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Hide your secret HQ in plain sight

By Mark Lawson

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James Bond is always blowing them up. They are the stuff of the traditional espionage thriller. The spy is taken to an installation that could have been built for a government department, except that it happens to be in the Alps or underground in the desert, and staffed by an endless number of security personnel and technicians. The spy then escapes with the girl, after killing the villain and assorted minions, and, of course, demolishing the whole place.

            In one James Bond film, GoldenEye (Pierce Brosnan, 1995), the elaborate secret HQ was attached to a vast, secret installation in which a whole lake could be made to shift to permit a huge radio telescope-like transmitter, capable of controlling a satellite called GoldenEye, to emerge. The satellite was a left-over Soviet weapon the powerful, although undefined, beam of which could cause all sorts of trouble on the earth’s surface.

            The spy spoof Kingsman: the Secret Service (2015), continued this tradition with the villain having an elaborate secret base built into a mountain in an unspecified area.

            But why was it thought necessary to build an HQ in such as out of the way spot? If you want a secret HQ why not spend a fraction of the funds on buying or renting a building in a major city. Your operations could be given an innocuous cover, say, that of a private investment firm. To confuse things further the firm could be involved in genuine investment activity – after all, the secret organisation that needs a secret HQ would or should have plenty of funds to invest. Other tenants in the same building could be completely legitimate.

            The complication of having legitimate operations near a nice, clean evil organisation could be dealt with by a little double talk.

            “Why does organisation have so many fit, hard-looking people coming in at all hours?”

            “Oh those are our insurance investigators – tough business, insurance.”

            “Why do we keep hearing faint screams through the air conditioning ducts?”

            “That must be our section testing the sound systems of a company that makes them. We’re planning an investment. Sound real doesn’t it? But you shouldn’t have to hear it. We’ll fix the problem.”

            Soundproofing in the torture chamber would then be improved, before the next interrogation session.

The evil organisation has to spirit people in and out of the building for sessions in that torture chamber? A dedicated lift from the existing underground parking garage would do the job. Perhaps the lowest level car park could be sealed off, or even discretely enlarged by further digging (basement repairs legitimate tenants would be told).

Whatever approach your evil organisation takes, using an existing installation in a large city side-steps all the vast problems of having well-staffed HQs for evil organisations out in the sticks. For minions, working for an evil organisation or not, will have families and those families will want the amenities of civilised life, including restaurants, swimming pools, theatres, tennis courts, medical facilities, schools and so on and on.

Resources companies with mines way out in the Australian outback get around this by operating fly in, fly out schedules. Workers spend four days on extended shifts at the mine site, say, and are flown back to their families for three days. The mining companies can, and sometimes do, provide the facilities on site, but the investment is vast and creates problems. Instead of a mining site or an Evil HQ you will have a town with an Evil HQ attached with all the attendant problems and issues of a town. Power, water and sewerage? Refuse will have to be collected and disposed of, order maintained. The problems will be endless. Even recruiting a small number of monastic minions (good luck with that) for staffing remote HQs will create problems in housing, feeding and sewage disposal.

But why does your Evil HQ have to be out in the sticks anyway? You have to control the enormous radio dish used to communicate with your satellite (as in the GoldenEye example)? Install a fibre optic cable connection at a fraction of the trouble and expense of building operations near the site. These days a wireless connection might do, and the transmitter can be installed on the roof of your building. While we are on the subject why was such a huge dish, as depicted in the GoldenEye film, required? The satellite was in earth orbit, not on the other side of the galaxy. So no need to move lakes, just apply for the necessary permissions for a modest, rooftop installation, which should be easy to obtain for a building in a commercial district.

You want to develop a virus which will turn the world’s population into flesh-eating zombies? If that’s your thing that’s fine, I suppose, although it would be interesting to know why you want to do this. However, it can be done by your evil genius scientist in laboratories in the city. The advanced facilities required can be explained away as a biotech start up. What is it working on? That is commercial in confidence. Our security people (who will have been told nothing about the operation) will show you out.

In the latest James Bond film at the time of writing, Spectre (Daniel Craig, 2015), the ever busy and law breaking British spy confronts the revived SPecial Executive for Counter-Terrorism Revenge and Extortion, originally killed off in the books and films in the 1960s. A meeting of the executive heads of this organisation is a feature of the film. That’s fine but why was it held in what seemed to be a public hall where the minions (and James Bond) could watch? Why not meet around a board room table during business hours, without the theatre.

That film also featured a secret headquarters, or at least a well turned out installation in the middle of desert with no seemingly good reason for being there. You have to torture Mr Bond? Sound proofed torture chambers can be built anywhere. Supervision of terrorist attacks? Set aside the sixth and seventh floors of your convenient, city building.

If you really want a secret base for your own evil organisation (yourself and your dog, who is very evil) then the survivalist movement in the US has interesting solutions. Companies will sell you self-contained underground bunkers shaped like tubes which can be buried at some depth. If you want to be elaborate buy several, dig a hole in the remote location of choice, lay them in the hole, connect them up then bury it all. The drivers of the bulldozers and backhoes can then be executed.

If you want something more elaborate, and have the funds to do it, then you will need a design team and skilled construction engineers who cannot simply be executed because they know too much. They have to at least be kept around during the construction phase.

“Where is the design team? We need changes to the design.”

“I had them executed boss.”

“What! Why did you do that?”

“You said no loose ends. Those guys were pretty loose.”

Structures to be built in a city, however, can always be custom designed to specifications, without the organisation saying much about what the building will be used for.

            “Why do you need this soundproofed, windowless room in the basement for insurance operations?”

            “Our chairman likes a room he can go to that does not have distractions.”

            “We could always put it next to his main office?”

            “People would bother him there. The room is fine where it is.”

            “Do you need 15 stories of below ground car parking for a three story building?”

            “We are always generous with car space allocation for employees. Now if there are no further questions…”

            The architect would be paid to be discreet and would be monitored for a time to ensure he kept his mouth shut. If he did communicate certain suspicions to authorities an accident would be arranged. You can’t have a secret HQ without breaking eggs, or something.

A secret HQ in a major city is, of course, easier for the average James Bond type to get at. Pressure can be brought to bear on individual employees, who live out in the ‘burbs, to spy on the evil organisation. Security has to be tight and there is much to be gained from having a lot of legitimate employees who know nothing about the evil side of the organisation. If James Bond does turn up and is caught by your efficient security personnel, you won’t explain your plans to him and then work out some convoluted way to kill the man which he will then beat. Shoot the man on the spot. Your secret HQ will have some means of disposing of bodies – and once you get rid of James Bond it will remain secret.