America’s Preparathon, yesterday’s national pep rally—brought to you by the Department of Homeland Security—tipped me off to this real underground bunker north of Charlottesville, Virginia. The bunker’s purpose is completely secret, though I was easily able to verify that it has been expanded and spiffed up in the years since 9/11 at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. It serves as a compact parable for everything that is wrong with government.
Yesterday’s Preparathon was described by its sponsor FEMA as “a grassroots campaign for action.” Washington’s definition of action is lining up and marching, saluting, and following orders. But there’s a secret definition, written between the lines of the Constitution and public laws: Officialdom evacuating from disorderly and disobedient America before the citizenry catches up or catches on. Countless billions have been spent on this endeavor over the years, a secret orgy of preparedness going on behind the scenes, one that ensures Washington can defend itself, take care of its own, and survive no matter what.
Its called continuity of government, and it’s been refined over the years to anticipate foreign invasion, nuclear war, catastrophic accident, rioting and citizen unrest, an electromagnetic pulse above the capital, a catastrophic failure of critical infrastructure, a malicious hacking of the electrical grid, terrorist attack, hurricanes and earthquakes, an asteroid from space—you name it. The spigot opened after 9/11, gushing tax dollars into this subterranean world of never again, but just in case. If our all-seeing, all-knowing national security establishment fails…well, the White House and the Generals and the Departments large and small all have plans to depart the capital city and recover.
But what about the spies?
And so as it goes in Washington, the self-interested predictors of world events decided after 9/11 that they, too, needed their own continuity operation. That’s right: the very people who will fail to predict the Big One will need somewhere to go and keep writing their reports.
Which brings us to Peters Mountain. This year, for the first time, the office of the Director of National Intelligence announced that it would be participating in the Preparathon with something called the National Intelligence Emergency Management Activity (NIEMA). The DNI merely describes NIEMA as providing “the framework, platforms, and systems to enable the Director of National Intelligence to lead an integrated and resilient [intelligence community] enterprise capable of sustaining the ‘intelligence cycle’ under any crisis or consequence management event, both at our headquarters and at our alternate operating locations” (my emphasis).
But job descriptions, contracting documents, insider resumes, and furtive discussions with Washington sources reveal that this little-known “activity” is a $100-million-a-year disaster playpen. At its 24/7/365 Response Operations Center (at a classified location), watch officers provide what’s referred to as “situational awareness and crisis support” to the nation’s leaders; and when that fails, they evacuate to their classified alternate facility, which sources say is in Albemarle County in central Virginia.
There is really only one candidate—a mysterious facility atop Peters Mountain, roughly 16 miles east of Charlottesville—and it’s undergone a $61 million plus renovation since 2007.
For decades, there’s been speculation about just what Peters Mountain is, this Cold War artifact on the outskirts of Washington, part of a string of “hardened” communications nodes built to survive nuclear war in the 1950s. It’s a favorite of internet conspiracy types, but no one seems to know what it is, other than the fact that the land it’s on is officially owned by AT&T. And if that’s not clear, there’s an AT&T logo newly installed on the top of the mountain itself, a helicopter pad built for this don’t-pay-attention-to-us blank spot on the map.
“I always heard stories about how it was a Nuclear Missile base, or a super communications hub. But the coolest one was the rumor that on 9/12/2001 Anti-Aircraft Artillery went up the mountain and has not come down. There is a big paved road that goes to the top off of Turkey Sag Rd. [sic] which is a gravel road and tractor trailers are always going up the mountain with covered loads. There are all sorts of Gov’t signs about private property and no trespassing. From Gordonsville at night the top of the mountain is lit up like a Christmas Tree with a lot of blue lights which I thought was weird. and you can see vehicles driving around.”
The two large structures on top of the mountain, to the left of the helicopter pad, are assumed to be vent stacks and hardened power and communications antennae. Two satellite dishes added after 9/11 can be seen, suggesting autonomous and enduring communications. An underground entrance is also visible.
I went down a rabbit’s hole of research trying to confirm that this indeed is an intelligence community bunker, scouring the records of Albemarle County and pulling the planning, construction and tax records for the land parcel, which is indeed described as belonging to AT&T, though it is listed as “vacant residential land” of no value.
Nothing in the federal budget or in the county records suggests any government occupation, and nothing refers to NIEMA or the intelligence community. That again comes from sources who have worked for the DNI and its continuity activity. They describe the national Warning, Alert, and Mobilization System (WAMS) which would alert a select group of civilian executives from across the intelligence community to deploy to the bunker. The alert would come from “The Communicator” Automated Notification System and would take two forms: alerts for everyone and alerts for the “core” participants. Because Washington is notorious for traffic congestion, those so-called core participants, those who have to move away from Washington within minutes of notification, would congregate and board helicopters which would take them away.
We sent a Gawker scout out to look at Peters Mountain Road this morning, to see if indeed there were men with guns and U.S. government insignia warning hikers to stay clear.
“Road closed” to him meant road closed, and he declined to drive further. County maps do not show the road as being closed or restricted in any way (bottom left hand corner, parcel 36-11A SCC). I guess that’s the prerogative of those who live in the shadows.