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Beneath Raven Rock: Secrets inside Central PA’s ‘Underground Pentagon’

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Towering over the Carroll Valley in southwestern Adams County stands the United States government’s backup defense system. B...
Raven Rock

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- Towering over the Carroll Valley in southwestern Adams County stands the United States government's backup defense system.

Behind the security gate, the barbed wire fences, and multiple underground tunnels, lies the Raven Rock Mountain Complex, a military bunker operated by the Department of Defense, which essentially acts as a second Pentagon in the event of a nuclear attack or another catastrophic event which leaves Washington D.C. paralyzed.

Raven Rock, also known as "Site R" to government officials and locals, is located about 10 miles east of Waynesboro, six miles southwest of Fairfield, and six miles north of the Camp David Presidential Retreat in northern Maryland.

Beneath Raven Rock: Secrets inside Central PA’s ‘Underground Pentagon’

Its location is well-known, but mostly everything behind the Pentagon Police cruisers and security gates along Harbaugh Valley Road in Liberty Township is shrouded in secrecy.

"Everyone knows the mountain is there," said Fairfield Mayor Robert Stanley. "Most people have no idea what’s inside."

Stanley has been Fairfield's Mayor since 2006. Prior to that, he was a cryptologic intelligence officer in the Navy, and spent 38 years working for NASA.

Stanley knows something about what Raven Rock is like under the surface  -- he admits to doing things while with the Navy that he says "puts Site R to shame -- but he won't say if he's ever physically been inside the secretive military bunker.

"I'm not going to bite," he responded to persistent questions. "I had a very high security clearance in the Navy and NASA, and when I retire that security goes away."

Not even Raven Rock's most long-term neighbors know much more than a few popular rumors. Jill Ott, whose family has lived in a home in the shadow of the mountain along Gladhill Road for the last 56 years has seen little more than heavy military and police presence after the 9/11 attacks and helicopter touch downs.

Beneath Raven Rock: Secrets inside Central PA’s ‘Underground Pentagon’

Ott is a self-described "Army brat;" her father was stationed at Fort Ritchie, about five miles away in northern Maryland, during the height of the Cold War shortly after Raven Rock was built in the early 1950s. She says even he knew little to nothing about Raven Rock's secrets.

Beneath Raven Rock: Secrets inside Central PA’s ‘Underground Pentagon’

"I don`t know if it's true or not," Ott says, "But there`s supposed to be an underground tunnel from Virginia where they could drive up if they wanted to."

Ott is referring to the popular rumor that there is an elaborate underground network of tunnels between Washington D.C., nearby Camp David, and Raven Rock so the President or Vice President could escape harm if disaster strikes.

That rumor, according to one D.C. Insider, is categorically false.

Garrett Graff is the author of Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself--While the Rest of Us Die. It's a long title, but it tells the truth, he says, of what happens in case the United States gets plunged into a catastrophic scenario: a number of government officials will scatter to a number of underground military bunkers across the U.S. so there are still people in charge to run the country.

"What this is all about is to ensure someone is left behind to launch a nuclear attack," Graff says.

Garrett Graff has spent the better part of the last 15 years in Washington D.C. He is a former editor at Politico, and was editor-in-chief at Washingtonian Magazine. That is when, he says, he accidentally came across a colleague's "evacuation instructions" as he was leaving a parking garage. The instructions, Graff says, led to a secret bunker in West Virginia.

"That was enough to get me interested to go map the landscape of U.S. government secret plans," Graff said.

Four years later, Kavanaugh finished writing Raven Rock, which details not only the mountain complex in southern Adams County, but more than 100 other military bunkers across the country, like the NORAD air defense bunker in Colorado, and Mount Weather in Virginia, which is considered the President's bunker.

"These are not backyard fallout shelters," Graff said. "These are hollowed out mountains with small cities built inside."

In the case of Raven Rock, nearly 300,000 square feet of office space inside and beneath the Blue Ridge Summit, according to a 1991 newspaper article. Graff says it is big enough to hold 3,000 workers and government officials, sans family.

That is what happened on September 11, 2001. When the Pentagon was attacked after a plane was deliberately crashed into its side, Graff says Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of the Army Thomas White, as well as other Department of Defense officials, were evacuated by helicopter from the Pentagon to Raven Rock.

Vice President Dick Cheney, according to Graff, did not come immediately to Raven Rock on 9/11, as is rumored, but instead a still undisclosed location.

"It is still very much in use," Graff said.

In fact, it was due to the 9/11 attacks that caused Raven Rock is back to being fully functional. Construction on the military complex first started in President Truman's administration in response to the start of the Cold War -- "Harry's Hole," is what Mayor Stanley claims locals called it then, in reference to Harry Truman -- and needing a place to wisk government officials to in the event of a nuclear emergency. Since the September 11 attacks, Raven Rock has seen an annual appropriation in the federal budget, including nearly $45 million in funds for daily upkeep and yearly improvements in 2018.

Today, so little is still publicly known about Raven Rock, mostly because so few have been inside the bunker and even fewer will ever admit it.

Bob Jackson, township supervisor in Liberty Township where the complex is located, claims he knows nothing about Raven Rock, outside of a few helicopter landings.

"Zero," he says of his knowledge. "I know there's an antenna on top of the mountain."

Life in Adams County will continue in the shadow of Raven Rock, the United States' silent shield based in the heart of Central Pennsylvania.

"Inside every conspiracy theory there are hurdles of truth," Graff says. "Figuring out where that line is between fact and fiction, you may realize there might be a lot more truth than one imagines."