Inside the White House Situation Room
The White House Situation Room is arguably the most important facility in the most important building in the world. As the president’s intelligence and alert center, it provides vital communications and crisis management capabilities to the commander-in-chief and his advisors. Yet so little is known about the Situation Room that, until the publication of Nerve Center, the public’s knowledge of it has been based almost entirely on its portrayal by the entertainment industry.
Nerve Center dispels myths about the Sit Room—it is not underground, for example, and describes the real-life drama that routinely unfolds in the facility. Historic crises come alive in the book, from the Cuban Missile Crisis, to the Vietnam War, to Reagan’s assassination attempt, to the 9-11 attacks. The author gives an insider’s account of history during the last forty years of the 20th century.
Praise for Nerve Center
“I can think of no group of people who have served with as much loyalty, professionalism, and dedication as the men and women of the Situation Room. Nerve Center tells the story of these people and gives the reader a vivid and unprecedented tour of the fascinating world of the White House Situation Room.”
—Henry A. Kissinger, former secretary of state and national security advisor to Presidents Nixon and Ford.
“A fascinating insider’s view of this legendary facility—truly the stuff of history.”
—Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, USAF (Ret.), national security advisor to Presidents Ford and George H.W. Bush
“Whether you simply appreciate a good read filled with interesting anecdotes or are a serious historian of the White House, you will enjoy this book. It both demystifies and puts a human face on the ‘Sit Room.’”
—Anthony Lake, distinguished professor in the practice of diplomacy, Georgetown University, and former national security advisor to President Clinton.
Reviews of Nerve Center
March 3, 2003
This timely and informative study of the White House Situation Room-a
department with its own staff and duties, as well as a meeting space-is
organized more thematically than chronologically. The guide is a retired naval
intelligence officer and the room’s director under the first President Bush.
One chapter discusses how, as a result of the Bay of Pigs, the suite was
carved out of the White House basement. (None of the rooms look the way
Hollywood or the news media would like us to think.) Other chapters discuss
the Situation Room protocols for handling alerts, communications between the
President and just about anybody in the world, crises great and small and
foreign and domestic, the Hot Line to Moscow (and other places) and a host of
other vital national security functions. The human equation is not neglected,
either: Presidents’ comportment in the room has ranged from the intimidating
(LBJ) to the amiably laid back (the first Bush, a former CIA director). The
staff, young intelligence professionals both civil and military, enhance
their careers in return for weird schedules and a wide range of unexpected
tasks. The latter can range from being the only White House staff not
evacuated on September 11, 2001, to warning JFK to kick out a girlfriend
because Jackie was coming home early. Bohn, in his book debut, has clone his
historical homework and expresses himself cogently. The more background the
reader has in contemporary history and intelligence the better, but this book
will appeal and be accessible to anyone who has ever picked tip a
March 15, 2003
Written by the former director of the fabled Situation Room at the White
House, this insider’s account produces 40 years of anecdotes about the
presidential facility. Bohn’s book reads like a series of stories intended to
play up the mystique of the room, which a mass audience views weekly on the TV
drama The West Wing. The photos Bohn provides show the marked difference
between the fictional depiction and the actual rec-room look of the real
place, while his descriptions of its details, practically down to the
floorboards, reinforce the truth of its physical modesty. Further dispelling
myth, Bohn’s explanation of what he (and the 100 or so veterans of the
Situation Room he interviewed) did within its tight confines seems less
dramatic than its public perception as a command center. Akin to a high-grade
mailroom, its watch officers scan the news, sift diplomatic and intelligence
reports, decide what to funnel to the president, and set up his phone calls.
Best for politically minded, gossip-oriented readers.
The Situation Room is a series of rooms in the West Wing’s basement staffed by
members of government agencies responsible for national security. After
working in the U.S. Army Europe’s (USAREUR) War Room and the National Military
Command Center in the Pentagon (and watching NBC’s West Wing), I thought I had
an idea of what the White House Situation Room looked like. I was wrong.
Michael K. Bohn, the director of the Situation Room during President Ronald
Reagan’s administration, dispels “Sit Room” myths that show it as an
underground command center with big-screen monitors and military personnel in
direct communication with fighter planes. His book, Nerve Center Inside the
White House Situation Room, looks at the room from when President John F.
Kennedy created it in May 1961 to President George W. Bush’s use of it after
the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
Every president who used the room, used it differently. President Lyndon
Johnson met in the room daily with military planners to select targets during
the Vietnam war, but President Bill Clinton’s National Security Advisor, Tony
Lake, kept Clinton out of the room to avoid any public perception of a crisis.
Nerve Center discusses critical events through the years, key decisions made,
and the people involved. Photographs and floor plans supply a visual
perspective. The book also provides a good historical background-with one
drawback. The final chapter is a fictional account of a future crisis and how
the room’s duty staff might respond. Bohn tries to show how advanced computer
and communications might work and suggests the staff’s human side would remain
I recommend this book to anyone interested in knowing what goes on in the
White House situation room, its limitations, and its capabilities.
COL Robert S. Driscoll, USA, Retired, Washington, D.C.