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The Almighty Buck Government Sci-Fi

NSA Chief Built Star Trek Like Command Center 372

Posted by samzenpus
from the make-it-so dept.
Bruce66423 writes "As the NSA scandal moves from appalling to laughable, the latest report in the Guardian indicates that the current NSA chief spent US taxpayers' money to create a command center for his intelligence operations that was styled just like Star Trek. From the PBS News Hour report: '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 visit '"
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NSA Chief Built Star Trek Like Command Center

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  • by crafty.munchkin (1220528) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:06PM (#44858045)
    Engage!
    • Computer: Beep Beep! Warning! A Level 1 Data Breach is currently in progress. Failure to resolve data breach could result in loss of all hands by space dock.

    • It'd be nice to see people in high government office actually treat our tax dollars with the respect they deserve and realize they are limited.
  • by ozduo (2043408) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:07PM (#44858049)
    with other people's money
  • by duke_cheetah2003 (862933) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:09PM (#44858063) Homepage

    If it were a real bridge of a real starship, they could leave.. and leave us ALONE!

    • by Chrontius (654879)
      If it was the bridge of a real starship, they'd have air superiority. Are you sure that's a good idea?
  • It's still a better design than rows of generic gray or beige cubes.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:18PM (#44858119)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megalomania

  • Taxpayer money? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dereck1701 (1922824) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:24PM (#44858163)

    And how much taxpayer money was burnt on this nutjobs sci-fi wet dream? Its like watching any one of those films depicting a dystopian future, those in power playing out their fantasies while those who actually fund their antics (either through taxes or illicit corporate profits) live in squalor. I suppose the latter part has yet to completely come to pass but at the rate things are going ($17 trillion in debt & federal spending increasing at $200 a second)its not going to take long.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:51PM (#44858361)

      You seriously don't have the slightest clue how much things actually cost. The entire place probably cost a fraction of, say, one Tomahawk missile launch into Syria. They had to build the place anyway, and they needed a control center of some kind, so my guess is Star-Trekifing it probably cost less than 1% of the total budget, and that's just for construction. It costs millions to keep a place like that running. I say, either let them have their fun, or demand that they cut costs in a much bigger way, but don't complain about what amounts to pin-striping on the side of a fighter jet as though it would even make the tiniest pit of difference to the big picture.
      It doesn't, it won't, and it can't. PBS is just looking for something to whine about.

      • by Dereck1701 (1922824) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @06:49PM (#44858791)

        Yes, in the grand scheme of military/intelligence spending its a drop in the bucket. Problem is we have millions of them, and they're adding up fast. That command facility that was built in Afghanistan and never used/wanted, $34 Million. GAO audits have classified nearly half of purchases on government charge cards as improper. The SEC spent nearly $3.9 million rearranging desks at its DC HQ. Congress members have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money on cars, popcorn machines, cameras, TV's and other amenities. And the list goes on, and on, and on. I'm all for going after the big ticket waste as well, but you can die from a thousand small cuts just as easily as you can die from a meat cleaver to the head.

    • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @06:03PM (#44858441)

      The money's bad but I don't find it the most disturbing part of this. The place doesn't look that much more expensive than any office the senior management of a large organization would work in.

      It's the mindset that would want such an Information Dominance Center that is disturbing. It bespeaks a person willing to use his position to live out a fantasy. In this fantasy, the fate of the galaxy country rests in his singular hands. Far from being a functionary who answers to civilian authorities, he's the protagonist in some grand drama.

      And as much as I love Star Trek, a Star Trek fantasy is the last one I'd see in such a man. Star Trek captains righteously flout all the rules. When superiors order them to stand down, when their fundamental laws (the Prime Directive) deny them the power, when the lives of entire worlds are at stake, they do what they think best, damn the torpedoes, warp 9, engage. A man with such delusions of grandeur ought not be put in charge of HUD, much less a secretive organization known for its willingness to spy on citizens.

      • by AHuxley (892839)
        Reminds me of:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enron_scandal [wikipedia.org]
        "In 1998, when analysts were given a tour of the Enron Energy Services office, they were impressed with how the employees were working so vigorously. In reality, Skilling had moved other employees to the office from other departments (instructing them to pretend to work hard) to create the appearance that the division was larger than it was."
        Some have to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek others had to mimic size.
      • by jdogalt (961241)

        And as much as I love Star Trek, a Star Trek fantasy is the last one I'd see in such a man. Star Trek captains righteously flout all the rules. When superiors order them to stand down, when their fundamental laws (the Prime Directive) deny them the power, when the lives of entire worlds are at stake, they do what they think best, damn the torpedoes, warp 9, engage. A man with such delusions of grandeur ought not be put in charge of HUD, much less a secretive organization known for its willingness to spy on citizens.

        I also love the Roddenberry canon, but I disagree with your evaluation. I think you are missing the kind of "love of the contradictions" attitude that I think it shares with other religious canons. For instance, take money. We start with a vision of earth utopia 300 years in the future, where nobody is short on cash, short on food, short on housing, or short on medical care. NOBODY. And no more national wars on our planet. All that shit was *solved by smart people over a long period of time*. Or so t

        • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @11:01PM (#44860089)

          Utter, 100% loyalty to orders is something that needs to be shown and taught as horrendously dangerous. We do this with the history of WW2 and elsewhere.

          Certainly, I couldn't agree more. But that's not what I was talking about.

          The ethics of Trek may lead people in positions like Snowden to say- "To Hell With The Law. An unjust law is no law at all.". And that is a good thing. It is the final check and balance on society, more fundamental than even the concept of democracy.

          Certainly, I couldn't agree more. But that's not what I was talking about.

          Context here is important. We're not talking about the underling who refuses the unjust order. We're not talking about the outside contractor who goes whistle-blower on his former employer. We're not dealing with the valiant Starfleet captain refusing to accept the judgment of a corrupt admiral. We're talking about the guy giving the underling the unjust order; the employer whose patriotic employees must flee the country after speaking out for its sake; the admiral whose worst corruption is that he breaks the law while thinking himself the valiant captain. We can hope that the underling, the whistleblower, or the captain might stand up to such a man, but this is only a scarce hope. The normal means, indeed the preferred means, of preventing such things is to bind such a man with law and transparency. But an organization such as the NSA denies in word and deed that it should be subject to transparency; it is your Section 31. And we know because of the whistleblower how regularly it flouts the fundamental laws meant to bind it.

          This is why I call this man's decision to model himself on Star Trek captains disturbing. It's the context. An NSA Chief will not fancy himself the corrupt admiral whose unjust orders Kirk, Picard, or Sisko refuse since they answer to the higher law of their conscience. He will sit in the captain's chair and, hearing Fourth Amendment like Prime Directive, will regard himself as the valiant rogue captain, out to save the Federation against its own lesser judgment. This is, after all, usually the case with corrupt admirals. Thus I agree with Lewis when he says:

          I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber barron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point may be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely more because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations.

          In short, I do not say this because I think all laws ought always to be obeyed. Rather I say this because I think some laws ought to be obeyed. Especially by those in charge, whose lust for power, whose self-righteousness presumption, and above all whose assumption that they know what's best, the laws themselves were meant to contain.

  • There it is (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:29PM (#44858211) Homepage

    Do we actually need any more proof that the NSA is completely out of control and run by a nutball? Visions of grandeur anyone? Even the President just uses a regular (nice but regular) chair and desk.

    Any NSA apologists care to take a stab at this one? (I could use a laugh)

    • by khallow (566160)
      Hi! Star Trek apologist here. It's worth noting that the original Star Trek bridge was designed for this sort of thing, a real time communications/command/control center. It's not that magical that one would want to duplicate the task with something that was designed to work the way they want things to work.

      But if you look at the "Information Dominance Center" [dbia.com], you can see violation of the Star Trek design right away. For example, The Chair is not positioned so that the commander can see every one at onc
      • by sjames (1099)

        The way they screw it up is just more proof that the nutter in charge just wanted to feel like the big man and didn't really care how much it cost people.

        That and piloting a vessel of any kind is a very different task than sigint.

        But yes, it's funny how they went to such lengths to copy Star Trek and yet managed to screw it up so badly.

      • by McGruber (1417641)

        But if you look at the "Information Dominance Center" [dbia.com], you can see violation of the Star Trek design right away. For example, The Chair is not positioned so that the commander can see every one at once and it has a ridiculous metal shell behind it creating a giant blind spot behind it. And it's built into a line of work desks, so that you can't easily walk around to behind The Chair.

        That blind spot is actually an improvement -- an "out of sight, out of mind" place for Wesley!

        (Sorry Clevernickname!)

      • by RDW (41497)

        For example, The Chair is not positioned so that the commander can see every one at once and it has a ridiculous metal shell behind it creating a giant blind spot behind it

        Perhaps they were going for a different look?: http://www.surieffect.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/676045.jpg [surieffect.com]

  • Who knows, it probably didnt cost any more money to build than a more plain control room would. If that is the case, I don't know if it really makes a lot of sense to make a big uproar over it. As long as it doesnt cost any more, why not make it look neat?

    • Are you seeing the same photos I am? Stainless steal covering pretty much every surface, custom designed desks, doors and ceiling fixtures? Its not gold plated but it still likely cost a LOT more than standard operations setup.

  • ... a facility known as the Information Dominance Center.

    I thought information wanted to be free.

    I guess we're the "bottom" in this NSA BDSM situation because all I've seen so far is the NSA reaching for the big, black strap-on... But I thought the bottom has all the power in this kind relationship - and we obviously don't - so I'm really confused.

  • NSA... star-trek like command center... Who else immediately thought of the Dreadnought bridge from Into Darkness?

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:36PM (#44858261)

    Hayden claimed "Gmail is the preferred Internet service provider of terrorists worldwide," presumably meaning online service rather than the actual provider of Internet service

    Yes, and air is their primary breathing gas, water the main component of their beverages, and they drive around in vehicles powered by gasoline, itself mostly dug out of countries harboring these very terrorists! We can't have that! Nobody should be allowed to breathe air, drink water, or drive a car without government control. (And if you think recent administrations haven't been trying, you haven't been paying attention.)

  • What? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by surfdaddy (930829) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:55PM (#44858385)
    What the FUCK has happened to this country?
  • So what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PerlPunk (548551)

    So what if it if the design is inspired by a Sci-Fi TV show? Show me that this would have cost way more than some other design had a non-Star Trek fan been responsible for its acquisition.

    • by X.25 (255792)

      So what if it if the design is inspired by a Sci-Fi TV show? Show me that this would have cost way more than some other design had a non-Star Trek fan been responsible for its acquisition.

      "It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer"

      Would you like more clues?

    • The issue isn't cost. The issue is that these people are entrusted with the privacy of every American citizen. They act in secret and we aren't even allowed to know a rough count of how many Americans they are spying on. When you see something like this, it just does not seem like they are taking that responsibility seriously.

    • by whoever57 (658626)

      So what if it if the design is inspired by a Sci-Fi TV show? Show me that this would have cost way more than some other design had a non-Star Trek fan been responsible for its acquisition.

      Do they even need this room? The question is not could it have been designed cheaper, but could the NSA simply not built it?

      • by AHuxley (892839)
        The room would ensure visiting political and ranking staff from the mil/gov got a better impression of the NSA than existed before the 1990's.
        If you where fighting money laundering or drugs or tracking weapons sales or tracking military tests - the NSA could help you visualise victory during your meetings.
        Great for more funding and ongoing cooperation.
        The NSA never wanted to continue on its 1990's budget and just get 'requests' or have an ongoing mission wrt codes.
  • Video (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @06:08PM (#44858469)

    This is apparently video of it from 2007:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFNUbdARitk

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @06:22PM (#44858569) Homepage

    DBI has built control rooms for other agencies. Here's their portfolio [dbia.com]. They did the new White House Situation Room (which looks reasonable), the National Counterterrorism Center (overdid the lighting effects), Lockheed Martin (looks like a movie set, overhead lighting grids and all), a NASA auditorium (just rows of seats and some big screens), GeoEye (overdid the ceiling design), Defense Information Security Agency (fancy ceiling, lots of Eames chairs.)

    But only for the NSA facility did they really go over the top. This is the silliest control center design since the Moscow United electric power control center [dezeen.com] The layout makes no sense. The person in the "Captain's chair" is in front, and can't see what everybody else is doing. The "captains chair" has no controls or screens of its own, so whomever sits there cannot do anything except shout orders.

    A common setup in operational control centers, especially USAF and NASA, is to have the ability for each station to look at screens of other stations in view-only mode. (Originally this was done with an actual channel selector and an analog cable TV system). When something important is happening, a lot of people may need to look at one display. This eliminates everybody crowding around the station that has the key information at the moment. Once you have that, the physical layout doesn't matter as much.

    The result is that most modern military command centers are rather boring - they look like a help-desk operation. The current NORAD center looks much less impressive than its predecessors. In the field, a bunch of laptops in a tent can operate as a command center. A modern tactical operations center looks like that, not like one of these fancy overdecorated rooms.

  • ... its called security theater.

    There are more efficient way to implement command and control systems than a century old battleship bridge. Or everyone staring at the same big display. But it sure looks good for the spectators.

  • On a set like that, it would not surprise me if those monitors show fancy 3D-animations of the 'interior' of machines they are about to break-and-enter, airlock-type doors with blinking red 'NO ACCESS' writing on them accompanied by clanging noises, integrated circuits visualised as city landscapes and more of that stuff which we've always laughed about in the movies about hacking and hackers...

  • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@@@gmail...com> on Monday September 16, 2013 @09:06AM (#44862333) Journal

    An "Information Dominance Center" arranged more like a throne room than a functional working environment...I guess when a human gets a taste of 2 of the 3 aspects of godhood, it goes to their head a bit.

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