Replica 'Enterprise' bridge used to sell surveillance to Congress



Not Keith Alexander's command room, but 'Star Trek Experience' at the Las Vegas Hilton for Technorama.

A long, fascinating profile of NSA "cowboy" Gen. Keith Alexander in Foreign Policy reveals that the top spook is a fan of science fiction movies and built his old command room to look like the bridge of the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He sold members of Congress by letting them sit in the big chair and "play Picard."

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.

Alexander wowed members of Congress with his eye-popping command center. And he took time to sit with them in their offices and explain the intricacies of modern technology in simple, plain-spoken language. He demonstrated a command of the subject without intimidating those who had none.

The Cowboy of the NSA [Shane Harris/Foreign Policy]

(Image: Ops, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from spyndle's photostream)

Notable Replies

  1. Meanwhile... contemporary cop shows used to sell surveillance to the general public. Every time I see "the good guys" break the rules or "hack the server" or pull up the digital panopticon in order to get "the bad guys", I think it softens us up for totalitarianism. It undermines the suspicion that many of us have of the NSA and the whole surveillance apparatus, because the good guys "need" this kind of thing to be able to catch the bad guys.

  2. bersl2 says:

    And Jean-Luc would, I believe, rhetorically tear Gen. Alexander a new one for creating enemies where none previously existed, for imagining himself as master of all, for perfidy and subterfuge against those whom he ultimately serves, and for intellectual and ethical cowardice.

    And I wouldn't be surprised if Patrick Stewart felt nearly the same way. Has anybody brought this to his attention?

  3. While watching the U.S. Open on TV this weekend, I saw an American Express (financial services) commercial that used ubiquitous surveillance to sell a transaction alerting app. The ad started out something like "Wherever you go, someone is watching. We're surrounded by surveillance .. cameras .. police .." (accompanied by jump-cut video of the same) ".. wouldn't it be nice to bring the same level of security to your online transactions?" I found it profoundly disorienting, almost nauseating, that they would present something like that as a "positive" suitable for pitching a product. I guess I'm not in their target demographic.

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