updated 7/28/2006 10:53:45 AM ET 2006-07-28T14:53:45

The military is virtually closing the secretive defense complex carved into Cheyenne Mountain that for decades has monitored North American skies for threats, a newspaper reported.

The Denver Post reported late Thursday that the North American Aerospace Defense Command operations center will be moved to nearby Peterson Air Force Base, which is home to the U.S. Northern Command created after the Sept. 11 attacks.

NORAD, a joint U.S. and Canadian command, was set up in the 1960s to monitor the skies for threats like missiles, aircraft and space objects.

Adm. Tim Keating, who commands both NORAD and the U.S. Northern Command, said the government’s best intelligence “leads us to believe a missile attack from China or Russia is very unlikely.”

That, along with the emergence of varied terrorist threats such as suicide bombers, “is what recommends to us that we don’t need to maintain Cheyenne Mountain in a 24/7 status. We can put it on ‘warm standby,”’ Keating told the newspaper.

Keating was scheduled to make the announcement Friday. He said 230 surveillance crew members and an undetermined number of the support staff will make the move within two years.

A symbol of the Cold War
About 1,100 people work in the mountain, long a symbol of the Cold War. Buildings inside it are mounted on springs to absorb the shock from a nuclear blast, while the entrance is guarded by a vault-like door several feet thick.

The complex includes banks of batteries and its own water supply. Excavation on the site began in 1961.

Canadian crews stationed at Cheyenne Mountain will also make the move to Peterson, Keating said.

Air Force Space Command, which monitors objects in space, is looking into moving its operations out of the mountain to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, which would leave the mountain virtually empty.

Keating said he would like to keep the complex in usable shape, with the goal of being able to bring it online in an hour.

Modernizing NORAD has cost more than $700 million since the Sept. 11 attacks, with the work still incomplete, according to a recent congressional probe, and operating the complex costs about $250 million a year.

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