What Is a SCIF? Inside the Room Used for Intelligence Briefings

PHOTO: Trump Tower is pictured in New York, March 16, 2016.Mark Lennihan/AP Photo
Trump Tower is pictured in New York, March 16, 2016.

In a highly anticipated meeting to discuss intelligence on alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election, President-elect Donald Trump was briefed Friday by the directors of National Intelligence, CIA, FBI and NSA at Trump Tower in New York City.

Because Trump Tower was not built with the necessary safeguards to host intelligence briefings involving confidential information, officials familiar with the situation indicated that a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, was constructed in a conference room for the meeting to take place.

A SCIF can be any room or building outfitted to prevent intrusion or surveillance efforts. They are used by government and military officials when discussing confidential information, often related to national security. Perhaps the most notable example of a SCIF is the White House Situation Room.

A directive from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence notes that all Sensitive Compartmented Information “must be processed, stored, used, or discussed in an accredited SCIF,” which must follow a set of “uniform security requirements,” including physical and technical impediments plus visitor control.

For a situation such as Friday’s briefing, which also included Vice President-elect Mike Pence, a specialized tent, fabricated from material that can prevent signal intrusion, can be used, according to Jaye Andone, president and CEO of SCIF Global Technologies, LLC, a company that designs and builds SCIFs.

“It can be portable,” Andone said. “As long as there were barriers around it, say military personnel that had guns on them that could protect it and had a stand-off distance so that no one could get near the area so that no one could hear what was going on. That’s basically what they’re trying to do.”

Temporary SCIFs, such as the one likely established Friday in Trump Tower, are commonly used by the president when travelling, often set up within hotel rooms to allow cleared officials to present sensitive documents or hold secret conversations. Phone calls to persons outside the SCIF are done via an encrypted line, according to an intelligence directive.

Despite the seeming simplicity of the setup, Andone noted that there are typically layers of safeguards surrounding the SCIF.

“You’ve got to go through security, badge readers, access control before you can even reach that room,” she said, noting that additional monitoring for remote attempts to eavesdrop on the conversation or monitor activities within the SCIF would also be in place.