Shadow government alive and well and living in Waynesboro

April 01, 2002|BY TIM ROWLAND

Some say "Harry's Hole" runs underneath the mountain ridge for a full eight miles to connect with Camp David. I suppose that's possible, although in that mountain rock I'm glad I didn't have to do the digging.

If Camp David "claims" Thurmont as its home town of sorts, Waynesboro is home to Harry's Hole, aka Site R, or the Underground Pentagon, which Truman had built more than a half-century ago as a safe spot from which the military brass could orchestrate a nuclear war against the Soviet Union.

That, by extension, means Waynesboro is ostensibly home to one of President Bush's two shadow-government locations, where revolving teams of bureaucrats are protected so someone will still be around to lead us out of our terrorist-induced nuclear winter.

Who will be left to lead is unclear. But the leaders will be alive and kicking, and that's comforting.

My first experience with Site R occurred when I was a teen-ager and had a friend who had a fetish for the lights you could see miles away on the tops of mountain ridges in the black, country night. Mostly of course, these were generated by tower beacons. Consequently, I became interested in mountaintop lights too, although I never developed his expertise. He could tell an AT&T communications tower from an NWS data recorder at 20 miles.


Granted, if your forte is tower-lights there are some other hobbies you've missed, but we were curious and felt the need to know the source of every mountaintop glow from Sideling Hill to Braddack Mountain. These lights, which could seem so mysterious and intriguing at night always turned out to be a simple steel tower by day, but we always tried to delude ourselves that one day the lights would turn out so be something related to space aliens or clandestine government operations - not that we really expected that to ever happen.

Needless to say, the bright lights near High Rock that could be seen all the way to Morgan County, W.Va. attracted our attention. Since there weren't many Fodor's Guides to Beacons in those days, the best way I knew to find out what they were was to drive right up and look. (You would be surprised at how many towers are labeled).

Kids have no use for soap or maps, so we just pointed our car in the general direction and drove, fully expecting to find two or three new microwave towers to catalogue. Oh, and of course being the 1970s we'd had a few beers.

The road was awful, the broken pavement winding up and around until - fully expecting to round a bend and see a couple of steel towers - we suddenly found our slightly buzzed selves on a broad, lighted and fenced boulevard with razor wire and people with guns and big gates and guard houses. We were greeted by uniformed men who enthusiastically invited us to leave immediately.

If there is a faster sobering-up on record, I'd like to know about it. We were like a dog that had finally caught a car.

Asking around, it became clear that we may have been the last people in the Tri-State to learn about Site R. We heard all kinds of stories: The entire mountain had been hollowed out and was filled with roads and houses and apartment buildings and shopping malls and movie theaters and golf courses and two or three congressional districts.

In the Philadelphia City Paper ( "Chasing Shadows") last week, Howard Altman wrote a great piece about his attempt to find the home of shadow government. Driving up the mountain he kept getting lost and had to stop several times for directions. Somewhat humorously, everyone knew. "The top-secret Site R? Oh sure, just head east on Rt. 16 until you get to the antique store that leads to the stone church then turn left on a road that takes you up to..."

Until late last summer, Site R had all but ceased to be of interest, an irrelevant scrap left over from the Cold War, along with all the fallout shelters, backyard bomb bunkers and civil-defense evacuation plans.

Now, as the "man on the street" said in The Onion last week, "Oh well. And I was just getting used to calling it a root cellar."

No offense to the good people who serve in Site R, but how discouraging that the old batcave is back in business again. Shadow government is right here, although we have to keep it under our hats. We're famous and no one knows it. This must be how Joan Rivers' daughter feels.

According to Altman's piece, Waynesboro folks always know something is up on the foreign affairs front before the rest of us do. Traffic picks up, and the local airspace gets crowded. Currently, shadow governors and governesses are being hauled in by the busload.

Someone on the Internet, username "Mr. Fantastic," tried to sell Altman photos of the Site R interior, leading the FBI to lean on him to play along and become a government informant. He didn't sell out his would-be source, but neither did he buy any pictures - a wise move, since a former-military friend tells me such pictures are available in open literature and over the Internet.

And on it goes. Level-headed "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert was on the radio this week talking in non-hypothetical terms about the likelihood of Saddam acquiring nuclear weapons, or rogue Mid-East militants blackmailing the nation, threatening to nuke an American city with a backpack bomb unless we disassociate ourselves from Israel. You hear that talk all the time, but usually it's coming from Gorden Liddy. Can this really be happening?

I'm still dubious. It's one thing to draw a blueprint of a nuclear warhead and quite another to actually build one and quite another beyond that to deliver it to a target. It doesn't seem plausible. Yet neither did Sept. 11 seem plausible.

And neither did our daydreams that in search of an ordinary communications tower we could ever stumble across a secret government underground world. So watch out.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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