Title: Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself While the Rest of Us Die
Rating: 3 Stars
This breaks American history into several phases. The first phase, of which not much time was spent discussing, was I guess what you’d call the innocence phase, which ended at the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
This was an age where the president was very accessible to people. Up until the beginning of WWII, the White House was open. You could just go in and walk around just like any other public building. Amusingly enough, up until the 1910’s, not only could you walk into the White House, if the president wasn’t in, you could just walk into his office and literally sit in his chair. For someone who has lived in a radically different era, this is pretty much unfathomable.
The constitution created the role of vice president and that was pretty much all that it said about succession. Concepts like presidential succession and continuity of government was just not something that was seriously considered. This is all the more astonishing considering the fact that during this time, three presidents were assassinated (Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley), and a couple of more died in office (Harrison, Taylor, Harding). There was no provision at all to replace a vice president. In the case of Madison, a two term president, both of his vice presidents died while he was in office. In fact, after one of them died, Madison himself became dangerously ill for several weeks. If he’d died and Congress was not in session, there literally would have been no one to succeed him. And no one seemed to care.
This was the situation for the first 170 or years of America’s existence.
And then we dropped the atomic bomb. And then the Soviets detonated their atomic bomb. And then the Cold War started.
This ushered in the second phase. Suddenly, our leaders, all conveniently and centrally located in Washington D.C., realized that one bomb could quite literally wipe out the federal government. With the rise of ICBM’s, the government could be wiped out with little more than thirty minutes notice. There were credible rumors that the Soviets had smuggled in components of an atomic bomb to their embassy in D.C., which meant that maybe the government could be wiped out with no notice.
This set off decades of planning and billions of dollars of expenditures. Caverns were carved out of mountains to serve as hardened facilities for rump governments. Billions were spent on advance warning systems watching for impending missile attacks. Shadow governments were defined to spring up in case of destruction.
Obsessed with making sure that one good turn deserves another, many, many billions of dollars were spent creating massively redundant systems that would guarantee that, if the American leadership was decapitated, that a full retaliatory strike on the Soviets would be unleashed.
What did that buy us? Our fail safe systems several times gave off false warnings of full incoming attacks. One came so close to retaliation that a call was placed in the middle of the night to President Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, telling him that America was under attack. He decided not to wake his wife because he thought it would be better for her to die in her sleep.
The shadow governments that were supposed to be stood up post attack were a joke. First of all, there was no provision to save anyone’s families. The men (and yes, there were pretty much all men) would be required to abandon their families. Even during drills, unsurprisingly enough, many men simply refused to leave.
Ultimately, after all of the talk of setting up shadow governments with functioning laws and legislative bodies, it was clear that the end result was always going to be a dictatorship. The planners freely admitted this. Yay! We saved America! Let’s all live under martial law now!
We had all of this planning to meet the Soviet menace and their tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. So, what was the action that tripped our Continuity of Government (COG) processes? Nineteen guys with box cutters.
9/11 and its aftermath is the third phase of phase of our history. All of the plans that had been laid over the previous 50 years were tested out in real life. Shockingly enough, they failed miserably. George W Bush, aimlessly circling in Air Force One across the plains of America, had no access to what was going on. Occasionally, the plane would pick up local television signals as they flew over so he picked up tidbits. Secretary of State Colin Powell, flying back from Peru, had no access to information. Even Dick Cheney, in the fucking situation room of the White House, discovered that the situation room did not the ability to have two audio signals happening simultaneously. He could either hold a secure telephone call or he could watch CNN, but the room did not allow him to do both. Congressmen and Senators, who were supposed to be evacuated, milled around the Capitol building, sitting ducks if another plane were to appear. A plane containing FEMA personnel flying to D.C. to render assistance was almost shot down by a fighter.
It was a mess. Clearly, the answer is to spend untold billions of classified dollars remaking the plans and building even more structures, and so we did.
It’s a fascinating story. It is also chock full of facts that I found to be hilarious, such as:
- After Pearl Harbor, the Secret Service frantically tried to find an armored car to transport FDR in. The only car that fit the bill was a confiscated one that Al Capone owned. For a while, the presidential limousine was a gangster’s ride.
- Even into the 1960’s, security was occasionally laughably bad. At the time of JFK’s assassination, LBJ was living in a house in D.C. (this was before the VP residence). His address and phone number were listed in the D.C. phone book.
- As part of the post apocalyptic planning, the IRS developed a plan to continue to collect taxes in a nuclear wasteland.
- During the last days of Nixon’s presidency, worried about his sanity and alcohol abuse, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger quietly warned all of the military leaders to ignore any launch orders from Nixon. Similarly, on Nixon’s last flight, he assured everyone that he’d have the nuclear football (the suitcase containing the codes) until he landed. Unbeknownst to him, they’d already taken the football away from him.
- The person involved with Reagan’s extensive COG was none other than motherfucking Oliver North. In a previous post, I’d nominated Kim Philby as person of the century. Oliver North gives him a run for the money. He was part of the Operation Eagle Claw, which was the failed mission to rescue the Iranian hostages. This was one of the opening salvos of the war in the Middle East that America has been fighting for coming on four decades now. He was a key player (possibly even the architect) of Iran Contra. And now I find out that he planned Reagan’s COG? Forget about going back in time and killing baby Hitler. How would the world be now if we just went back and killed baby North?
So, given all of this, what’s with the three stars? Although the tale is at times harrowing, infuriating, and hilarious, this was just absolutely bogged down in acronyms, obscure programs, and tedious plans. I appreciate the amount of research that went into this work, but the amount of research actually buries the narrative at many points. There were several times that I felt my eyes glaze over and I know that I just mindlessly skipped past many pages.
There is a great story to be told here, and most of it is told. It’s just hidden among a blizzard of arcana.