BACKGROUND

One housewife’s scary discovery: When you’re living with a Bomarc in your back yard, you’d better not complain about it

ALEXANDER ROSS June 5 1965

BACKGROUND

One housewife’s scary discovery: When you’re living with a Bomarc in your back yard, you’d better not complain about it

ALEXANDER ROSS June 5 1965

BACKGROUND

One housewife’s scary discovery: When you’re living with a Bomarc in your back yard, you’d better not complain about it

FROM THE LIVING-ROOM window of her ranch house outside North Bay, Ontario, Ciel Sauvé can look across a narrow expanse of lake and into the mouth of one of the most crucially important tunnels in North America. Punched into the side of a tree-fringed mountain called Reservoir Hill, the tunnel leads to an underground building roughly the size of a Hilton hotel. This building is the communications nerve-centre for the air defense of all eastern and northern Canada and most of the state of Maine.

Inside this mountain, several hundred airmen, civilian workers and a giant computer keep track of every flying object within an area of two million square miles. If one of those objects should prove to be a Soviet bomber on a hostile mission, the airmen would unleash a covey of nuclear-tipped Bomarc missiles and the computer would guide them to their airborne targets.

But in the opinion of Mrs. Sauvé, an excitable, pretty and highly intuitive housewife who doubles as a freelance writer and TV fashion commentator. this $51 million installation — known as SAGE — is worthless, and so are the security measures that protect it. After three years of observing, from her own living room, the comings and goings at the tunnel’s entrance. and after being shown around the underground installation last October, she decided to put her reservations in writing.

The article was never published, but it seems to have caused more official consternation than most frontpage editorials. As a result, Mrs.

Sauvé received a strange visit, a bad scare and a deeper appreciation of the complexities of life in the nuclear age.

Designed with Maclean’s Argument page in mind, her article was titled “SAGE Is Obsolete,” and it made the following points:

• Manned bombers, which the SAGE system is designed to detect and destroy, are not the main threat to North America in an age of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

• It’s doubtful that manned fighters and anti-aircraft missiles could destroy an entire flight of eight hundred attacking Soviet bombers; enough of them would get through to inflict enormous damage, even if Russia didn’t launch her ICBMs.

• Civil defense in North Bay, presumably a main target because of the Bomarc installation, is a farce. The last time a siren drill was held, most North Bay residents didn’t hear it. Furthermore, in the event of an impending attack, army officials are supposed to alert North Bay’s civil defense headquarters by telephone; yet when Mrs. Sauvé tried to reach the CD number, it took her three weeks, averaging three calls daily, before anyone answered the phone.

• Mrs. Sauvé wasn’t impressed by security arrangements at SAGE’s underground installation. When she went on her prearranged guided tour, she unexpectedly brought along a friend, who was “permitted to tag along without further investigation.”

• In SAGE’s engineering room, she noted “literally hundreds” of unprotected telephone wires running up the wall in an unguarded area. She knew that SAGE has a direct telephone link with New York, which is patched into the entire U. S. civil defense network. And she wondered why the wires weren’t concealed by suitable encasements.

• The south entrance to the tunnel, she wrote, is highly vulnerable to sabotage. A railroad and a main highway run directly in front of the tunnel, and Mrs. Sauvé is convinced that, if she had a cannon concealed in her basement, she could easily lob a shell halfway down it. Why, she asked, couldn’t NORAD build a protective wall to conceal the entrance?

Before mailing the manuscript to her agent in Toronto, Mrs. Sauvé says she phoned the office of Air ViceMarshal James Harvey, commander of NORAD’s northern region, and offered to let him check it for accuracy. But she never got past his secretary.

Her agent, Canadian Speakers’ & Writers’ Service, submitted the article to Maclean’s and later to the Toronto

Globe and Mail. Neither chose to buy it, so the agency returned the manuscript, because Mrs. Sauvé wanted to update it. She tucked it away in a kitchen drawer where she keeps all her rejection slips.

Four months later, around nine o’clock on the morning of April 15, she was working in her home on a children’s operetta which she hopes to see produced next Christmas in Toronto. Two men in plain clothes came to the door, while a third waited outside in their car. They identified themselves as Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers. They wanted to come inside and ask a few questions.

It took them all morning, and by the time they’d finished, Ciel Sauvé was a badly frightened woman. They asked a lot of questions and — most intriguing of all — about the manuscript she’d sent to Toronto. Somehow they’d acquired a photostatic copy; and they went through it line by line, questioning her closely on its contents. She says they told her that some of the facts she’d used were classified information. Before they left, they wrote out a statement of what she’d told them, got her to sign it, searched the files in her office and carried off a four-inch pile of correspondence and manuscripts, including, she thinks, some highly innocuous TV scripts on beauty and charm. But they missed the manuscript in the kitchen drawer.

According to Mrs. Sauvé, they also cautioned her against publishing the manuscript (“Why create panic?” she recalls one of the men asking her), and against telling anyone about their visit. “He kept warning me,” she recalls. “He kept pointing his finger and telling me that this was very, very serious.”

Later, Ciel Sauvé stopped being frightened and started getting mad. She phoned the RCMP detachment in North Bay, demanding to know if the men who’d visited her were really Mounties. She was told that the matter couldn’t be discussed by phone, but was invited to drop in a week later to talk it over with the chief inspector. She didn’t go. Instead she decided to pursue the matter, which began with her earlier contacts with the SAGE establishment.

The first contact was last summer. For months, she’d been noticing a car that emerged from the tunnel every night around midnight, and paused mysteriously for about ten minutes, blinking its headlights across the lake, before driving off. She phoned Air Vice-Marshal Harvey (“I felt foolish being so suspicious, but I thought he should know about it”). He promised to look into the matter. A few days later, the blinking stopped.

The second phone call was last November, when she offered to let the air vice-marshal check her manuscript. The third contact was in January, when a NORAD official phoned to ask when she’d visited the underground installation, and whom she wrote for. Miffed, she told the man to look it up in his own files; but later that day, she decided she’d been rude,

and phoned the information to Harvey’s secretary.

Before the third phone call, however, an odd thing happened. Around the middle of December, she noticed that SAGE had closed the tunnel to traffic. They kept it shut for about three months and, as she’d suggested in her manuscript, removed the flood lights from the tunnel entrance. SAGE workers, many of whom live in a subdivision near the Sauvé home, were forced to drive all the way around the mountain, and enter by the tunnel’s other entrance. For some SAGE personnel, it meant that they couldn’t drive or walk home for lunch. Although the closure, according to NORAD, was for “routine rock maintenance,” there was plenty of grumbling. And word got around — Mrs. Sauvé heard it from several sources — that she was responsible for the closure. “Call it woman’s intuition,” she says, “but I got the idea that they’d acquired a copy of my manuscript, and were doing something about it. It was too obvious.”

Neither NORAD nor the RCMP are anxious to discuss the matter. Spokesmen for the RCMP detachment at North Bay, who seem to know all about the visit, will neither confirm nor deny that it took place. They also stress that it’s none of the RCMP’s business what she does with her manuscript.

NORAD officials admit they’re aware of the manuscript’s contents and are unimpressed by its allegations of lax security. “Do you really think,” one of them said, “that we need a housewife to tell us what’s wrong with our set-up?” All underground tours, including the one Mrs. Sauvé took, are accompanied by one guard in front and another behind, they added.

Meanwhile, across the lake from the Sauvés’ living-room window, the tunnel entrance is again open for traffic. Several shifts of workers drive in and out of the parking lot at the tunnel’s entrance each day, and are ferried in and out of the “hole” by several forty-passenger RCAF buses. Cars still zip past on the nearby highway, and children play on the hillside above the tunnel’s mouth. Although Mrs. Sauvé says she was told that most of her facts were classified, they came from the standard SAGE press kit—and the same kit is still being handed out to visiting newsmen.

Two weeks after the visit, the material seized from her home still hadn’t been returned. The question of how NORAD and the RCMP had managed to learn the contents of her manuscript was still unanswered. And Mrs. Sauvé, puzzled and angry, was still talking about “getting to the bottom of this.”

It’s doubtful that she ever will. But by the end of April, with her files still missing, her manuscript apparently intercepted and her confidence badly shaken, she’d decided that NORAD, although it might seem casual about its security, reacts with great sensitivity when anyone says so.

ALEXANDER ROSS