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Big Brother is coming: NSA's $1.9 billion cyber spy center a power grab

Published: Sunday, Dec. 20 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

A hodgepodge of military intelligence and security units from the Utah Guard use Camp Williams for training purposes, including the 1,200-member 300th Military Intelligence Brigade, which specializes in linguistics intelligence. McIntire said about 50 percent of the brigade's ranks are made up of returned LDS missionaries who speak a second language.

Aid considers returned Mormon missionaries perfect for the task. Being near-native speakers and squeaky-clean, he said, they're some of the easiest people in the world to get high-level security clearances on.

Aid also finds it interesting that Arabic linguists from Fort Gordon, Ga., the NSA post responsible for keeping its ear tuned to the Middle East and North Africa, are shuttled to Camp Williams regularly for additional training. "The best of the best," he said.

What we know

Reporting on the present and future of the Camp Williams Data Center continues to be a lot like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, minus the picture on the box lid.

Questions and queries for clarification for this story e-mailed to the NSA at their request generated a return e-mail containing multiple URLs linking to previously published news releases, transcriptions of news conferences and information relating to construction bidding. No new information was provided.

But by assembling information available in the public domain, including a handful of budget documents sent by the NSA to Congress, the puzzle's outer edge is starting to emerge.

The budget documents reveal, for example, that $207 million has already been spent for initial planning of the center and that the first phase of construction, fast-tracked for two-year completion, will carry a $169.5 million price tag.

Phase I construction will include basic infrastructure and installation of security items, such as perimeter fencing and alarms, an interim visitor control center and a vehicle-inspection center for use during construction.

Part of that money will also be spent bringing utilities to the site, relocating some existing National Guard facilities away from the area, as well as surveying the site for unexploded ordnance from previous Utah Guard training.

The NSA has also requested another $800 million for the center in 2010 appropriations bills that are now before Congress. That money would fund a first-phase, 30-megawatt data center to include "state-of-the-art high-performance computing devices and associated hardware architecture."

The facility itself will cover approximately 1 million square feet, of which 100,000 square feet will be "mission critical data-center space with raised flooring." The remaining 900,000 square feet will be used for technical support and administrative purposes.

Following Phase I, budget documents show, the NSA intends to request an additional $800 million sometime in the future to eventually expand the data center into a 65-megawatt operation.

Earlier media reports comparing the data center's 65-megawatt capacity with the entire power consumption of Salt Lake City were erroneous, according to Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Dave Eskelsen.

Eskelsen says the actual power consumption of Salt Lake City is closer to 420 megawatts, meaning a fully functional data center will draw roughly one-sixth as much power as the capital city.

"It's a lot of power but not what has been being reported," Eskelsen said, noting the NSA won't be as a large a consumer of power as Kennecott presently is. The agency "will be in line with our midrange large customers."

Eskelsen also addressed how system upgrades in the works, including building a new substation to boost capacity, should mitigate potential service disruptions. "The system is perfectly capable of handling (the demand), as long as the infrastructure is in place to supply it," Eskelsen said, "and we're making substantial additions to the infrastructure to handle it."

September 11

Reasons and rationale for the NSA's arrival in Utah invariably can be traced to the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001.

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