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USS Wright

Ghosts of the East Coast:  Doomsday Ships

(The article is below the INTRODUCTION & MISCELLANEOUS items.)



The original article was published in the Cold War Times (Feb. 2006, vol. 6, issue 1, page 9).

A highly condensed version of this article was published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on July 16, 2017 with the heading “Karl C. Priest: Do not forget the Cold War and the reality of Russia.”

A fellow Cold War vet called me a “Cold Warrior” and I pointed out that I was only a flunky. So, who would qualify to be labeled a “Cold Warrior”?

For more about my time aboard the USS Wright (CC-2), and facts about the Cold War, see USS WRIGHT (CC-2).

Click here to go straight to the addendum of this article and scroll to the most recent addition. All entries labeled “TOP SECRET” have been declassified.

The best military, of any period--including the future, cannot ultimately save you.


Ghosts of the East Coast: Doomsday Ships

By Cold War Veteran, Karl C. Priest January 16, 2006  (revised 4-20-19)

In the early stages of the Cold War an impending "Doomsday" weighed heavily upon the minds of Americans. President Truman instituted the Federal Civil Defense Administration which began issuing brochures, films, and radio advertisements to prepare citizens to survive a nuclear attack.  Dog tags were issued to many school children who also went through "duck and cover" drills as they were trained to curl up under their school desks after a nuclear bomb detonation flash of light.  Siren tests sounded at regular intervals and national and local publications ran articles about the imminent danger of nuclear war. Radios dials were marked with triangles at stations that would be used by CONELRAD (1)  broadcasts which would kick in as soon as all regular broadcasts ceased after the alarm sounded. Some American citizens were building backyard bomb shelters while local government, as well as private corporations, established larger shelters under various buildings.  Many believed the best of these efforts were hopeless in the event of a nuclear nightmare.

The military kept strategic bombers in the air and submarines at sea. The subs carried ballistic missiles (SLBMs--Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles) which provided a mobile and stealth means of carrying powerful nuclear firepower.  A Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) was developed to detect missile launches coming in from Russia.  A DEW (2) line consisting of enormous radar structures was established to warn against nuclear attack coming across the North Pole. Each side raced to gain nuclear superiority with Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).  The United Sates developed Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry (MIRV) weapons.  Although not an official strategy of the military, a concept that emphasized neither side would survive a nuclear war was known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

Nevertheless the United States government made contingency plans for Continuity of Government (COG) in the event of a nuclear attack.  Several Command Posts were developed as part of a Doomsday Plan to relocate the President (with his Emergency Action Documents--EADs), Joint Chiefs, Cabinet, Supreme Court, and Congress to secure locations.  These Alternate Joint Communication Centers (AJCC) were part of the National Military Command System (NMCS).  There were three factors that were crucial in determining the likelihood of AJCC success: (1) arriving safely at the location, (2) avoiding bomb effects, and (3) attaining important communications links.

Seeking to be victorious, in a potential nuclear war, authorities developed a plan for using the United States nuclear arsenal and designated it the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). Goals of the Doomsday Plan (a gruesome term that included SIOP, COG, and various sub-strategies) were to make sure order was preserved in society, the economy was not destroyed, food was rationed, and cultural artifacts (such as the Declaration of Independence) were rescued.  There were nuclear flash sensors placed around the country. Code words were provided for selected officials and phone numbers were given that bypassed the normal phone systems.  A broadcasting center was set up under the name Wartime Information Security Program (WISP) to control what information went to the public, including pre-recorded messages from the President. However, the ultimate goal was to make sure government survived and was able to maintain adequate information for decision making based on surveillance and analysis of world events.  To do that it was necessary to establish communications between the President and commanders of military forces as well as with leaders of allied and enemy governments.

Although government certainly consisted of several entities, the President was probably the top priority of COG for obvious political and symbolic reasons. Therefore, the President needed to be transported safely to a location that had maximum bomb avoidance and communication capabilities. Logically more than one option was made available.

Obviously, a presidential “bomb shelter” was a necessity. Code-named "Site R", and built deep under Raven Rock mountain, a Deep Underground Communication Center (DUCC) was coordinated by the Army from Ft. Ritchie near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border a few miles from Camp David.  To disperse other governmental leaders and functions other bunkers were located at Berryville, Virginia under Mt. Weather (code-named "High Point"); Culpepper, Virginia (Mt. Pony); and White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia under the Greenbrier Resort (code-named Casper). 

Some of the underground Command Posts had several hundred full time 24-hour support personnel and a capacity for maintaining about 3000 "guests".  The bunkers had thick walls of steel reinforced concrete and some had barbed wire and armed guards with dogs.  Besides communications activities the centers had individual priorities that included Federal Reserve computers, billions of dollars in currency, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) national emergency coordinating equipment.  There were sleeping quarters, war rooms, amphitheaters, kitchens, dining areas, infirmaries, brigs, psychiatric cells, barbershops, storage rooms, sewage treatment facilities, body storage/disposal areas, gun ranges, and decontamination showers.  These were located in buildings up to four stories high.  There were detailed plans in place for every conceivable scenario including keeping a current database of medications for members of Congress.

Regarding the relocation of the President, a weakness of the DUCC was the vulnerability of the antennas needed for communication.  Also, there was the danger of sabotage (including attacks upon officials attempting to enter the bunkers) from enemy agents already inside the country.  Since the projects were so monumental when they were constructed, many people had some knowledge about the sites.

Another variable to increase the odds of the President surviving Doomsday was a moveable location which made targeting more difficult. The National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP), code-named “Night Watch”, consisted of several shielded and specially configured Boeing airplanes (stationed at Andrews Air Force Base near DC) with at least one plane ready for take-off within 15 minutes after an attack alert. When the president traveled on Air Force One, a NEACP plane often flew to a nearby location.  

Weaknesses of NEACP, for presidential relocation, were getting off the ground in time, jet intakes getting fouled, and the limited amount of time the planes could stay in flight. 

A National Mobile Land Command Post (NMLCP) was proposed at one point.  Declassified documents indicate it was not recommended for implementation, but the documents found by this writer do not say why.  A submarine Command Post was also planned, but there were problems, at that time, with getting evacuated personnel aboard and having good communications abilities.  Both of these alternatives may be more viable today (2006) and are probably highly classified.

Beginning in late 1950 there was a special unit of helicopter teams (code-named "Outpost Mission") stationed at Olmstead Air Force Base in Pennsylvania.  Their duty was to fly to the White House and relocate the president to one of the sites briefly described above or to a National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA).  Although the DUCC and NEACP options still exist (2006), as the "Doomsday Clock" (3) moved closer to midnight during the highly volatile 1960's, the NECPA ship was very likely the most workable choice for assurance of presidential survival had the United States been the target of a nuclear attack.

Two ships were uniquely configured and assigned the NECPA duties. (4) The NECPA ships had good maneuverability to assure safe arrival, a reasonable probability of bomb effect avoidance, and were capable of state-of-the-art communications. The sister ships USS Northampton (CC-1) (5) and USS Wright (CC-2) alternated the alert duty every two weeks as a potential floating White House/Pentagon.  The NECPA strategy was to keep one of the ships somewhere off the East Coast.  With only the customary naval acknowledgements, just outside of Norfolk, the ships would silently sail past each other as the alert ship was relieved in order to enter port for replenishing and much needed rest and recreation for the crew. 

Both the Wright and the Northampton had a huge dish-like structure used for Troposphere Scatter Communications (TROPO.) (6) There were land based TROPO dish sites located in Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Delaware. (7)  The alert ship usually operated within a few hundred miles of one of those land sites.  The gyro-stabilized TROPO equipment provided the capability for access to commercial and military telephone networks. To maintain operational security the ships took steps to decrease radio direction finding activities from hostile sources attempting to trace the location of the alert ship.  The TROPO system provided, difficult to zero in on, telephone, teletype, and data circuits with top priority for the Command Posts. The NECPA ships used voice radio call signs Zenith (Wright) and Sea Ruler (Northampton) during communication with other ships, aircraft and shore stations.

The mission of the two ships was to handle communications and command data for the strategic direction of military operations world-wide.  The ships, operated under the SIOP, and were always ready for the president (with special presidential quarters). Both ships had access to White House Situation Room classified information.  If a nuclear war had erupted the alert ship was third in line behind the Strategic Air Command (SAC) (8) and the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), for full command to maintain Continuity of Government and control of the United States Armed Forces and nuclear weapons.  

The Wright and Northampton had interior spaces capable of pressurization to prevent contamination from nuclear fallout. The Northampton  had an exterior salt-water wash down system.  Each ship had a smaller replica of the Pentagon's War Room.  The Wright's command compartments had projection equipment with large screens and a wall of status boards and maps mounted on tracks which could be rolled into view.  One entire space was filled with teletype printers.  The crew totaled over 1,200 with 200 of those with duties just to operate and maintain the communications equipment. 

Life aboard ship (9) was tedious and stressful, mixed with friendship and macho mischief.  There were highly restricted areas where only those with appropriate security clearances were allowed to enter. Men from each branch of the military service, as well as CIA personnel, were assigned to both Wright and Northampton.  Also, many government officials and high ranking military officers from all branches of service frequently visited each ship.  The command ships were kept "spit-shined" from stem to stern, but the crews enjoyed excellent chow since the cooks requisitioned the same supplies to prepare meals for all of the ship's company and guests.  In 1968 the Wright received the prestigious Ney Award (10) for the best Large Mess Afloat for the entire fleet worldwide.

The USS Wright was the newer of the two ships both of which had been converted from previous designations (Northampton from CLC-1, cruiser, in 1961 and Wright from CVL-49, aircraft carrier, in 1963).  She had, for that era, the most elaborate and powerful communications equipment ever installed aboard a ship.  Her "voice of command" could reach any ship, aircraft, or station in the world. Two antenna masts were 114 feet tall (156 feet above the water) and able to withstand 100-mph winds.  The Wright had satellite communications (SATCOM) and carried a specially designed helicopter (11) that pulled a wire cable nearly two miles high to serve as an antenna for SVLF (Shipboard Very Low Frequency) communication with submarines. A Battle “E” was awarded to the Wright in 1968 for highest scores in her Atlantic Fleet cruiser-destroyer force squadron competition.

Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson went aboard the Northampton before the Wright was commissioned.  In April of 1967, the Wright accompanied President Johnson to the Latin America Summit Conference held in Uruguay.  In January 1968, the Wright was urgently called back from the Florida area and placed on high alert when the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea.  (See author’s end note.) President Johnson traveled to Central America in July of 1968 for a meeting of the Presidents of Central American Republics.  The Wright was in the shipyards and was unable to get underway.  With short notice, the Northampton left port at about 0200, traversed the Panama Canal, and lay off the Pacific Coast of Latin America while President Johnson met with the leaders of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala.

The NECPA ship, which was on alert, often sat just off the East Coast of the United States while running helicopter and communications operations. Coastal residents would go to bed with nothing on the horizon and awaken to see a dark, strangely shaped, ship silhouette materialize through the morning fog.  The ship would be there for a day or so and then "disappear" out to sea leaving an empty horizon.  This experience probably had the aura of a mysterious, even ghostly, occurrence.  Although it was rumored that a submarine shadowed the alert ship, as far as the eye could tell the NECPA ship cruised all alone.  At the top of each daily Deck Log for the duty ship was this entry:  "00-04 Wright is alert ship NECPA operating independently in accordance with COMCRUDESLANT (12) message 171840Z of Feb 1968". (13)

The NECPA mission was a vital part of the Cold War for almost ten years. The men who served aboard the NECPA ships served their country well and contributed to keeping the world from a nuclear holocaust.  The USS Northampton and the USS Wright were decommissioned a few weeks apart in the spring of 1970 when communication capabilities became more sophisticated. The NECPA ships also became susceptible to satellite surveillance and Soviet aircraft based in Cuba. Additionally, Soviet submarines had become more improved and numerous in the Atlantic.  Both the Wright and Northampton  were scrapped long before the United States  won the Cold War in 1991. Now, only memories remain of the East Coast “Ghost Ships" that waited for a Doomsday that did not happen on their watch. 


1. CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) was intended to prevent enemy aircraft from using commercial radio frequencies for navigational guidance.  In 1963 this gave way to the  Emergency Broadcast System. 

2. DEW (Distant Early Warning) was a line of radar towers (resembling huge billboards) that were constructed beginning in 1954. The purpose was to detect an over-the-pole attack from long-range bombers or missiles. The line ran from Alaska, across Canada, to Greenland and connected to similar sites running from Iceland to England. The communication system used was TROPO which included a tie in to Europe.

3.The "Doomsday Clock" is symbolic for nuclear destruction at midnight.  It was originated in 1947 by scientists at the University of Chicago and set at seven minutes before midnight.  Depending on the world situation the clock was moved forward or backward. In 1968 it was moved from twelve minutes until midnight to seven minutes before midnight.  It was moved back three minutes in 1969 due to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and in 1972, with the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) the clock was moved back to twelve minutes until midnight.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

4. The USS Saipan (CVL-48) was begun as CC-3, but was changed to a Communication Major Relay ship (AGMR-2) and renamed the Arlington.

5. Command Communications

6. TROPO communication was an alternative for use along with short-wave and trans-Atlantic cables. The technique was to beam a signal above the horizon where the earth’s curvature would allow the signal to reach the troposphere where the signal would scatter downward beyond the horizon.,,sid9_gci333317,00.html

7. These facilities were Otis Air Force Base at Cape Cod, MA; Cedar Island, NC (operated by an officer and about 12 enlisted men); and—the largest—at Lewes, DE. The Lewes site was at Ft. Miles on Cape Henlopen. A photo of the Lewes TROPO towers is located at (NOTE: I am currently researching for verification of these facilities. See Footnote #7 Notes at the bottom.)

8. In case the SAC Command Center was somehow disabled, the back-up plan was to keep a plane in the air which could mirror the SAC ground functions. This program was known as “Looking Glass” and operated 24/7 year round from 1961 until 1990 when the planes were placed on ground alert.

9. For a description of life aboard the USS Northampton see and for the USS Wright see

10. All Hands, November 1968, pp. 18-21. Also see “Best Deep Sink”.

11. The experimental helicopter was a Kaman QH-43. The Wright also carried a general purpose UH-2A helicopter.

12. Commander, Cruiser-Destroyer Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet

13. The reference number and date differed at times.  The ship name would be the one on alert.


"A Secret Landscape:  The Cold War Infrastructure of the Nation's Capital Region".

"Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940".

Conway's: All the World's Fighting Ships.  Robert Gardiner, ed.1983

Dictionary of Americas Fighting Ships.  James L. Mooney, ed. 1983

"Foreign Relations, 1964-1968.  National Security Policy

Jane's Fighting Ships. Raymond V. B. Blackman, Ed.  1971

Ships and Aircraft of the US Fleet.  Fahey. 8th Edition

"Theory on United States Civil Defense During Cold War". page&gid=01336001151081997828222164

"U. S. Nuclear History".

"When Bomb Shelters Were All the Rage"


Aguilo, Franklin A.  "S.I.O.P-The Challenge of Limited Nuclear War". www.sais_jhu/depts/strategic/courses/summer03_strategyandpolicy/SIOP_paper.pdf

Coloday, Len and Gettlin, Robert. Silent Coup:  Removal of a President.  St. Martins Press, NY. 1991, pp. 75-76. (These authors point out that Bob Woodward served aboard the USS Wright from about 1965 to 1967. Woodward, along with another reporter of the Washington Post, Carl Bernstein, revealed the Watergate scandal.)

Gup, Ted.  "Civil Defense Doomsday Hideaway".   Time. Dec. 9, 1991 : 26-29.

Gup, Ted.  "The Doomsday Blueprints".  Time.  Aug. 10, 1992 : 32-39.

Johannesen, S. K.  "Undisclosed Location".  Queen's Quarterly, vol.111:1, Spring 2004: 23-33.

Priest, Karl C.  Ship documents and personal notes and recollections from enlisted service aboard the USS Wright during 1968. [One pertinent note from a letter the author wrote on 30 January 1968 reads: “Well we got about 160 miles on the way to Florida and then got called back. It had something to do with the situation in Korea and, you know, we have to stay clost (sic) to the President. On the way back we hit top speed… We’ll just cruise around and around a few miles off the coast. That’s seven days from today.”]

Tyler, Tim D.  "National Emergency Command Post-Afloat".   (Mr. Tyler has done considerable research on Continuity of Government and NECPA, but removed his web site soon after the 911 terrorist attacks.)


There are interesting YouTube videos by searching for “Cold War”, “Continuity of Government (COG)”, “Cold War bunkers”, "MAD”, etc. You can actually see the Northampton at from 5:55 to 6:47 in THE ANSWER TO THE PRESIDENTS CALL: Military Cold War Exercises in the 1960’s.

Also see USS Wright (CC-2).


^From brochure about the USS Wright (1968).

This is a Tropo tower. (Tropospheric scatter) “Troposcatter allows microwave communication beyond the horizon. It was developed in the 1950s and used for military communications until  communications satellites  largely replaced it in the 1970s.” The troposphere is the lowest layer of the earth’s atmosphere.


^From brochure about the USS Wright (1968).


Added 4-9-2014

>Two officers, aboard each ship, had orders to be present if the top secret authentication codes for nuclear war orders were handled or transferred in any way. The codes were secured with two combination locks and each officer knew one combination.

>A large section of the ship was a powerful VLF transmitter, with vacuum tubes taller than an average man.  Each stage of the transmitter was contained in a separate compartment with posted designations such as "Pi Network Room".

>In 1960 the USS Triton traveled around the globe completely submerged. When the sub returned to America the sub surfaced off the coast of Delaware and a helicopter picked up the captain and flew him to the White House. Along with specially configured surface ships the Triton became one of the submarines used to extend the DEW line across the oceans. In the early sixties these radar-picket vessels became obsolete due to advances in technology. There is some speculation that the Triton became an alternate national command post.

>The National Military Command System (NMCS) was part of the Worldwide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS). Because of the crucial communication and intelligence requirements, the NMCS had to “be the most responsive, reliable, and survivable system” that could be provided. 

>Also see “Nuclear Football” (nickname for the case containing documents needed by the president to launch nuclear weapons), National Command Authorities—NCA (the top of the SIOP chain of command), and “Designated Survivor” (The Cabinet member assigned to be at a secure location while the president and other high-ranking officials are gathered together.

Added 11-4-2018

>The Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) was the United States' general plan for nuclear war from 1961 to 2003. The SIOP gave the President of the United States a range of targeting options, and described launch procedures and target sets against which nuclear weapons would be launched. The plan integrated the capabilities of the nuclear triad of strategic bombers, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), and sea-based submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). The SIOP was a highly classified document, and was one of the most secret and sensitive issues in U.S. national security policy. The first SIOP, titled SIOP-62, was finished on 14 December 1960 and implemented on 1 July 1961 (the start of fiscal year 1962). The SIOP was updated annually…

The execution of SIOP-62 was estimated to result in 285 million dead and 40 million casualties in the Soviet Union and China. Presented with all the facts and figures, Thomas D. White of the Air Force found the Plan "splendid." Disregarding the human aspect, SIOP-62 represented an outstanding technological achievement: SIOP-62 represented a technical triumph in the history of war planning. In less than fifteen years the United States had mastered a variety of complex technologies and acquired the ability to destroy most of an enemy's military capability and much of the human habitation of a continent in a single day. The first SIOP, (was) based on the massive retaliation doctrine…

During 1961–1962, the Kennedy administration revised this plan as supervised by McNamara. He aimed to change the doctrine from massive retaliation to flexible response. SIOP-63 took effect in July 1962 and remained mostly unchanged for more than 10 years. Instead of one "spasm" attack, it proposed five escalating attack options…

>More about Night Watch:

The Boeing E-4 Advanced Airborne Command Post (AACP), the current "Nightwatch" aircraft,[2] is a strategic command and control military aircraft operated by the United States Air Force (USAF). The E-4 series are specially modified from the Boeing 747-200B for the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP) program. The E-4 serves as a survivable mobile command post for the National Command Authority, namely the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, and successors. The four E-4Bs are operated by the 1st Airborne Command and Control Squadron of the 595th Command and Control Group located at Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska. An E-4B when in action is denoted a "National Airborne Operations Center.

Accessed Nov. 14, 2020.

Lots more details are at the site.

>The Ground-Mobile Command Center was, or is, a U.S. Army program to develop and deploy hardened and secure, mobile command posts for use by the President of the United States to command retaliation and counterattack by the U.S. armed forces in response to a catastrophic assault against North America…

Colloquially known as "doomsday trucks", ground-mobile command centers were reportedly put into service and positioned in locations around the United States that were considered unlikely to be targeted in an initial nuclear volley launched by a warring state. According to one report these locations were in Colorado and Nebraska They would be supported by co-located fuel depots and spare parts. As intended, the vehicles would not be the primary transportation mode for the president, but would rather be used only after the air evacuation of the National Command Authority from an area of danger at which point they would "gradually take over full command operations in the post-attack period".

Similar programs
The United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) operates a "mobile consolidated control center" (MCCC) for use by the combatant commander (CCDR) as an "alternative HQ" for coordination of emergency and counteroffensive operations following a mainland invasion of the United States. The MCCC consists of a convoy of trucks described as a "survivable, road-mobile backup" from which the CCDR can command U.S. military forces in repelling an attack, should primary and secondary facilities be destroyed or overrun.

“Trucks Tested as Nuclear Strike Posts

The (18-wheel tractor-trailer) trucks, known formally as Ground Mobile command Centers, are part of a broader program known as the World Wide Military Command and Control System or WWMCCS.
Pittsburg Post-Gazette September 27, 1985 pg. A13,5945323&hl=e

Added 12-5-2018

>Navy Communication Stations (NAVCOMMSTA) around the world. I had orders (which were canceled—see my Testimony) to Sangley Point. Also, see Cavite, Philippines.

>The cold war and the American war in Vietnam cannot be disentangled. Had it not been for the cold war, the U.S., China, and the Soviet Union would not have intervened in what would likely have remained a localized anticolonial struggle in French Indochina. The cold war shaped the way the Vietnam War was fought and significantly affected its outcome. The war in Vietnam in turn influenced the direction taken by the cold war after 1975.

>US Navy Radio Communications - 1950s & 1960s has lots of information about U.S. Naval communications.

Added 12-6-2018

>MODEL of the USS Wright (CC-2)

>A Continuity of Operations Plan (or Continuity of Government Plan) (snips) has been a part of U.S. government operations since at least the Cold War, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower provided (via executive order) various measures designed to ensure that the government of the United States would be able to continue operating after a nuclear war.

These measures included construction of underground facilities such as "Mount Weather", a hollowed-out putatively nuclear-weapon-proof mountain in western Virginia with a mailing address in Berryville, Virginia. The public can now tour one such facility, intended to house the entire United States Congress, on the grounds of the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. (See also Project Greek Island) Other provisions of the plans included executive orders designating certain government officials to assume Cabinet and other executive-branch positions and carry out the responsibilities of the position if the primary officeholders are killed.

Project Greek Island (snips) was a United States government continuity program located at the Greenbrier hotel in West Virginia

In the late 1950s, the United States government approached the Greenbrier resort and sought its assistance in creating a secret emergency relocation center to house Congress in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. The classified, underground facility was built at the same time as the West Virginia Wing, an above-ground addition to the hotel, from 1959 to 1962. For 30 years, The Greenbrier owners maintained an agreement with the federal government that, in the event of an international crisis, the entire resort property would be converted to government use, specifically as the emergency location for the legislative branch.

The underground facility contained a dormitory, kitchen, hospital, and a broadcast center for members of Congress. The broadcast center had changeable seasonal backdrops to allow it to appear as if members of Congress were broadcasting from Washington, D.C. A  100-foot (30 m) radio tower was installed  4.5 miles (7.2 km) away for these broadcasts. The largest room is "The Exhibit Hall",  89 feet (27 m) by  186 feet (57 m) beneath a ceiling nearly  20 feet (6.1 m) high and supported by 18 support columns. Adjoining it are two smaller auditoriums, one seating about 470 people, big enough to host the 435-member House of Representatives, and the smaller with a seating capacity of about 130, suitable as a temporary Senate chamber. The Exhibit Hall itself could be used for joint sessions of Congress. The facility had a six-month supply of food, periodically refreshed.

What was used by The Greenbrier guests for business meetings, was actually a disguised workstation area for members of Congress complete with four hidden blast doors. Two of the doors were large enough to allow vehicles to enter. One weighed more than  28 short tons (25 t) and measured  12 feet 3 inches (3.73 m) wide and  15 feet (4.6 m) high. Another weighed more than  20 short tons (18 t). The doors were  19.5 inches (50 cm) thick.

The two-foot thick walls of the bunker were made of reinforced concrete designed to withstand a nearby nuclear blast.

The center was maintained by government workers posing as hotel audiovisual employees, and operated under a dummy company named Forsythe Associates based in Arlington, Virginia. The company's on-site employees maintained that their purpose was to maintain the hotel's 1100 televisions. The company's first manager was John Londis, a former cryptographic expert with the Army Signal Corps. He had a top-secret security clearance and was stationed at the Pentagon. Many of these same workers are now employed by the hotel and, for a time, gave guided tours. The complex is still maintained by The Greenbrier, and the facility remains much as it was in 1992, when the secret was revealed in the national press. While almost all of the furnishings were removed following the decommissioning of the bunker, the facility now has similar period furnishings to approximate what the bunker looked like while it was still in operation. Two of the original bunks in the dormitories remain.

The bunker was designed to be incorporated into the public spaces of the hotel so as to not draw attention. Much of the bunker space was visible to the public but went undetected for years, including The Exhibition Hall in the West Virginia Wing, which differs from other public spaces in the hotel due to large concrete columns present for reinforcing. Adjacent to the entrance of The Exhibition Hall is one of the original blast doors which can now be seen openly, the original screen which used to hide its presence removed.

AT&T provided phone service for both The Greenbrier Hotel and the bunker. All calls placed from the bunker were routed through the hotel's switchboard to make it appear as if they originated from the hotel itself. The communications center in the bunker today contains representatives of three generations of telephone technology used.

Although the bunker was kept stocked for 30 years, it was never actually used as an emergency location, even during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The bunker's existence was not acknowledged until The Washington Post revealed it in a 1992 story; immediately after the Post story, the government decommissioned the bunker.

"Tour The Greenbrier Bunker". PBS (website). Retrieved 2009-11-01.
Gup, Ted (May 31, 1992).  "The Ultimate Congressional Hideaway".  The Washington Post. p.  W11.
"The Secret Bunker Congress Never Used". NPR (website).

>The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center (snips) is a civilian command facility in the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia, used as the center of operations for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Also known as the High Point Special Facility (HPSF), its preferred designation since 1991 is "SF".

The facility is a major relocation site for the highest level of civilian and military officials in case of national disaster, playing a major role in U.S. continuity of government (per the Continuity of Operations Plan).

Mount Weather is the location of a control station for the FEMA National Radio System (FNARS), a high frequency radio system connecting most federal public safety agencies and U.S. military with most of the states. FNARS allows the president to access the Emergency Alert System.

The site was brought into the public eye by The Washington Post, when the government facility was mentioned while reporting on the December 1, 1974, crash into Mount Weather of TWA Flight 514, a Boeing 727 jetliner

Located in the  Blue Ridge Mountains, access to the operations center is available via State Route 601 (also called Blueridge Mountain Road) in  Bluemont, Virginia. The facility is located near  Berryville,  48 miles (77   km)  from  Washington, D.C.

According to a letter to the editor of The Washington Post, after the  September 11 attacks, most of the  congressional leadership was evacuated to Mount Weather by helicopter.

Added 12-9-2018



Both the Wright and the Northampton are included under DIA
(DIA-Defense Intelligence Agency. SSO- Ship Security Officer source: )

Red arrow added by Karl Priest.

>AUTODIN was the Air Force’s first automatic, fully electronic, transistorized, high speed data communications network. This network was a common system that linked more than 300 Air Force, Department of Defense and defense industry users for the purpose of rapidly exchanging information…The basic function of AUTODIN was to accept, process, store and deliver digital message traffic to and from subscribers located around the world. Between November 1962 and February 1963, AUTODIN was fielded in five locations across the country…Beginning in October 1967, ASCs were fielded overseas and the first of eleven locations became operational at Clark AB, Philippines. In the months following, more ASCs would be added and accepted. Centers in counties like Thailand and Germany added to the operational capability of this now global network. Each ASC was designed to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The centers were maintained at a high state of readiness and no single points of failure could affect the operational capability of the centers. This design ensured the highest degree of reliability, message security and integrity.

December 1968

>The Air Force and the Worldwide Military Command and Control System 1961-1965
(August 1966)

National Emergency Command Post Afloat

(S-Gp 1) The Atlantic Command initiated the National Emergency
Command Post Afloat (NECPA) in March 1962, using the converted cruiser
U.8.S. Northampton. In 1963 the Navy commissioned the U.S.S. Wright, a converted auxiliary aircraft transport, to join the Northampton. From mid-1964 the Navy alternated the ships, keeping one at sea or on alert status in port at all times. The Joint Staff operation teams consisted of 17 officers and 22 enlisted personnel with the ships' crews affording support. 19

(S-Gp 3) Since the Northampton was scheduled for replacement it received only marginal improvements. The Wright on the other hand was progressively modified to achieve the utmost operating efficiency and to accommodate national command authorities and their staffs for protracted periods. 20

19. Memo (S), DSOD to CJCS 19 Feb 62, subj: Decision on Elements of the NMCS; JCSM 412-64 (S), 14 May 64.

20. Memo (S), ASOD to Secys of Mil Depts et al, 8 Feb 65, subj: Consolidated c3 Program Review for Calendar Year 1965.

Page 57 (in part) of actual document


DSOD Defense and Space Operation Division or Department Secretary of Defense
CJCS Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
NMCS National Military Command System

>Joint Chiefs of Staff: The principal military advisory group to the President of the United States, composed of the chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force and the commandant of the Marine Corps.

>Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara (snips)

Washington, February 26, 1965. JCSM–129–65

4. With regard to the alternate command centers of the National Military Command System (NMCS), the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that:
a. The study’s recommendation prejudges the conclusions of a separate study currently being undertaken by the Joint Chiefs of Staff regarding the optimum number of National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA) ships required for the NMCS.
b. The National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP) program, in which one or more of three EC 135 aircraft are maintained on continuous ground alert status, represents the minimum acceptable airborne command post posture.
c. There is firm need to assure, to the extent feasible, the survival of the Presidency during any future conflicts; and the circumstances of a future crisis or conflict may be such as to preclude the relocation of the President to one of the existing alternate facilities. In this light, the proposed DUCC represents a potentially effective means for assuring survival of the Presidency to an extent not now provided by the NMCS.
5. The Joint Chiefs of Staff:
a. Concur in the study’s comments on the NEACP.
b. Agree in principle on the NECPA as an important element of the NMCS. In this connection, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are currently addressing the optimum posture for the NECPA and upon completion will forward their recommendations.

>HISTORY Channel Jun 27, 2017

Inside the Government’s Top-Secret Doomsday Hideouts

Floating White House—Atlantic Ocean
Beginning in 1962, two special Navy command ships—the light cruiser USS Northampton and light aircraft carrier USS Wright—were considered the best options for evacuating the president from Washington, D.C., in the event of a nuclear attack. Under the National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA) plan, one of the two “Floating White Houses” was always at sea in the Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay or shadowing the president around the world. The ships carried special Joint Chiefs personnel and featured elaborate staterooms with full communications capabilities.

>The programming language dialect NELIAC was developed by and named after the lab. NELIAC was the brainchild of Harry Huskey, at the time Chairman of the ACM, who had a keen interest in porting applications in a machine-independent form. ALGOL 58 gave NEL the framework for an implementation, and work commenced in 1958, but was not fully developed until 1961. NELIAC was used at NEL to support experimental anti-submarine systems and Command and Control Systems development, and later, at the Navy Command Systems and Support Activity (NAVCOSSACT) in Washington DC in support of the National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA) project which was installed on many large ships starting in 1966. This was the world's first self-compiling compiler and was ported to many other computers in the Department of Defense, it also included the NELOS operating system development used for large scale applications (unique to the USQ-20 Navy shipboard computer and its commercial version, the UNIVAC 490). Many other versions existed for a variety of computers because the ease of portability and the rapid one-pass compile times.

>SVLF (Shipboard Very Low Frequency) The Wright had a helicopter that lifted a 10,000 ft. wire antenna into the air in order to send messages to submerged submarines.

>Department of Defense study
“Department of Defense Command and Control Support to the President”
March 6, 1965

From Deputy Secretary of defense Cyrus Vance to John McCone Director of Central Intelligence

Approved For Release 2003/05/05: CIA-RDP80B01676R000400040003-3

National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA)

The NECPA is an emergency command post afloat which provides survivability through mobility while at sea and which requires two ships to insure that one is at sea and fully operational at all times. The use of two ships adds most to the survivability of the entire NMCS. If only one ship were available in the NMCS, it would not be available during its dockside maintenance periods. Also, the need to keep one ship in a high state of readiness or near readiness would preclude the extensive exercising and operational experimentation necessary for evolution of operational capabilities. It would also inhibit the introduction of the many minor improvements in equipment and facilities that temporarily disrupt operational capability but that are necessary for long term improvement.

The NECPA is capable of accommodating a Presidential Group and approximately 300 supporting staff members. It is capable of independent operations in a general war environment for a period of at least two weeks without external logistical support.


Approved For Release 2003/05/05: CIA-RDP80801676R000400040003-3


Approved For Release 2003/05/05: CIA-RDP80801676R000400040003-3

Under current concepts of operation the NECPA is not readily accessible to the Presidential Group. In addition a major weakness may be its vulnerability to submarine or air attack. These problems could be considerably reduced by providing adequate fleet protection when appropriate. By operating in protected waters such as the Chesapeake Bay, it would be not only much more accessible and relatively safe from submarines but would still have to be targeted with many weapons to insure destruction. Another problem is the difficulty of transporting large groups of personnel to the ship; this situation could be alleviated by having adequate numbers of standby helicopters immediately available for this purpose. Operating the NECPA nearer to the Washington area would also ease this problem.

Staff and communications support for intense crisis situations and for general war is adequate. The, ship is large enough to accommodate a data base of the size abo scope to provide the essential information required. Greater capability could be attained, however, with the addition of improved communications and technical staff support. Finally, space available on one of the NECPAs is adequate to provide the flexibility' required for future growth and modification of the system.


Approved For Release 2003/05/05: CIA-RDP80801676R000400040003-3


Approved For Release 2003/05/05: CIA-RDP80801676R000400040003-3

At the present time, the two NECPA ships authorized are the USS NORTHAMPTON and the USS WRIGHT. The NORTHAMPTON was placed in operation as an interim measure pending conversion of the WRIGHT and the SAIPAN. Due to the interim nature of her planned service and inherent limitations in her design, the NORTHAMPTON was not outfitted with optimum facilities, and, through operational experience to date, she is known to have many deficiencies. For example (1) there is extremely limited contiguous deck space, (2) there is limited space for operating helicopters, (3) there is an undesirable placement of communications equipment, (4) unsuitable antenna system configuration causes mutual circuit interference particularly on voice channels, (5) there are no VLF communications, (6) there is no automatic data processing capability, no manual display, or voice conferencing capability, and (7) available space is not adequate for growth.

On the other hand, the SAIPAN, which was eliminated from the NMCS program, contains 12,000 square feet of contiguous command post deck space (as opposed to only 2,400 square feet on the NORTHAMPTON), improved design and installation of communications


Approved For Release 2003/05/05: CIA-RDP80801676R000400040003-3


Approved For Release 2003/05/05: CIA-RDP80801676R000400040003-3

and antenna systems including space for digital data systems and VLF, and space for simultaneous operation of two helicopters.

These deficiencies in the NORTHAMPTON and the dissimilarity in configuration with the WRIGHT place serious operational limitations on the ability of this NECPA to perform its assigned mission. Without costly modifications, there is little or no space to permit a growth potential in the NORTHAMPTON. Separate Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP) and different operating instructions are required for each NECPA because of the different accommodations and facilities.


Approved For Release 2003/05/05: CIA-RDP80801676R000400040003-3


Footnote #7 Notes (additional research)
(Updated 1-29-2019)


>I (Karl Priest) recall operating near Bar Harbor, Maine. According to Google Maps, Bar Harbor is about 5 miles (as the crow flies) from Winter Harbor.

Naval Security Group Activity, Winter Harbor was a radio station of the United States Navy that operated from 1935 to 2002…. On 28 February 1935, the U.S. Navy Radio and Direction Finding Station Winter Harbor was officially commissioned with Chief Radioman Max Gunn in charge of a complement of 11 personnel. The station's name has changed several times over the years. In 1944, it was changed to Supplementary Radio Station, U.S. Naval Radio Station Winter Harbor. In 1950, it became known as U.S. Naval Radio Station (Receiver). The present station name, Naval Security Group Activity, Winter Harbor, became official on 9 June 1958.,_Winter_Harbor

>Ten years later, the base was renamed Otis Air Force Base in his honor. Until 1973, it was the largest  Aerospace Defense Command  base in the world. During  World War II, the field was known as Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Otis  and was a subordinate field for Naval Air Station Quonset Point, Rhode Island.

During the Cold War, the base was a key Aerospace Defense Command (ADC) installation. Activities included the 33rd Fighter Wing, the 4604th Support Squadron supporting the Texas Towers (1956–63), the 60th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, and the 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing aircraft, flying over the Atlantic Ocean from 1954. The 551st flew the EC-121 Warning Star before moving to Hanscom Air Force Base in 1969. The 551st was also the first Air Force wing to fly the EC-121. The 33rd flew various fighter jets in conjunction with the 60th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. The expanding mission led to the runways being lengthened in 1960. The base was also home to the 26th Air Defense Missile Squadron, which operated BOMARC surface-to-air missiles. The regular air force began leaving Otis in the late 1960s as improvements in radar made the 551st more costly when compared to newer technologies. The 551st and the 60th left Otis when the Air Force began to move the continental air defense mission over to the Air National Guard.

Strategic Air Command maintained the 19th Air Refueling Squadron at Otis AFB flying the KC-97 Stratofreighter. After the squadron inactivated, SAC assigned Detachment 1, 416th Bombardment Wing/ 41st Air Refueling Squadron, based at Griffiss AFB, New York with 2 KC-135 Stratotanker and 2 99th Bombardment Wing / 99th Air Refueling Squadron, Westover AFB, Massachusetts KC-135 Stratotankers on 24 Hour Alert Duty.

In a 12-11-18 email from a representative of the Air Force Communications Command which now is Air Force Network Integration Center:

The histories do list the Air Force Communications Service’s (AFCS), AFNIC’s former designation used in the period referenced in your article, support to the National Military Command System and specifically NECPA during the period.  They also reference equipment (ILS) installed at Otis AFB, under the 2018th Communications Squadron.

>Regarding Otis AFB. From Air Force Historical Research Agency Contact Form: Otis Air Base Research on 1-28-2019: “I was able to verify that the communications unit assigned to Otis AFB from November 1954 to July 1961 was the 2018 th Airways and Air Communications Service Squadron, which was designated the 2018 th Communications Squadron from 1961 to its inactivation in December 1973.  Eventually, its function became part of the AFCS Northern Communications Area. The unit currently operating in the area is the 267 th Combat Communications Squadron, which is an Air National Guard unit.  This is all I could locate on the subject.”


>U. S. Naval Radio Station Lola, N. C., a component of NAVCOMMSTA Norfolk, Va., was formally activated at commissioning ceremonies conducted on 24 October. The new RADSTA joins similar stations previously constructed at Lewes, Del. and Cape Cod, 'Mass. in giving the Navy a much needed, high capacity communications link with Atlantic Fleet ships. The Lola. Station extends coverage of this system southward along the Atlantic Ocean frontier. The three stations are landward terminals of a tropospheric scatter communications system. The tropo technique provides two-way communications with many channels of information, and relies on reflection of transmitted signals over the horizon by dense layers in the atmosphere. Construction of NA VRADSTA Lola was authorized by Congress in 1963. Resolution of problems related to siting and land acquisition required several years, and final detailed design and construction spanned an additional 15 months.
From Naval Communications Bulletin Dec. 1968)

>The refuge office is a former U.S. Naval Radio Station off Lola Road at Cedar Island…the Lola station proved vital to America’s defense during the Cold War era. Opened in 1968, the Lola station supplemented those in Lewes, Del., and Cape Cod, Mass., to provide a “much needed, high capacity communications link with Atlantic fleet ships.” The Lola station was applauded at the time because it “extends coverage of the system southward along the Atlantic Ocean frontier.” Although the Lola station was “disestablished” by the Navy in 1970, the 30-foot Navy tower is still there, serving as a navigational aid to local mariners.

Added 12-15-2023

"The command ship USS Wright (CC-2), one of the newest conceptions in command at sea, was commissioned in the spring of this year. The mission of the command ship is to provide command and control facilities which will contribute to the defense of the U.S. through the World wide communications facilities of the ship. The Wright has the most extensive communications facilities ever put aboard a ship. Its 'Voice of Command' can be heard by ships, aircraft, and stations throughout the World. Wright's command spaces have facilities for theatre-type presentations similar to command posts ashore, including projection equipment and huge motion picture screens. Overall, there are rooms for war operations, plotting, charts and graphics, emergency action, briefings and conferences. On the antenna deck are arranged the largest, most powerful transmitting antenna systems ever installed on a naval vessel. The largest of these antennae towers 114 feet above the deck. An entire room is given to the ship's teletype machines, each of which is capable of receiving incoming messages at the rate of 100 words per minute. The Wright is capable of handling as many messages in a day as many large shore-based communications stations."

Added 12-15-2023


This is final issue of the Command Post is devoted to the Officers and crew of the USS WRIGHT (CC-2), who have so faithfully and tirelessly served aboard.

The WRIGHT was probably as strange and complicated a seacraft as any that man has devised. A Command Communications Ship is ultimately responsible for the fulfillment of two equally important missions. It must be prepared inside and out to serve as a world wide communications network, a "Command Post Afloat."

It also must remain mobile and ready for sea as the Command Operations Center for the military hierarchy.

WRIGHT was in fact a floating city. Her population, the sailors and officers who kept the machinery of the city running.

Added 12-15-2023

The book Raven Rock: the story of the U.S. government's secret plan to save itself -- while the rest of us die by Garrett M. Graff (2017), contains A LOT of information about the Doomsday plans. Concerning the USS Wright:

189 (The Wright was) “the most sophisticated communications platform ever placed at sea.”

190 Of about 1000 crew members “(200 of which just did communications work), the Joint Chiefs kept a team of 17 officers and 22 enlisted personnel, including a special meteorologist, aboard at all times to serve as the watch staff in case of a national emergency, other agencies like the CIA regularly posted staff as well.”

190-191 “The president would take charge from an elaborate, carpeted stateroom aboard the ship, equipped with nearly a dozen different color-coded telephones linked to various parts of the nation’s military command structure. The ship’s emergency operations center, which was decorated with presidential flags and a desk for the commander-in-chief, was kept locked under normal circumstances. Anyone entering had to do so with a security escort, even the captain of the ship. In the event of nuclear fallout, special air filters could have sealed the ship and a saltwater wash-down system would cleanse the decks.”

191 (footnote) “Rather than the normal Navy-issue steel-gray dining facilities, the Wright featured three different themed dining halls-a rustic Trophy Room, with a fireplace and logs, a Nautical Room, and a Wright Brothers Room, featuring an homage to the ship’s namesakes.”