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Biden spends $50 million on White House Situation Room?

It's unbelievable. They have 7 big screens showing continuous feeds of Gunsmoke, The Virginian, Wanted Dead or Alive, Bonanza, and of course the FBI. Plus there's a 10 foot wide countdown timer showing the time remaining before Joe's next nap, speaking of which there's also a pull-down trundle bed for his afternoon siesta (complete with a warm milk spigot).

In fact, it cost $10 million just to pip in the warm milk.

Inside the White House Situation Room’s $50 million upgrade

Nation Sep 8, 2023 5:02 AM EDT

The most secure location in the White House, and maybe the world, just got a full makeover.

In 1961, after the Bay of Pigs invasion, President John F. Kennedy requested a secure facility to feed intelligence information directly into the White House. That room was up and running a year later when Kennedy huddled with advisors, gathering as much information as possible as a surprise battery of Soviet missiles were placed in Cuba.

President Joe Biden tours the renovated White House Situation Room on Tuesday, September 5, 2023, in the West Wing of the White House.

In 2003, it’s where George W. Bush gave the fateful order to begin the Iraq War. And in 2011, Barack Obama sat transfixed, surrounded by Cabinet officials and military commanders, watching in real time as Navy Seals executed a risky and dangerous secret plan to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.

It all happened in the Situation Room. In reality, what’s known as the Situation Room is a 5,000 square foot complex in the West Wing of the White House that is home to conference rooms, small office rooms for phone calls and a duty watch station staffed around the clock. And its first top-to-bottom renovation since 2007 wrapped up last month.

The project took exactly one year, cost just over $50 million, and enhanced security of the complex across the board.

“Everything is new … the entire facility was demolished,” White House Situation Room Director Marc Gustafson told reporters Thursday during a tour of the newly renovated facility.

Gustafson detailed changes small and large to the most famous Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility in the world, also known as SCIFs, to a small group of reporters Thursday. There’s new lighting, new interchangeable magnetic Office of the President and Vice President seals and sleek monitors that can now instantly access intelligence information. But reporters, including this NewsHour reporter, only had a pen and notepad to document it all.

The project took exactly one year, cost just over $50 million, and enhanced security of the complex across the board.

It’s the Situation Room, after all — a place where the commander in chief discusses the vital secrets of the most powerful military on Earth — and no phones are allowed. In fact, no electronics, at all, are allowed. A couple of reporters on the tour were told to hand over their Apple watches after forgetting to remove them before entering. No one without the right clearance can be allowed to hear or see what goes on behind the doors. As reporters walked through on Thursday, “Unclassified” was displayed across monitors in bright green — a clear sign that there was nothing top secret about today’s visit.

In the John F. Kennedy Conference Room — the one often portrayed in Hollywood movies with a large rectangular wooden table in the center — the beige walls are out. Now, wood panels and new screens line the room. The new monitors can project more content than before, Gustafson said, making all intelligence community information easily accessible.

51539958873_f719e5b4c9_oIn this August 2021 photo, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris meet with national security advisers to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, before the renovation of the White House Situation Room. The beige walls of the old John F. Kennedy Conference Room are now gone.Official White House Photo by Erin Scott.

For this renovation they dug deeper — five feet down to be exact — to help power the improved equipment with more electrical capacity and larger HVAC ducts.

One big change: The small adjacent room where Obama, then-Vice President Joe Biden and top generals monitored the Bin Laden raid is gone. Preserved in its entirety, from chairs to tables and walls, the room will eventually be on display in the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, Chicago.

That historic space is now occupied by two small “breakout rooms” the size of storage closets that each contain a computer and telephones for Cabinet secretaries and other top officials to make calls as needed.

A second big change: A glass phone booth previously located in the complex just outside of the JFK Conference Room has been moved to a storage facility in preparation for eventual display at a future Biden presidential library.

The reasons for the renovation: heavy wear and tear on a facility that sometimes sees foot traffic from top officials, including the president, seven days a week. Plus, necessary security upgrades and general technology improvements to servers and monitors.

Security enhancements are necessary “to keep up with foreign adversaries,” said Gustafson, who added that the new capabilities of the Situation Room were updated to the “highest” standard available. Security features in SCIFs are constantly updated across the U.S. government, Gustafson said.

After receiving a tour Tuesday of the new Situation Room, Biden held his first intelligence briefing in the new facility the same day.

“He loved it [and] thought it was fantastic,” Gustafson said.

New stone lining the hallway of the secure suite came from a quarry in Virginia and is carved in one section with The Great Seal of the U.S. The mahogany wood panels came from a Gaithersburg, Maryland company that’s a member of the Rainforest Alliance.

Monitors inside the primary conference room and throughout the suite display the time for the president’s current location, “local” and other locations around the world deemed relevant by the Situation Room director. On Thursday, one panel told the time for Tehran, Iran, Kyiv, Ukraine, and Niamey, Niger.

The duty watch station, called the “watch floor,” also got a facelift with more space for desks. Officers from every branch of the military, senior intelligence analysts, technicians, video operators and State Department aides have seats on the watch floor. They work in shifts to monitor global and national intelligence and occasionally cable news.

Gustafson’s office sits slightly elevated in the duty station. It’s a glass box with a neat trick that he uses “all the time.” With the click of a button the glass on his office frosts over, obscuring the view from anyone outside.

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