Inside Scientology’s Secret Bunkers

Two of the subjects of the HBO documentary Going Clear open up about Scientology’s secrets and the whereabouts of the wife of its chief, David Miscavige.

03.10.15 9:15 AM ET

They call it “Twin Peaks.”

About 120 miles east of Los Angeles—near Lake Arrowhead—reportedly lies the Church of Spiritual Technology (CST). The complex, built in the 1980s, resembles a sprawling summer campground, buried deep in the woods and littered with cabins. But the people housed in these facilities aren’t exactly playing Capture the Flag. They’re Scientologists readying for the apocalypse.

“CST is the ultimate Scientology entity,” says Tony Ortega, a renowned journalist who runs the Scientology-focused The Underground Bunker blog. “All CST does is dig these weird vaults and build these nuclear-proof shelters. And remember, this is all based on 1980s technology, and at the time the hot thing was LaserDiscs. So they literally have these gold LaserDiscs stored in titanium bank vaults with inert gases.”

These LaserDiscs, according to Ortega, contain footage of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and are being stored in vaults in case Armageddon hits. Ortega says they’re accompanied by his written works, which are etched on stainless steel plates in what is known as “The Archiving Project.” While the CST headquarters is near Lake Arrowhead, it is allegedly one of several facilities scattered across the country associated with CST and “The Archiving Project.”

“There’s Petrolia, California, up on the coast; there’s one in Sierra Nevada; there’s one in New Mexico called Trementina; and they’re building another one in Wyoming,” says Ortega.

He adds, “Flash forward 30 years, and you can put the entire output of L. Ron Hubbard on an external drive! They didn’t foresee this in the 1980s, so you don’t need to dig an entire vault. But they still do it. It’s so bizarre.”

The CST headquarters is, according to Ortega, where Scientology head David Miscavige’s wife has been since 2005.

Shelly Miscavige was at one point a very high-ranking member of the Church of Scientology. As a member of Sea Org’s Commodore’s Messenger Organization (CMO), she was—along with the rest of the organization—responsible for personally tending to the whims of Hubbard aboard his flagship Apollo. In December 1982, at the age of 21, Shelly married a fellow CMO member by the name of David Miscavige, 22.

According to Lawrence Wright’s tome Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, Shelly was installed as Miscavige’s assistant, and served as a liaison to their most famous member: Tom Cruise. Wright’s book claims that Shelly supervised the auditing of actress Penelope Cruz while she dated Cruise in the wake of his split from Nicole Kidman, and that she spearheaded the Church of Scientology’s campaign to find Cruise a new girlfriend after Cruz, which led to him marrying Katie Holmes. (Cruise’s attorney has denied the allegations that any Scientology-affiliated persons set him up with girlfriends.)

Paul White/AP

Tom Cruise embraces David Miscavige, the Scientology Church's president of the Ruling Council, during the official opening of a new Scientology church in central Madrid in this Sept. 18, 2004, photo.

But Shelly Miscavige was last seen in public in August 2007 at her father’s funeral. Her alleged disappearance has led to all manner of speculation as to her whereabouts.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney’s HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which hits theaters March 13 (and HBO on March 29), is an eye-opening exposé of Scientology. It portrays L. Ron Hubbard’s strange history as a purportedly disgraced war veteran (who accidentally shelled an island) and alleges that he was an abusive, sci-fi-obsessed husband. It also claims to show how Scientology grew, and eventually obtained tax-exempt status with the IRS, which has allowed it to thrive via tax-free real estate deals and donations. It also focuses on the “religion’s” most famous member, Tom Cruise, as well as his split from second wife Nicole Kidman—which the film claims was facilitated by the church.

“Probably the biggest story that was left out of the documentary,” says Ortega, “was Shelly.”

I sat down with two of the subjects of Going Clear at a hotel bar in Midtown Manhattan—Ortega, who landed a number of Scientology scoops at the Village Voice before starting the blog The Underground Bunker (he’s executive editor of The Raw Story as well), and Mike Rinder, a former member of Sea Org and senior executive within the Church of Scientology who acted as one of the church’s “fixers” responsible for putting out PR and legal fires. He left Scientology in 2007 as, he says, “the reign of Miscavige took on more dictatorial and draconian aspects to it,” including, he says, sending him to “the hole”—what he (and the film) alleges is a Scientology prison facility in Clearwater, Florida.

Both Ortega and Rinder claim to know where Shelly Miscavige is—at the CST headquarters near Lake Arrowhead.

“Mike and I are pretty positive that in 2005, once Dave had his blow-up with her, he sent her up there to be a non-person,” says Ortega. “She just doesn’t exist anymore. And she became a part of that project—‘The Archiving Project.’ They let her out for a couple of days for her father’s funeral in the summer of 2007, and nobody has seen her since. I’m positive she’s still there, and I have my sources saying that she’s still there.”

The Church of Scientology could not be reached for comment at the time of writing, but a spokesperson told Vanity Fair last year that Shelly had been "working nonstop in the church, as she always has.”

'Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief' , 'Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief' , 'Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief'

In 2013, Shelly’s former pal, King of Queens actress Leah Remini, filed a missing person’s report on Shelly’s behalf with the Los Angeles Police Department. Remini says she left Scientology that year due to the alleged disappearance of Shelly. But the LAPD claims that it made contact with Shelly, and that the missing person’s report was “unfounded”—though they refused to provide any additional details as to her whereabouts.

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“A missing person’s report is an imperfect way, because she’s not ‘missing,’” says Ortega. “The police contacted the church, and the church no doubt whisked them up to the compound. I talked to the cop, Lt. Andre Dawson, and he said that they made contact with her. I asked him if she was in the presence of church officials, and he said, ‘That’s classified.’”

Rinder believes that Shelly is there willingly out of a misguided devotion to her husband and Scientology. “If the police showed up at the CST headquarters to get Shelly, she would come out and say, ‘I’m happy. Some crazy person has sent you on a wild goose chase.’”

Both Rinder and Ortega claim that Miscavige is “obsessed with power,” and not only gets his jollies forcing his Scientology disciples into “Sophie’s Choice-like situations,” but revels in lording over his fiercely loyal subjects—including Cruise, whom Rinder says views Miscavige “as a God.”

“The thing that Miscavige is protecting is his power base inside Scientology,” Rinder says. “His motivation is not money, it’s power. Money is a means by which he measures his power. How much money he can get people to give him against their self-interests is a means of how much power he has over dictating their life.”