capitol, and you’re going to a secure location.” They take him out of the building and drive him hurriedly to Andrews Air Force Base, ten miles southeast of Washington. After he arrives there, Hastert is finally able to communicate with Vice President Dick Cheney, who is at the White House. (Hastert had been trying to contact Cheney earlier on, but without success (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001.) Cheney tells Hastert: “There’s a real danger. I want you to go to a secure location.” [Hastert, 2004, pp. 8-9] Hastert gets on a helicopter and is flown to the secret underground bunker at Mount Weather in Bluemont, Virginia, 48 miles outside Washington—about 20 minutes journey by air. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001; ABC News, 9/15/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 81] In the following hours, other top members of the House and Senate leaderships will join him there (see (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/11/2001; Hastert, 2004, pp. 10] Hastert remains at the secure facility for several hours, and will return to Washington late in the afternoon (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Daily Herald (Arlington Heights), 9/11/2002] Hastert’s evacuation to Mount Weather is the result of “Continuity of Government” (COG) orders, which provide for evacuating the third and fourth in the line of presidential succession during a national emergency, in order to protect the nation’s constitutional leadership. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activated the COG plan shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]
Mount Weather. [Source: Department of Homeland Security]Congressional leaders are evacuated from Washington and flown to Mount Weather, a secret and secure bunker in Virginia, where they remain until late in the afternoon. [Los Angeles Times, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002; ABC News, 9/15/2002] The Capitol building was evacuated shortly after the Pentagon was hit (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). Most of the leadership teams of both parties subsequently assemble at the Capitol Police building. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 112] Around late morning or early afternoon, orders are given to take them to a secure location outside Washington. The Congressional leaders return to outside the Capitol building, and from there are flown by military helicopter to Mount Weather. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Each is allowed to bring one staff member with them. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 114] The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, is located 48 miles—about 20 minutes journey by air—from Washington. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001; ABC News, 9/15/2002] It was originally built to serve as the new seat of government if there was a nuclear war. [ABC News, 9/11/2001] The underground complex contains about 600,000 square feet of floor space, and can accommodate several thousand people. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001] It has extensive communication systems linking it to the nationwide network of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) bunkers, relocation sites, and the White House Situation Room. [Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter, 3/2002] Members of Congress taken to the facility include House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO), House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-MI), Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), Assistant Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Senate Minority Whip Don Nickles (R-OK). [Hastert, 2004, pp. 10] Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was taken there earlier on (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 80-81] The Congressional leaders will remain at Mount Weather until later in the afternoon, and then return to the Capitol around 6:00 p.m. (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002; Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 116; Hastert, 2004, pp. 10] The decision to send them outside Washington on this day has its roots in a top secret program dating back to the cold war, which serves to ensure the “Continuity of Government” (COG) in the event of an attack on the US (see 1981-1992). [United Press International, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/11/2002; Mann, 2004, pp. 138-139] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activated the COG plan shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]
Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Harry Reid, David Bonior, Mount Weather, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, Tom Daschle, Don Nickles, Trent Lott
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Trent Lott. [Source: Publicity photo]Despite having been instructed by Vice President Dick Cheney to remain where they are, Congressional leaders who have been evacuated to a secure bunker outside Washington decide to return to the capital and are then flown back there. [Hastert, 2004, pp. 10; Lott, 2005, pp. 222] A number of members of the House and Senate leaderships were evacuated to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, during the morning and early afternoon (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002] According to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), who is among this group: “We all felt anxious and frustrated, feeling responsible as Congressional leaders to both communicate and take action, but unable to do either. We talked among ourselves of our concern for our loved ones back in Washington and our need to be with them as soon as possible.” In particular, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) begins “pressing the people around him—his own security detail and the facility’s personnel—about his strong desire to get back to Washington.” [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 115] However, during a teleconference, Vice President Cheney told the leaders they could not leave Mount Weather (see (Between 2:50 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Lott will recall that, in spite of this, he makes the decision to go back to Washington and arranges for this to happen: “I’d finally had enough. I told my ground security to leave for the Capitol, and now—‘because I’m not spending the night here.’ I had this decision radioed back to the vice president’s people, and the others pulling the strings. They finally relented and arranged to have us ferried back to the Capitol by helicopter.” [Lott, 2005, pp. 222] But House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) will say he in fact is responsible for making this decision, and that he then tells his colleagues: “Hey, it’s up to us. We need to stand together, go back to Washington and show people that we are standing together.” The leaders are flown back to Washington at around 6:00 p.m. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 116; Hastert, 2004, pp. 10]
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