Pennsylvania’s (Not So) Secret Underground Base

“A secret remains a secret until you make someone promise never to reveal it.” —Fausto Cercignani

In A Nutshell

Raven Rock Mountain Complex is a military base in Pennsylvania that has been referred to as an “underground Pentagon.” Security is tight, but the base itself isn’t very well-hidden. Razor wire fences and guardhouses stand out clear as day. Personnel allowing visitors to use guardhouse phones and posting information about conferences at the base hasn’t helped, either.

The Whole Bushel

Raven Rock Mountain Complex (RRMC), also known as Site R, has been referred to by government employees in the know as an “underground Pentagon.” The “secret” base is inside Pennsylvania’s Raven Rock Mountain, located near the Maryland border and not too far from Gettysburg. It’s also only 11 kilometers (7 mi) from Camp David.

Below the surface, RRMC is said to have five three-story buildings, caves filled with computers, and its own underground water reservoir. New subterranean construction has been indicated as recently as 2006.

RRMC was built in the early 1950s as a backup command center in the event of nuclear war. Dick Cheney was said to have relocated to Raven Rock after the 9/11 attacks. He was also alleged to have gone there for reasons unknown at other points during George W. Bush’s presidency.

Security remains tight to this day. Heavily armed soldiers guard the main entrance, and other areas feature guardhouses and razor wire. People inside the base are instructed to avoid discussing RRMC with outsiders.

Intended security and secrecy aside, RRMC isn’t particularly well-hidden. Although author James Bamford’s book, A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies, has been credited with exposing the existence of the complex in the early 2000s, local residents knew it was there years beforehand.

It’s not hard to see signs of the base’s existence. A mass of antennae and satellite dishes sits on top of Raven Rock Mountain. From nearby Route 16, a pair of gigantic metal doors on the side of the mountain can be seen through the trees. Local postal workers know of several entrances to RRMC, though they’re not responsible for delivering the base’s mail. The aforementioned razor wire fences and guardhouses aren’t particularly subtle, either.

Even if every entrance to RRMC was perfectly camouflaged and its communication equipment looked like trees, it wouldn’t make up for the negligence of its personnel.

In 2004, a reporter drove up the back road leading to the main entrance. He needed to make a phone call, but there was no cell phone service. (On top of that, his phone mysteriously shut itself off.) One of the guards kindly let him into a guardhouse to use the phone.

The reporter made his call, but by then, the guards had begun to look nervous, perhaps realizing they shouldn’t have let anyone in.

Article Continued Below

The reporter said he’d wait a bit in the car, and the guards told him that they’d let him know if he got a call back.

About 10 minutes later, one of them came out and told the reporter that he’d seen more than he was supposed to and that he shouldn’t describe any of it to anyone. He warned, “Everything here is classified.” Fines and possible jail time were mentioned.

If that mistake wasn’t enough, in 2006, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) posted information on its public website about a conference to be held at RRMC. Tours of the site would also be provided.

Writers for Wired, surprised at such an open announcement of a conference at a “secret” base, emailed the conference’s contact person and asked for information about the conference. The DTRA obliged, and Wired received a conference schedule and information for visitors to RRMC.

A few days later, the announcement was no longer on the DTRA’s website, and it was clarified to Wired that press were not invited to the conference. As Wired put it, “Somewhere inside the halls of DTRA, we suspect someone was being reprimanded.”

The information they received detailed security inspections that guests would face, warned of the secret nature of conference information, and instructed all guests not to talk to reporters or to post information about RRMC on the Internet. (At least one DTRA employee forgot this bit.) The packet also included directions to RRMC from Gettysburg, where most conference guests would be staying, and provided a bus schedule to and from the historical town.

In fairness, even today, there doesn’t seem to be much information on what goes on inside Raven Rock Mountain Complex, but it clearly exists. Google even drove a Street View car up to at least one entrance in August 2012.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo credit: US Government
Boston Globe: ‘Undisclosed location’ disclosed
Wired: How To Visit A Secret Nuclear Bunker (download conference info doc)
Google Street View: Harbaugh Valley Road

Looking for our newsletter? Subscribe here!