Gadgets in the oval office: What tech does the president use?
Being the leader of the free world comes with certain perks (and a lot of responsibilities). The president and his staff need to be able to communicate safely no matter where they are, which necessitates the clever use of the world’s latest technology.
Let’s take a look at the gadgets, transportation, and facilities the president uses when running the country.
1. The Presidential limousine and fleet
When the president travels, security is the utmost priority. The armor-plated Cadillac limousine is one of a kind and worth millions of dollars. Dubbed “The Beast,” the vehicle boasts five-inch bulletproof tinted windows, eight inches of armor plating, and tires that can run even when flat. The doors weigh the same as those on a Boeing 757 airplane.
The president’s vehicle is surrounded by a fleet of cars and police motorcycles. Some scout minutes ahead and keep the road clear, while others guard the president from the rear and sides. Helicopters are usually dispatched to the president’s destination, even when they don’t plan to use them—they can be used to escape in an emergency. A decoy version of The Beast usually accompanies the fleet, and an ambulance always tags along, ready to treat any injuries that may result from an attack.
2. “The Roadrunner,” the White House Communications Agency SUV
This mysterious part of the presidential fleet deserves a special mention. This SUV on steroids, dubbed “The Roadrunner,” is the communications center for when the president is on the move. When navigating America’s surface roads, the presidential limo is king. But this bulky General Motors product is vital to logistics. The roof of the vehicle is fitted with an assortment of antennae.
Part WiFi hotspot, part data encryption center, The Roadrunner makes sure the president can communicate via satellite or radio, receive briefings, and make doomsday decisions while mobile. The roadrunner stays close by and ensures the President stays well-informed and up-to-date when things change quickly.
3. Marine One
Marine One is the name given to the military helicopter that transports the president, though staff more commonly refers to it by its other name, “VH-92A.” Sikorsky beat Lockheed Martin in 2014 for the contract to build the president’s helicopter, as well as five other identical vehicles for the Navy.
The bird has triple electrical systems, a fly-by-wire flight control system, and an expanded cabin, making it safe and ideal for presidential travel. Upgraded safety features protect it from machine gun fire and rocket launchers, making it safe for travel not just in the States, but anywhere in the world.
4. Air Force Two
Air Force Two is the call sign given to the aircraft transporting the vice president. The plane is a Boeing C-32, a modified version of the 757. The vice president’s plane can fly and land itself if need be, and functions as an office or Pentagon in the sky. Cabinet members and high-ranking military officials usually fly nearby in smaller modified jets as part of the vice president’s fleet.
The plane is divided into four sections, the first being the vehicle’s communication center—this enables the veep to stay abreast of current events in real time and communicate with government entities. Next is the vice president’s personal quarters, which include a separate entertainment system, private restroom, and swivel seats. Sections three and four are for staff and general seating. All seats are first class.
5. Boeing Black smartphone for mobile communication
This specially designed phone seems straight out of “Mission Impossible.”
Boeing designed the device in conjunction with Android to self-destruct the moment it detects tampering. Even if the phone was stolen somehow, the nation’s secrets remain safe. As president, your mission (if you choose to accept it) is carried out through some pretty sweet spy gear.
The phone stores hardly any data on it, instead functioning more like the display of another device. This makes it even more difficult to hack for vital information.
Presidents use the Boeing Black smartphone when outside the office to ensure confidential communications remain confidential. The encryption is state of the art, and the phone can function on WCDMA, GSM, and LTE networks. Sadly, part of what makes the phone so secure also makes it less fun to use–location services, cameras, and most apps are permanently disabled.
6. Camp David
The president’s country retreat in Thurmont, Maryland has hosted many US presidents and countless foreign leaders since it was dubbed the USS Shangri La in 1942.
Presidents use Camp David both for the tranquility it offers and to host foreign dignitaries. Numerous accords have been signed there, and rumor has it the D-Day invasion in World War II was planned on one of its porches.
There are numerous amenities, including a pool, tennis court, basketball court, stables for horseback riding, and pool tables.
Camp David has been used by all presidents since its inception in various capacities, some more frequently than others. But a common thread between them is that it provides a relaxing setting away from the White House to vacation and work.
7. Cisco Unified IP Phone 7965G
One of the most important pieces of technology a president has at their disposal is also one of the least exciting.
The president uses a Cisco Unified IP Phone 7965G to communicate with the world when seated in the Oval Office. Unassumingly drab in its gray plastic shell, the landline doesn’t seem all that advanced…at first.
This phone features an expansion for fully customizable speed-dial functionality to reach anyone in the White House at the push of a button, LCD screen, and Ethernet connectivity for the highest audio quality available.
When the President speaks to world leaders, chances are he’s speaking on this phone.
8. IST-2 telephone
Another telephone, but this one’s extra special.
The Telecore IST-2 phone is especially secure—with multiple encryption layers to ensure no one is listening who shouldn’t be, automatic security authentication, a noise-canceling microphone, and unlimited conferencing capabilities, this is the president and cabinet members’ go-to phone when they need to discuss confidential information from the Oval Office.
This could be referred to as the president’s “red phone,” though that color would never be used for a phone in the Oval Office, since a photograph of the president speaking on such a device would likely lead to panic, implying that nuclear war or disaster was imminent.
9. HP Elitebook 6930p notebooks are used in the White House Situation Room
Here’s another piece of tech that is commercially available—and at a reasonable price.
The HP Elitebook is used by the military for its long battery life, security, and rugged exterior. The laptop is commonly used in the Situation Room, the place where the strike that killed Osama bin Laden was orchestrated.
Interestingly enough, the Situation Room is actually many different rooms. The entire space is 5,000 square feet and was renovated and expanded in 2006. It features a conference room with six flat-screen televisions and a staff that stays there around the clock monitoring current events.
Contrary to popular belief, the Situation Room is not a bunker where the president hides out in an emergency.
10. AMX NXT-CA7 Tabletop Touch Panel
This small touch-screen device keeps the president abreast of important information. It is frequently used in the Situation Room, a place that has been used in some of the most serious emergencies in American history. As is the case with all the president’s tech, security is paramount, and this AMX device is no exception.
This small but important device is mounted in front of the president’s chair, displaying security clearance listing information, breakdowns of data, and whatever else is deemed necessary. The device is also equipped with video conferencing capabilities if the need should ever arise. This isn’t like FaceTiming with your friends, this is top-level video chat of the highest order.
11. Ground Force One—the president’s armored bus
Air Force One’s landlocked sister, this jet-black bus is built to withstand almost anything. And just like Air Force One, there are two of these beasts. Made by Hemphill Brothers Coach, each bus costs $1.1 million.
Before the Ground Force One, a new bus had to be rented and fitted with bulletproof windows and armor plating every time the president needed a bus.
Like “The Beast,” Ground Force One has tires that can run even when flattened. The bus has an oxygen supply and masks to guard against chemical attacks, firefighting systems, and an extra supply of the president’s blood if the worst-case scenario was ever to occur.
12. JFK’s secret Florida bunker
This location was built during the Cold War to be able to withstand the unthinkable. The 35th president liked to spend his winter vacations in Palm Beach, so he had the US Navy’s construction force build the secret fallout shelter nearby on Peanut Island.
The military never acknowledged “Detachment Hotel’s” existence until 1974, despite the fact it was likely built in 1960. Today you can take a tour of the facility that was built to be able to house the president and 30 others for roughly one month.
Fortunately, the retired bunker was never used for its intended purpose. Let’s take at a look at a few of its features…
13. Inside JFK’s secret Florida bunker
Taking a tour through the fallout shelter, the first thing you may notice is how small it is—it is a secret bunker after all, and the entrance needed to be concealed by a small thicket of trees.
The bunker contained 15 bunk beds, radiation showers and detection equipment, an amateur radio, and an escape hatch leading to a helipad.
Despite how important a secret nuclear bunker for the president seems, the shelter had some serious drawbacks. Perhaps most importantly, the bunker probably wouldn’t survive a direct hit. However, it would likely be able to serve its intended purpose—keeping the president and other guests safe from radiation until help came.
14. Air Force One
Chances are you’ve heard of the plane that transports the president. What you may not know, is that there isn’t one Air Force One—there are several. The Air Force refers to the plane flying the president as VC-25A, and sometimes by its call name, “Angel.”
The high-tech private jets that transport the president need to be equipped with communications and security upgrades.
Currently there are two such planes. Both are customized Boeing 747-200B jets equipped with a variety of special features that make it safe and functional for the president to use. The president’s planes have 4,000 square feet of floor space, three levels for the president to roam about, 85 phones, and multiple televisions. But that’s nowhere near the coolest part…
15. Air Force One’s security features
One might think someone would be vulnerable while traveling all around the world, soaring 38,000 feet in the air, but the extensive security measures put in place make sure US presidents stay safe no matter where they go.
The plane may look like your standard commercial plane, but it has a souped-up engine and upgraded evasion capabilities. The large plane is able to reach near-supersonic speeds and is fitted with security measures to guard against electronic attacks. It is also capable of refueling while airborne.
In the event of an assassination attempt while the plane is parked on the runway, the president should be safe inside due to the reinforced bulletproof exterior.
Whenever the president flies, “The Beast” is never far away. A separate cargo plane is sent out ahead of Air Force One with the car on board, so when the plane lands the president is shuttled safely off the runway and to the destination.
In what may come as a surprise to some, when Air Force One flies, it’s not typically surrounded by fighter jets—except in cases of emergency like on September 11, 2001.
Of course, many of the security features are not shared with the public.
16. More cool stuff aboard the Air Force One
As you’d expect, communication on the Air Force One is a top priority. The encrypted phones are able to contact anyone all over the world, from anywhere in the world. The president is also able to address the world through the onboard teleconference system. Pretty much everything the prez can do on the ground, he (or she) will need to be able to conduct the same business in the sky.
The fuselage of the plane is fitted with satellite communication “humps” that enable any type of data transfer at lightning speed anywhere in the world.
The plane also has an emergency and operation room, and a doctor flies with the president at all times. If you’re a fictional movie president played by Harrison Ford, the last line of defense might be your fists, but in reality, AF1 is the safest place in the air.
17. Presidential Emergency Operations Center in the East Wing
When the unthinkable happens, the president can safely plan the nation’s next moves beneath the White House in a secure bunker.
It goes without saying that the room is built to withstand any type of attack, though the ins and outs of the location’s security and escape routes are highly classified.
Of course, the room needs to not only be secure, but fitted with technology that enables it to communicate with any other government entity. Like the Situation Room, there are multiple televisions and telephones that the president and his advisers can use to communicate and receive briefings.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the president and his team coordinated from the Emergency Operations Center.
18. The president’s secret doomsday bunker
Where does the president hide out to escape the worst possible scenario?
As you might expect, underground.
Supposedly, there are several nuclear bunkers beneath the White House, including the Presidential Emergency Operations Center located under the East Wing, which was used on September 11, 2001.
Though never officially confirmed by staff, many believe there was a new bunker added under the North Wing in 2010. This new nuclear fallout shelter beneath the White House is estimated to be at least five stories deep. Much larger than the Emergency Operations Center, this new bunker is said to be able to safely house the entire West Wing staff.
19. The White House is solar powered
The first solar panels on the White House were installed in 1979, though they’ve been removed and reinstalled several times in the following decades. The latest iteration of solar panels were installed in 2013. The solar panels are congruent with a government initiative to get renewable energy to account for 20 percent of its energy use by 2020.
A solar-powered White House is a largely symbolic gesture. Leading by example, the panels are meant to show the country and the rest of the world how older buildings can be retrofitted with the latest energy-saving technology.
You can see one of the original White House solar panels at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
20. White House Family Theater
That’s right, the White House has its own family theater.
Located in the East Wing of the White House, the miniature cinema is capable of screening 3-D motion pictures for presidents and their families and friends to enjoy. Films of all kinds have been screened here, depending on the sitting president’s taste, from popular war films to comedies such as the “Austin Powers” films. Shagadelic.
Once a coatroom, the area was converted into a theater in 1942 and can seat 42 people. The president’s theater was renovated in the 1980s by the motion picture industry, who saw the marketing value in the president’s personal cinema.
While the primary purpose of the theater is to screen films, numerous presidents have used the facility to rehearse speeches.
21. Raven Rock Mountain Complex
Sometimes referred to as the “Underground Pentagon,” or “Site R,” this sprawling shelter is where the Department of Defense would likely relocate if the Pentagon were to be destroyed in a nuclear war.
A product of the Cold War, the enormous bunker was built (or rather, blasted out of the earth) between 1951 and 1953.
The highly secure facility has only been used once in an emergency setting, when the vice president was whisked there on September 11, 2001.
Much of what is kept there is kept secret, but in theory it has the capability to be its own self-sufficient community, complete with underground water reservoirs and a power plant in case it needs to operate off the grid.
22. Cheyenne Mountain Complex
Located in Colorado Springs, this North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) military installation and bunker was built during the Cold War with survivability in mind. The 25-ton blast doors (strategically positioned to deflect a blast away from the facility) and 2,500 feet of solid granite atop it guard the facility from any conceivable attack—nuclear, chemical, electromagnetic bombs, etc.
The inside of the bunker is over-pressurized to guard against any radioactive or chemical materials that could potentially seep in from above, which gives the feeling of a light breeze blowing from the depths.
It’s not enough for the shelter to be able to withstand destruction and poisoning, the facility must also guard against cyberattacks, and the sophisticated “defensive cyber operations” systems put in place are able to predict and mitigate such threats from both external and internal sources.
23. Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center
Spanning 564 acres in Virginia, this large military installation and shelter was used as a bunker for the president and to evacuate congressional staff on September 11, 2001. It was built during (you guessed it) the Cold War and it is currently operated by the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Very little is known about this facility, as no one has ever been allowed in to tour the underground compound. However, a retired engineer who claims to have worked on its construction described television and radio studios for presidential broadcasts, oxygen pumps, and mainframe computers to safely run military operations to Time magazine in 1991.
24. Project Greek Island
The Greenbrier Resort once housed a top-secret bunker that US presidents could use to escape a nuclear attack. The facility was designed to fit the entire Legislative branch. The site remained secret until 1992, when it was exposed by the Washington Post. Hidden chambers and shelters aren’t just for fun like in “National Treasure.” They’re part of American lore for a reason.
Despite its secrecy, it’s said that guests could see the giant blast doors from certain areas in the resort.
The site contained air-filtration systems, broadcast technology, beds, and a medical center. Government employees would often work on the site disguised as television employees. After its exposure, the facility was decommissioned (or was it?).
25. Olney Federal Support Center
This former missile base in Montgomery County, Maryland is a top-secret facility of which little information is declassified.
What we do know is that the facility is large—75 acres. It’s also said to specialize in communications and data networking, and is linked to all other Federal Emergency Management Agency bases as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Radio System.
At one point, the bunker housed the Federal Emergency Management Agency Alternate Operations Center, but little else is publicly known about the site. Reportedly, the grounds contain a large antenna field, but no one can say exactly what their functions are.