US Air Force

The President has a secret air force in case of nuclear war?

The latest book by journalist Garrett M. Graff sounds like a can’t-miss thriller, but it may not make for great bedside reading — unless you love a good nightmare.

"Raven Rock: The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself — While the Rest of Us Die" details the extraordinary measures the U.S. government has in place to protect the president and his essential staff in the event of a nuclear holocaust.

Graff — executive director of the Aspen Institute’s cybersecurity and technology program, and former editor of Politico Magazine and Washingtonian — has adapted an excerpt from his book in an article that appears in Politico Magazine this week. Here are some of the highlights:

• "A presidential trip involves hundreds of military and government personnel and often requires dozens of flights, including a backup for Air Force One and transport planes that move the motorcade, helicopters and communications gear."

• "Ever since the 1960s, the United States has been building and equipping a special set of planes whose sole purpose has been to evacuate the president in the event of a nuclear war and allow him to command a war from wherever he may be."

• "The Air Force has four specially outfitted Boeing 747s, known as E-4B Nightwatch planes, that could serve as the ‘National Airborne Operations Center.’ ... Unlike the ceremonial and comfort-focused Air Force One, the E-4B airborne command posts are flying war-rooms — staffed by dozens of military analysts, strategists and communication aides who would guide the president through the first days of a nuclear war."

• There are "three special presidential aircraft long tasked with evacuating the president in an emergency and preserving the so-called National Command Authorities, the officials with authority to launch nuclear weapons. Known as C-20Cs, the planes don’t really officially exist. But for years, they have gone nearly everywhere the president travels, paralleling presidential trips, serving as his chameleons, blending in anonymously at airports close by presidential visits — but never at the same airport where Air Force One itself is landing."

• "Since the 1950s, Mount Weather — a mountain about 45 minutes from downtown Washington — has served as the nuclear redoubt for the executive branch ... where the president, or his successor, would reconvene the remnants of government after an attack and start to rebuild the United States. Over the years, Mount Weather … has grown into a sprawling city, a government-in-waiting.... It’s been run since the 1980s by the Federal Emergency Management Agency — which, little known to the public, oversees the government’s secret continuity planning — and today sports its own fire department, its own police force and even a bar, known as the Balloon Shed.'

And there’s much more where that came from.