What the Heck Are These Electronic Devices in Trump’s Situation Room?
Nobody seems to know what kind of technology Trump was using during his missile strike on Syria
On April 6, 2017, Pres. Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack — widely attributed to the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad — that killed an estimated 70 people in the country.
Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida when U.S. Navy warships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian airfield where the regime reportedly staged its chemical-laden warplanes.
Six people died in the strike, according to a statement from Syria’s Armed Forces General Command.
After the bombings, Trump and his team crowded into a small, plain room, where they sat on wedding-reception chairs for a video conference on the Syria strike. There’s been some speculation that this was a mobile SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility — an enclosed, secure area the White House sometimes uses when handling classified information.
Then again, the space might simply be an unidentified room at Mar-a-Lago that had been marked with a sign reading “QUIET AREA.”
White House photo
What in the world are those devices? As people on Twitter pointed out, they’re unprecedented—Pres. Barack Obama’s administration used laptops during the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, for instance. And Trump is a noted Luddite, having once expressed skepticism at the “age of the computer.” He allegedly doesn’t use email.
But I write for a technology website and I couldn’t tell you what they are, either.
“I was wondering about those things, too — I’ve never seen them before,” Tommy Vietor, Obama’s national security spokesman, told me.
“On the far left, you can see a monitor/screen with a camera on top, so that’s part of a secure video conference,” Vietor added. “But I don’t know what the black and white things are. The one in front of [chief of staff] Reince [Priebus] looks like there are maybe cable inputs or a headphone jack, but I don’t know.
“They could be little displays, or maybe just receivers to pick up audio? If he’s really doing a SVTC [secure video teleconference] with the SecDef [Secretary of Defense] and CJCS [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], I would strongly suspect that it’s White House comms equipment.”
Vietor also reminded me that Trump’s staff has a history of bad infosec. When North Korea launched a missile test in February 2017, Trump and his aids—also then at Mar-A-Lago—used their cellphones as flashlights to review sensitive documents.
If you’re drunk and trying to find your keys, this is fine. But when you’re a federal employee, hovering a camera-phone over classified information is a security disaster waiting to happen.
White House photo
“While Trump’s staff is incompetent, the White House Communications Agency are bad-ass and professional,” Vietor pointed out.
It’s possible the black box to the left of the photo is a Cisco Telepresence Touch, according to Brian Roemmele. The eight-inch version of this conferencing device looks a lot like the one in Trump’s situation room. It’s still unclear what the other, white-framed boxes are.
If these devices are indeed sophisticated A.V. technology, they’re most certainly nothing you’d find in your typical office environment. The white-framed boxes “may be microphones,” said Justin Iovine, a presentation service technician at Vice’s Brooklyn offices.
“Also the touch panel looks like an AMX touch panel,” Iovine said. “They are most likely using a codec [data encoding device] for the telepresence. This way, it’s more secure — as opposed to Skype, Google Hangouts, BlueJeans, etc. — and will give a one-to-one communication, or multiple secure controlled connections.”
I reached out to the White House for a definitive answer, but did not receive a response.