Camp Williams to house spies

$1.5B NSA project to eavesdrop on electronic data while helping to preserve U.S. cybersecurity

Published: Saturday, Oct. 24 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

One of the worst-kept secrets in Utah was made official Friday with the announcement that Camp Williams will be the site of a new national cybersecurity data center.

The site beat out 37 others nationwide for a $1.5 billion project that will employ as many as 10,000 workers during construction and between 100 and 200 once it becomes operational in two years.

National security officials in Salt Lake City to announce the decision were vague about exactly what the massive facility's employees will do.

"I can't go into some of the details of the work," said Glenn Gaffney, deputy director of national intelligence for collection, describing the center as providing the "deep level of technical expertise needed to understand the nature of threats."

When news of the project first surfaced in July, National Security Agency budget requests suggested the center will help the U.S. spy on communications, including cell-phone calls and e-mails.

No one participating in Friday's news conference at the Capitol mentioned spying, although Gaffney referred to the need to conduct criminal investigations and gather intelligence as part of the nation's cybersecurity initiative.

He focused on how the center will help secure the nation's computer networks, both in government and the private sector. That infrastructure is being increasingly targeted, Gaffney said, and protecting it "is critical to our way of life, from our national security to our economic well-being."

The center's work will be done while "observing strict guidelines to preserve civil liberties," Gaffney said. Because of the secret nature of that work, however, citizens will have to rely on congressional oversight to ensure those liberties are not violated, he said.

Gov. Gary Herbert said there's always a question of whether such an effort encroaches on civil liberties, but he has been reassured only "appropriate activity will be conducted, according to constitutional law."

Herbert touted the financial benefits of such a large-scale federal project during the economic downturn. "To have this happen is really a godsend," the governor said, calling it a "win, win, win" for the state.

Utah is happy to be participating, Herbert said. "National security should be everybody's concern."

Gaffney said Camp Williams, the chief training facility for the Utah National Guard, was selected because of the abundant, low-cost power available, as well as its size. Located between Utah and Salt Lake counties, the site is near three major electrical power transmission lines that serve the Wasatch Front.

Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet said the new center won't affect the military's activities. Tarbet said the federal government will use a couple hundred of the camp's 30,000 acres located near Redwood Road. Much of that land, he said, once had been used as a dirt airstrip.

The National Security Agency will hold an event Nov. 5 for companies interested in participating in the project. More than $200 million has already been spent on planning the center, and in June, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that included more than $165 million for construction.

The NSA has already asked for another $800 million for the first phase and indicated an additional $800 million will be sought in the future to expand from a 30- to 65-megawatt operation.

Eventually, according to budget documents, more than $1.9 billion will be needed to build and outfit the full center.

e-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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