How did the National Security Administration sell Congress on its controversial spying program? Apparently by building a replica of the U.S.S. Enterprise bridge and letting lawmakers sit in the big chair and "play Picard."
(Update: Added a picture. Update #2: This wasn't the NSA, but Alexander's prior job. Sorry for the mix-up.)
When he was running the Army's Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many of his future allies down to Fort Belvoir for a tour of his base of operations, a facility known as the Information Dominance Center. It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a "whoosh" sound when they slid open and closed. Lawmakers and other important officials took turns sitting in a leather "captain's chair" in the center of the room and watched as Alexander, a lover of science-fiction movies, showed off his data tools on the big screen.
"Everybody wanted to sit in the chair at least once to pretend he was Jean-Luc Picard," says a retired officer in charge of VIP visits.
Alexander wowed members of Congress with his eye-popping command center. And he took time to sit with them in their offices and explain the intricacies of modern technology in simple, plain-spoken language. He demonstrated a command of the subject without intimidating those who had none.
Update: I found what appears to be a picture of the Information Dominance Center, although I'm not sure if this is the version that was designed to look like the Enterprise. Here it is, via DBI Architects:
Update #2: Someone pointed out that this was actually the Army's Intelligence and Security Command, when Alexander was running it — so this was prior to him joining the NSA, although he was in fact using a Star Trek "Enterprise" bridge to sell Congress on surveillance schemes. Sorry about the mixup.