No Fighting in the War Room

After a thirty-year open house, NORAD declares Cheyenne Mountain off-limits to tourists.

Knox notes that tourists were never allowed to see certain key areas of the complex such as the "battle warning center," only the command center itself (which is much smaller than the one in War Games). He suggests that visitors will be able to learn more about the entire operation "in a virtual sense" by watching a multi-media presentation at the visitors' center than they ever did by going inside.

"I realize that's not the same as being able to say that you were in there, but they'll actually understand the mission better," he says.

The new policy isn't expected to make much of a dent in Colorado Springs' booming tourism industry. Although NORAD's current 10,000 visitors a year is a considerable crowd for a top-security military operation, it's scarcely a blip on the screen compared to the million-plus visitors who tour the Air Force Academy a few miles away. "We don't advertise NORAD, because even when they had tours, it was so difficult to get in," says Elizabeth Youngquist, director or marketing for the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The mountain won't be entirely off-limits to civilians. Certain groups, such as journalists and aerospace-industry officials, will still be able to tour as circumstances allow, Knox says.

And then there are the Russians.
Although NORAD's leaders have been busily readying their computers for the Y2K adjustment for years, they're less confident about the Russian missile-warning system. A few weeks ago they invited a select team of their former adversaries to join them in setting up a special observation post within Cheyenne Mountain as a kind of backup. The idea is that if the Russian system malfunctions, the visitors can check the data against NORAD's system, then call home and tell everybody not to worry.

The Russian government has not yet formally accepted the proposal. But Knox wants people to know that while policies might change at NORAD--no more Joe Q. Public, welcome Colonel Boris Badanov--certain aspects of the defense center's mission remain the same.

"We will always be tracking Santa," Knox says.

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