What Is a SCIF and Who Uses It?

A SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, is a secure place where sensitive information can be viewed by government officials.

U.S. President Barack Obama and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice talk on the phone with Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco to receive an update on the attack in Brussels, Belgium, in this official White House handout photo taken in Havana on March 22, 2016. The President made the call from the residence of the U.S. Chief of Mission in Havana.Pete Souza / White House via Reuters, file

A SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, is a secure place where sensitive information can be viewed and discussed to prevent outside surveillance or spying.

SCIFs can be either permanent or temporary when lawmakers or military officials need to be briefed while traveling. The most famous SCIF is probably the White House situation room, where presidents have deliberated the country’s most important military and foreign policy decisions.

The role of SCIFs in President Donald Trump’s administration have made headlines as the president continues his frequent trips down to his resort in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. White House press secretary Sean Spicer tweeted a photo Friday of Trump and his national security team monitoring the U.S. strike on Syria in what he described to be a SCIF from there.

The Office of the Director National Intelligence lays out strict guidelines for the technical aspects and security of the SCIF. That includes everything from the requirements for what the doors and windows should be made of to guidelines for armed guards and instructions on destroying temporary SCIFs.

“Every effort should be made to minimize or eliminate windows in the SCIF, especially on the ground floor,” the manual reads. The facility must also provide acoustic protection. If soundproof walling is not an option, the DNI says speakers can be used to distribute noise to mask the conversations inside the SCIF.

Presidents hotel rooms and immediate surroundings frequently become SCIFs when they travel. White House photographer Pete Souza snapped photos of President Barack Obama taking phone calls and meeting with his security team in the secure area during overseas trips. Hillary Clinton told Congress during the Benghazi investigation that she had a SCIF in her Washington, D.C. home when serving as secretary of state. A trailer on the property of President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas reportedly was turned into a SCIF when he traveled to his home outside Washington, D.C.

House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes initially cited the need for a secure location as his reason for going to the White House last month to view sensitive information regarding the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. The Capitol building, however, also has multiple SCIFs where he presumably could have viewed classified information.

SCIF construction is limited to U.S. firms and citizens, according to the DNI guidelines.