Utah's NSA spy center will house data, not analysts

Published: Friday, Jan. 7 2011 1:05 a.m. MST

Dignitaries get ready to shovel dirt at the groundbreaking for the first Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) Data Center at Camp Williams, Utah on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

CAMP WILLIAMS — Computers drawing enough electricity to power a small city will soon fill a National Security Agency data center on a 240-acre site where officials officially broke ground on Thursday.

But that does not mean Utah is about to see a significant influx of NSA analysts who would not be able to tell their neighbors what they do for a living. Most of the long-term staff at the NSA's Utah Data Center will have technical jobs, keeping the machines in the 100,000 square feet of computer space working — that within a complex that will include 1 million square feet of enclosed space.

Building the mammoth computer center will bring 5,000 to 10,000 much-needed construction jobs through the time the center is finished in 2013. Long term, the staff will include 100 to 200 information technology specialists and mechanical and electrical engineers, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said at the groundbreaking.

Specifics of the work those engineers will do is not being discussed. But Harvey Davis, the NSA's associate director for installations and architect of the overall concept of the Utah Data Center, said the machines that will live in Utah are the essence of the NSA's work.

"This business is technologically dependent," he said, adding that Utah "is a very reliable site for us."

The NSA said the data center is a component of the Comprehensive National Cyber-security Initiative "aimed at securing the United States' information infrastructure and coordinating its defense with state and local governments, as well as the private sector." The data center's mission is to help the intelligence community meet cyber-security objectives.

"The threat posed by computer hackers is very big, and it is growing," Hatch said. "That is why this data center is so important."

The computer farm that will overlook both Utah and Salt Lake counties from a site just west of Redwood Road is an essential link in the nation's cyberspace security initiative, said NSA Deputy Director J. Chris Inglis. The Utah Data Center adds physical diversity to the NSA's computing power without splitting up the intelligence community working at Fort Meade, Md.

"It is essential that cyberspace be as resilient and as secure as possible," Inglis said, adding that responsibility for cyber-security "is not just the job of the intelligence community."

Hatch, Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and Utah Adjutant General Brian Tarbet all said political tenacity was backed by a number of essential factors that made Utah the best place for the NSA data center. "We made the best technical case for putting it here," Tarbet said. Hatch said earlier that 37 other locations were seriously considered before the Utah site was chosen.

The availability of low-cost electrical power was a big draw, with the completed center expected to consume 65 megawatts of power. A power grid unable to expand to meet the NSA's needs at home in Maryland was a primary reason given for expanding the agency's computing horsepower elsewhere.

U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr., Utah's governor at the time plans for the Utah Data Center were announced, sent his encouragement for the project from Beijing, and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, sent his support from Washington, D.C. Hatch said keeping plans for the data center on track took the support of the entire congressional delegation.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said during his inauguration on Monday the state would be vigilant in keeping the federal government from pushing too far into the state. But the lieutenant governor said there is "absolutely no disagreement" that national security is an essential role of the federal government, and that the data center is welcome in Utah.

e-mail: sfidel@desnews.com

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