Security Tents

The US government sets up secure tents for the president and other officials to deal with classified material while traveling abroad.

Even when Obama travels to allied nations, aides quickly set up the security tent -- which has opaque sides and noise-making devices inside -- in a room near his hotel suite. When the president needs to read a classified document or have a sensitive conversation, he ducks into the tent to shield himself from secret video cameras and listening devices.

[...]

Following a several-hundred-page classified manual, the rooms are lined with foil and soundproofed. An interior location, preferably with no windows, is recommended.

Posted on November 15, 2013 at 6:28 AM • 56 Comments

Comments

JNovember 15, 2013 7:32 AM

"the rooms are lined with foil"

...and some of us only go to the length of putting foil on our heads.

CatsonNovember 15, 2013 7:40 AM

That's the older tent model. The new one will resemble the tents Hermione sets up in Harry Potter movies where the interior looks vastly different from the exterior. ;-)

maxCohenNovember 15, 2013 7:47 AM

With no windows for extra heat and all foil it's no surprise their ideas are half-baked.

gort_industriesNovember 15, 2013 7:58 AM

I wonder what kind of security sweeps they need to do to the floor (carpet/tile/hardwood) considering this only does work on five of the six sides.

Michael MoserNovember 15, 2013 8:03 AM

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tempest_(codename)

"TEMPEST is a codename referring to investigations and studies of compromising emanations (CE). Compromising emanations are defined as unintentional intelligence-bearing signals which, if intercepted and analyzed, may disclose the information transmitted, received, handled, or otherwise processed by any information-processing equipment."

Ronald RaygunNovember 15, 2013 8:07 AM

In all seriousness, my name aside, wouldn't it be possible to find something with a wavelength just penetrating enough to reach the parts of the floor where a bug could hear past the white-noise generator, but not so penetrating that it posed a risk to people below said floor?

Katie ChanNovember 15, 2013 8:28 AM

Especially in the case of someone like the president, they probably have the floor underneath to themselves as well...

hoodathunkitNovember 15, 2013 8:45 AM

On a more serious note, the article has a lot of information. Who, what, why, when, where, and how we (America) started spying on everyone and everything.

It's called 'projection' where a person/persons assume others are doing what they themselves are doing; similar to false consensus where people believe that others are similar (or doing similar things) to themselves, and thus "project" their own traits onto others.

"No matter where you are, we are a target these days," said R. James Woolsey Jr., director of central intelligence during the Clinton administration. [1993–1995]

Countermeasures are taken on US soil as well. When Cabinet secretaries and top national security officials take up their new jobs, the government retrofits their homes with special secure rooms for top-secret conversations and computer use.

. . . George J. Tenet, the director of the CIA from 1997 to 2004, was one of the first officials to use one [tent] regularly.

But even outside countries with longstanding histories of spying on Americans, diplomats say, they are resigned to the fact that no electronic message sent or received is ever really private anymore.

So according to the article the US intelligence community started spying, especially on electronic communications, on everything it could; starting in the mid 1990s.

Steven HooberNovember 15, 2013 8:58 AM

As someone mentioned, they are called Tempest tents, and are not developed by secret NSA seamstresses but are things you can just buy. Here's an example:

http://www.solianiemc.com/products/shielded-tent/rf-shielded-tents-emc-rfi-tempest/

It's more of a specification than a product. I am sure many are available, in both configuration and size.

To those saying "what about the floor?!" Um... put a floor in. Most backpacking tents come with floors, and many of the giant floorless tents offer floors that clip in so you don't walk on the mud. To the specification note above, I am sure they are tested vs real world attacks. Simple features like the poles being outside are probably electromagnetic countermeasures as well; you can't use the resonance of any known metal that passes from inside to outside indicate they have thought this through.

AspieNovember 15, 2013 10:09 AM

@Julia

Hah! <koff> <koff> ... I can't breathe coffee, apparently.

George Tenet was loving his "slamdunk" post. It doesn't surprise me in the least that he was a proud adopter of something so conspicuously covert. I bet he wore a big ****-off rolex with a pull-out garotte wire and carried a heater just because he could.

To quote the late great Douglas Adams "they [high officials] so love the palaver of being in power that they very rarely realise that they're not."

Surely most of this crap is for show. After all, why advertise to potential adversaries with what amounts to a big red sign saying "SECRET CONVERSATIONS TAKING PLACE IN THIS TENT - MOVE ALONG, NOTHING TO SEE."

anonymousNovember 15, 2013 10:43 AM

Following a several-hundred-page classified manual, the rooms are lined with foil and soundproofed. An interior location, preferably with no windows, is recommended.

Tin foil or aluminium foil?

So no Windows, but what about Linux or Mac?

Clive RobinsonNovember 15, 2013 10:47 AM

Tempest tents have been around for quite some time, the ones I used in the early 80's were looking a bit taty even then.

They were made to fit inside statndard 8x4 army tents and looked very similar in shape and fixings to anti-mosquito nets. The difference being they consisted of several supporting layers of non stretch synthetic cloth with very fine "copper mesh cloth" in between, they were sewn together in a way that ment that stich holes did not align.

And they had either carpet or duck board floors to protect the cloth from boots, table legs and the like, all equipment was put on boards made of multilayer rubber/lino/ply wood to stop vibration. And in some fixings to take a sound cloth that felt like a cross between a duvet and futon matress sitting inside was very eerie as there were no sound reflections and no light, sound or other incoming energy. They had an "airlock"style entrance with zips and velcro flaps for which there was a specialised proceadure to use

They had holes designed to have specialised filters for power, telephone/telex, heliax RF cables and for various waveguides and control systems. But oddly not for air-con which was needed even in snowy conditions.

They were a pain to setup as you had to do a full "integrity check" prior to bringing in secure equipment, which involved the use of equipment you might see the equivalent of in an EMC test site. In the kit was a "slide rule" not a calculator and a very long check sheet. It took about two hours put up and anothe four or five to "certify".

The main use that I saw them used for was in "man portable" (more like donkey)"crypto-cells" for air drops and other places a hard cell on a four ton truck was not deployable.

ScottNovember 15, 2013 10:49 AM

@Aspie

In this case, though, it is being used inside a hotel room. Now if they were setting this up on the lawn...

Every Move You MakeNovember 15, 2013 11:02 AM

Information leaves an impression on a person that is carried out of a security tent.

It's human nature to use words encountered recently more often than other words. A careful statistical analysis of what a person says can give clues as to what they have been reading or hearing recently. Verbal stress analysis gives more info.

Body language and gait analysis can be read for clues.

The true is the whole. Integrate all of the fragments to make a rough but accurate understanding that improves in precision as new observations are included.

mooNovember 15, 2013 12:59 PM

@gort_industries:

"I wonder what kind of security sweeps they need to do to the floor (carpet/tile/hardwood) considering this only does work on five of the six sides."

Just curious, but why would the tent not have its own floor made of the same protective materials as the walls?

NobodySpecialNovember 15, 2013 1:00 PM

Is it airtight?
If we spread enough rumours of micro-nano-bugs could we persuade all our leaders into sealed airtight tents? A few hours would be enough

Back in the day when we had proper enemies (with actual WMD on actual missiles) our CAD stations were in a metal room inside a room with an interlock door. When anyone opened the door all the monitors turned off. Unfortunately they did this by just pulling the AC power top the display - we went through a lot of 21in Trinitrons back when they weren't cheap.

Adrian RatnapalaNovember 15, 2013 1:05 PM

I wonder if it is like "the cone of silence" from Get Smart. That would be cool.

CarpeNovember 15, 2013 1:32 PM

Portable SCIF's? I'm almost willing to bet NSA has secretly/covertly compromised even SCIF's. The overlap and lack thereof of control parties of the two main intel factories CIA/NSA is going to be interesting to see, as in the past they have largely pretended to be adversarial while the same people pull the strings on both.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, especially since this month is the 50th anniversary, the coup solidified at JFK's assassination due to his attempt to take the intel agencies back under control, and every POTUS since then has been compromised. They just expanded and took over congress and the SCOTUS too.

Bruce et al can talk till they are blue in the face, but this is the core issue that we have to stop skirting and start talking about.

"The Secret Team" is a very apt read these days.

Muddy RoadNovember 15, 2013 1:58 PM

...yet, everything we do is considered "like a postcard" to the government.

The Feinstein bill actually increases and solidifies their powers. Even the Franken bill legalizes meta data collection.

I wonder if the President simply wears a tinfoil hat when the tent isn't available?

OMGnosquidNovember 15, 2013 3:17 PM

@Ihmahr : "Where is the squid?"

Maybe the squid is Bruce's dead man's switch. Be afraid..

65535November 15, 2013 7:19 PM

@Carpe

“…due to his attempt to take the intel agencies back under control, and every POTUS since then has been compromised. They just expanded and took over congress and the SCOTUS too.

“Bruce et al can talk till they are blue in the face, but this is the core issue that we have to stop skirting and start talking about.” –Carpe

Point well taken. It’s clear that the NSA and other intelligence organizations are extremely powerful – maybe too powerful. But, I would guess that to survive and grow these intelligence agencies need funding. That is not cheap.

The question is how do they get said funding? If it is by extortion, blackmail or sales tactics such as “You are in danger. Your conversations are being compromised. Your enemies are everywhere. There are skeletons in your closet. We can help you. For a few billion dollars more we can make you safe.” This game trades on fear. That’s were the ethical line is crossed.

Has Obama been compromised? Its possible given his family’s history and his various state driver’s licenses. He could be under coercion. But, that is very hard to prove.

@MuddyR

“The Feinstein bill actually increases and solidifies their powers. Even the Franken bill legalizes meta data collection.” –MuddyR

That is the problem. And, it is a big problem. These politicians are reinforcing the NSA's powers - not restricting them.

WaelNovember 15, 2013 7:30 PM

I find it funny the article has a leaked picture from the "Security Tent". Can't be thaaat secure :)

Every Move You MakeNovember 15, 2013 10:25 PM

Evidently something I said earlier today was important.

On the way home from work today I was harassed by a motorcycle, a red Mustang painted with Chinese characters, and an SUV with the personalized plate "Run2Be".

It was on San Tomas in San Jose.

hermanNovember 16, 2013 4:09 AM

"On the way home from work today I was harassed by a motorcycle, a red Mustang painted with Chinese characters, and an SUV with the personalized plate "Run2Be"."

You missed the black helicopter that was above and behind you and slightly to the left (to afford a clear shot through the driver side window).

CarpeNovember 16, 2013 6:30 AM

@65535

"Has Obama been compromised?"

According to whistleblower Russ Tice, he held in his hands the wiretaps for various numbers associated with a senator hopeful who's address is now 1600 Pennsylvania, Ave.

That's ignoring the more shady and difficult to follow history (lots of CIA connections) that was covered up by manipulating the far right into screaming bs about birth certificates and Islam all over the place.

If I want to pick a lock (a hobby of mine) I need to understand how locks work. Hence, the presidential constitutional lawyer who has done more to undermine the constitution than almost any predecessor.

CJNovember 16, 2013 9:42 AM

What is the noise generator? White noise? Wave canceling? Does it effectively counter a real problem? Is it more effective than the Get Smart Cone of Silence?

BryanNovember 16, 2013 2:34 PM

@OMGnosquid

@Ihmahr : "Where is the squid?"
Maybe the squid is Bruce's dead man's switch. Be afraid..

Nah. The squid is everywhere. It has it's tentacles into everything.

Whatever replaces the squid must have many tentacles.

Whiskers in MenloNovember 16, 2013 11:40 PM

The notion of a tent is a good idea.

Those that have "tent camped" in the likes of Yosemite
know that the floor can be raised and need not be mud.

A pallet or two+ of portable floor and multi-layer tent supportable
by external frame polls. The entire kit could be well
tested, inspected and evaluated.

The fabric is likely a mix of RF, audio, light, rain and ballistic
qualified material... I would make the furniture sturdy so
if the tent collapsed safe zones would persist. I would make
the raised floor so it can be filled with water so the tent would not
blow away in a wind storm and test stakes would not be needed
for most deployments. In a large space in a hotel it need not
have the added weight of water.

As portable as tents are, common containers as used by common
carriers are under appreciated. In many parts of the country they
pile up for want of a return shipment. They are durable and make
sturdy and moderatly secure housing and storage. We should be
seeing thousands arriving in the Philippines, we should be seeing
thousands in Haiti. They are easy to secure with augured holes
and cables. Long or short... boxes.

Tents are a nice compliment to the screened tunnels dignitaries walk
behind on their way to and from stage. Again ballistic material,
a little or a lot as needed or wanted.

INovember 17, 2013 12:46 PM

the president sets up secure places to look at things?? what's next? securing his phone? when will the madness end!

seriously though, good work on keeping us informed on important things like tents brucie. keep it up!

vas pupNovember 18, 2013 11:27 AM

Is Faraday cage/tent protecting against infrared leak? If not, it probably should (e.g. mirror quality foil layer isolation) to eliminate
possibility of exact pinpointing of President or other protected person's location/posture within the tent/room for any adversary action.

PeterLNovember 18, 2013 1:57 PM

It makes me sad how many tinfoil/conspiracy minded individuals read Bruce's blog and use the comments section to get up on their soapbox full of crazy

WaelNovember 18, 2013 2:13 PM

@PeterL

It makes me sad how many tinfoil/conspiracy minded individuals read Bruce's blog and use the comments section to get up on their soapbox full of crazy
Labeling people names maybe an indicator of the lack of ability to mount an intellectual "attack" against those pesky tinfoilers. I suggest you choose an episode from the "soapbox full of crazy" series and discuss it. Otherwise, I think your sadness may not subside anytime soon...

IanNovember 20, 2013 6:42 AM

Cool. Is this like the "cone of silence" from the 60s spoof spy series. I'm pretty sure someone must remember the name of the show

WaelNovember 20, 2013 9:20 AM

@Ian

I'm pretty sure someone must remember the name of the show
Correctmondo! At least six of them!

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasonsNovember 20, 2013 10:00 AM

@ Ian

I have 99 reasons for watching that show--just thinking about smarts.

_JimNovember 25, 2013 10:09 AM

@Spaceman Spiff • November 15, 2013 8:48 AM
"Technically, this is a Faraday cage... :-) "

No, it's not.

Since there are 'closed current loops' (and not 'open current loops' as in a *true* Faraday Cage or shield) in the shield structure you are incorrect.

(You have, on this subject, made the classical mistake of many others of assuming as a laymen that you may repeat what you have erroneously seen or read somewhere else is "correct" and authoritative.)

_Jim

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