|Photos taken: Sunday April 13, 2008
National Counter-terrorism Intelligence Center
by Shepherd Johnson
The new architectural craze in Northern Virginia is the Secured Compartmentalized Information Facility. They are wall to wall in and around the Capital Beltway. You have the federal government, military and intelligence organizations, then you have the military industrial intelligence complex. You have the SAICs, the Boeings, the Lockheed Martins, Mantech, CACI, Northrup Grumman, BAE Systems, L3 Communications. Then you have the telecommunications outfits that are servicing all of the above. They all seem to mushroom up in close proximity to one another in little clusters. They form the heart of new communities like Reston, Dulles, Crystal City, Tysons Corner, communities that were barely on the map 30 years ago which have now become enormous technocracies. It is an incestuous relationship.
Deborah Natsios hit the nail on the head with her piece entitled 'National Security Sprawl', the citizens of the Beltway live in a matrix, side by side with the national security state. It's hard to look around and see anything that is not affected by this empire.
The buildings and offices of this industry are a ubiquitous part of the D.C. landscape. They are literally, everywhere. The defense contractors are easy to spot, they of course have their logos emblazoned across the tops of their usually brand new, mirrored glass, office buildings. It's ad space to them. This makes it easy to pick out the government operations because they don't have a logo to put out on the building for the public. Your friendlier governmental agencies will have a sign that states who they are with their agency seal on it where you turn in to the building from the main road.
This also makes it easy to spot the intelligence organizations like the DIA, NRO or the CIA. Most regular government office buildings don't have the level of security you see at a CIA office building, like the Stafford Building at Tysons Corner. They may have a couple of cameras. The intelligence organizations have the heavy stuff, fencing, cameras on the fencing, bubble cameras(the ones that look like upside down Weber grills) on every corner of the building, a retractable gate with small booth/checkpoint manned by Federal Protective Services personnel. Sometimes around the doorways, there are large pylons or concrete plant containers spaced just far enough for a person to get through. These are meant to stop a truck bomb or any other vehicle from trying to ram into the building. They all have the United States flag flying from a flagpole, but the intelligence operations will have nothing, absolutely nothing, stating what it is or to what agency that building belongs. Obvious "secret" facility, no sign, no defense contractor logo, cameras everywhere, armed guards. They stick out like sore thumbs.
One of the latest editions to the national security complex is the National Counter-terrorism Intelligence Center, which used to be a small desk at the CIA and has now become ancillary to the also newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Because of it's brand new status it is unclear where this office lies in the hierarchy of the Intelligence Community but ostensibly, it is at the top. Think National Security Agency or Central Intelligence Agency, but because it is new and nobody really knows anything about the ODNI, it just doesn't have the cachet that the NSA and CIA have right now..
The National Counter-terrorism Intelligence Center occupies a refurbished office complex on a rectangle of land that butts up against both I-495(Capital beltway) and the Route 267(Dulles Airport Access Rd.) It's really not that hard to find. Open source information on the internet, like a trail of bread crumbs led many tech savvy researchers to find the NCIC almost immediately. Most news articles in the Washington Post or the Christian Science Monitor will preface any article about the NCIC with the caveat, "in an undisclosed location in Northern Virginia". They do this to give the place a menacing allure and to give people the false sense that behind closed doors men of honor are secretly fighting for the freedoms which they all cherish. It's really just an office building. It's what goes on inside this building that has the government so concerned with keeping the place a secret.
Deciding to test that secrecy, I embarked to photograph the NCIC. Studying the landscape around the National Counter-terrorism Intelligence Center using features such as Google Maps and Live Local, one might think, "What's the point?" These images of the facility are far superior to anything you could capture with a camera. Adopting a "because it's there" attitude, I do some further research. A little satellite imagery analysis reveals that there is a smaller office building in the northwest corner of the block of land the NCIC occupies. If it's not a part of the complex and it's not governmental, this would be a good location to photograph the shadowy intelligence facility.
After checking out this area I would then drive down the old Farm Credit Drive which forms a horseshoe right in front of the NCIC. There might be a good location right in front of the building away from prying eyes. If worst came to worst and I couldn't establish any shots from either of these positions, I would just have to stop along the Dulles Airport Access Road., get out and take pictures from that vantage point along the highway.
Driving past the CIA headquarters in Mclean, that site almost seems quaint in comparison to the task now at hand. Driving by the entrance intersection, you can actually catch a glimpse of the NCIC which is visible from the road. A little further up the road and on the left is the turn-off for my objective: the small office building I'd seen on Google Maps.
Pulling into the parking lot I notice a few cars parked. From the satellite picture it looked like there was a sloping hill from the area of the NCIC down to this parking area. Wrong. The hill was a high retaining wall. Damn, the area around the NCIC was inaccessible. Pulling around the parking lot, I see to my relief that from this office building there is a trail leading to an area with a picnic table up a small hill that joins the other trail that encircles the NCIC.
There appears to be nobody around, but right in front of me is the parking lot for the NCIC. There is a fence, with cameras of course, and beyond the parking lot, the enormous National Counter-terrorism Intelligence Center. The fence is adorned with signs that state "U.S. Government Controlled Property - No Trespassing" The trail circling the facility has fresh pine mulch laid down and I'm guessing is more for security than for allowing workers to obtain a bit of exercise on their lunch break. The complex is massive. The parking lot alone is huge and right at the fence where you come up from the other office building there is a stairway which goes down to a sub level or several sub levels, so there are certainly a lot of people working there. At the parking garage stairway there is also an emergency call box with a blue siren in case there is an incident. Terrorists? More likely installed because of the potential of somebody being raped in the large expanse of the parking lot. It happens, and was a problem the NSA ran into at their complex at Fort Meade as per James Bamsford's 'Body of Secrets'.
I quickly snap off several pictures and decide I'd better not hang around too long. That was easy enough. Got my pictures, I can go now. The only thing wrong is that the pictures are shot through a chain link fence and I hate that. I decide to drive by the front of the building down the Farm Credit Drive and see if I can get anything from there. So I drive past the main entrance road and hang a right onto the Farm Credit Dr. There is an office building on my left, the Farm Credit Administration. The road veers slightly to the right and then I reach an impasse. The contractors that are still working on the NCIC have created a cul-de-sac right there and the road goes no further.
There are couple of contractor's trailers and some parked cars. To the left of the trailers is a short overweight woman who is manning a checkpoint of some sorts. She is checking cars as they emerge from an area down in another NCIC parking area. She wears no uniform and has no gun, only a walkie-talkie which she is now speaking into as she looks toward me and my vehicle. What is going on here? I thought maybe I had wandered into the remnants of a company softball game and all the participants were just leaving. She looked like the kind of person you would expect to see directing traffic at a county fair, not the world's most secret building. I just looked at her and slowly turned around.
I look for a place to park the car along the cul-de-sac and-- nothing: there are "No Parking" signs everywhere. I pull into the Farm Credit Administration and park the car in the empty parking lot, grab my camera and start walking the short distance back to the cul-de-sac, which by the way has a superb view of the entire NCIC building. I almost make it off the Farm Credit Administration property when an elderly rent-a-cop security guard emerges from that building and asks me "Are you going to be very long?" I say no, and thinking that he's going to bust me, ask him if it's OK to park there. He says, "Yeah, I mean, if you are going into the building." I tell him that I'm not, so I was going to go ahead and move my vehicle.
I now decide to just go back to the cul-de-sac, park real quick, get out snap off some shots and then leave. I make my way the short distance back and do just that. I aim at the NCIC and start snapping off photos, ignoring the woman who resembles a BINGO matron. As I'm doing this, I realize, it's kind of hard taking pictures of something when somebody is yelling at you. "Sir! Sir! SIR! SIR! You can not take pictures here!" The woman, who is an employee of Clark Construction, Peterson Construction or HITT Contracting is complaining about me and my photo taking. I'm thinking, "Who the hell is she, telling me when and where I can take pictures?"
I continue taking pictures, completely ignoring her. Then I hear a man's voice, shouting something about "the authorities". I swing around to greet this guy and snap a couple of pictures of both him and the BINGO matron. This completely throws them off guard.
The guy identified himself as a federal officer and asked me what I was doing and who I was. I told him I was a photographer and that I was taking pictures of that building. He told me that I was not allowed to do that. At this point, I began to yell at him: "I am a United States citizen. Are you going to violate my 1st amendment rights and tell me I can't take pictures here?" At this point I still thought he was a federal agent, but then he said something strange. He said that he "will get some federal officers up here immediately if I maintain my current attitude" or something to that effect. That tells me that he wasn't a federal officer at all. I am still agitated by him and continue to yell, "What is that building right there? What is that building right there?" He says that it is a U.S. Government federal building and that I was currently trespassing, which was another lie, I was standing on the road and if I'm not mistaken, I was standing on Fairfax County property otherwise known as public property. He continues to state that he is going to get federal officers up here, which he never does. I then realize I'm pushing it, even though I am completely justified and feel like this guy has just stomped all over my constitutional rights. I relent and tell him, "Alright, alright, I'm going to leave." I get in the car, pull around and wave to the gentleman who was impersonating a federal officer. He doesn't wave back and scowls at me.
As I make my way back to the main road, my adrenaline is pumping, I'm expecting armed guards to jump out of the bushes at any moment and apprehend me. All I see while waiting at the light is a dirty look from some woman who no doubt had been held up in the long line of contract workers back at the cul-de-sac. I'm driving away and feeling like cops were going to be all over me at any second. But they never come. I start feeling like I'm being followed, but then realize that it's just my paranoia kicking in. I am an American citizens trying to hold my government accountable. A secret building that my tax dollars paid for and my government wants me to know as little about it as possible. The reason is that if we do start to notice these buildings which occupy this secret landscape, then we might start to ask questions such as "what is this so called war on terror?" What is my government doing in my name at secret facilities all over the world?
I make it home and start to relate my stories of the day to my girlfriend. She is taken aback, looks at me and says, "You know, you just might find yourself renditioned." I reply flippantly, "...will never happen, I don't have brown skin." I then look down at my hands and think to myself, "Couldn't happen, couldn't happen..."