2 July 2009
New NSA center unveiled in budget documents
By Matthew D. Laplante
The Salt Lake Tribune

The security agency is set up to collect intelligence on foreign threats

The National Security Agency was so confident that its nearly $2 billion plan for a new data center in Utah would be approved by Congress that it began designing the facility last November.

NSA budgeting documents also indicate that the design of the 1-million-square-foot center should be completed by February, with building to begin in June on a project that could mean thousands of construction jobs for a state that, like many others, has been stuck in a building lull.

President Barack Obama last week signed a spending bill that included $181 million for preparatory construction of the Camp Williams facility and tentatively agreed to two future phases of construction that could cost $800 million each.

The secretive agency released a statement Thursday acknowledging the selection of Camp Williams as a site for the new center and describing it as "a specialized facility that houses computer systems and supporting equipment."

Budget documents provide a more detailed picture of the facility and its mission. The supercomputers in the center will be part of the NSA's signal intelligence program, which seeks to "gain a decisive information advantage for the nation and our allies under all circumstances" according to the documents.

The agency is set up to collect intelligence on foreign threats, but it has been accused of also participating in the unwarranted monitoring of the communications of U.S. citizens.

A similar center is being constructed in San Antonio, Texas, and NSA documents indicate that the agency is also expanding its existing intelligence collection facilities in North Yorkshire, England, and Fort Meade, Md. The agency has been seeking to decentralize its operations in an effort to protect assets and find areas with the capacity to satiate the energy appetites of its enormous computer caches.

To that end, the initial phase of the project is expected to include more than $52 million in preparatory electrical work -- much of that is likely to be spent connecting two large power corridors that run through Camp Williams to the construction site near the base airstrip. The next phases of the project will include $340 million in electrical work, according to the documents.

About $70 million has been budgeted for security, including vehicle inspection facilities, fencing, surveillance and separate visitor control centers for construction and technical personnel.

All NSA security measures will be in addition to security that the Utah National Guard already provides for the 28,000-acre Camp Williams facility.

"Physical and technical security of the construction site will be assured," the budget documents promise.

While the project -- and the ongoing operation of the center -- will bring millions of dollars into the state, the Utah Guard doesn't stand to make a penny.

Guard spokesman Hank McIntire said the state, which manages Camp Williams, would act as "a benevolent landlord."

Citizens Education Project director Steve Erickson, who advocates for greater military oversight, was wary.

"If we're going to be landlords," he said, "we should act like a good landlord and have some rules that apply to the tenants to make sure they're behaving."

Regrettably, he said, that's not likely to happen when dealing with one of the most secretive government agencies in the world.

"Finally, the Patriot Act has a home," he sighed.

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