White House Situation Room lavished with attention following bin Laden raid

May 12, 2011

Rarely is a windowless basement bunker lavished with so much praise.

But the White House Situation Room is enjoying a boomlet these days, after hosting one of the most intense briefing sessions in U.S. history — including one of the most scrutinized photographs of the Obama presidency — during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound two weeks ago.

Now, President Obama plans to pay homage to the site, which is actually several rooms. He’ll hold a 50th-anniversary ceremony dedicating one of its conference rooms to its creator, President John F. Kennedy, on Friday. National security adviser Thomas E. Donilon will make remarks and introduce Obama, who will unveil a plaque and host an unusual Situation Room reception including guests Caroline Kennedy; her son, Jack Schlossberg; and nine former national security advisers, an administration official said.

For the Obama White House, the Situation Room represents a continuous thread from the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs mission to earlier this month, when the centralized command center that Kennedy ordered to be set up after his failed Cuban invasion helped Obama keep real-time watch over the bin Laden raid.

“President Kennedy’s foresight put in place the infrastructure that allowed the president and his team to monitor the bin Laden mission in the Situation Room,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

The Sit Room, as the high-tech hub is commonly called, has a storied history. With three meeting rooms and a staff that operates 24 hours a day, its clocks are set to wherever the president is in the world. It is an elaborate “sensitive compartmented information facility,” or SCIF, with extensive barriers against surveillance and secure video and phone lines that connect globally, and around the clock.

Sit Room officials are in charge of getting the president real-time information on world crises from tornadoes to revolutions.

Obama holds regular meetings there totaling about three hours per week but can spend up to 10 hours a week downstairs, and he has relied on it more heavily for major briefings such as during his Afghanistan-Pakistan review process and the BP oil spill.

Currently, the Situation Room has a high-profile tenant: Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, who moved into the Situation Room while his office is being refurbished.

No word yet on whether the Oval Office is jealous of all the attention.

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