Living near Harvey Point’s secrets
Published 10:38 pm Wednesday, October 16, 2013
By Frank Roberts
When I moved to Hertford, N.C., from Jacksonville, two of my first visitors came to find out why I had set up housekeeping next door to a gentleman who worked at one of the nation’s most super-secret facilities — the Harvey Point Defense Testing Activity Training facility, where “classified” is the word.
They finally left my humble abode after deciding I posed no threat to Uncle Sam.
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Initially, these two serious gentlemen were worried about me spilling my guts, in print, about the hush-hush base. That was in ‘68, and I had just been hired by the Virginian-Pilot.
My nice neighbor owned two handsome boxers. As over-the-fence friends, we talked about everything except, of course, anything connected with his work at what later became a duplicate of Osama Bin Laden’s hideaway.
The great majority of federal employees there are in uniform. There are about 40 civilian employees who work at the base as cooks and guards. All are sworn to secrecy, and that includes their nosey families.
Much of the secret is now out, thanks to former Navy SEAL Matt Bisonette’s book, “No Easy Day,” written under the pseudonym of Mark Owen.
Several websites are dedicated to the not-so-secret, secret hideaway, almost all of them containing aerial photographs of the compound, some even offering before-and-after pictures showing the change in the house where Bin Laden slept until May 2, 2011.
Harvey Point trained 18,000 foreign intelligence operatives from 50 different countries, according to the New York Times.
For a couple of years, I was a part-time director of the Perquimans County Chamber Of Commerce. At one point, several area officials were invited to visit. As a Chamber director, I was on the invite list.
Our instructions were simple. We were to follow the guide. We were marched around, winding up in a dining area, watched over by a gourmet chef.
Paul Gregory, a good friend and former manager of the county, said the execs who showed us around were real nice folks.
“They said they would show us around the base. Well, they did NOT show us around the base, but for the most part they told us the truth as to what they did show us.
“Basically, they explode things. They blow up cars, they blow up safes. They blow stuff up,” he said. “They try to reconstruct an explosion that took place somewhere in the world.”
Harvey Point’s military history goes way back to ‘42, when it was established as Naval Air Station Harvey Point by the Navy, using it as an operating base for seaplanes conducting anti-submarine surveillance off the Atlantic coast.
The bargain-hunting Navy purchased the 1,200 acres for $41,751. Four families living there were evicted when the Navy seized the area for its use, according to records in the Perquimans County Courthouse.
In the 1670s, it was occupied by the Harvey family, including North Carolina’s first native-born governor, Thomas Harvey. The family graveyard remains at the base. The last of that family line was his great-great-great-granddaughter, Emily Skinner, who died in ‘46 in Hertford.
The area is supposedly where Blackbeard’s booty is buried.
After World War II, the naval air station was de-activated. In ‘58 it served as testing grounds for an experimental jet-powered long-range seaplane bomber, an experiment that did bomb, but not as intended.
The installation has landing fields and is jointly administered by the Navy and the Central Intelligence Agency, who use it for paramilitary and counter-terrorism courses, according to Wikipedia. High explosives and ballistics are the order of the day.
The biggest newsmaker, of course, was its use as a training base for Navy SEAL Team Six to train for the raid that knocked off Bin Laden. Rehearsals for that successful activity were in a building that duplicated his once-secret compound.
Several months ago. when the book about Harvey Point came out, the New York Post noted, in big, black, bold headlines that the Central Intelligence Agency “is operating a paramilitary training course” in Perquimans County’s backyard, about four miles from my house.
But if you are in a tourist-y mood, save your gas. The base is located at the end of Harvey Point Road, about three miles from downtown Hertford. Visitors come to a highly fenced area where they can see nothing of importance.
My late father-in-law was a guard there. And that’s all I know.
During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at email@example.com.