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USA Today June 26, 2002

'Secret' government site not so secret after all

By Carl Weiser, Gannett News Service

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Blasted into a mountain near here, the military's nuclear-proof command bunker known as Site R was once so secret the federal government denied its very existence.

But the folks at Sunshine Lanes knew, because about 20 men from Site R bowl on Friday night. And workers at Chubbies sub shop knew, because Site R workers sometimes order subs and pizzas to be delivered.

"They meet us at the gate," Chubbies owner Dave Sander said.

Since Sept. 11, with Site R buzzing almost daily with helicopters and fighter jets, the secret is out.

Site-R,  Raven Rock, PA Stories about Site R have run in newspapers in Cleveland; Pittsburgh; Austin, Texas; even Halifax, Canada, and London. Some indicated that a "shadow government" has been working there in case of a major terrorist attack in Washington, D.C. Others suggested it was Vice President Dick Cheney's "undisclosed location." Some stories named nearby roads. One Web site even posted a diagram of the underground complex, complete with the location of reservoirs and power plants.

Even the Pentagon now publicly acknowledges Site R. It announced in March, for example, that it was seeking $74 million to upgrade the site's computers, cooling system and power.

"Just a general modernization," said Jennifer Lafley, spokeswoman for the Army's Military District of Washington, which oversees Site R.

For the last several years, she said, the Pentagon has provided a standard two-sentence description to inquiring media:

"Site-R is located in Adams County, PA. This facility includes the National Military Command Center-Site-R and tenants representing each of the military services." Beyond that, however, the Pentagon keeps quiet.

Lafley said she took a helicopter to Site R earlier this year.

"There's no windows," she offered.

Built between 1950 and 1954, Site R was one of a handful of bunkers designed to withstand a Soviet nuclear attack. Others include one in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and inside Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs.

A June 1951 Army planning memo - posted on several Web sites - describes three floors and more than 200,000 square feet of space "exclusive of corridors, toilets, utility rooms, restaurant." The declassified memo estimated it could hold as many as 5,400 people.

Military expert John Pike, director of globalsecurity.org, estimates there are between a few dozen and 500 workers there on any given day - and that number has almost certainly increased since Sept. 11, he said.

Military officials won't say how many are inside the mountain or if, in fact, Cheney goes there. There are no signs, of course, aside from a few saying "U.S. government property." It's illegal to take any photographs of the site. A caravan of Ford Expeditions full of military police descended on a Chambersburg Public Opinion newspaper photographer who tried.

"I can't answer any questions about Site R," said Eileen Mitchell, a spokeswoman at Fort Detrick, which oversaw Site R until the February transfer to the Military District of Washington.

Local residents, many of whom know people who worked at Site R, have heard all kinds of rumors: that the mountain opens up and fighter jets come flying in and out; that the woods are full oimagination."

With the Cold War ending and the bunker seemingly a relic, the government cut back its 24-hour staffing, and one local commander at Maryland's Fort Ritchie even gave a few tours - though that was quickly stopped, Gunder said.

Some local residents are angry or at least a little worried about the increased publicity since Sept. 11.

"I don't think it should be broadcast," said Crystal Miller, 49, of Waynesboro. "I know it's there. I know what it does. Other than that, I don't want to know anything. It's none of my business."

Waynesboro Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carol Henicle, whose brother worked at Site R and whose father helped build it, said the increased publicity has been "a little worrisome, especially in today's age. You think with 9-11 just maybe something could happen there."

Advocates for more government openness say the site was never really much of a secret.

"As far as it being public, it really always was," said Wayne Madsen, a former National Security Agency specialist. "I don't see any danger in the American people knowing about where their shadow government meets."


Copyright 2002 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.