Saturday, March 16, 2013

GREENBRIER BUNKER NOTIFICATION: PROS AND CONS

McPhee Memo Excerpt

In late 1957 ground had not yet been broken on the United States Congress’s elaborate bunker (then known as Project X and soon thereafter as Project Casper) planned for construction beneath a luxury resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Indeed, the lease agreement for the government to utilize the Greenbrier hotel’s property as an emergency relocation site was not even signed until November 26, 1958 (and the facility would not be finished until 1962). But a general understanding between the Congress and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, owner of the Greenbrier at the time, had been reached in 1956, so it wasn’t too early for the Continuity of Government planners to begin thinking about how to notify legislators of where they were to go in the event of a crisis.[1]

McPhee Portrait_Refined

So it was that on November 19, 1957 Henry Roemer McPhee, Assistant Special Counsel to the President, summed up in a memo the pros and cons of various methods of congressional notification for the benefit of Gordon Gray, the Director of the Office of Defense Mobilization.

Gordon Gray Portait

The document is remarkable for its wariness in entrusting any sensitive information to rank and file lawmakers. In fact, it is quite apparent that Mr. McPhee is doing his best to dissuade Mr. Gray from taking on the burden of regularly briefing incoming congresspeople about the location of their shelter. Moreover, the young lawyer points out that such a policy would mean that an “ever increasing number of former Members of Congress would know the whereabouts of the relocation site.” Perhaps most damning is Mr. McPhee’s assumption that “in an emergency some Members…would probably not remember the location of the site and would have to seek further instruction.”[2]

Suggestions

The author goes on to propose two possible solutions to avoid the possibility of loose-lipped or forgetful legislators: (a.) Have the President of the United States provide the site’s address in his emergency proclamation (or in a subsequent broadcast) or (b.) direct law makers to visit their local FBI office to obtain the location of the shelter. The FBI field office representative would then, according to the plan, produce the address from a sealed envelope after the congressperson had adequately identified him or herself. Of course, in 1957 not even the FBI was clear on the name of the relocation site. In a memo dated June 28, 1957 it is noted that J. Edgar Hoover himself had to offer a correction to the name of the site erroneously identified in a previous communication as “Sweetbriar.” “Don’t they mean ‘Greenbriar’ [sic],” the FBI Director is quoted as asking.[3]

Hoover Note copy

In the end, it would appear that only key government leaders were kept abreast of where the legislative branch was to evacuate to if World War III broke out. John Londis, who worked as a communications and cryptography specialist at the Greenbrier bunker for sixteen years, told CONELRAD in a recent interview: “Except for the leadership, I don’t think the Congress knew where they were to go. That would have been last minute information.”[4]

Henry R. McPhee Memo RE: Congressional Notification of Bunker by Bill Geerhart

NOTE: CONELRAD reached out to Henry Roemer McPhee by phone and in writing for additional details on his memo, but he did not respond to our inquiries.

Sign-Off


[1] For the definitive chronology of the construction of the Greenbrier Congressional Bunker, see Robert S. Conte, The History of the Greenbrier: America’s Resort [Charleston, West Virginia: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1998], pp. 193-217.

[2] Memo from Henry Roemer McPhee to Gordon Gray dated November 19, 1957. Dwight David Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Harlow, Bryce N. : Records, Box 5, File: Civil Defense (1955-60) (2).

[3] FBI memos dated June 27 and June 28, 1957 were provided to CONELRAD.com by GovernmentAttic.org, the organization responsible for obtaining the 2010 declassification of the documents.

[4] Telephone interview with John J. Londis conducted by Bill Geerhart, December 3, 2012. For additional confirmation that only a select few members of the legislative and executive branches of government knew about the bunker, see Kenneth Cooper, “Hill Leaders ‘Regret’ Reports of Bomb Shelter Site,” Washington Post, May 30, 1992, P. A1

Secret

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