The FBI’s Secret Plan To Take Over A College

New documents from the FBI’s war plans covering 1950-1990 show that the Bureau had a secret plan to take over Shepherd College in an emergency, the development of which became “more confused every day” until W.R. Glavin, Assistant Director of the Personnel and Budget Division (later the Administrative Division), lamented that “if it is not completely fouled up now, it will be in a very short period of time.”

It began in May of 1950, at a Interdepartmental Intelligence Committee meeting, Captain DuBois of the Navy informed D.M. Ladd at the FBI that the Navy had established its emergency headquarters at Princeton, New Jersey. The Captain wanted to know where the Bureau’s emergency headquarters were located so that, in case of a disaster, the two organizations would be able to immediately coordinate from their respective emergency headquarters. At the time, however, the Bureau didn’t have any emergency headquarters despite having begun the search for one at least eight years prior. Despite having looked at sites in nine cities in two states and previously recommending Frederick, MD as the site of an emergency headquarters, the Bureau’s executives felt that the “present international situation” warranted an additional survey of possible locations.

All together, the Bureau wanted to assemble 500,000 square feet of space for emergency work, which would accommodate the FBI Director and his staff, the necessary emergency staff along with radio and communications equipment. Between the 1942 survey and the 1950 survey, the Bureau considered the following cities as possible hosts in case of an emergency:

  • Frederick, MD
  • Hughesville, MD
  • LaPlata, MD
  • Marlboro, MD
  • Olney, MD
  • Rockville, MD
  • Waldorf, MD
  • Westminster, MD
  • Charlottesville, VA
  • Fredericksburg, VA
  • Harrisonburg, VA
  • Leesburg, VA
  • Richmond, VA
  • Staunton, VA
  • Warrenton, VA
  • Winchester, VA
  • Shepherdstown, WV

Out of these cities, the initial recommendation from FBI Special Agent and Inspector in charge of the Domestic Intelligence Division Joseph Sizoo was to utilize Mary Washington College, a girl’s school in Fredericksburg, VA or Madison College, also a girl’s school, in Harrisonburg, VA. These recommendations were quickly abandoned in favor of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. These locations seemed to assume the mass movement of the Bureau in the event of an emergency, which some felt was not only impractical but undesirable as it would maximize the strain on the Bureau while creating unnecessary points of potential failure in an emergency. A new survey was discreetly conducted by W.R. Glavin.

Glavin focused on out of the way parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains, specifically Shepherdstown, West Virginia and Winchester, Virginia. Each town was less than seventy five miles from Washington D.C. and unlike the other cities examined, were unlikely to be attached in the event of a war or other emergency. Also unlike the colleges previously examined, Shepherd College at Shepherdstown was not a girl’s only school. The school could provide 50,000 feet of office space in the two main buildings, with another 50,000 square feet of office space available in outlying buildings. The 500 students at the college would be ejected with “boarding houses presently in the town” expected to take care of them. The Bureau wouldn’t limit itself to the housing provided by the College, however. “Other residences in the town could take care of additional personnel and by augmenting this with housing space in the nearby towns, I feel we could very well accommodate 1,000 of our people in this location.” The memo doesn’t clarify under what authority these residences would be used or if the owners would be compensated.

The Executives Conference agreed with Glavin’s recommendation of Shepherd’s College and the much larger Winchester, in comparison, was given very little attention and no mention made of how Bureau personnel would be housed. Clyde Tolson, Associate Director of the FBI, authorized Glavin to begin making initial arrangements regarding Shepherd College. On a confidential basis, he spoke with Dr. Oliver S. Ikenberry, the President of Shepherd College. Dr. Ikenberry was eager to cooperate, but that no individual person had the authority to agree to or deny the Bureau’s use of the College in the event of an emergency; it was something which only the West Virginia State Board of Education could do.

Mr. Ross Tuckwiller, the Chairman of the Board of Education for the State of West Virginia, said that “very definitely he would have no objection not having the college premises turned over to the Bureau,” but that the entire Board of Education would have to agree to it. To avoid drawing attention or creating any additional paper trail, the Bureau decided to wait until the next meeting of the Board. When the Board did meet, Mr. Glavin appeared before them and presented the Bureau’s request. The Board of Education unanimously agreed, and agreed not to create any record of the agreement or of Mr. Glavin’s appearance.

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The secrecy around the arrangement was considered so important that Director Hoover instructed his agents that before anyone spoke to anyone outside the Bureau (including others within government) about the Bureau’s planned use of Shepherdstown, he wanted “to be alerted twice” (Emphasis in original text). Soon after, the Executive Conference reconsidered whether an emergency headquarters would be necessary at all and whether they would want to decentralize and leave Washington D.C. in the event of war or an emergency. As a result, no further actions were taken except to determine what other civilian agencies were doing. This resulted in the Bureau temporarily losing control of the decision, as they were informed that the decision had become the responsibility of the Bureau of the Budget, prompting Mr. Glavin to lament the situation.

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Despite his concerns, Mr. Glavin presented his case to a representative from the Bureau of the Budget who Glavin apparently thought seemed agreeable. Meanwhile, preparations for use of Shepherdstown continued. Representatives from the Bureau met with people from the telephone companies about secretly installing phone wires and providing service. Soon, construction was underway for multiple phone lines, switchboards and teletypewriters. In a single night, the Bureau moved four and a half tons of radio equipment into “dead storage” at Shepherd College. Before long, arrangements were being made to bring in microwave equipment and link up with other government systems, which brought a new level of paranoia to some at the Bureau. Would CIA or any other agency be able to listen in on the Bureau?

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By this point, with equipment and construction material being steadily imported, the involvement of Shepherd College in the Bureau’s plans had been all but cemented, and the secret agreement to take over the College was finalized. Future articles will further explore the development of the FBI’s war plans and any future involvement of Shepherd College. In the meantime, you can read the FOIA request for these files (and the appeal for more) here, or two relevant sections of the FBI file below:


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