NSA chief built war-room replica of Star Trek ship with tax dollars

It had already been reported by Glenn Greenwald (and numerous other outlets) that NSA chief General Keith Alexander had essentially built himself an homage replica of the Starship Enterprise bridge (the Next-Gen NCC-1701-D version, to be precise) as the command-and-control center for his “war room.”  Yes, we’re talking the bridge from Star Trek.

Honestly, there’s a whole bucket of wrong in that first paragraph, starting with the fact we have a military officer running the NSA.

It was in the Washington Post, where a profile of General Alexander describes his attitude towards national security and data hoovering: Get it all. No exceptions. No more privacy for anyone, anywhere.

International, domestic, American citizen or not, it didn’t matter. If a piece of data existed, even if it was your kid depositing his or her allowance in a savings account or you ordering up some porn on On-Demand, Alexander wanted that data in a server somewhere. And he wants to keep that data forever.

But the NSA director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, wanted more than mere snippets. He wanted everything: Every Iraqi text message, phone call and e-mail that could be vacuumed up by the agency’s powerful computers.

“‘Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, his approach was, ‘Let’s collect the whole haystack,’ said one former senior US intelligence official who tracked the plan’s implementation. ‘Collect it all, tag it, store it. . . . And whatever it is you want, you go searching for it. . . . .

“It also encapsulated Alexander’s controversial approach to safeguarding Americans from what he sees as a host of imminent threats, from terrorism to devastating cyberattacks.

In a new article linked by Greenwald, over on Foreignpolicy.com, we learn even more disturbing details about the man who will not be satisfied with less than the “whole haystack.”

Alexander wants as much data as he can get. And to hang onto it for as long as he can. To prevent the next terrorist attack, he thinks he needs to be able to see entire networks of communications and also go “back in time,” as he has said publicly, to study how terrorists and networks evolve. (…)

Today the agency is routinely scooping up and storing Americans’ phone records. It is screening their emails and text messages, even though the agency can’t always tell the difference between an innocent American and a foreign terrorist. The NSA uses corporate proxies to monitor up to 75% of Internet traffic inside the United States. And it has spent billions on a secret campaign to foil encryption technologies that individuals, corporations, and governments around the world had long thought protected the privacy of their communications from U.S. intelligence agencies.

Now then, about that ‘starship bridge.’ Until recently, we’d only been told about the Picard-esque command chair and the doors that go whoosh. Thanks to some sleuthing from Greenwald, who tracked down the architecture company that supposedly designed the war room, DBI Architects, Inc., we can see what our American taxpayer dollars are being spent on.

NSA chief General Keith Alexander's toy - a Star Trek playset he named the "Information Domination Center."

NSA chief General Keith Alexander’s toy – a Star Trek playset he named the “Information Dominance Center.”

He’s named his war-room the Information Dominance Center — and for some reason expects us not to be entirely creeped-out by that. In case it’s not obvious just how much this room was influenced by Trek, here’s another view.

General Alexander's fantasy from another angle

General Alexander’s fantasy from another angle

As described on the PBS News Hour:

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When he was running the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many of his future allies down to Fort Belvoir for a tour of his base of operations, a facility known as the Information Dominance Center. It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a ‘whoosh’ sound when they slid open and closed. Lawmakers and other important officials took turns sitting in a leather ‘captain’s chair’ in the center of the room and watched as Alexander, a lover of science-fiction movies, showed off his data tools on the big screen.

“‘Everybody wanted to sit in the chair at least once to pretend he was Jean-Luc Picard,’ says a retired officer in charge of VIP visits.”

Now we’ve seen what had before only been described. Seriously, isn’t it time to be disturbed to the point of taking action? This is exactly the kind of excess and corruption that happens when there are buckets of money being dispensed freely, with no accountability and what’s become an obvious disdain for the Constitution and the rule-of-law.

Men like General Alexander will run amok. The evidence is right here.


Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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  • nickchop

    Um… I think this is the only thing the NSA has done recently that I approve of.

  • corsair82

    Gene Roddenberry would be spinning in his grave at the news that his artistic legacy is being perverted thus.

  • Nick MightyDreadnaut Hammond

    I wonder what Patrick Stewart would have to say about this…

  • AcquiredExpertise

    Respectfully, Becca, I disagree, but you’re certainly entitled to your opinion.

  • JayRandal

    NSA is completely out-of-control. Apparently Congressional membership either blackmailed or bribed to do nothing about NSA abuses.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Always, TV production issues trump realism or functional designs.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Which is one of the core problems with having an organization like the NSA in the first place.

  • usagi

    I believe in the initial TNG concept art, the conference room was supposed to be in the middle of the bridge (or the bridge was supposed to be a conference room) and that the workstations would be integrated with the table. Problem with that being that everyone has to be in every shot, so they spread them out more.

  • AcquiredExpertise

    <>

    Owing to the fact that the NSA is military agency (its predecessor was the Armed Forces Security Agency) operated by the Department of Defense, its director has always been a military officer.

  • dracosolon

    99 Decision street
    99 ministers meet
    To worry, worry, super flurry
    Call the troops out in a hurry
    This is what we’ve waited for
    This is it boys, this is war
    The president is on the line
    As 99 red balloons go by

    99 knights of the air
    Ride super high tech jet fighters
    Everyone’s a super hero
    Everyone’s a Captain Kirk
    With orders to identify
    To clarify, and classify
    Scramble in the summer sky
    99 red balloons go by

  • Ninong

    John, it happened to me yesterday but so far it has not happened to me today. It was really confusing because I would be watching a video that you posted and I would be hearing additional conversations in the background. Then sometimes it happened even when I wasn’t watching a video. I didn’t even realize what was going on until your comments today.

    I thought maybe I was hearing voices? Hahahaha! (It’s a miracle! Let’s canonize somebody.)

  • the_rebis

    Gen. Jack D. Ripper + Adm. Poindexter = Gen. Alexander

  • Ninong

    Yes, I remember the IAO (Information Awareness Office) with the eye inside the top of the pyramid gazing over the entire Earth. Do you remember who established the IAO?

    That would be none other than convicted felon Admiral John Poindexter. His Iran-Contra affair felonies were all reversed on appeal.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Kick ass the BORG!

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Good! I look forward very much to reading it.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I’ve been to my share of SF conventions and listened in on panels talking about proper starship design — and of course, one of the top choices is whether or not the Enterprise bridge makes any sense.

    Conclusion? Not even close. As anyone with sense realizes, the Enterprise bridge was designed not for function but for television. And if anything it got worse with the 1701-D, because at least back with the original 1701 people had workstations and swiveling chairs; the new version forced people — including the captain — leave their post if they needed to talk to anyone.

    Any number of SF authors have tried for a more logical bridge design (including embedding it deeper in the ship, to protect it), having everybody essentially facing each other, with a 3-D viewing ‘tank’ below and in the middle. (I think maybe even David Gerrold’s ‘Star Wolf’ incorporated these elements… I can’t remember for sure.)

    But yeah, setting all this aside, the ‘Information Dominance Center’ itself is representative of just how crazy this situation has become. And how our leaders have been putting crazy people in charge of it.

  • Whitewitch

    Beep beep….being taken over by auto videos…. You can not stop us…we will play where we want to play and besides we are capturing all of the blog posts here as well…Beep Beep….now back to Whitewitch.

    Will do John.

  • usagi

    TNG was of its period (as was TOS–space hippies, anyone?). The design, particularly the interface design, was far ahead of its time and continues to influence UX in the real world. As for the rest: http://sttngfashion.tumblr.com/

  • Whitewitch

    I want to up votes. (1) for the “it speaks volumes about the institution” and (2) for “while they were building this showboat…US troops…lacked body armor”.

    Bad military guys…bad bad.

  • Whitewitch

    And sell tickets so we can sit in the command chair as well (with perhaps some Ex-Trekkies to get snapshots with). How silly is this man?

  • Whitewitch

    Someone needs to go for a little mental health check-up care of the VA. Seriously, I think this General is disillusion and just a wee bit OCD. Collect the whole haystack from his Domination Center….Scarrryyyyyy….

  • http://www.newmillgay.com/ The_Fixer

    This is egregious. Those responsible should have been fired yesterday.

    This is a textbook case of bad design, to start with. Form follows function, not the other way around. A fantasy Star Trek starship bridge has nothing to do with collecting intelligence, this is just ego gratification and playtime for assholes on the government dime.

    And that’s putting aside the mission of collecting everything, an illegitimate mission to be sure. It’s well past time to start screaming bloody murder.

  • Jimmy

    If you’re going to waste my tax dollars to build a Star Trek bridge at least go with the Original Series bridge.

  • JosephP

    Now that’s fighting the good fight! I hope you track those mofos down.

    I seldom go to CBS.com anymore since they started autoplaying their videos.

  • JosephP

    Remember “Total Informational Awareness?” That was a DARPA program that was (ostensibly) cancelled in 2003 after concerns over privacy issues (of course it actually continued on under a different name). But I think the thing that really caused the public uproar was the logo—a globe with an eye watching over it.

    Ah, for the innocence of 2003.

  • LanceThruster

    Set sequesters to stun!

  • JosephP

    The Foreign Policy article reveals that even Michael Hayden was concerned that General Alexander was a cowboy that played too loose and fast with the rules.

    If Lindsay Lohan worries that you are drinking and partying too much, you definitely have a problem.

  • MyrddinWilt

    I am keeping quiet of late for very good reason. I am up to my eyeballs in this stuff working on PRISM-Proofing the Internet and getting Clapper and Alexander sacked. There has to be some accountability.

    The Enterprise bridge is a symbol of the excesses of the NSA culture. But it is not due to Alexander unfortunately. That particular war room was built before he was commander of that post. But he did show it to members of Congress.

    But it does speak volumes about the institution. And in particular the reason why intercept power should not be in the hands of a military agency. Generals are not used to explaining their decisions to others. If the lawyers tell them they can’t do something, they find another lawyer.

    While they were building this showboat control room, US troops in Iraq lacked body armor and armored vehicles due to lack of funds.

  • Ninong

    Information Dominance Center. Talk about truth in advertising!

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Guys, I need your help please. For the past two months we’ve been spammed by video ads that have their audio on auto-play, so the second you arrive on the site, some obnoxious audio starts playing. We have banned auto-audio-on ads from the beginning, but the past two months some movie promoters keep slipping through. I need your help. The only way we can begin to figure out who’s doing this is to know the following info:

    1. which page is the ad on, send me the page web address/url
    2. tell me where the ad is located on the page – and I mean specifically (e.g., top square ad in right column?)
    3. What is the ad for, what movie or whatever is it advertising?
    4. What is the landing page, the URL address, of the page that ad takes you to (yeah it requires clicking on it, but we need the info.
    5. If you know how to, take a screen shot (or use your cell phone cam) of the Americablog page with the ad on it so I can see, and email it and the above info to me at: contact at americablog dot com

    I need your help, please. Thank you.

  • gratuitous

    Oh come on, let’s not be shocked that our elected representatives can be bought off. Okay, that the price is so very low is a bit of a WTF? moment. Really guys? A fancy chair on an ersatz Hollywood set, and you’re ready to shit-can the Constitution? That’s all it took, huh?

  • Indigo

    Where are the Republicans? They’re sitting in the chairs on the million dollar stage set.

  • emjayay

    Wow. Government offices I’ve worked in usually have one nice conference room. And by nice I mean a big table made of real wood, decent chairs, and carpeting. If your’re lucky. And everyone gets to use it. It’s only stating the obvious that having money for a million dollar stage set for your big cheese meetings is insane and shows delusional management with a ridiculous budget. Where are the Republicans screaming about government waste?

  • Stev84

    Looks more like the Enterprise-E or Voyager (especially with all the metal). Which is a good thing. The 80s TNG design and color palette was truly horrible.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Electoral work by the left should be understood as a opening to educate and organize, nothing more.

    They will never let us win or form a government.

    Below, Tienanmen Square, June 1989.

  • A_nonymoose

    John, I don’t think you should be talking about our Dear Leader like that . . . you might have an “accident”.

  • nicho

    I was with you right up to the fantasy about “third party candidate.” The problem is not the parties. In fact, we don’t even have a two-party system right now. No difference between R and D. We were warned about that in 2000, but we decided to shoot the messenger. It’s the system that’s rotten. We need to dismantle it. Until we do, voting Green or Teabagger or United Unicorn or any other “third party” will do nothing.

  • Indigo

    Uh-huh! Made it so, I see. Well, can General Alexander be shot for treason or something? I mean, it’d be a solid object lesson to the Pentagram, um . . . -gon, to stop throwing good money into the vortex.

  • UncleBucky

    Take it apart, piece by piece, and reassemble it at some amusement park. Charge admission to pay back the costs to US taxpayers. And have a meter to show the costs vs. the payback. Mark the whole thing “NSA Charges You to Spy on You” — I bet there’ll be no takers.

  • DrDignity

    America, former land of the brave & home of the free. Now even Grandma is a suspect in the nightmare vision of humanity. It’s time to shutter the super surveillance state, the militarised mercenary police, the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex & every last R or D and elect third party candidates, unbeholden to big corporation.

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