Secret Underground Fortresses

News that the Libyan rebels are now searching for former strongman Mohammar Khadaffy’s subterranean lair has prompted comparisons between his bunker and that of Saddam Hussein’s. From the looks of it, Khadaffy has better taste in hideouts.


The bunker discovered by rebels underneath Qaddafi’s villa in the mountain town of Bayda gives a clue what the tunnels in Tripoli might be like.

According to a report and photos in the Daily Mail newspaper in February, the bunker had three nine-inch-thick blast doors and led to a massage room, seven bedrooms, a kitchen, and caverns full of equipment. Passageways with power generators and an air filtration system led to an escape shaft in the countryside.

That’s a lot more luxurious than the accommodation Iraq’s Hussein had to resort to. His chamber was six to eight feet deep, with only enough room for one person to lie down, an air vent and an extractor fan.

The good hideout is something a Man Who Has Everything is prone to consider. When you’ve bought that diamond encrusted watch, purchased that destroyer-sized yacht and acquired that outsized bank account the next thing you need is a quality bunker.

Just what kind of bunker a man of discriminating taste should have is the business of HardenedStructures.Com, which specializes in the planning, design and covert construction of fortified homes, underground “Genesis” shelter systems, executive underground bunkers, survival communities, 2012 Shelters, anarchy and Missile Silo Conversions. “These facilities are designed with independent sources of power and water. They can serve as a primary dwelling, vacation home, corporate retreat, long term shelter or expanded multi-function compound.”

But before anyone jumps to the conclusion that such fortresses are the preserve of right-wing paranoid fanatics, it should be noted that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was established by the the Norwegian government, the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen), with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to preserve key genetic material in case of a global catastrophe. Located on the remote island of Spitsbergen, it is dug nearly 400 feet into a sandstone mountain. Time Magazine praised it as one of “ten best inventions of 2008”, which goes to show that underground fortresses are perfectly respectable liberal construction projects.


But it’s not just the Norwegians. The Finns have built Onkalo, a huge system of underground bunkers to store its nuclear waste.  It is being built on a scale and reverence that would impress the Pharoahs. “Work on the concept behind the facility commenced in 1970s and the repository is expected to be backfilled and decommissioned in the 2100s. None of the 40 people working on the facility today will live to see it completed. The bunker is based around a spiraling track that will eventually be three miles long, and reach a depth of 500 meters. “We are at final disposal depth now, about 420 meters,” said a company spokesman.

That’s because every human endeavor, irrepective of politics, want to survive. Information, whether stored in human skull, contained in genomes or in electronic storage is the building-block of the modern age. While Khadaffy, or seeds or storage media exist then the phenomena they control can be regenerated. Destroy them and that which spring from them have a hard time coming back. Therefore information is protected and preserved. Even Onkalo can be so regarded. This is the destructor function of the nuclear object.

The Iron Mountain storage facility in Boyers, Pennsylvania is an underground facility that contains Bill GatesCorbis photographic collection and Federal archives.  But like the sarcophagi of the pharoahs, these modern tombs attract their share of grave-robbers. The problem with secret underground shelters, as Saddam found and the Duck of Death will discover, is that somebody has to know where it is to send down the supplies. The weakest link in the fortress is the man with the key.


In August 2007, the company began retrofitting its unmarked vans and trucks with a new security and alarm system using chain of custody technology to reduce the exposure of customer data to possible loss. Among other security features, the system uses radio frequency authentication and real-time tracking capabilities to help prevent “mysterious disappearances” of tapes, or their actual removal from the vehicle, during transit.

Ultimately the problem with hiding in a cave is that there are only a few ways in and an equally limited number of ways out.  Using them means putting a man in the loop and men are less reliable than stone. Maybe the best place for a person to hide would be far from casual contact with human beings. The contagion of treachery usually proves fatal to the man who has everything.

Yet even if they provide not very much security everyone loves an underground fort. Their attraction is as enduring as Neverland, with its Pirate’s Cove, Skull Rock and Mermaid Lagoon.  Many a child imagines them. And it is natural perhaps to think that our enemies would hide there even if such caves never actually existed.

The connection between the subterranean and our spiritual longings seems specially strong in Europe. Werner Herzog recently completed a documentary on the Chauvet caverns, where hundreds of pictures of animals were found deep beneath the earth.

It represents, as Herzog puts it in his unmistakable voice, “the beginnings of the modern human soul” and playfully remarks that the superimposed drawings of animals’ legs in different positions create the sense of movement and the cave drawings are “proto-cinema”.


Maybe to Herzog. Perhaps the cavemen thought of it as a place to ride out the winter and entertained themselves by drawing picture on the walls.

For those to whom the idea of a private underground fortress represents a childhood dream or nightmare, the Underground Fortress Company is in the business of selling Titan Missile bases and AT&T switch centers. “These underground buildings were designed and built to ensure nuclear survivability. They typically have 2 ft. thick concrete walls and ceilings covered with a minimum of 4 feet of earth. For security reasons these underground buildings were constructed at least 20 miles from major cities. Heavy blast doors also add to the security of these facilities. The buildings remain at a constant 58 degrees without any HVAC. They are self-contained with generator power, septic tanks, and deep wells.”

Never mind if you’ll never actually live there. The idea of an actual subterranean fort is just too cool for many people to resist. Finding Osama bin Laden in an ordinary house in Abbotabad was wrong on so many levels. He should have met his end instead as we hope Khadaffy will, in some fabulous fortress deep beneath the earth of a grandeur to match their evil personalities.

The Lair of the Devil

The Ninth Circle Of Hell "Treachery"

Interestingly one of the first things that the New Haven municipal officials did upon feeling the recent earthquake was to the head for the crisis bunker — the command center located in a basement. Of course, basements might not be exactly the right place to ride out a quake, though doubtless they’d be more useful in a cyclone.


Someone may undertake to discover if underground fortresses signify different idea to the different people. To those of a practical bent, the underground is simply somewhere to hide. To other mentalities the darkness beneath the earth is a place of deep religious significance and it is interesting to speculate whether some minds subconsciously sees it so: where we hide our nuclear sins, worship animals in secret or mayhap hide seed which may once again see a future day.

Who knows? One of the interesting insights of the old Testament is the idea of limit to secrecy and the ultimate sterility of the underground. The psalms imply that the impulse to hide, conceal and to store up is ultimately futile. All things come to light in the end, however deep the bunker.

Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.


But it would still be cool to own a former Titan missile base.

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