In the 1960s, it would not have been a spy movie without characters avoiding “bugs” by going into the bathroom, turning on the shower and repeatedly flushing the toilet. Today, preventing secrets from being overheard needs more than the sound of running water. The government says that you need a SCIF.
SCIF stands for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, a room or series of rooms that have been designed and constructed to prevent outside access to the information being discussed in them. The Federal government has a set of standards, spelled out in Intelligence Community Directive 705 / IC Technical Specification.
The Cost of Classification
Building a SCIF is costly. CSO Online reports. They quote experts that state that a basic facility adds a minimum of $50 per square foot to the cost. High end facilities can run $1,000 or more per square foot over the normal costs of construction. There are several levels of security and new constructions should be built to the need, to save as much money as possible.
Adamo Construction builds and rents SCIFs. They point out some of the major differences from a normal office that are found in a SCIF. “For example, all perimeter surfaces (walls, ceilings and floor) are to be constructed so that they will reveal evidence of unauthorized entry or tampering.”
The SCIF is built to prevent the transmission of sound through the walls, floor or ceiling and through HVAC. “All telephone, electrical power, security systems, data and emergency systems equipment must be dedicated to and contained within the SCIF,” they note. The room may be enclosed in a Faraday cage or other means of preventing electronic transmissions from the space.
There should be just one entrance to the SCIF. Entrance to the area must be using two access control technologies, one for normal day-to-day use, and one for use when the SCIF is in use as a secure facility.
CSO points out, however, that the most important part of SCIF security are the users. What goes on in the SCIF should stay in the SCIF. Policies need to enforce security protocols and procedures for all users. You cannot sneak written materials out of the SCIF in your socks or bring your cell phone in. And just as security challenges change over time, so, too, do SCIF restrictions. In an era of FitBits and Smart Watches, SCIF users are told to leave any transmitting devices at home. And if you’re looking for a window view – don’t expect to find it inside a SCIF.
The next time that you have the need to discuss Top Secrets with colleagues, don’t head to the washroom. Instead, head to the SCIF.