• 700-acre compound 90 miles from Los Angeles is HQ of Sea Org
  • Centre, dubbed Gold Base, was kept a secret to even Scientologists for decades
  • It's claimed Cruise planned to send Suri to Sea Org
  • Organisation is being investigated by FBI over human trafficking
This is Gold Base, the secret desert HQ of the Scientology Church and the controversial Sea Org group, reportedly central to Katie Holmes's marital split from Tom Cruise.

Ominously for those inside, the razor-sharp fences surrounding the 700-acre compound of Gold Base have spikes pointing in both directions.

With motion sensors along the perimeter and a camouflaged sniper bunker hidden in the hillside above, it is unclear whether the prison-style security is to keep people out or to keep them in - or both. The base, surrounded by hills near the town of Hemet in southern California, was for decades a secret even to most Scientologists.

But now it has been thrust into the spotlight amid claims that Holmes ended her six-year-marriage to the Mission Impossible star over fears that he wanted to send their daughter Suri to join Sea Org.

Although Suri is only six and Sea Org usually recruits young people over 16, Cruise - yesterday named the highest-paid Hollywood star after earning £47 million last year - holds enormous sway in the church and would have no problem pulling strings.

But Sea Org's dire reputation is enough to give any mother palpitations. Its members wear naval uniforms, use military ranks and are expected to salute to senior church members like Cruise and call them 'sir'.

Outraged former members say that conditions are anything but fraternal and have painted Sea Org - which stands for Sea Organisation, a reference to the church's early days sailing the globe on ships - as slavery by another name.

Some 800 of the 6,000 Sea Org members are at Gold Base at any given time, but all of them can expect to spend some of their toughest years in the church there.

Formerly a resort popular with the Hollywood industry and known by the unfortunate title of Massacre Canyon after an old Indian tribal battle, Gold Base was bought by the church in 1978. It has since spent at least £30 million redeveloping it.
Enclave: Gold Base, the Scientology camp on a 500-acre compound at San Jacinto in Riverside County, California
The site boasts comfortable villas where the group's authoritarian leader David Miscavige and other senior Scientologists live and work, a castle-style film studio that produces propaganda, a huge church, a ship-themed swimming pool, a golf course and the mansion of the late Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
Spiritual home: The $9.4million mansion which former members claim was built for the return of L. Ron Hubbard who died in 1986
The latter, the grand house at the top of the compound called Bonnie View, is now a museum but is reportedly kept fully staffed and furnished. Scientologists believe in reincarnation, and hope Hubbard may some day return.

Ex-Sea Org members claim they were continually forced to work 20-hour days for just room, board and a weekly allowance of £15.

Physical relationships, marriage and especially childbirth are said to be discouraged as they are seen as a distraction from Sea Org's arduous work running the Scientology organisation.

Recruits sign billion-year contracts because - as Scientologists believe in reincarnation - they are expected to return to Sea Org in future lives.

When they have tried to leave, some Sea Orgers - as members are called - have said the church has given them a bill for tens of thousands of dollars for the teaching and training they received while serving in Sea Org.
Keeping watch: The Gold Base compound has razor-tipped fences, motion sensors and what appears to be a heavily camouflaged sniper-style nest bunker that over looks the entire property (pictured)
Church leaders at Gold Base are allegedly encouraged to instil aggressive, even violent discipline on the compound both with Sea Org foot soldiers and other visiting church members.

Those who fail to submit are reportedly punished in 'the Hole', a pair of extra-wide mobile homes on Gold Base used as a prison block for Scientologists who have in some way offended their leaders.

Although the church denies the existence of such a place and some believe the buildings have been removed, a string of former Scientologists have come forward to detail the abuse they allege went on there.
Devout: The religious technology center at the gated compound which sits in arid foothills, 90 miles from LA
Mark 'Marty' Rathbun, once the second most powerful figure in the church - but who later fell out with the organisation and fled from the base - told a court that between 80 and 100 Scientologists were sentenced to the Hole at a time and were required to do group confessions all day and all night.

He claimed that, one night, Miscavige visited the Hole and organised a brutal game of musical chairs. Putting the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody on the sound system, he announced that only the winner would be allowed to remain a member of the church, prompting a desperate fight as Scientologists came to blows over the chairs.

The church has denied all allegations, saying that Rathbun was 'delusional'.

Earlier this year, another high- profile Scientologist defector, Debbie Cook, tearfully told a court how in 2007 she and fellow 'Holees' at Gold Base - including church management from as far afield as France and Australia - were forced to share a single conference room with cubicles and office spaces around it.
Wilderness: Sea Org is run from Gold Base in Gilman Hot Springs, Colorado
There were bars on the windows and the only exit was guarded 24 hours a day by church security men, she said.

Meals were a 'slop' of reheated leftovers, such as beans and rice, barely providing enough energy for the days' main activity - hurling abuse at each other in often violent confessionals designed to get them to admit ill-feeling towards Miscavige.

She described her own 12-hour ordeal as she was forced to stand in a large rubbish bin while the 100 other inmates poured water over her and screamed in her face that she was a lesbian.

'You ate there, you slept there on the floor and you never left with the exception of a brief period to go take a shower,' she said, adding that the place was infested with ants.

At one point, Miscavige is said to have piled on the discomfort by turning off the electricity - and therefore the air-conditioning - for two weeks, making the temperature inside the Hole soar to 106F (41C).

Rank-and-file Sea Org members toiling away at Gold Base are similarly vulnerable to abuse, some of them claim.

Marc Headley, who spent 15 years in Sea Org, recounted how under- performers at Gold Base were frequently sent to work-camps, where they would be humiliated.

He recounted how he and many others once had to spend several days in the blistering desert heat chipping out several feet of solidified waste from a dried-out sewage lake.

They were allowed only hand tools and given neither masks nor eye protection.

More pictures may be found here.