Thursday, November 6, 2014

MOUNT WEATHER MEMOS: PART 3

Mount Weather Minutes_Header

As we mentioned in Part One and Part Two of our series, the Cold War era meeting minutes from the top secret government relocation site known as Mount Weather (aka The Special Facility, aka High Point, aka the Classified Location) are not what the average person would consider interesting. But when you stop to remind yourself every few pages that the notes were produced by men in a Stranglovian underground office park, they suddenly become fascinating in their utter banality. Here are the highlights from the minutes issued in 1966.

01131966_Bunk Beds_Aspirin

The year began with a request about bunk beds and a suspicious increase in requests for aspirin.

01201966_Nuclear Accident 
The January 20, 1966 meeting began with an apparent reference to the major broken arrow incident over Palomares, Spain that had occurred just three days earlier. We’re not sure why the state of Florida is cited here unless it was a mistake on the part of the recording secretary. In view of the seriousness of the Palomares event which involved four hydrogen bombs, it is hard to imagine that the Special Facilities team would have been discussing any other nuclear accident.

With the near apocalypse of Palomares barely behind them on January 27, 1966, the issue of whether people should be allowed to sleep in the executive suites during inclement weather was discussed. This request was vetoed.

01271966_Executive Suites

On February 3, 1966 the persistent rumors of snow removal favoritism on the part of Loudoun County for the Special Facility was brought up.

02031966_Snow Rumors

On March 17, 1966 the Chairman discussed the second, less well known outbreak of rioting in the Watts section of Los Angeles. Per the front page of the Los Angeles Times on March 16, 1966, two people were killed and 25 were injured on March 15. This excerpt also mentions Farris Bryant being nominated to head the Office of Emergency Planning – the agency that had oversight over Mount Weather. Bryant’s predecessor was Buford Ellington.

03171966_Watts Riots

On April 21, 1966 the issue of the Russians renting property near Mount Weather was discussed. CONELRAD was able to find a number of news clips from the local Berryville, Virginia newspaper as well articles in larger circulation papers. The Soviet Embassy had rented a Virginia estate known as Spout Run Farm (formerly known as Heartsease) near Berryville to use as a children’s summer camp.

04211966_Russian Embassy

The Associated Press dutifully quoted “State Department officials” as saying “the Defense Department had been informed of the proposed lease on the Clarke County property to the Russians and that the Pentagon had not reported any sensitive U.S. installations being in the area.”[1]

The local paper was more honest about the worst kept secret in Berryville. In an editorial published in the Clarke Courier on April 28, 1966: “…somebody should have thought this thing out more clearly before allowing the Soviet Embassy to establish a summer camp and recreation area within a short distance of an apparent vital installation such as Mt. Weather.”[2]

Spout Run Editorial

On May 5, 1966 there was another cryptic mention of local “publicity.” This was apparently a reference to a front page article in the Clarke Courier newspaper on the Soviet summer camp complete with photo of the property.[3]

Spout Run_Leased by Russians

Without the full transcripts of these meetings, it is hard to know exactly what the senior staff at the Special Facility thought of the Russians moving in next door. They almost certainly believed that the Soviets knew about the Special Facility and its purpose. Indeed, in the first comprehensive news story on Mount Weather in Time magazine in 1991, Ted Gup wrote: “…it is assumed that all along the Soviets have known both its precise location and its mission.”[4] The meeting minutes strongly suggest that the attendees were more concerned with local media attention to the site than they were about Soviet spying.

The June 9, 1966 notes highlighted a problem with Western Union not delivering to relocation sites.

06091966_Western Union

The June 23, 1966 minutes provide a push for the FARs (Federal Agency Representatives at Mount Weather) to participate in the company picnic.

06231966_Picnic

In July, the Chairman attempted to cut down on the frequency of meetings during the summer months. This was not approved.

07071966_Change in Meeting Schedulue

On July 14, 1966 and August 4, 1966 there was more discussion about the publicity over the Soviet summer camp at Spout Run Farm. CONELRAD was unable to find these particular news clips.

07141966_Soviet Publicity

Before their meeting on September 15, 1966 the FARs (Federal Agency Representatives) watched on “TV receivers” the landing of the manned Gemini 11 spacecraft.

09151966_Gemini 11 Landing

On October 27, 1966 the chairman previewed what was expected to be an unpopular decision regarding bus service to and from the Special Facility.

10271966_Bus Rumor

On November 17, 1966 Mount Weather employees were complaining about the “curtailment” in bus service.

11171966_Bus Complaints

On December 15, 1966 there were announcements about the holiday meeting schedule and “the nuclear war plan.” Just in time for Christmas!

12151966_Holidays_Nuclear War

Read the whole document here:

Mount Weather Meeting Minutes: 1966

 

SOURCE

Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library
Federal Records: Office of Emergency Planning
Box 10
Folder: Minutes of Special Facilities Meetings, 01/13/66-12/15/66


[1] “Soviet Summer Camp,” Washington Post via Associated Press, April 23, 1966, B5.

[2] “Heartsease or Heartaches,” Clarke Courier, April 28, 1966, 4.

[3] “Soviet Embassy Plans Summer Camp,” Clarke Courier, April 28, 1966, 1.

[4] Ted Gup, “Doomsday Hideaway,” Time, December 9, 1991, 26.

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Anonymous said...

Bill and Ken,

I sent Bill an email awhile back about this because I didn't really want to write an open comment and would have rather had you correct it or look into it anyway.

I really don't think they were talking about Palomares. Especially because of the date. That morning, 20 January 1966, there was indeed a nuclear weapons incident in Florida involving a nuclear warhead equipped RIM-2D Terrier Surface to Air Missile. The warhead separated from the missile's body and fell about 8 feet from the missile launcher onto the deck of the USS Luce (DDG-38) at Mayport near Jacksonville, FL.

No one was injured and the warhead's casing was only dented. Needless to say, no material was released nor any radiation, so it doesn't commonly appear in literature about nuclear weapons accidents or in anything about Floridian Military History. I know Florida History specialists and professors who don't even know about it for that matter.

Anyway, check out https://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/doe/cg-hr-3/appb.pdf and look on the second page, first paragraph on the second column.

The dates match up, it was indeed an incident in Florida involving a nuclear weapon as it states in the meeting minutes, and it makes sense that Special Facilities would discuss it since it was an incident in the CONUS, which they were responsible for, as opposed to talking about an incident in Spain where they had no real responsibility for. It is impossible to know for certain, unless the meetings were taped and somehow the tapes survived, but I think there's a pretty good case to be made that they really did mean Florida.

Anyway, I love this blog, I'm an Emergency Management major and its nice to see that somebody out there cares about our field's history. I'm probably the only new guy in the field that actually knows about Civil Defense. What amazes me is that you guys don't work in EM (at least not according to your profiles), so keep it up.

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