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The NSA Wouldn't Let Us in This Building (But We Found Out What's Inside)

Large rooms with racks of computer servers.

If you think the National Security Agency (NSA) isn't interested in your information, you should take a road trip out to see the massive, nondescript, concrete buildings they operate in the sleepy town of Bluffdale, Utah.

Called the Utah or NSA Data Center, it may be one of the best representations for what the NSA considers to be its mission for the future: bulk online data collection. Although the NSA turned down our request to tour the facility with our cameras, we were able to talk to Pete Ashdown of the ISP provider XMission, who toured the facility as it was being built in 2012.

"The NSA Data Center is essentially server space, where they have large rooms with racks of servers," says Ashdown, who toured the buildings as a part of Utah Data Center Consortium, a group of public and private stakeholders interested in Utah's data center industry.

At first Ashdown was excited to see what the NSA was building, but found out they were pretty tight lipped about details.

"The questions they would answer were very banal. But, we were able to calculate the capacity by counting the generators. Each of those generators was a two megawatt generator and they had over thirty of them," said Ashdown. "I think a megawatt can service 1,000 homes."

When Ashdown left the facility, he began to digest what he saw recalling what former AT&T engineer and NSA whistleblower Mark Klein revealed in 2004: An NSA intercept room at the AT&T headquarters in the San Francisco Bay area.

"All the data flowing through AT&T at the time was going in and nobody knew what was going on inside," said Ashdown, who also says he was told the Utah Data Center is not connected to the internet all all.

"I started to realize that it is just a data collection point. That they are collecting and storing as much data off the internet and telephone networks that they can. And they think that if you ask for a warrant later to look at the data that's okay," said Ashdown.

Thanks to the USA Freedom Act, in November 2015, the NSA lost the ability to directly hold information about the phone calls of millions of U.S. citizens. While the change is significant, the NSA can still collect and store your communication from the internet and social media.

"If you trust the government is going to do the right thing I think you're alone in that respect," said Ashdown.

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  • A Cynic's Guide to Zen||

    One of my biggest fetishes is that a government employee must sift through all the pure erotic filth I consume.

    God bless the USA.

  • fish||

    Links.....?

  • DJF||

    NSA is just trying to build the ultimate PC gaming machine to run the Oculus Rift goggles they bought.

  • Homple||

    No, it's built for the government's new revenue source: Bitcoin mining.

  • GroundTruth||

    bin Laden succeeded.

  • Will4Freedom||

    And people laugh at me because I still have an 11 year old flip phone, no facebook, no twitter, etc. I'm sure my peeping Tom 'Uncle Sam' still has a lot of info on me, but I'm not going to make it easy for him.

    Did I mention I'm in the tech industry? With databases?

    HA!

  • notJoe||

    Another techie here (30+ years in the industry). 10 year old phone, no GPS. Running custom SBC desktop pcs w/ Linux, just about to move to Docker for browsing, etc. No facebook, no twitter.

    But...unless you're accessing Reason through a swiped anonymous proxy (better yet, proxy chain) you're on the list buddy. In fact, you're on the short list. Your Re-Neducation appointment's already been booked.

  • Kandralla||

    " no GPS"

    Ha, Ha. You think they need GPS!

    Camera's everywhere make GPS irrelevant. The reality is you're on the grid whether you like it or not... the decision is out of your hands. The only way we prevent the abuse of data is to put people in charge who won't abuse it.

  • Jickerson||

    I don't want to merely prevent abuse of the data; I don't want them collecting the data in the first place, since that is also a violation of our rights.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    60 Megawatts...damn. I am intimately familiar with data centers and storage (my job was to build them) and if they truly are just using it as storage and not processing then that power range can support an insane amount of storage at peak. I do recall a state level effort to thwart them could be in the form of shitting off their water, which they use for cooling. A solid idea.

  • Jordan||

    "If you trust the government is going to do the right thing I think you're alone in that respect," said Ashdown.

    Given the choices in the upcoming election, this is sadly not true.

  • carolewhite||

    I've made $64,000 so far this year working online and I'm a full time student. Im using an online business opportunity I heard about and I've made such great money. It's really user friendly and I'm just so happy that I found out about it. Heres what I do,

    ------------------ http://www.richi8.com

  • Bush League||

    They're hiding Santa in there

  • Will4Freedom||

    Ya think? Maybe "Bizaro-Santa". A black suit. Rather than give, he takes. Every word... every brower search... every comment. Even this one!!

  • ||

    Thanks to the USA Freedom Act, in November 2015, the NSA lost the ability to directly hold information about the phone calls of millions of U.S. citizens.

    Sure they did.

  • GregMax||

    ". . . the NSA lost the ability to directly hold information about the phone calls of millions of U.S. citizens."

    Easily subverted by AT&T et al simply sponsoring storage space at the NSA facility.

  • prfd1||

    Why don't they call the Utah Data Center: "The Cloud"?

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    OMG, the NSA has computer servers......how did this happen?

  • ant1sthenes||

    Is that where they keep Helios? I thought it was in Area 51.

  • ||

    Trust the government? HAS ANYONE WATCHED ENEMY OF THE STATE or JASON BOURNE AND LOLA?

  • ||

    The thing that should worry any living organism with a quarter-functioning brain is not the idea you think you're safe because you're not breaking the law but the concept the government railroads people and uses words against their will if they need a scapegoat. It's not paranoia when it happens to you - and we know people in position of power and authority abuse power regularly. So why give them more ammunition? Why consent to give up your own liberty through speech? It's absurd as it is illogical.

    We're always wisely warned to not be too trusting so why in the world would you trust the government?

  • Alan@.4||

    Re the last part, indeed why?

  • Chrxtoph3r||

    Eagle Eye.

    It's Eagle Eye.

    It's a movie plot.

    And it might be real???

    AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

    So, if the wealthiest government, in the history of mankind, has actually suck-seded at collecting all of the irreverent filth that Americans can spew, then it is safe to say, that...

    God is real...or, at least, George Orwell was...

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

  • Alan@.4||

    When I was a child, I looked askance at fairy tales.Now,as an elderly adult, I'll be 83 next month, I'm no more accepting of the same.

  • Jickerson||

    Thanks to the USA Freedom Act, in November 2015, the NSA lost the ability to directly hold information about the phone calls of millions of U.S. citizens. While the change is significant, the NSA can still collect and store your communication from the internet and social media.

    Why the hell do people keep saying this nonsense!? That is not a significant change. The government can't just force companies to do something that it itself is constitutionally prohibited from doing. Otherwise, the constitution would be entirely useless.

    So, in the end, the government is still collecting the data and still violating the constitution. The "Freedom" Act changed very little, other than causing ignorant fools to think something has changed. That is actually harmful, because fewer people will take issue with the surveillance.

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