Having some tangential experience with Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIF) and how seriously they are taken, I was shocked to hear that one was stormed in Congress by people carrying cell-phones.

Wikipedia defines a SCIF thusly:

A Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF; pronounced "skiff"), in British and United States military, national security/national defense and intelligence parlance, is an enclosed area within a building that is used to process Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) types of classified information.

As noted in this article "... bringing phones into the secure area was a potential felony."

Is it correct that is it a felony to bring cell phones into such a secure area in the normal case?


I've not, as of yet, been able to find anything that explains what laws apply to these facilities and what ramifications there are for violators.

According this article:

...while there are criminal statutes that would otherwise come into play here, it is not useful to discuss them here because, under the Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution, a member of Congress cannot be criminally prosecuted for an action he or she takes as part of the individual’s legislative work.

There is no reference to which criminal statutes would apply, however.

Is this assessment correct that such actions could not be criminally prosecuted were they illegal?

enter image description here

The above image is purported to be from the incident.

Alex Mooney made a recording inside the SCIF that he then published on Twitter here.

  • Please spell out SCIF and explain what an SCIF is/ – ohwilleke Oct 24 '19 at 18:44
  • As far as I have seen on the news, the members gave their phones to aides, before being in the actual room with the sensitive info. – Putvi Oct 24 '19 at 18:44
  • 2
    @Putvi A SCIF is not specific to congress. See link in the question: TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS FOR CONSTRUCTION AND MANAGEMENT OF SENSITIVE COMPARTMENTED INFORMATION FACILITIES – JimmyJames Oct 24 '19 at 18:52
  • 1
    @Putvi "As far as I have seen on the news, the members gave their phones to aides, before being in the actual room with the sensitive info" Incorrect. The phones were collected by another member of congress from within the room and removed. The fact that they brought phones in is not in question. – JimmyJames Oct 24 '19 at 18:53
  • 1
    @Putvi I have no idea where you are getting this. Here's a video if you want to see for yourself. Multiple people walking in while recording video: twitter.com/ScottThuman/status/1187023336255250433 – JimmyJames Oct 24 '19 at 21:28

It is unlikely that it is a felony to enter a SCIF with a cell phone (or thumb drive, Apple Watch, fitbit etc). The felony clout comes from the non-disclosure agreement which references Sections 793, 794, 798, 952 of Title 18 and Section 783(b) Title of Title 50 -- gathering and disclosing information is a felony. A non-exhaustive reading of the relevant chapters of the US Code does not provide any evidence of a felony charge relatable to phones and SCIFs.

There is a federal law against knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so. This includes

knowingly, and with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds

which protects against intrusion of

a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance

The courts would almost certainly hold the recent event to be a non-justiciable political matter.

  • Thanks. One thing I've come across when searching on this is the claim "If someone enters a military SCIF with a potential listening device, it’s considered treason." I have no idea if this is true or how I would determine the veracity of the claim. I've considered creating a skeptics question but I'm not sure it meets the 'notable claim' standard. This wasn't a military SCIF but I'm curious about this claim. – JimmyJames Oct 25 '19 at 18:28
  • @JimmyJames Generally that would be some form of espionage if they did it for the purpose of recording information illegally, not treason. – IllusiveBrian Oct 25 '19 at 18:53
  • @IllusiveBrian Wouldn't espionage against the US by a US citizen be treason i.e. aid and comfort to the enemy? – JimmyJames Oct 25 '19 at 18:59
  • Well, I've been there when a thumb drive was accidentally brought in, and although there was a kerfuffle, there was no arrest or anything like that. – user6726 Oct 25 '19 at 19:02
  • @user6726 In a military SCIF or some other context? That was what was seemed dubious to me about this claim about treason, that there would be an assumption that there was intent and the goal of that intent. – JimmyJames Oct 25 '19 at 19:41

The main protection for a SCIF is that it has a air gap to prevent data from being leaked. It is assumed that the computers in the SCIF could be compromised, so the air gap is essential.

It has been proven that the flickering from an LED light for a hard disk drive can hijacked to transmit encoded data. That flickering is not perceptible by the human eye, but can be picked up by cell phone cameras. https://www.pcworld.com/article/3173371/a-hard-drives-led-light-can-be-used-to-covertly-leak-data.html

Bringing cell phones into a SCIF certainly has the potential to be a treasonous act.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.