Has the Navy Been Tunneling Under Washington Since 2001?

by Charles Packer

Tourist's view
December 2013. Behind a tall wooden fence a quarter of a mile from the Jefferson Memorial, the government has been engaged in a nine-year-long construction project about which it will divulge nothing. Some months after the activity began, a 2004 Washington Post article reported [1] that the Navy had taken over a four-acre site in East Potomac Park with no public announcement and without "the multi-agency review required to erect anything on federal parkland." Since that story, alas, the Post has apparently forgotten about the project.

Commuter's view
Even the freelance online pundits who specialize in mysterious government activities haven't noticed this project. As of 2013, only one observer, who passed through Washington in 2009, took the time to post his comments and annotated photos [2] .

By now, this activity is overdue for some attention because it should have ended by 2009, at least according to the Post. Its reporter was able to extract from a Navy spokesman the expected duration of the activity: about four years.

As a Washington resident and newly retired, I've had enough time to hang around the site on weekdays to record patterns of activity. On Sundays I've clambered up the railroad embankment next to the compound to photograph recent construction. I've also compiled aerial views from Google Earth online archives.

These are my conclusions about the project:

Front door
In what follows I will provide photographic and other evidence to support these conclusions. If you want to see the site yourself, drive to the end of the one-way street past the Jefferson Memorial and turn left.

Click here for link to interactive map

A sequence of images from the Google Earth archives shows that in April 2004 the site was under construction. By the end of February 2005 it had been completed and would remain substantially unchanged until 2013. During all this time, then, what's been going on there? The 2009 visitor cited earlier concluded that it was tunneling of some sort. He concluded that the excavation was being done from within the large, hangar-like building and that the tailings were being trucked away from the site altogether.

Smoking gun?
In July 2012 and again in January 2013 I ventured up on the railway embankment overlooking the site. Both times I saw many cable spools stacked at the far end of the yard. Given the evidence of excavation, the consumption of a lot of cable suggests that it was being laid deep underground. But to where?

The site is located midway between the White House and the Pentagon. Its centrality was mentioned in the Post article. In 2010-2011 a new underground room was under construction in a corner of the front lawn of the White House. In an era when the commander-in-chief can, in principle, direct a war remotely and in real-time, the need for high-bandwidth communications is obvious. And in an era when, as we have learned recently, [3] the government can secretly tap into communication networks worldwide, it seems plausible that national security might dictate that that same government might want to have its own key locations connected by its very own wires.

Drain pipes?
During 2013 I saw significant new construction at the site. The space between the two large sheds was cleared. The larger shed itself was shortened by about a quarter of its length. An array of piles was driven into the ground in the area that had been opened up, forming a retaining wall perimeter. Excavation within that area followed, and it exposed four large pipes that apparently had been been in place for years, judging from their rusty appearance. Their size and orientation suggested that they were being used to drain water toward the river.

A tunnel of any kind in this area would be below the water table. It would also have to be bored through loose sediments, since bedrock is far below the surface. Water would have to be pumped continuously from the bore and conveyed to where it would be practical to dispose of it. These pipes, then, are further evidence that tunneling is, or has been, under way.

At this writing, a concrete structure is being built up in the excavation and has reached above the level of the pipes. Unfortunately I missed being there to observe what happened when it approached the level of the pipes, so I don't know whether they were encased in concrete or removed and replaced by concrete channels.

Phase 1?
On the other side of the river, on Pentagon property next to the lagoon, is another site where, archive imagery shows, [4] construction activity began in 2001 and ended in 2004 -- just as the East Potomac Park project started up. A building was built, and there appears to have been an excavation, which was subsequently capped with concrete. In view of the likely engineering challenges in tunneling under the river, might this have been some kind of pilot project? At any rate, the building that remains has a remarkable number of air intake openings for such a small structure. Therefore it might now be serving an air circulation function for the tunnel.


Navy Keeps a Secret in Plain Sight, Washington Post, Nov. 26, 2004
Loose Ends blog entry, April 13, 2009
NSA May Have Hit Internet Companies at a Weak Spot , New York Times, Nov. 25, 2013
The correct ordering of these images is uncertain due to inconsistencies in their annotation.

Last modified: December 29, 2013

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