Behind-the-Scenes at The CIA: Inside The World’s Most Famous Spy Building

PHOTO: Members of the media raise their hands during CIA Director John Brennans news conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., Dec. 11, 2014. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo
Members of the media raise their hands during CIA Director John Brennan's news conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., Dec. 11, 2014.

The podium with the blue curtain behind it and rows of chairs for reporters looked pretty standard, but it was the location for the press conference that was a first.

Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan had chosen the lobby of the CIA’s Old Headquarters Building in suburban Northern Virginia -- “Langley” as it’s commonly known -- as the place where he would push back on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s critical report of the CIA’s detention program.

And he would do so on live television surrounded by the agency's top officials -- some of whose faces could not be shown on television.

PHOTO: A workman slides a mop over the floor at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Va, March 3, 2005. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
A workman slides a mop over the floor at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Va, March 3, 2005.

PHOTO: CIA Director John Brennan speaks during a news conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., Dec. 11, 2014. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo
CIA Director John Brennan speaks during a news conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., Dec. 11, 2014.

The wide lobby of white marble with its iconic large seal of the CIA on its floor is often used in movies to represent the CIA. But the reality is that most filmmakers and TV crews are never allowed into one of the hardest places to get into in the United States.

The CIA has held press conferences in the past, but only once on television, and never live. And because of the interest, the news conference was carried live not only on domestic news channels, but internationally as well.

Today's news conference was a unique situation for reporters used to constantly accessing their phones and email while in the field. Like all visitors to the building, reporters were told not to bring their smartphones and any other communication devices. The only exception would be digital recorders for transcription purposes.

PHOTO: Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency George Tenet reaches out to touch a five-pointed star freshly carved into the marble-faced lobby wall of CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., May 23, 2002. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool/AP Photo
Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency George Tenet reaches out to touch a five-pointed star freshly carved into the marble-faced lobby wall of CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., May 23, 2002.

Behind the last of seven rows reserved for senior CIA officials and about 30 national security reporters were some still photographers and the network pool camera feeding its signal to a satellite truck parked in front of the headquarters building.

The cameraman had strict instructions to keep the camera locked on the raised podium placed beyond the large CIA seal. That was done for security purposes to protect the identities of some of the CIA officials in the room.

The reporters on hand saw Brennan walk briskly into the lobby adorned with Poinsettias and holiday wreaths to begin the news conference. The viewers on hand saw him enter the frame as he placed his papers on the podium to begin his remarks.

Brennan began his remarks with a description of how his agency's detention and interrogation program program was launched.

“It was 8:46 am on the morning of September 11th, 2001, when the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City was struck by an aircraft commandeered by al Qaeda terrorists” said Brennan.

For the next five minutes he recounted where he was that day at CIA headquarters as the agency soon began a mission to prevent future attacks.

He wanted to make the case that the CIA agreed with the report that mistakes had been made early on during the detention program, but that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on some of its detainees had also produced useful intelligence.

Before he took questions he made a closing reference to the memorial of 111 stars etched on one of the lobby’s walls, each star represents a CIA officer killed in the line of duty.

“These stars are a testament to our history and our spirit, and a consistent reminder of the women and men who make sacrifices daily so that they can help keep their fellow Americans safe and our country strong,” said Brennan.

In his answers to questions that followed Brennan labeled some of the techniques used by interrogators as “abhorrent” and “certainly regrettable”. He also stressed that it was “unknowable” if the useful intelligence gained through harsh interrogations could have also been obtained through different methods.

But he also made the point that some of that intelligence “that they provided was used” in combination with other information to find Osama bin Laden years later.

After 45 minutes, it was all over. Television reporters rushed outside for another first,the chance to record on-camera stand-ups in front of the building's main entrance. And still photographers submitted pictures taken with their digital cameras for review. Any pictures outside of the agreed-upon parameters were deleted.

Also unknowable, will today's unprecedented live news conference open the door for similar events in the future.