A Secret Landscape

America's Cold War Infrastructure

Last update: July 7, 2014 at 00:40

Please check back often as this site slowly evolves into a guide to the places and systems which helped protect America's security during those perilous years of the Cold War. Some of these facilities are still serving their original purposes, some have new roles, some are disused and neglected, some have been demolished, and a few existed only as proposals.

Announcements of updates to this site (and lots more interesting information and discussions) will be posted on the Cold War Communications e-mail list. To join, or to learn more about the list, go to the Yahoo! Groups ColdWarComms web page. If you'd prefer to be notified individually of site updates, just send me an e-mail.

If you have information about America's Cold War infrastructure you'd like to share, or have any questions about the material posted here, I look forward to hearing from you. I'd also welcome your comments about the implementation of this web site.

E-mail: Albert LaFrance, Falls Church, Virginia

Facilities, Systems, and Operating Plans

White House Army Signal Agency "Secure Television" memorandum from 1960

(214 KB PDF file)

Underground Records Storage Center, First National bank of Boston, Pepperell, MA

(1.5MB PDF file)

Emergency Broadcast System alert tone

(2MB AIFF file)

Ground Wave Emergency Network Final Operational Capability Fact Sheet

(circa 1986)

The Presidential Communications Railroad Car: Crate

(compiled by John Cross; 1.2 MB PDF file)

Atomic bomb-related patents

Bendix employment ad for guided-missile engineers, from 1956

GTE Hawaiian Tel

The Safeguard Anti-Ballistic Missile System

The Tower Shielding Facility at Oak Ridge, TN

A unique and impressive research installation supporting the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program

The U.S. Army Atchison, KS Storage Facility

Located in a former limestone mine, this huge underground space has served multiple purposes over the years

The FBI CW Radio Network

Tangier Radio Relay System

Citizens Band Radio

Office of Civil Defense and Mobilization

Inland Marine Radio History

Ship-to-shore communications for lake and river shipping.

Radio Personality Raises Communication in Loudoun County

How well-known broadcaster and ham radio operator Arthur Godfrey donated a public-safety radio system to this rural northern Virginia county in 1952 (2 MB Word document)

Long Island Lighting Company underground control center, Hicksville, NY


U.S. Navy Relocatable Over-the-Horizon Radar (ROTHR)

Operated by the Forces Surveillance Support Center; sites in Texas, Puerto Rico and Virginia

The OTH-B Radar Receiving Antenna, Tule Lake, CA (demolished)

Excerpts from Baltimore, MD Civil Defense Manual

The National Emergency Alarm Repeater

An early civil-defense public warning system, using power lines to transmit signals to home receivers

The Naval Security Group (NAVSECGRU)

Activities of the Naval Communication System

REL 2600 Troposcatter Radio Equipment

Used at Phu Lam, Vietnam and the AT&T "Project Office" hardened sites

The "Texas Towers"

Offshore radar platforms to detect enemy aircraft


Nuclear Testing

"Electronic 'Robot' Copies Code"

An article from 1956 about the "Trak" code converter, developed for the U.S. Navy, which converted Morse code to printed text.

The U.S. Navy's Special Project Fleet

Electronic-intelligence collection ships from the Cold War

U.S. Navy Circularly Disposed Antenna Arrays

Naval Communication Station San Diego (Imperial Beach), CA

Photos of the Circularly Disposed Antenna Array ("Elephant Cage") at this now-deactivated facility; click on small images to view full-size versions.

Radio Construction Company booklet

From the 1960s, describing the capabilities and recent projects of this engineering and construction firm which specialized in large antenna structures.

Diplomatic Telecommunications Service Regional Relay Facility, Opana, Oahu, HI

Former U.S. Coast Guard Omega station, Haiku, Oahu, HI

Built during WWII as a U.S. Navy VLF transmitter site

U.S. Navy extremely low frequency (ELF) submarine communications system

The Stony Brook Air Force Station

History, description and photos of the former nuclear weapons storage and maintenance facility in Massachusetts, associated with Westover Air Force Base


The AT&T "ML" Government Mobile Radio System

Jefferson County, WV Transmittter and Receiver Sites

District of Columbia Civil Defense Emergency Operations Center

Other State and Local Civil Defense facilities

Joint Chiefs of Staff Alerting Network / Command Post Alerting Network (JCSAN/COPAN)

A military voice communications network providing rapid and reliable connections between the National Military Command Center and Commander-in-Chief locations worldwide.

Communications for the Presidential Yacht

Several AT&T Long Lines facilities housed equipment providing radio communications to the Presidential yacht Sequoia, as it cruised the waterways of the Washington, DC area. These included the microwave stations at Marriott Hill, Maryland, Pomonkey, Maryland and Oak Grove, Virginia. A field trial of the radio system was conducted at the Edge Hill, Virginia coaxial-cable main station.

This AT&T memorandum from 1971 discusses the need for two additional radio base stations to serve the Presidential yacht and its support vessel:
p .1
p .2 (distribution list only)

The Washington Area Wideband System (WAWS)

A Western Union microwave network linking Department of Defense facilities

The Federal Telecommunications System

A long-distance network serving the civilian agencies of the federal government, built and operated by AT&T

The Echo-Fox Presidential Aircraft Communications Network

A UHF radio network designed, built and maintained by AT&T to provide communications for Air Force One

Missile Master Air Defense Control System, Fort Meade, MD

This first deployment of Missile Master is described in the March 1958 issue of Radio & TV News magazine:
p. 1
p. 2

"Communications Facilities at National Level", Defense Communications Agency secret briefing for the Secretary of Defense, March 1961

Department of State Emergency Relocation Site and Communications Station, Front Royal, VA (demolished)

These facilities were located at what is now the Smithsonian Institution's Conservation and Research Center. According to the Center's official history:

"In addition to the USDA functions, the Department of State used a portion of the Center's facilities as an Emergency Relocation site and a communications station. The State Department equipped several buildings as offices in case of national emergency--enough for the Secretary and 700 State Department employees. By 1972, all that was left of this activity was the communication station. In the winter of 1973, USDA decided to close down the Research Station's operations."

The AT&T "Project Offices"

Five nuclear-hardened, secure communications stations built by AT&T in the mid-1960s in sparsely-populated areas of the mid-Atlantic region.

AT&T Buckingham

Please use the AT&T "Project Offices" link above.

U.S. Office of Censorship/Wartime Information Security Program

A former classified facility at Western Maryland College

Interior Department Bomb Shelter, Harper's Ferry, WV

Naval Space Surveillance System (NAVSPASUR)

Naval Network and Space Operations Command, Dahlgren, VA
formerly the Naval Space Command

The Joint Emergency Evacuation Plan (JEEP)

From Dec. 23, 1961, with revisions on Feb. 2, 1962 and Feb. 15, 1963)

page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5 page 6 page 7 page 8 page 9

The Joint Air Transportation Service (JATS) Plan

From Jun. 10, 1960

page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5 page 6 page 7 page 8 page 9

Plans for Control of Transportation During National Emergencies

A general discussion of concepts, by the Deputy Assistant Director for Transportation of the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, presented at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in 1959.

The document is stored on the server as an Adobe PDF file. Right-click here to download and save the file (1.36 MB) to your computer.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Warning System

The communications network which activated Civil Defense sirens and alarms in Washington and surrounding jurisdictions

The 477L Nuclear Detonation Detection System

The 210-A Bomb Alarm System
(Can you help identify detector locations?)

Western Union Brochure from June 1960

From the Western Union collection (box 44), Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

U.S. Patent No. 3,147,380: Nuclear Bomb Explosion Detecting Device

Read a fascinating story about the Bomb Alarm, the Thule B-52 crash of 1968, and a very long phone line

The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, Bluemont, VA

The legendary emergency relocation site for the federal government.

Passive Microwave Repeater
Thurmont, MD

Mystery solved!

A visitor to this web site has positively identified the structure as a passive microwave repeater, part of a Bell Atlantic 6 GHz radio link between Thurmont and Frederick, MD. The link has been decommissioned but the repeater was not removed, due to the expense involved.

The web page for the passive repeater has been moved to my Bell System web site; the URL is http://long-lines.net/places-routes/Thurmont_repeater/index.html .

U.S. Air Force 789th Communications Squadron

Headquartered at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Maryland, this unit provides communications vital to national security.

The 789th operates the "Mystic Star" or Special Air Missions Communications (SAMCOM) radio network, which keeps the President and other senior officials in contact while airborne.

In addition, the 789th manages the GLOBAL radio network. In a nuclear war, GLOBAL would transmit Emergency Action Messages from the National Command Authority to the U.S. nuclear forces. In peacetime, GLOBAL carries a wide variety of defense communications.

Read the Squadron's history.

Davidsonville, Maryland Transmitter Site

Brandywine, Maryland Receiver Site

Presidential Emergency Facilities

Public Emergency Radio: the Decision Information Distribution System

"What You Should Know About the National Plan for Civil Defense and Defense Mobilization"

Booklet from 1958

Civil Defense 1960-1967: A Bibliographic Survey

An extensive contemporary bibliography, plus other relevant information (11 MB PDF file)

Federal Reserve Communications and Records Center (Mt. Pony)
Culpeper, VA

The Alternate Joint Communications Center
Blue Ridge Summit, PA

Also known as Site R and The Rock, this little-known underground facility is home to the Alternate National Military Command Center.

U.S. Army Strategic Communications Command
Fort Ritchie Site E
Tysons Corner, VA

A former microwave station for the Alternate Joint Communications Center

The Deep Underground Command Center (proposed)
Arlington, VA

These documents from the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, highly classified for more than 30 years, discuss a proposal for a nuclear-bomb-proof command post 3,500 feet (1,067 meters) underground, in the vicinity of the Pentagon.

Western Union

Mention the name "Western Union" and it's likely that most people will think of telegrams and money transfers. Less well known is the role played by The Western Union Telegraph Company in providing communications for national security during the Cold War. As a pioneer in data transmission and microwave radio communications, Western Union built and operated networks which carried important defense traffic.

Former employees of Western Union may wish to join The Retired Western Union Employees Association.

The Western Union Alumni web site offers historical information about the company, its technology and its services. Former employees are invited to register, and to share their knowledge and recollections.

The archives of the Western Union Telegraph Company are available for research at the Archives Center of the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. The Center's archivists have created a description and finding aids for the collection.

Western Union supported at least two defense communications networks in the nation's capital area: the Washington Area Wideband System (WAWS), and the Automatic Digital Network (AUTODIN). As its name implies, WAWS was limited to the Washington DC area; it linked various defense and intelligence-community facilities. AUTODIN was far more extensive, providing record communications service to military installations around the world.

The Western Union microwave network consisted of a chain of stations which reaching east and west across much of the country, with several branches going north and south.

Western Union also operated communications satellites, named "Westar"; select this link to view photos of WU's Sky Valley earth station (north of San Francisco) and San Francisco office.

One of Western Union's many innovations was the "Desk-Fax" machine, a small facsimile transceiver used to transmit messages between the company's commercial clients and its telegraph offices, speeding service and reducing the need for messengers.

An article titled An Improved Desk-Fax Transceiver, from the July 1952 issue of the Western Union Technical Review, describes the machine and its interface.

Here are some photos of the Desk-Fax model which was installed in patron's offices:

Southern Pacific Communications

Hyperbolic Radionavigation Systems


The American Telephone and Telegraph Company - The Bell System
Facilities and Networks with Cold War Significance

The Bell System's nationwide network made the company an obvious choice to provide vital defense communications links during the Cold War. AT&T constructed many dedicated facilities to meet the stringent reliability demands of its national-security customers.

General Bell System web pages

The U.S. Army Warrenton Training Center, Warrenton, VA

The Greenbrier Hotel, White Sulphur Springs, WV

A former relocation facility for the U.S. Congress, concealed within a luxury resort hotel. The bunker remained top secret from its construction in 1960 until its existence was revealed by the Washington Post in 1992.

Battery Cove Military Reservation, Alexandria, VA

U.S. Navy Very-Low-Frequency (VLF) Transmitting Station NSS (demolished)
Annapolis, MD

General information on defense communications

Article on AUTOVON and AUTODIN from the January 1966 issue of the Lenkurt "Demodulator"

Fact sheet on COMLOGNET, the predecessor to AUTODIN

From the Western Union collection (box 44), Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

New York Times article on COMLOGNET, Oct. 7, 1960

From the Western Union collection (box 44), Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution


From the Western Union collection (box 44), Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

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