Homeland Security Buys an Entire Town, Playas NM

The Town of Playas, New Mexico was a virtual ghost town before 2003.  It was developed in the 1970’s by Phelps Dodge, the mining company.  It was intended to house 500 workers and their families employed at the nearby copper smelting plant.  The town once included 259 homes, six apartment buildings, a community and fitness center, a bowling alley, a medical clinic, a bank, a bar and grill, helicopter pad, shooting range, and even its own post office, with its own zip code 88009.  Located in the bootheel of New Mexico, it was also known as La Estrella Del Norte due to its lights being used by undocumented migrants to pinpoint directions on their journeys.  Now the town is being used for Homeland Security training, another military project run through New Mexico Tech.

After copper prices declined in 1999, Phelps Dodge permanently suspended its copper smelting in the area, and the town was soon evacuated.  The company put up the town, encompassing 640 acres with an additional 1200 acres surrounding it, for sale in 2002 for $3.2 million.  Then in 2003 it was purchased.

In 2003 the entire town was purchased through New Mexico Tech for Homeland Security training.  New Mexico State University was a partner in this deal.  It would become “a real world training facility for first responders and anti-terrorist programs.”  The final purchase price was $5 million.  These and future funds were secured by Pete Domenici, New Mexico Senator and member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Committee.  Training would include biosecurity research, urban warfare, and biological and chemical warfare training.  It would be operated through the NMT National Emergency Response Training Research and Development Center, or by the clever acronym NERTRDC.

NMT President Daniel Lopez lauded the purchase, completed in 2004, saying “New Mexico Tech is now able to look forward to initiating a whole range of research activities and training programs in and around Playas that will directly support homeland security efforts, not only at the state and national levels, but on a global basis as well.”

As we will see, New Mexico Tech is involved in militarism on all these levels, state, national, and global.

New Mexico Tech and the Military

Along with the NERTRDC, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology has long been intimately involved with the military and homeland security.  It was long known as the bomb school, home to the Terminal Effects Research and Analysis (TERA), and the Center for Explosives Technology Research (CETR), and involved in research and development of depleted uranium. Its facilities include the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (EMRTC), which all and all deals with explosives research and development; The Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program (ATAP); The International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Roswell, which train soldiers and police around the world, from over 80 countries.  It also included the “somewhat secretive” Institute for Complex Additive Systems Analysis, dealing with anti-terrorism in computer networks and power grids.  Militarization of cyberspace is another imperial goal.  The biology department is involved in creating DNA chips to detect anthrax.  It also has a cooperative venture to develop Directed Energy weapons with the military.

Another military project that seems benign on the surface is the $50 million Magdalena Ridge Observatory, an array of ten optical telescopes on a nearly 11,000 foot mountain.  During the day the Air Force will use it for tracking missile launches at White Sands Missile Range, and then given to civilian scientists at night.

More than 40 percent of Tech’s activities have a connection to the military or counterterrorism.  In 2003 New Mexico Tech led the nation in earmarked federal funds allocated to one institution, with over $56 million from the federal government in 2003 alone, most for homeland security.

New Mexico Tech’s relationship with the military began back in the era of World War II and a man named E.J. Workman.  He was in close contact with the Manhattan Project scientists through his physics department at UNM in Albuquerque.  He developed machines used in the war, and in disputes over funding and territory, moved his operation to Socorro and the mining school there.  In 1988 Tech explosives experts helped in the Lockerbie bombing investigation.  In 1993 they worked on the World Trade Center bombing.  In 1997 after Oklahoma City the university launched its First Responder training, started with $3 million.  Demand increased after 9/11 and by 2003 they received $20 million for the program, with over 100 applying a year.

New Mexico Tech seems to be increasingly profiting from the climate of fear that came from the War on Terrorism, and will continue to profit from this war machine.  Of course many get their living off these military programs, and will want to continue them, whether by blind patriotism or from knowing subjectively they benefit from it.  Only the masses located in the Third World will eliminate this waste of resources into war.


City of Secrets, Trinity’s Children.

“Domenici Welcomes Initial Agreement for New Mexico Tech to Buy Hidalgo Town.”  Press Release.  May 21, 2003.  Domenici.senate.gov/news/topicrecord.cfm?id=204144

Harrison, Heather.  “Phelps Dodge, NM Universities to Discuss Playas Purchase.”  New Mexico Business Weekly.  May 22, 2003.


“Homeland Security Buys Town, Playas, NM. For Training.”  Reuters.  May 23, 2003.  Referenced at http://www.mindfully.org/Reform/2003/Homeland-Security-Playas-NM23may03.htm

Zamora, George.  “Pending Finalization of Playas Purchase Boosts Homeland Security.”  http://infohost.nmt.edu/mainpage/news/2003/23may05.html

Zamora, George.  “N M Tech Hosts Inaugural Event at Playas Training Center.” http://infohost.nmt.edu/mainpage/news/2004/2dec01.html

Krza, Paul.  “Explosions and Counterterrorism On a Quiet Campus.”  Techcomm, The National Journal of Technology Commercialization.  February-March 2004. Pg. 19-21.


About elloborojo

Okay, as the subtitle states, this is a notebook from what I call a New Mexico diaspora (look up diaspora if you are asking). I was a former resident of New Mexico, now living elsewhere, but New Mexico is still my homeland. To get more in touch with your homeland one must be away from it. This is my attempt to understand it. I was a former anti-militarism activist in the Albuquerque area. Still believe that United Snakes militarism is the greatest threat to the world, as do the majority of the worlds population. Uncovered much information about the ties in New Mexico, but never processed it all. This blog is an attempt to do that. Also hope it may come of use to others with similar interests.
This entry was posted in New Mexico Tech, Playas, White Sands Missile Range and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Homeland Security Buys an Entire Town, Playas NM

  1. Pingback: How one tiny article can show so much about the military in New Mexico, especially the stealth fighters at Holloman « El Lobo Rojo: Notes From A New Mexico Diaspora

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