Nsa in the mountains

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The spring air in the smallsand-dusted town has a soft haze to it, and clumps of green-gray sagebrush rustle in the breeze. Bluffdale sits in a bowl-shaped valley in the shadow of Utah's Wasatch Range to the east and the Oquirrh Mountains to the west. It's the heart of Mormon country, where religious pioneers first arrived more than years ago. They came to escape the rest of the world, to understand the mysterious words sent down from their god as revealed on buried golden plates, and to practice what has become known as "the principle," marriage to multiple wives.

Today Bluffdale is home to one of the nation's largest sects of polygamiststhe Apostolic United Brethrenwith upwards of 9, members. The brethren's complex includes a chapel, a school, a sports field, and an archive. Membership has doubled since —and the of plural marriages has tripled—so the sect has recently been looking for ways to purchase more land and expand throughout the town. But new pioneers have quietly begun moving into Nsa in the mountains area, secretive outsiders who say little and keep to themselves.

Like the pious polygamists, they are focused on deciphering cryptic messages that only they have the power to understand. Just off Beef Hollow Road, less than a mile from brethren headquarters, thousands of hard-hatted construction workers in sweat-soaked T-shirts are laying the groundwork for the newcomers' own temple and archive, a massive complex so large that it necessitated expanding the town's boundaries. Once built, it will be more than five times the size of the US Capitol. Rather than Bibles, prophets, and worshippers, this temple will be filled with servers, computer intelligence experts, and armed guards.

And instead of listening for words flowing down from heaven, these newcomers will be secretly capturing, storing, and analyzing vast quantities of words and images hurtling through the world's telecommunications networks.

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The NSA has become the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever. Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade.

Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world's communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.

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Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private s, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital "pocket litter. But "this is more than just a data center," says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until Nsa in the mountains has gone unrevealed.

It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted.

According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: "Everybody's a target; everybody with communication is a target. Established Nsa in the mountains an arm of the Department of Defense following Pearl Harbor, with the primary purpose of preventing another surprise assault, the NSA suffered a series of humiliations in the post-Cold War years.

In response, the NSA has quietly been reborn. And while there is little indication that its actual effectiveness has improved—after all, despite numerous pieces of evidence and intelligence-gathering opportunities, it missed the near-disastrous attempted attacks by the underwear bomber on a flight to Detroit in and by the car bomber in Times Square in —there is no doubt that it has transformed itself into the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever created.

In the process—and for the first time since Watergate and the other scandals of the Nixon administration—the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas.

It has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. Finally, the agency has begun building a place to store all the trillions of words and thoughts and whispers captured in its electronic net. And, of course, it's all being done in secret.

A swath of freezing fog blanketed Salt Lake City on the morning of January 6,mixing with a weeklong coating of heavy gray smog. Red air alerts, warning people to stay indoors unless absolutely necessary, had become almost daily occurrences, and the temperature was in the bone-chilling twenties.

At the city's international airport, many inbound flights were delayed or diverted while outbound regional jets were grounded. But among those making it through the icy mist was a figure whose gray suit and tie made him almost disappear into the background.

He was tall and thin, with the physique of an aging basketball player and dark caterpillar eyebrows beneath a shock of matching hair. Accompanied by a retinue of bodyguards, the man was NSA deputy director Chris Inglisthe agency's highest-ranking civilian and the person who ran its worldwide day-to-day operations.

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A short time later, Inglis arrived in Bluffdale at the site of the future data center, a flat, unpaved runway on a little-used part of Camp Williams, a National Guard training site. There, in a white tent set up for the occasion, Inglis ed Harvey Davis, the agency's associate director for installations and logistics, and Utah senator Orrin Hatch, along with a few generals and politicians in a surreal ceremony.

Standing in an odd wooden sandbox and holding gold-painted shovels, they made awkward jabs at the sand and thus officially broke ground on what the local media had simply dubbed "the spy center. Did he have any idea of the purpose behind the new facility in his backyard? For his part, Inglis simply engaged in a bit of double-talk, emphasizing the least threatening aspect of the center: "It's a state-of-the-art facility deed to support the intelligence community in its mission to, in turn, enable and protect the nation's cybersecurity. Battling hackers makes for a nice cover—it's easy to explain, and who could be against it?

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Then the reporters turned to Hatch, who proudly described the center as "a great tribute to Utah," then added, "I can't tell you a lot about what they're going to be doing, because it's highly classified. And then there was this anomaly: Although this was supposedly the official ground-breaking for the nation's largest and most expensive cybersecurity project, no one from the Department of Homeland Security, the agency responsible for protecting civilian networks from cyberattack, spoke Nsa in the mountains the lectern.

In fact, the official who'd originally introduced the data center, at a press conference in Salt Lake City in Octoberhad nothing to do with cybersecurity. It was Glenn A. Gaffney, deputy director of national intelligence for collection, a man who had spent almost his entire career at the CIA. As head of collection for the intelligence community, he managed the country's human and electronic spies. Within days, the tent and sandbox and gold shovels would be gone and Inglis and the generals would be replaced by some 10, construction workers.

Inside, the facility will consist of four 25,square-foot halls filled with servers, complete with raised floor space for cables and storage. In addition, there will be more thansquare feet for technical support and administration.

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The entire site will be self-sustaining, with fuel tanks large enough to power the backup generators for three days in an emergency, water storage with the capability of pumping 1. Electricity will come from the center's own substation built by Rocky Mountain Power to satisfy the megawatt power demand. Given the facility's scale and the fact that a terabyte of data can now be stored on a flash drive the size of a man's pinky, the potential amount of information that could be housed in Bluffdale is truly staggering.

But so is the exponential growth in the amount of intelligence data being produced every day by the eavesdropping sensors of the NSA and other intelligence agencies. As a result of this "expanding array of theater airborne and other sensor networks," as a Department of Defense report puts it, the Pentagon is attempting to expand its worldwide communications network, known as the Global Information Grid, to handle yottabytes 10 24 bytes of data. A yottabyte is a septillion bytes—so large that no one has yet coined a term for the next higher magnitude.

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It needs that capacity because, according to a recent report by Cisco, global Internet traffic will quadruple from toreaching exabytes per year. A million exabytes equal a yottabyte. In terms of scale, Eric Schmidt, Google's former CEO, Nsa in the mountains estimated that the total of all human knowledge created from the dawn of man to totaled 5 exabytes.

And the data flow shows no of slowing. In more than 2 billion of the world's 6. Bymarket research firm IDC estimates, there will be 2. Thus, the NSA's need for a 1-million-square-foot data storehouse. Should the agency ever fill the Utah center with a yottabyte of information, it would be equal to about quintillion ,,, s of text. The data stored in Bluffdale will naturally go far beyond the world's billions of public web s. The NSA is more interested in the so-called invisible web, also known as the deep web or deepnet—data beyond the reach of the public.

This Nsa in the mountains password-protected data, US and foreign government communications, and noncommercial file-sharing between trusted peers. Stealing the classified secrets of a potential adversary is where the [intelligence] community is most comfortable. The question, of course, is how the agency defines who is, and who is not, "a potential adversary. The center will be fed data collected by the agency's eavesdropping satellites, overseas listening posts, and secret monitoring rooms in telecom facilities throughout the US.

All that data will then be accessible to the NSA's code breakers, data-miners, China analysts, counterterrorism specialists, and others working at its Fort Meade headquarters and around the world. Here's how the data center appears to fit into the NSA's global puzzle.

Four satellites positioned around the globe monitor frequencies carrying everything from walkie-talkies and cell phones in Libya to radar systems in North Korea. Onboard software acts as the first filter in the collection process, targeting only key regions, countries, cities, and phone s or. Intelligence collected from the geostationary satellites, as well as als from other spacecraft and overseas listening posts, is relayed to this facility outside Denver.

About NSA employees track the satellites, transmit target information, and download the intelligence haul. Codenamed Sweet Tea, the facility has been massively expanded and now consists of a ,square-foot operations building for up to 4, intercept operators, analysts, and other specialists.

Some 2, workers staff the operation. Focuses on intercepts from Asia. Built to house an aircraft assembly plant during World War II, the ,square-foot bunker is nicknamed the Hole. Like the other NSA operations centers, it has since been expanded: Its 2, employees now do their work aboveground from a new ,square-foot facility. The NSA has long been free to eavesdrop on international satellite communications. An ex-NSA official says there are 10 to 20 such installations.

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According to a knowledgeable intelligence source, the NSA has installed taps on at least a dozen of the major overseas communications links, each capable of eavesdropping on information passing by at a high data rate. Some scientists and computer engineers with top security clearance toil away here, building the world's fastest supercomputers and working on cryptanalytic applications and other secret projects.

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Analysts here will access material stored at Bluffdale to prepare reports and recommendations that are sent to policymakers. Before yottabytes of Nsa in the mountains from the deep web and elsewhere can begin piling up inside the servers of the NSA's new center, they must be collected. To better accomplish that, the agency has undergone the largest building boom in its history, including installing secret electronic monitoring rooms in major US telecom facilities. Controlled by the NSA, these highly secured spaces are where the agency taps into the US communications networks, a practice that came to light during the Bush years but was never acknowledged by the agency.

The broad outlines of the so-called warrantless-wiretapping program have long been exposed—how the NSA secretly and illegally bypassed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courtwhich was supposed to oversee and authorize highly targeted domestic eavesdropping; how the program allowed wholesale monitoring of millions of American phone calls and. Telecoms that had agreed to participate in the illegal activity were granted immunity from prosecution and lawsuits. What wasn't revealed until now, however, was the enormity of this ongoing domestic spying program.

For the first time, a former NSA official has gone on the record to describe the program, codenamed Stellar Windin detail. William Binney was a senior NSA crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency's worldwide eavesdropping network. A tall man with strands of black hair across the front of his scalp and dark, determined eyes behind thick-rimmed glasses, the year-old spent nearly four decades breaking codes and finding new ways to channel billions of private phone calls and messages from around the world into the NSA's bulging databases.

As chief and one of the two cofounders of the agency's als Intelligence Automation Research Center, Binney and his team deed much of the infrastructure that's still likely used to intercept international and foreign communications. He explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation's cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law.

Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not Nsa in the mountains international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US.

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