A rare look at the new NSA center in Texas

Based on revelations in James Bamford’s new book, The Shadow Factory, Greg Schwartz has produced a rare piece on the new National Security Agency (NSA) data mining facility San Antonio, TX. The gigantic Agency, which is tasked with worldwide communications surveillance, as well as communications security, is in the process of renovating its soon-to-be-unveiled Texas Cryptology Center. The 470,000-square-foot facility will cost “upwards of $130 million” and be used primarily to store intercepted communications data. Bamford speculates that “[c]onsidering how much data can now be squeezed onto a small flash drive, the new NSA building may eventually be able to hold all the information in the world”. More importantly, Bamford suggests that the reason for NSA’s dramatic expansion of its data mining facilities is the unannounced migration to the secretive agency of the Total Information Awareness project, an Orwellian scheme of domestic surveillance developed and proposed by DARPA -the US Pentagon’s research arm- in 2002. The scheme was eventually denied funding by a somewhat alarmed Congress, but part of its core component was reportedly able to survive and was implemented by NSA. Another subject discussed in the article is the increasingly intimate institutional connection between NSA and Microsoft. Bamford claims that “NSA and Microsoft had both been eyeing San Antonio for years because it has the cheapest electricity in Texas, and the state has its own power grid, making it less vulnerable to power outages on the national grid”. However, there are signs of a coordinated move by the two institutions. Bamford suggests that “it seemed the NSA wanted assurance Microsoft would be here, too, before making a final commitment” to locate its new facility in San Antonio. The reason would obviously have to do with “the advantages of having their miners virtually next door to the mother lode of data centers”. This way, “under current law, NSA could gain access to Microsoft’s stored data without even a warrant, but merely a fiber-optic cable”, says Bamford. [JF]

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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