President Trump ordered a missile strike on Syria last night in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed an estimated 70 people in the country, widely attributed to the Assad regime.
Trump was at his Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida when 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from US warships. It was terrifying to watch. An estimated six people were killed, 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, which is an enclosed, secure area the White House sometimes uses to deal with classified information. Then again, this appears to be an unidentified Mar-A-Lago room that’s been marked with a sign reading, “QUIET AREA.”
Today, Press Secretary Sean Spicer tweeted this edited photo of the ad-hoc situation bunker.
What in the world are those devices? As people on Twitter pointed out, they’re unprecedented—the Obama administration used laptops during their 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 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, who formerly served as President 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. But I don’t know what the black and white things are. The one in front of Reince 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,” he added.
Vietor also reminded me that Trump’s staff has a history of bad infosec. When North Korea launched a missile test in February, 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.
Still, Vietor said, “while Trump’s staff is incompetent, the White House Communications Agency are badass and professional.”
It’s possible the black box to the left of the photo is a Cisco Telepresence Touch, according to Brian Roemmele. The 8-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 AV 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. 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.