This page is about Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities, the most likely use of that acronym in a gaming context. For other things that just happen to abbreviate to SCIF, try typing in their full name.
SCIF size has become a measure of status in Top Secret America, or at least in the Washington region of it. "In D.C., everyone talks SCIF, SCIF, SCIF," said Bruce Paquin, who moved to Florida from the Washington region several years ago to start a SCIF construction business. "They've got the penis envy thing going. You can't be a big boy unless you're a three-letter agency and you have a big SCIF."
- From the Top Secret America article published by the Washington Post
SCIF stands for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. These are rooms or buildings designed for control of extremely secretive information that has been declared to fall under the Sensitive Compartmented Information or Special Access Program protocol.
Let's say you have a project working to reverse engineer downed UFOs. That's a pretty big secret. There might reasonably be a need for the engineers working on this to eventually know of the source of the technology, so they'll understand it's limits and capabilities. Maybe. For the sake of the argument, we'll assume this is all true. But you don't want to just give them some huge blanket security clearance that could empower them to go poking their noses in various top secret projects all over the place. They only need to know about this one narrow area of information. So instead you gather up just the data they're likely to know, and put it in a really secure building. Then you give them periodic controlled access to that building, or just make them do all their work in that building. You may make them take an oath or sign a document saying they will never discuss the things they see in that building at any time or place outside that building (with the understanding that if they do, it will be punished, maybe even convicted of treason). At the very least there's an explicit understanding that nothing contained in that room may be disclosed to the public. You thoroughly search them as they enter and leave, so there's no chance of any material from inside that building ever making it to the outside world.
Of course, you need a good building (and rooms within that building) to serve this purpose. It needs extremely high security, with metal detectors, lie detectors, keypad electronic locks, walls that are soundproof and shielded against electronic eavesdropping, multiple alarm systems, and armed guards ready to respond with deadly force. It needs close enough observation that no one can smuggle things in or out. It needs to be sturdy and defended well enough that no foreign power can send in a covert team to assault the building or break into it.
These places exist. In fact, all the major U.S. government installations now have one or more SCIF rooms, as they've become a point of competitive pride. Their existence is mandated by the Director of Central Intelligence, and are required to have armed security forces stationed where they can respond to defend the SCIF in less than 15 minutes. Whether or not any of these rooms contain data on crashed flying saucers is pure speculation. SCIF rooms are largely used for things you can't track down by a Freedom of Information Act request, the sort of things the government only wants a handful of people to have access to. Ostensibly, that's items of National Security, but crashed aliens is just too much fun to not mention.
Some SCIFs are just a tiny room, no larger than a closet, holding just a handful of very sensitive documents. Others are huge warehouses hundreds of yards on a side, and packed full of files and materials.
Game and Story Use
- To get a properly paranoid feeling in a game with government conspiracies afoot, you can give the PCs briefings in such a facility. "Outside of this room, you are not allowed to discuss the mission objectives." Watch them squirm and wriggle around that one.
- The PCs need some sort of information that's stored in a tightly-controlled SCIF room. Depending on the data, the PCs, and their security clearance, they'll either have to navigate the social politics of the intelligence community, or mount a covert infiltration.
- Once they gain access there should be some sort of campaign-shaking revelation.
- The PCs are at a facility that happens to have a SCIF room. They're on site for some other reason. Coincidentally (?) that moment is when some unknown force assaults or tries to infiltrate the SCIF room. This turns into a running firefight that the PCs are sure to get involved in. In the process, they see something they aren't cleared to know. This may result in the PCs being let in on a secret and get a bump in pay grade, or it may make them hunted by their own government, depending on the nature of the campaign and the PC's reputation.
- If the enemy gets away, the PCs may be sent on a mission to retrieve something they're not cleared to possess or even know about. "Find the blue sphere, and bring it back ASAP. Deadly force is authorized. Under no circumstances should you read the display or button labels on the blue sphere. When you find it, you are to lock it this armored case - you are cleared to know the locking code, but not the unlocking code." Most PCs will of course play with Pandora's Box, so make sure you've got some real consequences to throw at them and not just a bluff for them to call.
- A government agent or mad scientist may have access to incredible technology, but only while in a particular building or room. Perhaps you give them a bonus on science or gadgeteering rolls, but only while at the Headquarters. As suggested above, perhaps some SCIF sites have treasure troves of alien technolgy or data. They may effectively be entire labs. Taking any of that technology home from the office is a sure way to get yourself put in solitary confinement for a long time. In such a situation, SCIF may just be the cover story for something else at the facility.
- Maybe you've got the ability to wipe people's memory, but it's only capable via a large machine in a SCIF room in Langley, Virginia. So to clean up problems, you have to haul witnesses to CIA HQ, then take them home while they're still blacked out from the procedure. The PCs can play fast and loose with other security issues, as long as they bring the hapless victims back to Virginia (or where-ever else you put the SCIF room if they don't work for the CIA). Eventually, when the GM feels they've gotten all the mileage they can out of that schtick, you allow someone to duplicate the technology in a portable version.
- The government perfects site-to-site teleportation technology or some sort of dimensional portal or portal to the past. They build these various teleporter units / gates inside SCIF sites so it's secure and hidden. For those who know about it, discussing teleportation is actually illegal anywhere but the room the gates are in.
- A SCIF room can serve the purpose like Warehouse 23, Warehouse 13, or that place at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, collecting dozens or hundred of supernatural artifacts. You have taken an oath to discuss the Ark of the Covenant only while within this room…
- Many SCIFs are hidden as well as guarded. The PCs may tail a suspect to a safe house and then discover there's a SCIF contained in the basement. The building looks almost empty from outside, but there's a dozen armed guards near the SCIF, or stationed in a cover business just half a block away.
- The PCs are guards at a SCIF, and the adventures revolve around that location. They protect a room they've never been inside, and can only speculate about what's contained within it. Actually, it's possible they aren't even legally allowed to speculate. GM's call on that one.
- A SCIF could also be very effective bait - either from the government side, creating a blank SCIF to trap hostile agents, or from the side of the governments enemies (whether terrorists, foreign agents or The Resistance) for whom an isolated SCIF could form a target which can be attacked to draw response teams into an ambush1.
- In a suitably fortean setting, a SCIF may also need protection from - or be vulnerable to penetration by - astral projection and other forms of remote viewing, scrying, divination magic, bilocation, teleportation, gate] magic, reconaissance by spirits allied to hostile forces or possession of people who are cleared to enter the facilities. As with more mundane techniques, a mixture of active and passive defences will be needed.