The concept of a “War Room” was initially devised during World War II, to prevent Axis spies from infiltrating U.S. military plans. The idea has evolved a bit since then, but the purpose remains the same. Today, Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities – or SCIFs – are used for everything from reviewing classified documents to overseeing military strategy.
In short, SCIFs keep Top Secrets secret.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, a SCIF is any secure place, permanent or temporary, in which classified material “may be stored, used, discussed and/or electronically processed.”
These nondescript mini-fortresses serve as an advanced form of protection against espionage, while guarding against electronic surveillance and preventing data leakage.
They are designed with one purpose: to protect sensitive security or military information. Classified documents and conversations are kept in. Unauthorized personnel are kept out. Period.
In recent years, as cyberattacks have dominated the news landscape, and dissemination of information via social media has become increasingly prolific, mentions of SCIFs have become more commonplace, with the White House Situation Room serving as perhaps the most famous example.
There are a few “secrets” you may not know, however, about Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities.
Here are just four:
- The criteria to build one is intense. SCIFs must be built to very specific standards outlined in a document known as the Intelligence Community Directive 705 (ICD705).
- Structural – Doors, hinges, and locks must adhere to stringent, vault-like requirements set forth in the ICD705. Perimeter doors must implement two access control technologies. Doors and frames must also achieve the required Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating as the facility’s walls.
- Electrical – Telephones, security and emergency systems, and all other electrical power systems must be dedicated to the SCIF. Any utilities entering into the SCIF must also terminate there, and not travel throughout the space.
- Ductwork – All ventilation units and ductwork must be equipped with barred barriers to prevent intrusion, with inspection ports installed inside the SCIF. All breaks must also be outfitted with special inserts that ensure audio and other electronic emanations do not leave the SCIF space.
- Acoustic – SCIF perimeters must meet a Sound Transmission Class of either 45 or 50, ensuring that all sounds within the SCIF are barely audible by the human ear from the outside.
- Visual – Design must ensure that no one can see what is transpiring inside the SCIF from any distance. Most SCIFs, for this reason, are constructed without windows.
- Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) – All area’s providing access to a SCIF must be protected by an IDS using UL 2050-approved components and installed by a UL 2050 certified contractor.
- They’re not flashy. Although the efforts taken to establish absolute privacy inside and outside a SCIF are meticulous and high-tech, the actual “rooms” where these covert conversations are held are, by all accounts, pretty mundane.
Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities embody the term “serviceable.” They are built for the singular purpose of hosting sensitive discussions and reviewing secure documents – and that’s precisely the role they serve.
- They vary in size. A SCIF can, technically, be any room, from a run-of-the-mill conference room modified to fit the intelligence community’s exacting criteria, to a closet-sized cubby large enough to house a single computer terminal. They can even be portable – say, a trailer, or a tent – considering the powers-that-be have hired enough armed guards to surround it. At various times, SCIFs have even been airborne and seaworthy.
- They must be accredited. Before a SCIF can be used to safeguard sensitive material, it must be formally approved by a regulating agency, and said to meet all physical, technical, and operational criteria.
Secom can help you navigate an often byzantine SCIF accreditation process.
We are one few security providers nationwide authorized to install Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities, secured containers, and closed areas. Our crews regularly provide UL 2050 and DoD monitoring services to existing SCIFs, typically with no upfront costs, and our technicians can service any government security system within a 4-hour radius of our headquarters in Columbia, Maryland. We have never failed a UL audit.