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Weird: America's Top Surveillance Czar Had a Star Trek Room Build in His 'Information Dominance Center'

Inside the mind of NSA chief Gen Keith Alexander.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Burben

 
 
 
 

It has been previously reported that the mentality of NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander is captured by his motto "Collect it All". It's a get-everything approach he pioneered first when aimed at an enemy population in the middle of a war zone in Iraq, one he has now imported onto US soil, aimed at the domestic population and everyone else.

But a perhaps even more disturbing and revealing vignette into the spy chief's mind comes from a new Foreign Policy article describing what the journal calls his "all-out, barely-legal drive to build the ultimate spy machine". The article describes how even his NSA peers see him as a "cowboy" willing to play fast and loose with legal limits in order to construct a system of ubiquitous surveillance. But the personality driving all of this - not just Alexander's but much of Washington's - is perhaps best captured by this one passage, highlighted by PBS' News Hour in a post entitled: "NSA director modeled war room after Star Trek's Enterprise". The room was christened as part of the "Information Dominance Center":

"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."

Numerous commentators remarked yesterday on the meaning of all that (note, too, how "Total Information Awareness" was a major scandal in the Bush years, but "Information Dominance Center" - along with things like "Boundless Informant" - are treated as benign or even noble programs in the age of Obama).

But now, on the website of DBI Architects, Inc. of Washington and Reston, Virginia, there are what purports to be photographs of the actual Star-Trek-like headquarters commissioned by Gen. Alexander that so impressed his Congressional overseers. It's a 10,740 square foot labyrinth in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The brochure touts how "the prominently positioned chair provides the commanding officer an uninterrupted field of vision to a 22'-0" wide projection screen":

The glossy display further describes how "this project involved the renovation of standard office space into a highly classified, ultramodern operations center." Its "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 gushes: "The 
futuristic, yet distinctly military, setting is further reinforced by the Commander's console, which gives the illusion that one has boarded 
a star ship":

Other photographs of Gen. Alexander's personal Star Trek Captain fantasy come-to-life (courtesy of public funds) are here. 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.

Related Issues

(1) Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler has an excellent Op-Ed in the Guardian arguing that the NSA is so far out-of-control that radical measures, rather than incremental legislative reform, are necessary to rein it in.

(2) The Federation of American Scientists' Steven Aftergood, usually a reform-minded transparency advocate somewhat hostile to massive leaks, examines the serious reform which Snowden's disclosures are enabling, as reluctantly acknowledged even by the FISA court andJames Clapper himself.

(3) British comedian Russell Brand attended an event sponsored by GQ and Hugo Boss and gave a speech, while accepting an award, which offended almost everyone in the room (that speech is here). He then wrote a genuinely brilliant (and quite hilarious) Op-Ed in the Guardianabout the role elite institutions play in reinforcing their legitimacy and how they maintain control of public discourse. It is well worth taking the time to read it.

UPDATE

Speaking of rampant, Strangelove-like megalomania in the National Security State, do read these remarkable comments from former NSA and CIA chief Gen. Michael Hayden regarding how the US views the internet.

Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional lawyer and a Guardian columnist until October 2013, has earned numerous awards for his commentary and investigative journalism, including most recently the 2013 George Polk Award for national security reporting. In early 2014, he cofounded a new global media outlet, The Intercept. This essay is adapted from his new book,No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Security State(Metropolitan Books), published today.

 
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