1997

A National Nerve Center: Inside the White House Situation Room

By: Michael Donley, Cornelius O’Leary, and John Montgomery

Introduction

Go to the southwest of the gate White House complex, the present guard with identification, and state business. If your you are on the appointment list, an escort will be called. Walk up West Executive Avenue and turn right into the West Basement entrance; another guard will check your pass for White House access. Take the first right, down a few stairs. To the left is the White House Mess; on the right is a locked door.

Behind these layers of security is the White House Situation Room (WHSR), a conference room surrounded on three sides by two small offices, multiple workstations, computers, and communications equipment. The conference room is soundproofed and well appointed but small and slightly cramped. The technical equipment is up to date, though not necessarily “leading edge”; every square foot of space is functional. Visitors typically are impressed by the location and technology, but they are often surprised by the small size.

While it is widely known that important meetings are held here, the importance of the WHSR in the daily life of the National Security Council (NSC) and White House staff and its critical role in Washington’s network of key national security operations and intelligence centers are less understood. This article is intended to fill that void.

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