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'Undisclosed location' disclosed

A visit offers some insight into Cheney hide-out

SITE R, Pa. -- Welcome to the undisclosed location.

Known familiarly to government insiders as the "underground Pentagon," this is where Vice President Dick Cheney set up shop in the aftermath of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and where he sometimes is when his office is being secretive about Cheney's whereabouts.

The location is a highly secure complex of buildings inside Raven Rock Mountain near Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., close to the Maryland-Pennsylvania state line and about seven miles north of Camp David.

A recent book, "A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies," by James Bamford, was credited with spilling the beans about the supposedly supersecret hideaway.

Still, there is great sensitivity about the compound, as emphasized to an uninvited reporter the other day who was inadvertently allowed to briefly enter a guardhouse.

"I work physical security at an undisclosed location in southern Pennsylvania, that's all I can say," said a well-armed fatigues-clad Army guard as he politely but firmly told the reporter that "everything you see is classified."

There is not all that much to be seen.

Site R -- also known as Raven Rock or the Alternate Joint Communications Center -- is a 53-year-old facility conceived at the start of the Cold War as an alternate command center in the event of nuclear war or an attack on Washington.

Sloping, round-humped Raven Rock Mountain sprouts a thicket of antennae, satellite dishes, and a microwave tower. From state Route 16, the main road that passes the mountain, two oversize metal doors in the hillside are visible through the heavy foliage giving it that Fortress of Solitude touch.

Information about Site R is available on the Internet, and its location -- and use by Cheney -- appeared in several news stories even before the publication of Bamford's book.

Cheney's disappearance to undisclosed locations -- a frequent occurrence after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- is believed to be unprecedented for the nation's highest elected officials.

As described by Bamford, the mountain also has a helipad. "But deep inside the hard greenstone granite mountain is a secret world of five buildings, each three stories tall, computer-filled caverns, and a subterranean water reservoir," he writes.

Within hours of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bamford said, five helicopters landed on the helipad, a convoy of sport utility vehicles with black-tinted windows arrived at the main entrance, and tan buses "began laboring up the steep, two-lane road to the heavily guarded, unmarked service entrance. Among those early to arrive was Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz."

The unmarked back entrance is a twisting lane off Harbaugh Valley Road. To the unknowing, the chain-link fence with a double-wide coil of razor wire might be a tip-off, as would the guardhouse and a big red "warning" sign.

Confirmation came in the form of a station wagon with a US Postal Service sticker; the carrier drove up the road, delivering mail to the half-dozen houses outside the gate. He acknowledged that this was one of the "four or five" entrances to Site R.

"We don't deliver their mail," he explained. Asked whether Site R had its own service, he smiled: "I would say so."

His last delivery was to a ranch-style home abutting the fence. Jesse Bowman has lived near the compound all his life, the last five years in this house.

"Best security in the world. Better than living in the White House," he said. "I wouldn't want to live anywhere else."

Bowman gets along well with his neighbors. "They're nice people," he said.

"But they don't like visitors," his wife added.

"You're on camera right now," Bowman said.

The main entrance is a short distance up Harbaugh Valley Road, past a cemetery on the right as you leave Route 16.

This looked more official. Concrete dividers impeded direct passage to the main gate. A large brown sign read: "Raven Rock Mountain Complex. Site R. Secured by the Raven Rock Military Police Company." Another sign warned that the area was restricted and so designated by the secretary of defense.

There was no cellphone service. In fact, a phone seemed to turn itself off.

One of the heavily armed soldiers allowed a reporter to approach and identify himself. When an outside phone failed to work, the reporter was invited into the guardhouse to use the house phone.

Before long, one of the guards was chatting away about having seen the film "Fahrenheit 9/11."

"There are so many people who haven't seen this stuff," the soldier said. "And this really opened their eyes."

Given the surroundings, the conversation seemed unusual. The guards were getting a little antsy, so the reporter decided to return to his car. The guards promised to come and get him if the contact called back.

About 10 minutes later, one of the soldiers approached to explain that the reporter had really seen more than the guards would have liked, and encouraged him not to describe any of the security measures or locations of cameras, things like that.

As extra encouragement, the guard mentioned possible fines and jail time for a breach of security. "Everything here is classified," he said sternly.

Rain was beginning to fall, the edge of an approaching thunderstorm. Site R quickly vanished in the rear view, hidden in plain sight.

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