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This article is about the Bullion Depository as much as it is about the tunnel that runs out of the vault. And mind you, this article will not tell you how you can get into the vault (which is impossible, to say the l..

28 Nov 2012

Commodity Online
There it stands tall with 3% of gold mined in all of human history: cold, dark, viciously secured; a lump in the throat of time.

The United States Bullion Depository aka Fort Knox is where US has locked in vaults a chunk of its gold--4,578 metric tons (5,046.3 short tons) of gold bullion (147.2 million oz. troy)-- second only to gold deposits at Federal Reserve Bank of New York in Manhattan.

"The most famous, if not the largest, vault door order came from the Federal government in 1935 for the newly-constructed gold depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Both the vault door and emergency door were 21-inches thick and made of the latest torch- and drill-resistant material. The main vault door weighed 20 tons and the vault casing was 25-inches thick." according to A History of Mosler. [Mosler, Inc., Form 9983-5M-1099. 1999]

This article is about the Bullion Depository as much as it is about the tunnel that runs out of the vault. And mind you, this article will not tell you how you can get into the vault (which is impossible, to say the least) or how you can get out of the tunnel with a few bars of gold (the guards there shoot one first and ask questions later—a smiley here).

This article, banking on a first hand experience, can tell you what the vault is, what the tunnel is and what security it commands.

It is also interesting to note that the vault has stored valuable items for other government agencies including The Magna Carta, the crown, sword, scepter, orb, and cape of St. Stephen, King of Hungary and in a spirited moment, a supply of processed morphine and opium; well that was until the invention of synthetic painkillers and was treated as a hedge against the United States being cut off from the sources of supply of raw opium in times of World War and Cold War.

During World War II, the repository held the original U.S. Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution as well.

The origins: Great Depression

The vault traces its origins back to 1933 when the then President of US, Roosevelt came out with a gold confiscation order in turn due to the effects inflicted by the Great Depression. Touted the Executive Order 6102, the order prohibited private ownership of gold coins, gold bullion, and gold certificates by American citizens making them sell all of them to US Federal Reserve.

In no time—starting 1933 and by 1937--the value of gold with US Federal Reserve climbed to $12 billion from $4 billion.

Invariably, all this gold had to be stored somewhere. Fort Knox in Kentucky was the site and the Army handed over the place to US Treasury for construction which began in 1936 and ended by December same year.

Security

As said in the beginning, the security is vicious and ultimate in its own way: the United States Mint Police is in charge of the whole thing, in addition to protection by Army.

Wikipedia outlines the security structure there:

“”The Depository is protected by layers of physical security, alarms, video cameras, mine fields, barbed razor wire, electric fences, heavily armed guards, and the Army units based at Fort Knox, including unmarked Apache helicopter gunships of 8/229 Aviation based at Godman Army Airfield, the 16th Cavalry Regiment, the 19th Engineer Battalion, formerly training battalions of the United States Army Armor School, and the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division, totaling 30,000 soldiers, with associated tanks, armored personnel carriers, attack helicopters, and artillery.”

Beneath the fortress-like structure, lies the gold vault lined with granite walls protected by blast-proof door weighing 22 tons. The access is heavily restricted and combination numbers should be punched in by multiple security staff to have access.

“The depository is a classified facility. No visitors are permitted, and no exceptions are made.” United States Mint website informs.

Construction materials used on the building included 16,500 cubic feet of granite, 4,200 cubic yards of concrete, 750 tons of reinforcing steel and 670 tons of structural steel.

'Invading' the vault

Thirty eight years ago, on Sept. 23, 1974, the vault was invaded by 120 members of a press contingent as well as about a dozen members of US Congress and authorities from the Mint and Treasury Department.

In real terms, it was an inspection.

It all began with a book by Dr. Peter David Beter, a Washington attorney, whose book “Conspiracy Against the Dollar” drew much attention.

Beter charged that “powerful Americans have secretly permitted $20 billion worth of gold to be removed from Ft. Knox.” National Tattler, a weekly publication blared the story just like WPAA Radio, Dallas, Texas. The treasury refused to comment and the general veil of secrecy aggravated the situation.

NMN who was a free-lance journalist then and had made it to the A-list of journalists had the privilege to break the story of his life time by visiting the facility. He wrote in Numismatic News:

“Reporters drew sticks to see who went in first. The space is so crowded and limited inside that only small groups could go in. Jim Miller and I were chosen to go in with the congressional delegation.The guards frisked everyone including congressmen with a sensitive metal detector.”

Meanwhile, a Representative of California in Congress John Rousselot demanded the tunnel be seen. NMN said:

“Rep. John Rousselot, R-Calif., was next to me and asked a guard about an unsubstantiated rumor that Beter popularized: that there was an escape tunnel from the building that was used to take out gold bullion. Indeed, Rousselot was told, there is a tunnel in the lower level. He asks to see it and was rebuffed. An argument ensued going up the food chain to Mint Director Brooks, who approves the visit.”

NMN continued:

“We found the tunnel sealed and dated as the vaults are. Explained an official from the depository, “All vaults have this type of escape device.” It can only be opened from inside the vault and has an intended use only when the door is shut, the time-lock set and someone mistakenly trapped in the vault.”

Now comes the dampener: “The escape could only be made outside the vault, not the building itself.” The tunnel is horizontal and about the size of a sewer pipe with some space to crawl and with much difficulty.

“Conclusion was that the tunnel – which opens inside the depository building, but outside the vault proper – was not a viable means for anyone to try to remove substantial quantities of gold.”


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