Garrett Graff is one of America’s leading journalists, having held top positions at both Politico magazine and the Washingtonian. It goes almost without saying, then, that Graff has special expertise in the fields of politics and national security. So when the author and writer accidentally uncovered a secret government facility, he naturally felt compelled to probe more deeply. And that’s when he discovered the unsettling reason behind the site’s existence.
Graff’s interest was first piqued, in fact, when he searched for the directions to a place he’d had a tip about. As he later explained to NPR, “The road dead-ends into the side of a mountain… And you can see very clearly these big concrete bunker doors – this little guard shack, chain-link fence, and then this set of concrete bunker doors beyond.”
The journalist couldn’t therefore help but wonder just what this mysterious government location in West Virginia could be. He told the radio station, “It was a facility that I had never heard of, that wasn’t on any map.” So, given the secrecy that surrounded the address, Graff decided he’d do some digging in an attempt to find out more.
That instinct, at least, seems to be something that has served Graff well throughout his life. Born in 1981, Graff actually spent his formative years in Montpelier, Vermont. And he showed an interest in journalism from a young age, editing the Harvard Crimson student newspaper during his time at Harvard University. Graff also interned at ABC News and The Atlantic in the early years of his career.
Clearly, then, one of Graff’s prime interests is politics. In 2004, for instance, the writer was Howard Dean’s deputy national press secretary during the Democrat’s presidential campaign. Graff also built and ran Dean’s first website. And he later founded FishbowlDC – a media and politics blog focused on the U.S. capital.
It was thanks to Graff’s work at FishbowlDC, in fact, that he became the first blogger to be granted press access to the White House. And over the years, the journalist has also contributed to a number of high-profile publications. These include newspapers The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Bloomberg Businessweek magazine.
Graff has also appeared on an array of TV shows. Among them are The Today Show, Good Morning America and CBS This Morning. And his work has even been referenced by satirists and political commentators John Oliver and Stephen Colbert on their respective TV slots too.
So it’s safe to say that Graff is highly respected as a journalist, and yet reporting isn’t his only talent. You see, for seven years Graff taught at Georgetown University. And he’s also a co-founder of the successful tech firm EchoDitto, Inc. – a company that advises clients on their online presence and policies.
Politics and technology are, then, two of Graff’s major interests. So it’s hardly surprising that he found a way to combine these passions with his writing talents. In 2017, for instance, Graff released his book The First Campaign: Globalization, the Web, and the Race for the White House. And in it, the writer looked at the part technology played in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election.
Graff’s second book is entitled The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller’s FBI. On this occasion, then, the author turned his focus to national security, looking at how the FBI deals with counterterrorism. However, it was his subsequent book – Raven Rock – that would go on to become a national bestseller.
Why was this? Well, in Raven Rock Graff covers a dark subject matter. This is because he argued that the U.S. government is willing to go to extreme lengths in order to preserve its power in the face of catastrophe. And it seems that Graff also made a key discovery following a mysterious tip-off from a colleague.
It all began when Graff was writing for the Washingtonian. One day, you see, a coworker apparently came to him with a chance find that he’d discovered lying on the ground of a parking garage. The item in question was reportedly an ID badge. But it was to whom the curiosity seemingly belonged that made it interesting.
Graff explained more in a 2017 interview with radio station NPR. He said, “It was a government ID for someone from the intelligence community. [The tipster] gave it to me since I write about that subject, and he’s like, ‘I figure you can get this back to this guy.’” So Graff reportedly committed himself to doing just that.
At first, you see, Graff thought the ID didn’t seem that mysterious. That’s because, he said, the name badge had some driving directions printed on the back. So returning it should have been a fairly simple task; Graff figured he’d simply type the outlined location into Google Maps to see where the instructions led.
But, as mentioned earlier, that’s when Graff happened upon the road that “dead-ends into the side of a mountain.” Through continued research, though, Graff seemingly discovered another secret facility – much like the one he’d seen on Google Maps. This one is called Raven Rock Mountain Complex. The mysterious site is actually located near Blue Ridge Summit in Pennsylvania. Yet construction on the complex had begun in 1948 – under the orders of President Truman.
The location of the complex is no accident, either. You see, Raven Rock lies just six miles away from Camp David – the former president’s famous country residence in Maryland. Given the facility’s proximity to the retreat, then, there’d been some speculation that the two locations had been linked by a series of tunnels.
It’s worth noting, too, that when President Truman sanctioned the construction of Raven Rock the world was in the midst of the Cold War. This decades-long period of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union began in the wake of World War II. And while there was no large-scale fighting between the rival powers, both blocs developed their nuclear arsenals throughout the 1950s, making the threat of worldwide atomic obliteration a fact of life.
So Raven Rock was just one of a number of secret facilities sanctioned by the U.S. government during the Cold War. The facility couldn’t remain completely hidden, however. That’s because it required a workforce of 300 people to dig out a 3,100-foot shaft into the granite mountain.
And in order to complete Raven Rock, authorities turned to the best in the business. As Graff told the New York Post in 2007, “There were very few engineers with the expertise to hollow out a mountain and build, in essence, a free-standing city inside of it. The U.S. government turned to the construction firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, which had developed unique tunneling expertise working on the New York City subway.”
Word of Raven Rock therefore spread around the local community, and it became affectionately known as “Harry’s Hole.” People had no idea what the facility was for, however, and most would never be granted entry. So what happened behind the barbed wire and warning signs outside of Raven Rock would remain somewhat of a mystery for many years.
That was until Graff came along. Through his research, you see, the journalist soon pieced together the interior of the secret government facility. He told NPR, “Raven Rock is this massive, hollowed-out mountain. It’s a free-standing city… with individual buildings, three-story buildings, built inside of this mountain. It has everything that a small city would.”
It in fact transpired that Raven Rock was built to be big enough to accommodate around 1,400 people with practically every service they could need. Graff explained, “There’s a fire department there. There’s a police department, medical facilities, dining halls. The dining facility serves four meals a day; it’s a 24-hour facility.”
Yet the facility has changed somewhat over the years, particularly as technology has modernized. Graff told NPR, “It was sort of mothballed to a certain extent during the 1990s as the Cold War ended and then was restarted in a hurry after September 11 and has been pretty dramatically expanded over the last 15 years… Today, [it] could hold as many as 5,000 people in the event of an emergency.”
So it’s clear that Raven Rock has some kind of use to the government in times of disaster. But it’s the top-secret nature of the facility that provides a clue as to just how important a location it is. Because – in the event of a nuclear war – the mountain-side bunker would become America’s administrative headquarters.
Also referred to as the Alternative Joint Command Center, Raven Rock would in fact house the U.S. government in a nuclear disaster. Personnel would ideally include the President and other Washington officials too. And they would then run the country from office space deep inside the bunker – protected by twin sets of 34-ton blast doors.
In fact, at the height of the Cold War – when the threat of nuclear war appeared very real – the U.S. government planned for such a disaster in incredible detail. They even supposedly decided that – in the event of a catastrophic attack – the Post Office would take charge of registering fatalities and the National Park Service would set up refugee camps.
The U.S. Government also apparently assigned the task of food distribution to the Department of Agriculture. And, even in the event of a nuclear Armageddon, the IRS would inevitably continue to operate. That’s because the agency would collect taxes under an emergency plan. However, the government had already stockpiled a large sum of cash in one of its bunkers – just in case.
So when Graff discovered Raven Rock’s real purpose, he was reportedly fascinated. He told NPR, “Part of what makes these plans so interesting is thinking through… this idea of what you’re going to save for America… If you’re trying to preserve and restart the government after an attack, [it] becomes this very existential question about what is America?”
And that was seemingly a question that officials at the National Archives had to ask themselves when they worked out which historical items they would prioritize saving in a nuclear war. For instance, the Declaration of Independence was seemingly deemed to be of greater importance than the Constitution. And the Library of Congress decided that rescuing the Gettysburg Address held sway over saving George Washington’s Military Commission.
But while certain historical artefacts were seemingly a high priority for the government to save, the same couldn’t be said for the general population. Yes, as nuclear weapons became ever more powerful over the course of the Cold War, any hopes of evacuating large urban centers were abandoned. So if the worst had come to pass, the everyman would reportedly have been left to his own devices, as a small government attempted to rebuild society from the safety of bunkers such as Raven Rock.
But while those guaranteed a place in Raven Rock may sound like the lucky ones, things reportedly wouldn’t be easy for them. For one thing, they would seemingly be forced to leave their families behind to face the nuclear blasts and subsequent fallout alone. That’s because their relatives would not be permitted to enter the bunker – even in the direst of circumstances.
As well as the sheer capacity considerations, you see, Raven Rock was a secret facility. The families of personnel were therefore largely kept in the dark about what went on there or its purpose. Graff explained to the New York Post, “Families would have been prohibited from Raven Rock — as they would have been from effectively all of the Doomsday bunkers.”
The thought of abandoning loved ones in the event of nuclear annihilation hasn’t sat well with some government officials over the years, though. According to media website Ranker, Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren reportedly gave up his own space in Raven Rock when he discovered that his wife wouldn’t be granted access to the bunker as well. Upon relinquishing his pass, Warren apparently told authorities, “You’ll have room for one more important official.”
Once Cold War tensions had died down, though, some rules were relaxed at Raven Rock. Graff explained, “In recent years, as the veil of complete secrecy has lifted, family members of Raven Rock personnel are allowed to visit it for specific ceremonies. So at the very least, family members today can picture where their relatives will spend Doomsday, even as they’re barred outside.”
Yet after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, there was a chance that Raven Rock could have fallen into obscurity. In fact, there were some government officials who’d advised that the facility be shut down permanently. The New York Post even reported that one apparently quipped, “You’d feel like you’re walking into a dinosaur.”
During his time in office, President George H.W. Bush actually reduced Raven Rock’s 24-hour operations – essentially reducing the facility to a skeleton staff. In the wake of September 11, though, the site underwent upgrades costing $652 million. New buildings were subsequently built, a new air filtration system was added and existing technology received an update.
And today, Raven Rock is just one component in the government’s Doomsday plans. The well-planned disaster strategy would in fact see officials evacuated by helicopter to various bunkers around Washington, D.C., in the event of a nuclear or terrorist attack. Yet everyday citizens would still apparently be left to fend for themselves.
Revealing some of the most recent additions to the bunker in Raven Rock, Graff wrote that the facility “added 27 new fuel tanks in 2012, each of which could hold 20,000 gallons.” It’s also believed that the site can hold up to 5,000 employees who would work in 900,000 square feet of office space in an Armageddon scenario.
Similar bunkers to Raven Rock, meanwhile, include Peters Mountain in the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia. This would reportedly become a base for the U.S. intelligence agencies. There’s also a bunker situated directly under the White House. It was there, in fact, that Dick Cheney sheltered on September 11 as he orchestrated the government response to the attack.
Yet probably the most well-known bunker from the Cold War-era remains the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. Never hidden from the public, the bunker boasts a power plant, a gym and its own Subway restaurant. So if the nuclear apocalypse does occur, at least there’ll be fast food.