Has the Navy Been Tunneling Under Washington
by Charles Packer
Behind a tall wooden fence a quarter of a mile from the Jefferson
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
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.
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
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:
Its purpose is to build a tunnel between the White House
and the Pentagon so that they can be connected with
state-of-the-art fiber optic cable for
secure, high-bandwidth communications.
It actually began in 2001 across the Potomac
River on the grounds of the Pentagon.
It's probably not classified, but the government
is mum about it for the same reasons it won't
comment yet on the new underground command center
at the White House.
It may actually be an unsung (for now) marvel
of civil engineering.
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
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.
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,
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.
During 2013 I saw significant new construction at the site.
The space between the two large sheds was cleared.
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
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.
On the other side of the river, on Pentagon property next to
the lagoon, is another site where,
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
Last modified: December 29, 2013