12 Nov 2012

How SCIFs Allow Firms to Get their James Bond On

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Last weekend saw the latest installment in the 007 franchise debut with the release of Skyfall. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, while the plot elements are familiar, the cast of characters has changed somewhat. For instance, Q is now played by nerdy 20-something Ben Whishaw. This is definitely not your father’s James Bond. In fact, there is a distinct lack of high tech toys that is a staple of Bond movies. Apparently MI6 has deemed such gadgets redundant, along with aging spies like 007. Without giving away too much of the plot, suffice it to say that James Bond and M are both in a fight for their professional and literal lives in this installment.

Over the years, Bond fans have been regaled with everything from tricked out Aston Martin convertibles replete with ejector seat, to buzz saw wrist watch and even a jet pack. But fiction aside, how much high tech wizardry is really invoked in today’s cloak and dagger business? In other words, how do firms really get their James Bond on in the twenty first century?

One way is by the use of Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities, known in the trade as SCIFs (pronounced skiff). A SCIF is a high security, portable, containerized structure used to protect Top Secret information. These facilities are employed by everyone from the Department of Defense, to the CIA, NSA, FBI and even some military contractors. Some SCIFs are no bigger than cargo containers. (Cargo containers protected by vault doors and electronic countermeasures.) While others can be entire rooms or even multi-story buildings outfitted with a myriad of physical and electronic security devices, all SCIFs have one thing in common: the latest in security.

In addition to the structure itself, everything within the structure is shielded from prying eyes and ears. This means that every telephone line, electrical system, computer, data and emergency system must be shielded from interference and interception. This usually means that additional shielding and isolation is often required to harden the facility and preclude electronic eavesdropping. Even the ventilation system is equipped with steel manbars that are 1/2-inch in diameter and 6 inches on center each way, welded at the intersections, with inspection ports built inside the SCIF.

It seems that the old saw of slipping through the ductwork to gain access to a top secret facility just won’t cut it nowadays. What will Hollywood screenwriters do now? Who knows, but one thing is for certain, most of the gear that is built into every SCIF would make Q proud.

If you are interested in how everyone from the President to the people who routinely handle classified information manage to protect our secrets, SCIFs are one of those spy gadgets that most people have never heard about. While it may not be as cool as the Lotus Esprit submarine car used in The Spy Who Loved Me, when it comes to real life cloak and dagger operations, SCIFs represent a real taste of 007 tech. Try putting that in your Martini, Mr. Bond.


Ed Meskel is Vice President of SCIF Global, a Jacksonville, Florida firm that specializes in the design, construction and shipping of SCIFs worldwide. To learn more about SCIFs, visit his website at http://scifspace.com.

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About the Author


Ed Meskel is a 26 year retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer/Submarine Communications Electronic Technician. He is the onsite lead Project Manager for SCIF Global Technologies who's main mantra is "Results. Not Excuses."

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