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In the late 1950s, the Air Force identified a problem. NORAD, or North American Air Defense Command, was located at Ent Air Force Base, which today houses the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

"One man with a well-aimed bazooka shot" could immobilize NORAD, Gen. Earle E. Partridge said later.

So came the plan for Cheyenne Mountain, a bunker that symbolized state-of-the-art national defense.

The procession followed: Ronald Reagan came, pitching his "Star Wars" nuclear shield. Also visiting were Denver Broncos cheerleaders, John Elway, David Copperfield and the Reds not the Cold War kind, the Cincinnati baseball kind.

With 25-ton doors and steel buildings surrounded by granite, NORAD appeared secure. In the mid-1990s, when government inspectors floated the idea of shutting down the mountain, they were roundly shot down by the Defense Department.

Now the push comes again (see page 16). Navy Adm. Timothy Keating started the ball rolling to place the mountain on standby, he has said, to save money and improve homeland security.

Some in Congress want to apply the brakes. Complaining of the military ignoring prudent questions, they have launched a probe that could ultimately scrap the plan.

A former general now sounds reminiscent of Partridge, saying a move could leave early-warning systems vulnerable to the terrorists they're designed to thwart.

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