The Armageddon Plan - Protecting the Line of Succession
Reagan Administration carried out detailed planning exercises for keeping the government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The program called for setting aside legal rules for presidential succession, in favor of a secret procedure for putting in place a new "President" and his staff. The program is of particular interest today because it helps to explain the thinking and behavior of the second Bush Administration on September 11, 2001. Cheney urged Bush to stay out of Washington for the rest of that day; Rumsfeld ordered Wolfowitz to get out of town. All these actions had their roots in the Reagan Administration's clandestine planning exercises.
In case of a nuclear attack on Washington, the US needed to act swiftly to avoid "decapitation" or a break in civilian leadership. If a nuclear attack killed the President, the Vice President, and the speaker of the House, too? What civilian leader could immediately give military commanders orders to respond, and how would that leader communicate with the military? In a continuing nuclear exchange, who would have the authority to reach an agreement with the Soviet leadership to bring the war to an end?
Ronald Reagan established the continuity-of-government program with a secret executive order. The plan: Once the US is under attack, three teams would be sent from Washington to three different locations around the United States. Each team would be prepared to assume leadership of the country. This was not some abstract textbook plan; it was practiced in concrete and elaborate detail.