Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself--While the Rest of Us Die

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Simon and Schuster, May 2, 2017 - History - 529 pages
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The eye-opening true story of the government’s secret plans to survive and rebuild after a catastrophic attack on US soil—a narrative that spans from the dawn of the nuclear age to today.

Every day in Washington, DC, the blue-and-gold 1st Helicopter Squadron, code-named “MUSSEL,” flies over the Potomac River. As obvious as the presidential motorcade, the squadron is assumed by most people to be a travel perk for VIPs. They’re only half right: while the helicopters do provide transport, the unit exists to evacuate high-ranking officials in the event of a terrorist or nuclear attack on the capital. In the event of an attack, select officials would be whisked by helicopters to a ring of secret bunkers around Washington, even as ordinary citizens are left to fend for themselves.

For sixty years, the US government has been developing secret Doomsday plans to protect itself, and the multibillion-dollar Continuity of Government (COG) program takes numerous forms—from its plans to evacuate the Liberty Bell from Philadelphia and our most precious documents from the National Archives to the plans to launch nuclear missiles from a Boeing 747 jet flying high over Nebraska.

In Raven Rock, Garrett Graff sheds light on the inner workings of the 650-acre compound (called Raven Rock) just miles from Camp David, as well as dozens of other bunkers the government built its top leaders during the Cold War, from the White House lawn to Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado to Palm Beach, Florida, and the secret plans that would have kicked in after a Cold War nuclear attack to round up foreigners and dissidents, and nationalize industries.

Equal parts a presidential, military, and political history, Raven Rock tracks the evolution of the government’s plans and the threats of global war from the dawn of the nuclear era through the present day. Relying upon thousands of pages of once-classified documents, as well as original interviews and visits to former and current COG facilities, Graff brings readers through the back channels of government to understand exactly what is at stake if our nation is attacked, and how we’re prepared to respond if it is.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Pinebranch - LibraryThing

I read Raven Rock right after Daniel Ellsberg's The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (which I recommend), which made for some enlightening moments of reading the same events from ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - LamSon - LibraryThing

This was a really good book. Since the beginning of the Cold War the government has spent billions on the continuation of itself, its institutions and people in the event of a nuclear war. Bunkers ... Read full review




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About the author (2017)

For Richard Nixon, August 9, 1974, may have marked the end of his presidency, but for Dexter McIntyre, it was just another workday--a Friday like any other in a workplace unlike almost any other. He arrived early in the morning at the secret AT&T facility in Stanfield, North Carolina, entered the access code at the outer fence, parked his car in the small aboveground lot, and walked through a small door built into the hillside.

The complex had existed since 1965, when AT&T began to dig a big hole about two miles from McIntyre''s childhood home in Locust, North Carolina, about thirty miles east of Charlotte. He had been nineteen when construction started, and recalls, "There was a lot of curiosity about what was going on there." No one really knew what the hole was for--or even really who was digging. Some locals swore it was a secret facility for communicating with aliens; others believed it was a secret submarine base--despite the fact that it was about 150 miles from the ocean. The truth, as it turned out, was almost as strange as the fiction.

In 1967, McIntyre found himself reporting to work at the newly completed facility as a technician. The big hole that had so fascinated the community now contained a nuclear-hardened, department-store-sized concrete bunker, protected by twin 20,000-pound blast doors, that helped run an AT&T "long line" cable from Miami to Boston, skirting major metropolitan areas that might be nuclear targets. It was one of dozens of specially built facilities that ran air-to-ground communications for VIP military aircraft like Air Force One and various airborne alert command posts--programs with code names like NIGHTWATCH and LOOKING GLASS--that ensured that in the event of a nuclear strike someone in America would be able to launch from the ashes a devastating retaliatory blow against the Soviet Union.

For a quarter century, one eight-hour shift at a time, McIntyre and his colleagues--all technically AT&T staff--tended this hidden mountaintop redoubt, maintaining the telecommunications gear that kept the government ready, a key link in the massive "Continuity of Government" machine.I In the event of an attack, food and rations inside could keep the staff functioning for at least thirty days. The whole facility was mounted on massive metal springs to cushion the impact of a nuclear blast. Communications gear and lights hung from springs--even the toilets were mounted on springs and linked with rubber plumbing. The staff worked closely with other "AT&T" technicians at another North Carolina bunker in Chatham, similarly about thirty miles west of Raleigh, which served as the southernmost link in the government''s massive "relocation arc," a network of nearly 100 bunkers built into the mountains of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. The Chatham facility had a special nuclear-hardened troposcatter microwave relay for post-Apocalypse communications and its own special Continuity of Government functions that not even the fellow Stanfield employees understood. Even though they all had special security clearances, the Chatham programs were, as the military said, "need to know." None of the technicians even told their families what they really did. "You just didn''t talk about it," McIntyre recalls. "What do you do? ''I work on telephone circuits.''?" It wasn''t an answer that encouraged follow-up questions.

As McIntyre''s shift began on the morning of August 9, the Stanfield Klaxon sounded, signifying that an Air Force One flight was being readied at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington. McIntyre often served as the facility''s air-to-ground communications technician, and so he closeted himself in the radio room to listen as the plane took off. His first step was to open the office safe and look up his station''s daily call sign; each month, a courier delivered to Stanfield a sealed envelope with different call signs for each day of the month to make it impossible for any radio eavesdroppers to determine Air Force One''s flight path. He looked over the plane''s route, saw it was heading west, and knew that that day, he''d play only a minor role. With a westward flight path, he''d quickly hand over communications to the facility in Williamstown, Kentucky. As Air Force Colonel Ralph Albertazzie and his copilot readied for takeoff and as Air Force One passed through 10,000 feet, McIntyre in the Stanfield facility began to pick up a signal. He called in to the Waldorf, Maryland, ground communications station, "I''ve got acquisition of signal. I can take the flight." He tuned in to listen.

As Air Force One began to bank west, each of its thirty-four passengers watched the advancing time. Richard Nixon, in his private compartment, interrogated Sergeant Lee Simmons: "Is that clock right?" He gestured to the three digital clocks lining the cabin wall, a legacy that remained from Lyndon Johnson''s presidency. LBJ had loved to summon staff to his cabin to tell him the time: What time was it in Washington? At their destination? Where we are right now? Finally, Air Force stewards installed a trio of clocks to provide constant answers. Now all three ticked down the final minutes of his successor''s presidency.

"I think I''d like a martini," Nixon said.

Chief Steward Chuck Palmer knew exactly how the president liked it--a chilled glass filled with ice, just a hint of dry vermouth, a lemon peel twist lightly rubbed around the edge. Gin. Stirred quickly and served. Palmer had honed the technique during hundreds of hours of flight with the thirty-seventh commander-in-chief, who had visited twenty-eight countries, including the closed empire of China, traveling 137,500 miles internationally in his six years in office, more than any predecessor.

In the cockpit, copilot Les McClelland listened through headphones as a thousand miles away the chief justice and the vice president recited thirty-five words, phrase by phrase, concluding: ". . . preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." The clock read three minutes and twenty-five seconds past noon. The Boeing 707, its blue-and-white paint job instantly recognizable around the world, was 39,000 feet above the Missouri plains, heading west at 600 miles an hour, still nearly three hours from its California destination.

Albertazzie keyed the radio: "Kansas City, this was Air Force One. Will you change our call sign to SAM 27000?"

"Roger, SAM 27000. Good luck to the president," a controller at the Kansas City Air Route Traffic Control Center replied.

On the ground in Stanfield, McIntyre was puzzled by Albertazzie''s request. Why was the plane changing call signs in midair? It wasn''t until that night when he watched the evening news at home that he realized he had heard history being made. He had been present, without realizing it, for the last moments of the Nixon administration.

* * *

Even as he prepared to hand over the office, becoming the first person to resign the presidency, Richard Nixon had promised he''d be commander-in-chief until the very end. Governing in the midst of the Cold War, he believed it critical for the nation to understand who possessed nuclear launch authority. With Soviet missiles never more than fifteen minutes away, the president led the National Command Authorities, the command and control structure that governed the use of nuclear weapons in case of an attack.

"As I am winging my way back to California tomorrow, I will still have the black box aboard," Nixon had said the day before at the White House. That black box was colloquially known as the Football--the briefcase, carried just a few steps from the president by a military aide, that contained the country''s nuclear attack plans. The Football was the key to this vast and ever-growing arsenal, the Nuclear Triad of bombers, ICBMs, and submarines that kept the Soviet Union at bay, and it was always at the president''s fingertips.

But not today. No one had told the president that, by one of the only measures that truly mattered, his presidency had already ended. The military aide never boarded the plane with the Football; the briefcase wasn''t in its normal place on Air Force One, secured in the communications center just behind the cockpit. Even before Gerald Ford took the oath, the White House military apparatus had already taken from Richard Nixon the very power that defined his office.

In fact, days before the administration''s dramatic denouement, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger had issued an unprecedented set of orders: If the president issued any nuclear launch order, military commanders should check with either him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger before executing them. Schlesinger feared that the president, who seemed depressed and was drinking heavily, might order Armageddon. And on that August morning, the military and White House aides had left the nuclear codes with the incoming president.

In a country with no bejeweled crowns or royal thrones, the black Football briefcase is perhaps the only physical manifestation of our nation''s sovereign, the outward sign of presidential power. And on that day it had already abandoned Richard Nixon.

On its surface, presidential succession seems such a simple idea, but it''s what political scientist Erns

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