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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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  • Re:That's awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spacefight (577141) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:06PM (#44858043)
    Awesome? It's creepy at best.
  • by ozduo (2043408) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:07PM (#44858049)
    with other people's money
  • Re:That's awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alef (605149) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:18PM (#44858115)
    For a DIY hobby project maybe. Somehow, I don't find it very comforting that this is the mindset of people who are entrusted with everyone's private information (things like banking data, medical records, private correspondence, news interests, political leanings, whereabouts etc.). It kind of gives the impression that it's just a game to them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:19PM (#44858123)

    Who cares? They had to build a center, they did it in a nutty way. If they had a command center full of American flags decorated like an old ironside, would that be so much better?

  • Taxpayer money? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dereck1701 (1922824) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:24PM (#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.

  • Re:That's awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:24PM (#44858173) Homepage

    We ALL wear red shirts.

  • There it is (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:29PM (#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)

  • Re:That's awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:30PM (#44858225) Journal
    Also, what about the name "Information Dominance Center"? Creepy and pathetic at the same time; it sounds like BDSM-style slash-fic based on TRON. Bring in the Logic Probe!
  • What? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by surfdaddy (930829) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:55PM (#44858385)
    What the FUCK has happened to this country?
  • So what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PerlPunk (548551) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @04:56PM (#44858391) Homepage Journal

    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 cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:03PM (#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.

  • Re:That's awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by king neckbeard (1801738) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:04PM (#44858451)
    Yes, there are terrorist threats to the US, and they are less of a threat than bathtubs.
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:08PM (#44858467)

    The bridge serves a real purpose for the NSA,

    And what purpose is that other than to satisfy the delusions of grandeur of the people running the place and the people holding the purse strings?

    even if it didn't, there's plenty of data centers that have fancy-looking NOCs that are only there to look fancy for the big wigs

    That might be tolerable in a corporate environment, but not a government one. This is pure, unadulterated waste. "Selling" isn't part of the mission.

  • Re:That's awesome (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrBigInThePants (624986) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:14PM (#44858507)

    Holy crap.

    What is awesome about this is how much you have lost control of your country and how flagrantly your leaders are rubbing your noses in their anooses.

    Awesome in the horrible, black hole like way and not the good way.

  • Re: What? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:16PM (#44858529)

    Nothing. The curtains have merely been pulled back a little.

  • Re:That's awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by king neckbeard (1801738) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:25PM (#44858591)
    In other words, Terrorism is not actually a real threat, but it's designed to make you act irrationally out of fear, The answer is not act irrationally out of fear, but be careful about using your budget, but to not act irrationally out of fear. Also, to quit being dicks on the international stage and stop being involved in political coups.
  • Re:That's awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by edumacator (910819) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:37PM (#44858699)

    I don't find it very comforting that this is the mindset of people who are entrusted with everyone's private information

    I'd be alright with it if they also treated the Bill of Rights like the Prime Directive.

  • by Bite The Pillow (3087109) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:42PM (#44858733)

    You're missing the point. Spending taxpayer dollars for a fancy NOC that is not even supposed to exist is just shitting on the citizens. His motto is "Collect it All". He ran an "all-out, barely-legal drive to build the ultimate spy machine" (quotes from the article)

    The reflections off the metal would be impractical, based on the pictures. For a room whose "primary function is to enable 24-hour worldwide visualization, planning, and execution of coordinated information operations for the US Army and other federal agencies" it would be better off using a dark matte paint.

    I think the article said it best:

    Any casual review of human history proves how deeply irrational it is to believe that powerful factions can be trusted to exercise vast surveillance power with little accountability or transparency. But the more they proudly flaunt their warped imperial hubris, the more irrational it becomes.

    And yes, I am concerned about all of those other wastes of dollars too. They just don't happen to stem from a clearly illegal surveillance program. That is what puts this in a completely different ballpark of outrage. The glass and openness and conference table make sense. The giant projector makes sense. But having a single chair positioned to look at the 22 foot projector is ridiculous. It seems that there are two seats on either side, but they are behind a completely unnecessary bulky chrome something or other. A simple wall structure on the front side, with table/desk on the back would have been far more functional. And less reflective. And depending on the purpose of those seats you could have room for more people, more equipment, or just more space.

    I'm not sure what the crap on the ceiling is - functional or decorative - but from the images the lighting is spotty. I would have preferred either track lighting or something consistent, but this design seems to work against the light rather than with it. The opposite of what you want in a data visualization room. If you make the argument that a projector requires darker conditions, there are a completely new pile of objections to the design, with the metal and parts of the glass reflecting light right back at where the projector is supposed to be.

    This is a terrible, purposeless design which just shows off how disconnected the people driving the train really are. Done right, this would have been an expensive but obvious solution to the problem of data visualization. The extra bling, and hollywood set design work, way outstepped any reason.

  • by Dereck1701 (1922824) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:49PM (#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 James_Duncan8181 (588316) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:52PM (#44858807) Homepage

    Let the NSA geek feel like he's Captain Picard. You know you would too if given the chance.

    I can say with complete assurance that I wouldn't be spending other people's money on such an embarrassingly obvious teenage power fantasy. It belittles the man rather than imbuing him with authority.

  • Re:That's awesome (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Black LED (1957016) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @05:58PM (#44858853)
    It gives me the impression that they are megalomaniacal and power crazy.
  • Re:That's awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by reboot246 (623534) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @06:57PM (#44859165) Homepage
    Yes, al Qaida is doing everything they can to harm us. The sad thing is our government seems to be doing everything they can to help al Qaida (and the Muslim Brotherhood).

    Y'all enjoying your loss of freedom and privacy in the name of safety? Thought so.
  • Re:That's awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by INT_QRK (1043164) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @07:10PM (#44859229)
    On the last real Enterprise (CVN-65) flight deck, ordnance personnel wore red jerseys, aircraft maintenance wore green, fuelers purple, and crash and safety white, etc. The idea is to allow the Air Boss to ID who's where and whom at an instant to run the deck. Also Forrestall class aircraft carrier Combat Direction Centers (Enterprise was designed on a modified Forrstall blueprint) were laid out in a more or less similar horseshoe shape with the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) chair elevated in the middle looking across from the status displays, which the series bridge layout reminded me of, kind of. I'm sure that's where Roddenberry got the idea of colored uniforms to designate branch (ops blue and engineering red). Anyway, art often imitates life, and visa versa. For a command center, the Forrestall/Enterprise layout was, in my experience, far superior to Nimitz class layout for maintaining situational awareness. Ergonomics count, as we learn, forget and relearn, over and over and over.
  • Re:That's awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by flayzernax (1060680) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @08:11PM (#44859593)

    Its bullshit man, sure there's people who act as terrorists (see "The Mandarin, Ironman") for a (movie example, since literary examples are not quite relevant anymore).

    There has been no significant threat to Americans thwarted by the CIA or NSA. The FBI was told to STAND DOWN before 911. And the prior bombing int he basement. Even though they had specific intel on both incidents.

    The intel that gets shared on public mass media is propanda. There were no bunkers for Hussam in Iraq. There is no grand chemical weapons threat.

    Could something happen like the incident in Tokyo with Sarin gas? Sure but its just as likely to be government funded than an actual terrorist organization. At this point.

    The point is we cannot trust our government to "protect us". Take away our freedom, disabling our means of protecting ourselves. They don't want revolution. Because we are on the verge of something tianamin square level in the states. Despite how much people want to bury their heads in the sand.

    2 million bikers in DC this month/last few weeks. Not even aired on public TV. Take a good look at your world. At the corporations, the services they provide. Who they cater to. And how your police operate.

    Take a solid hard look. Don't take my word for it.

    Ask why there are so many disenfranchised poor vagrant transient people in America today. Ask why welfare exists. Question everything. Look at it all.

  • Re:That's awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AHuxley (892839) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @09:33PM (#44859975) Homepage Journal
    Cold re "They have destabilized multiple countries" so has the CIA []
    Every country in the region has a database of useful 'freedom fighters' to ship around as needed. The only implications are its little regional wars as usual and the same teams keep showing up year after year after year.
  • Re:That's awesome (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @09:47PM (#44860029)

    It's not that they sat, it's that they saw this room and their reaction was to become the General allies, instead of thinking that he's completely delusional.

    It's that this fake set actually worked on them.

  • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @10:01PM (#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.

  • Re:That's awesome (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gd2shoe (747932) on Sunday September 15, 2013 @10:53PM (#44860411) Journal

    Because we are on the verge of something tianamin square level in the states. Despite how much people want to bury their heads in the sand.

    The irony here is thick. If we were going to have a Tianamin Square incident, it would have happened at Occupy Wall Street. This regime has far more subtly techniques to placate the masses (civilized?). They don't need to use military force for it.

  • Re:That's awesome (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swalve (1980968) on Monday September 16, 2013 @12:22AM (#44860681)
    The trouble with being a superpower is that there is no winning. If you act, one side hates you more. If you don't act, the other side hates you more.
  • Re:That's awesome (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica (681592) * on Monday September 16, 2013 @02:56AM (#44861231)

    If people can acknowledge that al Qaida poses a threat, and are trying to do everything they can to harm us...

    The far greatest threat that al Qaida poses is that the government is using them as an excuse to trample civil liberties. Otherwise, those impotent, pissant losers aren't even worth worrying about.

  • Re:That's awesome (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica (681592) * on Monday September 16, 2013 @03:09AM (#44861275)

    The difference between you and a rational person is you're a sniveling coward who doesn't deserve the freedom you're apparently so willing to throw away.

    al Qaida are a worthless pile of insane sociopaths who managed to get lucky once. They're not a credible threat to the United States on any significant scale, and they sure as Hell aren't worth allowing our civil rights to be fucked over by the NSA in order to combat!

    And even if they were a credible threat, IT'S GODDAMN WORTH IT to be killed rather than subjugated by our own fear. I would rather get blown up than live in the police state that treasonous, cowardly assholes like you are trying so fucking hard to create!

    Now, go fuck off and hide under a rock or something if you're so damn scared. But leave my rights and freedoms alone!

  • Re:That's awesome (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mjwx (966435) on Monday September 16, 2013 @03:16AM (#44861309)

    Because we are on the verge of something tianamin square level in the states. Despite how much people want to bury their heads in the sand.

    The irony here is thick. If we were going to have a Tianamin Square incident, it would have happened at Occupy Wall Street. This regime has far more subtly techniques to placate the masses (civilized?). They don't need to use military force for it.

    Occupy Wall Street was nowhere near a serious protest, let alone actual rebellion. There was no organisation, no goals, just a loose gathering of people who had nothing in common besides "I dont like something" and thought it would be a good idea to stand in one place together. Even the most dim-witted, backwater banana republic dictator knows you just wait that one out until they all go home for supper. I mean they didn't have an actual goal, no manifesto, not even a somewhat clear idea of what they wanted.

    There was no need to send anyone in, except for a few cleaners to pick up the discarded McDonalds wrappers after it dissipated.

  • Re:That's awesome (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DrVomact (726065) on Monday September 16, 2013 @05:52AM (#44861715) Journal

    ... No matter the "percentage" why is the USA backing any group supporting the aims of "rebel forces"?

    That's a very good question, one that I've been asking myself. I'd say that the pressure to intervene probably originates with special interest groups that are pressuring the western governments to "do something". Such interest groups operate as "nonpartisan" or "neutral" NGOs that want to do nothing but help "civilians" who are being killed, maimed, starved, and driven from their homes into refugee camps. I'm thinking of groups like Doctors Without Borders, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, etc. Are these groups evil? Well, how can saving children, providing medical aid to wounded "civilians", and feeding refugees be wrong?

    Maybe it can't be evil to do these things, but it can sure skew your perspective. What's happening in Syria is a civil war. The whole notion of "civilians" has become ephemeral in these days of irregular warfare, but this is especially true in a civil war: in a civil war, nobody is a civilian. Someone can be a fighter one day, and an "injured civilian" on the next. So when such charitable NGOs provide humanitarian aid to one side in the war, they are taking sides. Even medical treatment and food are weapons in a war; in addition, anyone who is involved in such work is going to see the people they are dealing with as the good guys, and the other side as evil oppressors. So they start churning out press releases and videos of mutilated children; these media carry the implicit or explicit message that the "other side" —and only the other side—is doing evil. And of course we must stop evil.

    That's how we arrived at the moral logic that was driving the Obama administration until the Secretary of State accidentally short-circuited the official policy with his off-hand remark that the Syrian government has the option of giving up its chemical weapons. That moral logic, as far as I can tell, was as follows: "The Bad People have killed innocent civilians with cruel weapons of which we disapprove. We must now kill an indefinite number of Bad People with approved weapons so that the moral ledger will once again be balanced." This is, of course, nuts.

    It is often hard to accept—especially for Americans—that there is evil in the world that cannot be stopped without doing more evil. That sometimes, the right thing to do is nothing.

Unix is the worst operating system; except for all others. -- Berry Kercheval