“Actually, you may want to just put those down a minute,” Tim Brown is telling me, as I peer through binoculars at a cluster of buildings and antennae on a distant ridge. “The locals might get a bit nervous.” A Ford F-150 cruises by, and the two men inside regard us casually as they pass.
We are sitting, hazards blinking, in Brown’s BMW on a rural road in Virginia’s Facquier County, a horsey enclave an hour west of Washington DC. The object of our attention is Mount Weather, officially the Emergency Operations Centre of the Federal Emergency Management Authority (Fema); and, less officially, a massive underground complex originally built to house governmental officials in the event of a full-scale nuclear exchange. Today, as the Bush administration wages its war on terror, Mount Weather is believed to house a “shadow government” made up of senior Washington officials on temporary assignment.
Following the collapse of the USSR, Mount Weather seemed like an expensive cold-war relic. Then came September 11. News reports noted that “top leaders of Congress were taken to the safety of a secure government facility 75 miles west of Washington”; another reported “a traffic jam of limos carrying Washington and government license plates.” As the phrase “undisclosed location” entered the vernacular, Mount Weather, and a handful of similar installations, flickered back to life. Just two months ago, a disaster-simulation exercise called Forward Challenge ’06 sent thousands of federal wo...