It’s a common staple of movies and TV shows. A band of crooks (or, occasionally good guys) plan to break into a massive facility and are warned it’s almost impregnable. While it’s true some places are intense, others may not have the same level of security as one would expect. The White House offers regular tours for people and while it’s the home of the President, there have been issues in the past that show it’s not hard to jump that fence. It’s much the same with other places of residence for world leaders, far easier to break in than one would expect. However, other spots are better designed to hold things in and, more importantly, keep things out.
The list of secure facilities around the world abound from major capitals to banks. Some are better kept safe due to their secrecy; for example, no one is exactly sure where the Iranian National Bank actually keeps their gold, allowing it to be pretty safe by that. But other places are famous for their high security and location which often aids them in keeping things tight. Naturally, prisons are notable for their heavy fortifications, but some areas are notable in how not being overt about their security hides how tough they really are. From jails to banks to a few surprising spots, here are fifteen of the most heavily guarded places on the planet. And while it’s fun to imagine breaking into a few of these spots, pulling it off is something else altogether.
15. WikiLeaks Bunker
More than one person has commented that Julian Assange’s facility looks more like the lair of a James Bond movie villain. In 2010, the founder of WikiLeaks decided to move his servers into an abandoned nuclear bomb shelter in Sweden. Built within a mountain, the facility rests a hundred feet underground within a hill designed to withstand a nuclear strike. Several sections have been blasted to create new chambers and house its own personal power supply to ensure things keep running on their own. The security isn’t overt outside, mostly private guards, but the remote location (it’s basically a thousand miles of open landscape in all directions) makes it hard to sneak up on. It’s fitting as the home of the site that has angered numerous governments by putting their secrets out into the world. While many a leader would no doubt love to shut the place down, it would require a full scale invasion of Sweden to do it and thus Assange’s bunker remains pretty secure.
14. Air Force One
The White House is one thing, but really, the most secure spot for the President of the United States is his personal aircraft. It’s cited as basically a more fancy 747, but if need be, it can be a complete mobile war command center. With a team of Secret Service agents backed by armed Marines and other soldiers, you can only get on by invitation of the President and everyone is checked thoroughly (so, no, a band of terrorists can’t board as a news crew like the Harrison Ford movie). The plane is shielded against EMPs and packed with various countermeasures in case of a jet attack. It also has its own private escort of elite trained fighter pilots to ensure any such attack is fought off as well as a refueling plane so AF1 can keep flight constantly. At a moment’s notice, the plane can call out for help and no doubt get reinforcements fast. According to the official releases, things like a personal escape pod for the President are fiction, but rumors abound that the plane does have some secrets they don’t want to give away. Given how this isn’t just a ride but a personal home for the President, no wonder security for this flight makes the TSA look light.
13. Federal Reserve New York
The plot of Die Hard With a Vengeance has Jeremy Irons’ villain leading an attack to rob this New York bank. He openly boasts that it has “ten times the gold of Fort Knox” as he and his gang rip it off. While fun, in real life, pulling off such a robbery is a lot harder. Located eighty feet under the surface of New York, rather than some light security force, the bank vaults are constantly watched by an elite team of well-armed police. There is only one entrance, a 90-ton steel cylinder set in a 140-ton steel frame. When those doors are shut, four solid steel pylons sink into the floor with a time lock so no one can enter until the following day. The vaults are lined with solid steel with cameras watching 24/7. Also, unlike in the movie, there is no tunnel access to allow someone to cart off the gold in trucks. The entire area is closely policed, especially in the years since 9/11 as the Fed is cited as a top terrorist target and a special alert to NYPD headquarters echoes at any trouble. So anyone who thinks Die Hard was true to life is disappointed as stealing the Fed’s reserves of gold is pretty impossible.
12. Cheyenne Mountain
It took five years to build this facility which shows how seriously the U.S. military took it. Housing for years the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD as it’s better known), this mountain base has been a revival of sorts with the military moving facilities back into it after some time away. It’s easy to see why as it’s built into the bedrock of Cheyenne in Colorado and there’s a massive ring of soldiers around the area with multiple fences. To get inside requires passing a pair of thick 25-ton doors that are built to withstand a 30-megaton nuclear blast and special filters to protect against biological attack. With a private river and stores of food, they can hold out for years against WWIII. It’s also close to Petersen Air Force Base to give them another layer of security. As the facility can withstand close to any attack, it has to rank as a key facility for the military in many ways.
11. Doomsday Seed Vault
Given the worries these days on “the end is nigh,” it’s no wonder this facility gets more attention. Located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, this building houses millions of seed samples of over 3000 types of plants just in case of plague, nuclear war or other assorted disasters. The seedbank is planted within a sandstone mountain designed to withstand a nuclear strike, the vaults constantly checked to ensure no damage to the seeds. The ice of the area aids in the refrigeration as well as adding to the security with its remote location and how it’s impossible to get within miles of the facility without being clearly spotted. Besides cameras and special voice recognition, the facility has meter-thick blast doors and armed guards to ensure safety with access kept quite strict. As this houses what could be the future of humanity, it’s no wonder security is high and how damn hard it is to even get there makes it more safe.
10. Vatican Secret Archives
There’s no secret that the Catholic Church has had some dark times over its centuries of existence. To many, their secret archives are the biggest area, home to letters, parchments and more that have remained hidden for centuries. Once part of the Vatican Library, they were separated in the 16th century and kept cut off until 1881. While some documents are shown to the public via tours, the vast majority are kept carefully guarded. As the Vatican is technically its own nation, access to this area is strictly limited to only the highest-ranking cardinals. Any researchers who want access have to go through a strenuous application process with full background checks and sign a non-disclosure agreement. Even if you are given access, one is carefully watched every second and there are still restrictions on what materials can be looked at (nothing after 1939 has been allowed to be researched). While the Vatican may appear to be unchanging, its security team is top notch and motion sensors and cameras ensure nothing is taken from the Archives without approval. It adds to the power of the Church to show how many secrets they still carry.
9. Parksafe Derby
On the surface, this sounds ridiculous. Among this collection of banks, prisons and government facilities there rests… a parking garage? However, this Derbyshire, England, facility is, in fact, regularly listed as one of the most secure places on the planet. For years, the multi-story car park garage was home to everything from homeless people to drug dealers, leading the city to make an upgrade for their public image. The car has to enter via a special entrance by typing in a bay number. Sensors then focus on the car and an alarm sounds if it doesn’t go into the right spot and ensures no one unauthorized enters or exits. A computer center has 190 cameras and motion sensors and can lock down all the entrance/exit doors if need be. The system has been so successful that the company openly states that if there is any damage of any sort, they’ll cover repair work and maintain close watch to make sure no one tries to cheat them. As bizarre as it sounds, there’s better security for this ten-storey structure than most banks in the world and the safest spot to leave a car on the planet.
8. ADX Florence Prison
There’s maximum security, there’s super-max… and then there’s ADX. A division of the Federal Justice System, this Colorado facility is where the worst criminals are sent. The cells are designed to prevent prisoners from communicating with each other, even via Morse code, and ensure the prisoners don’t even know what part of the jail they’re in. There are over 1400 steel doors which can create a lock-down at a moment’s notice with both security cameras and motion detectors about. Every cell is monitored 24/7, and if there’s even a hint of a prisoner trying to escape, the entire place can be put in “Panic mode.” Even if a prisoner did somehow get out of his cell, he has to deal with twelve-foot tall razor-wired fences constantly patrolled by guards with attack dogs. Just getting to the area requires multiple checkpoints and heavy security to ensure no one gets inside unless they’re stripped down and searched majorly. With a combination of terrorists, drug lords and serial killers, this is one prison that prides itself on never letting anyone out.
7. Iron Mountain
Located sixty miles outside of Pittsburgh, the Western Pennsylvania Data Center (WPA-1 for short) is among the most overlooked high-security places in the world. It’s one of the biggest data centers in the world, packed with thousands of computer terminals that maintain security for the Internet as well as back-ups for various websites and government servers. The “mountain” is no nickname as the facility rests 220 feet below the surface, built into a tough mountain. The campus area is 220 acres which are well guarded to make sure no one gets close. Even if they can, there are multiple armed-guard checkpoints with constant cameras going. The multiple doors utilize voice recognition, biometric access controls and even mantraps. There’s also metal detectors designed to ensure nothing so much as a button gets inside if it’s not checked out thoroughly. It’s fortified to stand up to an EMP attack if need be and measures were taken to ensure that its servers are immune to any outside attack as they try to block hackers around the world.
6. Guantanamo Bay
When a place is notable for housing terrorists, you expect some high security to it. The Naval Base has been set in Cuba since 1903 and has managed to survive through various upheaval, including the Castro era. In 2002, it was beefed up to become a prison for noted terrorists and others captured in Afghanistan and later Iraq. Since then, stories have abounded of human rights abuses and while promises to shut it down, it remains open due to the dangerous inhabitants. Naturally, the security is through the roof, multiple wired fences which are electrified and numerous soldiers patrolling the area. Despite it being on an island, the security around it is tough with rumors of mine fields to go with the security cameras, motion detectors and a naval force nearby. It’s argued a lot on how terrible the place is, but the security matches the murderous intentions of its prisoners.
5. Korean DMZ
It’s been over sixty years since the Korean War but the Demilitarized Zone is still among the tougher places to get around in the world. When the war ended in 1953 and Korea was divided into North and South, a “buffer” area was created for both them and China. Roughly 160 miles long and two and a half miles wide, it’s seen its security moved up as the decades have gone by. Each side is patrolled by a contingent of soldiers always on high alert and surrounded by massive electrified fences. Not only that, each side has a large mine field to prevent anyone from getting in too close and even tunneling doesn’t work well. Ironically, all this security has caused the area to become a nature preserve with a very large animal population. Meaning that one would have to handle tigers, bears and other wild animals to get close. The war is long over but the DZ still shows how tensions remain high on both sides of Korea and make this a risky place to be.
4. Bank of England Vault
As home to the gold reserves of not only the United Kingdom, but several other countries as well, the Bank of England is naturally well secured. The place has been regularly fortified and upgraded over the decades, especially during World War II to withstand multiple bombings. Resting underneath London, the vault contains a space larger than the city’s tallest building, roughly 4600 tons of gold bullion. Naturally, getting in is hard as hell as much of the building over it is heavily secure with cameras, motion detectors and guards. The British won’t even say how much is available with rumors that a team of elite SAS operatives are “on call” just in case. What is known is that employees need voice recognition as well as three-foot long keys to open up the doors to the Vault itself. Even if you get down there, trying to get any of these gold bars up to street level is tough and the vault is packed with motion sensors to boot. While it’s fun to imagine robbing the place, pulling it off is damn impossible.
3. The Mormon Church’s Secret Vault
When it comes to incredibly secure and secret places, the Mormons aren’t usually who come to mind. The Church of Latter-Day Saints are strong, but don’t flaunt their faith that much and aren’t seen as powerful as, say, Scientologists. But the group did find enough funds and strength to dig 600 feet into the north side of Granite Mountain, just outside Salt Lake City. As the name implies, digging that deep was a daunting task and meant a lot. Inside is a massive archive with 2.4 million miles of microfilm, equaling three billion pages on family records. It’s an international effort to safeguard the family legacies from around the world and often used for various genealogical projects. To access the vault requires being part of the Church of the LDS and several code combinations. Then getting past the thick solid granite door housed deep within the mountain with guards and cameras constantly on watch. It’s more the home you’d expect for a military outpost than an archive but shows how serious the Mormons take their job.
2. Area 51
Its official name is Groom Lake and Dreamland as a code name. For conspiracy buffs, this is the center of every sneaky, dark thing the United States government has been hiding for decades. Alien ships and bodies, evidence of fake moon landings and other events, it’s the stuff conspiracy lovers dream of. It looks nondescript, a large fence around an air base with just signs to stay away. However, it’s been made clear the security is a lot stronger than it seems. More than a few folks have tried to get close only to be found out in moments and if you get within even 10 miles of the place, camo-clad soldiers will be on you fast. The government has gone so far as to seize the lands around so the closest most can get today is 26 miles. The air space is restricted and this is just the stuff that’s known. Given the ultra-top secrecy surrounding the place, it’s possible they have even stricter means of security that can’t be viewed. It adds to the place’s reputation and why it’s so intriguing to imagine what secrets lie inside.
1. Fort Knox
It’s the go-to response for how secure something is, “locked up tighter than Fort Knox.” True, it’s no longer packed with as massive an amount of gold as it once was. But it still holds roughly $180 billion dollars of gold bullion that makes it arguably the most valuable bank on the planet. Robbing it has been a dream of many but it’s not that easy. The James Bond movie Goldfinger has Bond pointing out how it would take sixty men roughly two weeks to get even half the gold out because of their weight. That, of course, ignores the security of the place. The entire building is a literal fortress with multiple granite walls and a blast door weighing 25 tons. To get inside requires multiple combinations known only to selected workers. There are layers of fences, security cameras, barbed wire, electrical wiring and even a mine field. Oh, yes, there’s also the tiny fact there’s an entire Army division right nearby with tanks, helicopters and 30,000 highly trained soldiers ready to move in at a moment’s notice. It’s fun to dream but there’s a great reason why Fort Knox is still so secure and trying to steal from it damn impossible.