US bunker government ready in case of nuclear terror attack

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 March, 2002, 12:00am

US President George W. Bush has deployed a 'shadow government' of senior officials to underground bunkers outside Washington in case the White House is destroyed in a nuclear attack by terrorists.

Up to 150 high-ranking civil servants from key departments - including the White House - are working underground at two secret locations in 90-day shifts, isolated from even their families.

The Washington Post reported that the Bush team feared Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network might attempt to destroy central Washington with a portable nuclear weapon - even though intelligence reports have not confirmed they have the technology.

One member of the secret team said that without such a back-up government in place, even a small nuclear detonation in Washington would be 'game over'.

Similar plans for such a team were drawn up during the Cold War but never implemented, despite the creation of huge underground facilities in rural Maryland and Virginia.

The team was preparing plans to ensure that food-supply networks, public security, transport and health services would still function after a serious attack on the capital.

It was initially assembled within hours of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington when more than a dozen key officials were helicoptered to bunkers. The team has since been strengthened with a full roster of staff and fresh executive orders to allow them to take administrative power nationwide.

The Pentagon operates its own extensive bunker system and separate emergency command structure.

The judiciary and the Congress are not directly involved but both are understood to have their own emergency preparations in place.

The key link with the current regime is Vice-President Dick Cheney, who has lived and worked largely in hiding since September 11 and is being kept apart from Mr Bush as much as possible.

Within hours of the September strikes Mr Cheney was moved to a bunker beneath the White House while Mr Bush, who was away on a visit to Florida, was flown to a series of secret sites across the Midwest.

The size of the emergency team fluctuates depending on current intelligence threat assessments, the paper reported.

They have their own food and medical supplies and can even generate their own power.

Joseph Hagin, White House deputy chief-of-staff, refused to discuss details but said: 'We take this issue extraordinarily seriously and are committed to doing as thorough a job as possible to ensure the ongoing operations of the federal Government.

'In the case of the use of a weapon of mass destruction, the federal Government would be able to do its job and continue to provide key services and respond.'