But some Northern Virginia officials have been told that the biggest obstacle to redevelopment may be a federal client that’s already at the site: the CIA. Now, as Maryland, Virginia and the District jockey for a prize worth perhaps as much as $3 billion, the presence of the classified site has left several Northern Virginia officials feeling as if one of their best prospects has been mysteriously hobbled.
Fairfax’s bid is one of about three dozen, setting up a political face-off among officials in the region and members of Congress for what they see as a potential blessing to their local economies. Officials from the District, Maryland and Virginia have offered possible sites — vying not only for the prestige that comes with having a new FBI headquarters within their boundaries but also for as many as 11,000 jobs.
In what has been an open secret in Northern Virginia for years, elected officials say the CIA maintains a classified facility in what appears to be a warehouse on property owned by the General Services Administration, the federal government’s landlord. The high-stakes competition for the FBI has put a new spotlight on the site, including new details that suggest the spy agency’s facility is more elaborate than a warehouse.
In interviews, local and federal officials — all speaking only on the condition of anonymity because they were concerned about discussing national security secrets or because they knew only a few details about the spot — said the agency has built a facility that may extend underground and whose infrastructure may be so costly to relocate that its presence could scuttle any redevelopment of the 70-acre site.
A Northern Virginia official, who toured the GSA site several years ago, said he was told an elevator is needed to access the CIA’s facility, whose walls are lined with lead.
“The person who gave us the tour said, ‘Don’t be fooled by the building’s exterior, because most of the activity that occurs cannot be seen from above ground’ — which the only thing I can conclude from that is they must have a big underground chamber of some sort,” the official said.
In “Fallout: The True Story of the CIA’s Secret War on Nuclear Trafficking,” authors Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz, now The Washington Post’s national security editor, report that the CIA uses the warehouse-like site to train “a cadre of technical officers to bug offices, break into houses, and penetrate computer systems.” Several Northern Virginia officials who have studied the site say it is also served by state-of-the-art telecommunication networks.