in Meddling

Secret Chatham AT&T bunker closes

Looking for other things on the Internets brought me news that a secret AT&T communications bunker in Chatham county has closed. The site, known locally as “Big Hole,” sits near Fearrington Village and has generated wild rumors in the 46 years its existed.

According to the Independent Weekly, the bunker includes 100,000 square feet of offices, a 100,000 gallon water supply, dual generators, and air filtration system. It was designed in 1962 to survive a nuclear attack.

The Indy article says the site was part of the Department of Defense’s AUTOVON network. If so, that’s about as exciting as a telegraph station. There were AUTOVON phones at some of my duty stations. AUTOVON was the DoD’s own phone system, it was analog-only, and it ran through microwave towers so the quality sucked. It must have cost gobs of money to build in its day but it quickly became obsolete. And while potentially interesting traffic might have been passed on its network, AUTOVON itself was nothing more than the creaky, old phone system.

Which makes me wonder … why would this site just now be decommissioned, given that it was superseded in the early 1990s by the Defense Switched Network?

Former Superior Court judge Wade Barber helped build the facility. “Chatham was more about, let’s say, surveillance,” he said — “more CIA, military, FBI-type things.”

Yes, AUTOVON cannot be the whole story. And I don’t think Judge Barber would’ve been in the loop without an NDA having been signed. The N&O mentions the Big Hole site as Continuity of Government-related. Could be. N&O reporter Jay Price mused in an online discussion group that one place served by the site was downtown Raleigh.

As a former Cold Warrior spook I’m quite intrigued about this stuff.