Global Network board member Loring Wirbel (Citizens for Peace in Space, Colorado Springs) writes about the new NSA data center in Utah:
- James Bamford, author of The Puzzle Palace and other books on the intelligence community, wrote the cover story in the April Wired magazine on the National Security Agency's new data center in Bluffdale, Utah (formerly known as "Storage Station Freedom"). While the link to this story has been widely proliferated around the web in the last couple weeks, I read it in detail last night and came away with important new takeaways. While there are few true surprises, the story basically confirms with multiple sources the worst-case analysis of activists who feared the NSA was going back to full surveillance of U.S. citizens, and trashing out anything that was left of the 1978 FISA restrictions. But here's a few wrinkles:
- The 2004 flap about "FISA Bypass" and "warrantless surveillance" was largely a cover ruse. The NSA planned to implement a program called Stellar Wind, in which deep-packet-inspection equipment manufactured by Narus was installed at dozens of major telco switching centers in the U.S., the architecture being planned long before Sept. 11. The Patriot Act and FISA Bypass were used as an excuse to put Stellar Wind into action - and this was the project that Joe Nacchio refused to implement when he was CEO of Qwest. Since it was initiated, Stellar Wind was expanded so that all major land-line telcos in the U.S. and all major wireless operators, surrendered years' worth of billing records to the NSA, giving the agency full identity trackers for all U.S. citizens. A few conscientious NSA employees went to Obama and Holder early in the Obama administration, suggesting that the decency of an automated warrant request should at least be preserved, and they were turned down flat. Obama and Holder are as solidly behind Stellar Wind as Bush, Cheney, and Ashcroft.
- Those same "liberal" NSA insiders suggested that it would be a more efficient use of resources if the NSA only retained data for U.S. citizens to the degree to which the data matched NSA keyword schemes. They were told that the reason the NSA is building the Utah facility is that the agency wants to retain all phone calls, email, social network activity, credit card records, etc. of U.S. citizens for a minimum period of several months, so that more interesting data mining and social factor analysis can be performed on that data. (Of course, the NSA has been doing this globally for many years, through sites in Menwith Hill (UK), Misawa (Japan), etc.)
- Up to one-fourth of all new construction activity at Oak Ridge National Labs in Tennessee is now under the NSA budget, not the Department of Energy, because NSA is using the front of nuclear-weapon analysis to build dedicated code breaking computers, similar to what they did in the 50s and 60s. The computers all are resident in Tennessee, not at Fort Meade headquarters in Maryland. Researchers are using a variety of parallel-DSP and quantum-computing search tools to break the supposedly unbreakable codes such as public-key crypto and Advanced Encryption Standard. (I always figured that was true, but didn't know details.) Incidentally, and not discussed in the Bamford article, NSA and CIA both have established public-source search divisions in their headquarters to integrate public Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, etc. into the records established in Utah.
- The Aerospace Data Facility at Buckley AFB in Aurora, CO, now employs at least 850 NSA employees, in addition to Air Force and NRO employees, for processing information from U.S. spy satellites. The number of dedicated NSA employees probably exceeds 1000 by now. (If you go to Centre Tech Parkway next to Buckley, you will see dozens of contractor facilities that have vastly expanded in recent years, all in huge, windowless buildings, and likely involved in intelligence pre-processing.)