Secret 'Armageddon Plan' in Motion on 9/11

ByABC News
April 14, 2004, 7:54 PM

April 25 -- For 20 years, unbeknownst to most of the public, U.S. officials and private citizens have rehearsed a secret plan to preserve America's government if Washington or other key cities were somehow wiped out, and perhaps even to take control of the government if the nation's top leaders were lost.

"This is the story of how the United States, in the Reagan administration, planned to set up a new presidency, a new leadership for the country at time of nuclear war, in a way that was never authorized by the Constitution or any federal law," said James Mann, who wrote about the so-called Armageddon plan in a recent issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Some details earlier had been reported in The Washington Post.

"The Reagan administration set up three teams," Mann said. "Each team had about 50 federal officials. And it had a chief of staff, and it had a Cabinet member who was going to be the next president. And if nuclear war seemed imminent, these three teams would be sent out from Washington, to different locations around the country. And in succession, each one could take over the running of the country."

War Games and Reality

Key figures in the plan who served as senior staffers for the Reagan, Clinton and both Bush administrations participated in what for years were just exercises, war games, which they discussed recently with ABCNEWS' Nightline.

One of those senior staffers was serving in the White House on Sept. 11, 2001, when a version of the Armageddon plan was actually put into effect most likely for the first time.

"On the morning of 9/11, the entire continuity-of-government program was activated," said Richard Clarke, former U.S. counterterrorism chief under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, and an ABCNEWS consultant. "Every federal agency was ordered, on the morning of 9/11, to activate an alternative command post, an alternative headquarters outside of Washington, D.C., and to staff it as soon as possible."