Star Trek, NSA: Is Washington full of Trekkies?

Star Trek, NSA share a similar-looking 'set,' according to a Foreign Policy magazine article. In the galaxy known as Washington, that's not where the enthusiasm ends for 'Star Trek' themes.

Elliott Marks/Paramount
(L.-r.) Walter Koenig, William Shatner, James Doohan in a scene from Star Trek. Star Trek, NSA share a similar-looking 'set,' according to a Foreign Policy magazine article.

A "Star Trek"-inspired command center was once NSA Director Keith Alexander’s pride and joy, apparently. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it was it one of his chief means of impressing lawmakers and winning support in Washington’s corridors of power.

No, we’re not making this up. It’s a bit unearthed by Foreign Policy magazine in a lengthy profile of General Alexander titled “The Cowboy of the NSA.” When he was chief of the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many civilian officials and members of Congress down to Fort Belvoir, in suburban Washington, to tour his Information Dominance Center, writes FP’s Shane Harris.

“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,” writes Mr. Harris.

Alexander’s visitors were generally awed by the Trekkie atmosphere, including a swivel in the iconic captain’s chair. Then they were further awed by Alexander’s clear, folksy explanations of modern information technology. His approach to wooing the powerful has won him lots of political support in official Washington, according to FP.

There’s some question as to who actually ordered the Enterprise-like space. The Washington Post reports it wasn’t Alexander. It was built in 1998, according to the Post’s Emily Heil. Alexander did not take the Intelligence and Security Command job until 2001.

Here’s our question: Is there something about "Star Trek" that is uniquely appealing to the men and women who are running the United States? Because this isn’t the only example of the use of "Star Trek" mythology within the government.

In 2010 Internal Revenue Service staff members produced an entire spoof "Star Trek" video for an agency conference. The six-minute film – for a meeting whose theme was “Leading Into the Future” – was produced on an Enterprise set built at the IRS audio-visual studies in New Carrollton, Md.

This spoof featured a trip to the planet NoTax, where chaos ruled over order. The narrative developed, if that’s a word that applies, from there. The actors were actual IRS officials, who bought or made their own costumes. Thankfully, nobody said anything about going where no deduction has gone before.

Yes, these are only two examples, but they’re pretty elaborate ones, if you ask us. Do any New York banks have Star Trek-inspired command centers? Back in June, National Journal published a piece about how "Star Trek" actually explains the NSA – given that the "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" TV spinoff featured an NSA-like electronic intelligence agency named Section 31.

Maybe it’s the sort of person who comes to Washington. As pointed out in “This Town,” the book exploring Washington’s insular culture by New York Times writer Mark Leibovich, it is the student body presidents of American who gravitate to the nation’s capital, not the jocks or artsy types. Perhaps these earnest types feel they are Captain Kirk, or Picard, at heart.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.