NSA — Does Data Center in Utah have your private records?

By Susan Johnson
Copy Editor

As if you didn’t have enough to worry about with identity theft and mistakes in your credit history, now there may be a new threat — can the government get into your personal records?

James Bamford sounded the alarm in an article in Wired magazine, dated March 15, 2012, investigating a huge construction site near the town of Bluffdale, called “Utah Data Center” being built for the National Security Agency. Once completed, it will be more than five times the size of the U.S. Capitol.

Located in the heart of Mormon country, where a sizable settlement of the Apostolic United Brethren reside, this complex has nothing to do with religion but concerns intelligence gathering on a massive scale. As Bamford described it: “A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.” It’s a heavily-fortified $2 billion megacenter that is expected to be up and running by September 2013. It will encompass all forms of communication, including the contents of private e-mails, cell phone calls, Google and Wikipedia searches, and many other personal data items — parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, etc. But who wants all this material — and why?

One senior intelligence official who is no longer associated with the program says it’s more than just a data center. He says its more critical function is to break codes, since much of the data the center will handle is encrypted — in the form of financial information, stock transactions, business deals, legal and military information, some having to do with foreign intelligence. According to this official, who wishes to remain anonymous, “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”

Cyber-security or total awareness?

RT reported that the NSA’s explanation is that the data center is a component of the Comprehensive National Cyber-security Initiative. Its purpose would be to provide technical assistance to the Department of Homeland Security, collect intelligence on cyber threats and carry out cyber-security objectives, according to Reuters.

But some citizens are calling it a “spy center.” Originally launched in 2010, the highly-classified project is expected to cost the National Security Agency (NSA) up to $2 billion. The center will be responsible for intercepting, storing and analyzing intelligence data as it goes through both domestic and international networks. The data will be in the form of private e-mails, cell phones, Google searches — even parking lot tickets or store purchases.

An official source told Wired.com that it is more than just a data center; its main focus will be on code-breaking. This would expose not only Facebook activities or Wikipedia inquiries, but compromising the “invisible” Internet, or the “deepnet,” including legal and business deals, financial transactions, password-protected files and inter-governmental communications.

Once the data is stored, the next step is data-mining. Everything a person does — from traveling to buying groceries — will be displayed on a graph, giving a detailed picture of the person’s private life.

William Binney, NSA’s former senior mathematician, now whistleblower, told Wired.com that we were very close to “a turnkey totalitarian state.”

Much of the collection has already been done, since the NSA created a net of secret monitoring rooms in major U.S. telecom facilities, which was exposed by Binney and some others in 2006. This program allowed the monitoring of millions of American phone calls and e-mails every day. In 2008, Congress granted almost complete legal immunity to telecom companies cooperating with the government on national security issues.

But now, the program is much bigger, warns Binney. There are many more, he thinks possibly 10 to 20 such centers. He suspects the new center in Utah will be a major clearinghouse to collect all the data to be collected, so that virtually no one can escape the new surveillance.

Some data would be crucial to the anti-terrorism battle, exposing potential adversaries. But how does the NSA define who is or is not a potential threat?

The last obstacle

The last obstacle for the NSA to overcome would be the Advanced Encryption Standard cipher algorithm, which guards financial transactions, corporate mail, business deals, and diplomatic exchanges globally. The NSA had even recommended it for the U.S. government.

At this point, the Utah data complex could become extremely valuable for two reasons. First, what cannot be broken today can be stored for tomorrow. Second, a system capable of breaking the AES would require a super-fast computer coupled with huge storage capabilities. The data center in Utah, with its 1 million square feet of enclosed space, is virtually bottomless. Wired.com suggests that the U.S. plan to break the AES is the only reason behind the construction of the Utah Data Center.

Fox News raises questions about the center

A report by Elizabeth Prann of Fox News, dated March 28, 2012, raised questions about the possible viewing and storing of personal e-mails, voicemails and web searches by government officials in the Utah Data Center.

The Fox News report stated, “A more formal description of the center is the First Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cyber-security Initiative Data Center.” Fox News referred to the James Bamford article in Wired and suggested that the software being installed could reveal everything from target addresses, to web searches to social media sites to e-mail and phone calls. Any communication that looked “suspicious” would be automatically red-flagged.

However, the NSA in response said that this was simply not true. NSA Public Information Officer Vanee Vines replied in an e-mail that it would be “a state-of-the-art facility designed to support the Intelligence Community’s efforts to further strengthen and protect the nation. NSA is the executive agent for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and will be the lead agency at the center.”

This statement agreed with the explanation offered by NSA Director General Keith Alexander when he was questioned during a congressional hearing by Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson. Alexander told Rep. Johnson the agency had no interest or capability to eavesdrop on average Americans. This is in agreement with Vines’ statement, that the purpose of the center is to protect the nation from a cyber attack.

Comments by legislators

The Rock River Times sent messages to the following legislators asking for comments: Sen. Dick Durbin (D), Sen. Mark Kirk (R), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-16), Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-17) and Rep. Donald Manzullo (previously R-16). We asked them the following two questions:

Did you see the article in Wired magazine in March 2012 about the new National Security Agency Data Center being built in Utah?

Do you think it could become a domestic spying center with the information gathered, and does it pose a threat to citizens’ privacy?

We tried to contact these legislators by both telephone and e-mail, but were unable to get responses from Sen. Durbin, Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Adam Kinzinger. However, Rich Carter, press secretary for Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-16), said: “I checked with our legislative staff, and they are not familiar with this project. They did say that federal law specifically prohibits the NSA from spying on Americans.”

Andrea Pivarunas, of Rep. Bobby Schilling’s office, responded, “We need to address the growing threat to our nation of cyber security while protecting the rights and privacy of law-abiding citizens here at home.”

From the Nov. 7-13, 2012, issue

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