To the Situation Room!

11/01/2023
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    People sit at desks on the “watch floor” in the newly renovated complex of the White House Situation Room. (Carlos Fyfe/The White House via AP)
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    The two-foot-diameter seal on the wall of the John F. Kennedy Conference Room indicates who is in a meeting. Seals for the president, vice president, and executive staff are kept in a nearby closet and can be quickly swapped. (Carlos Fyfe/The White House via AP)
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    President Joe Biden holds a wooden presidential seal presented to him by Situation Room director Marc Gustafson, left, as he tours the renovated White House Situation Room complex. (Carlos Fyfe/The White House via AP)
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    President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and members of the national security team receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room in 2011. (Pete Souza/The White House via AP)
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    President Donald Trump and other officials monitor the raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019 in the Situation Room. (Shealah Craighead/The White House via AP)
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    President George W. Bush, right, meets with advisors in the White House Situation Room in 2007. (AP/The White House, Eric Draper)
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Take a seat for your briefing. Here’s the news: The Sit Room got a $50 million makeover.

The White House Situation Room isn’t a secret room. You know about it now, right? And it’s not one room—it’s a 5,500-square-foot, highly secure complex of conference rooms and offices. (That’s more than twice the size of most houses.)

But it is a place of secrecy. It’s where the United States President speaks with foreign leaders and meets with national security officials. They discuss secret operations and classified information.

President Barack Obama and his team watched the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in 2011 there. From the complex, President Donald Trump monitored the 2019 operation that resulted in the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. President Lyndon Johnson went over Vietnam War plans there.

The total renovation of the “Sit Room” or “whizzer” (from the acronym WHSR) took a year to complete.

Workers dug five feet below ground to make more space. Old floors, furniture, computers, and other tech were stripped and replaced with mahogany paneling from Maryland, stonework from a Virginia quarry, LED lights that change colors, and flat-screen panels. See-through glass office windows become opaque with the press of a button.

But there are still plenty of landline phones. No cell phones are allowed in the space for security reasons.

You probably can’t get a tour. Access is generally restricted to the President’s national security and military advisors. Even the contractors working on the renovation needed temporary security clearances.

The Kennedy administration created the hush-hush complex in 1961. President John F. Kennedy believed there should be a dedicated crisis management center where officials could coordinate intelligence faster and better.

The updated space has a reception area with a U.S. seal in stonework. Behind that is the main conference room, known as the “J.F.K. room.” A giant, high-tech screen runs the length of the wall. To the right are a smaller conference room and two soundproof “breakout rooms.”

To the left is the “watch floor,” a 24-7 operations center. Representatives from each military branch and spy agency, the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and a few other agencies take 12-hour shifts at desks there. They monitor video streams, social media, and intelligence reports.

Situation Room director Marc Gustafson says visitors previously remarked that the complex didn’t reflect Hollywood’s imagining of the space. They now declare: “This looks like the movies.”

Why? The White House isn’t just the place where the President lives. It’s also where he and many others work to govern and protect the United States.

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