White House Situation Room Overhauled

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Perhaps no corner of the White House has starred in more movies and television shows than the Situation Room, the presidential decision center under the West Wing that Hollywood imagines as a high-tech beehive of activity, where presidents command covert operations around the world.

n reality, it was something of a low-tech dungeon.

Until it closed for its biggest overhaul since John F. Kennedy settled into its wood-paneled conference room, most of the room’s monitors used — get this — picture tubes. Communications were often by fax. The computers and telephones looked like the best technology available, in 1985. There was a small kitchen, but it had no sink.

On Dec. 27 the new Situation Room is to open formally, the result of planning that reaches back to before the Sept. 11 attacks but took on added urgency afterward. The White House offered a preview to two reporters on Monday, days before its new data center is pumped full of classified information and its doors are sealed to outsiders....

The Situation Room was largely an outgrowth of the Cuban missile crisis, an event that made President Kennedy and his aides realize that they needed a central hub for information during crises.

Since then, it has been the site of critical decisions: Lyndon Johnson spent long nights picking bombing targets there; Bill Clinton used it to handle Bosnia and the Asian financial crisis. Over the years, the technology became a patchwork of fixes, as Wang word processors were replaced by personal computers, and then for portable secure video. The 9/11 commission found that on the day of the 2001 attacks, communications frayed, making it hard for Mr. Bush, flying around on Air Force One, to get a picture of what was going on.

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