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What exactly is the NSA building in Utah?

This undated photo provided by the National Security Agency (NSA) shows its headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

This much we know: the National Security Agency is building a large structure in Utah and it’s called the Utah Data Center. Exactly what’s going on with the facility beyond that point remains a point of contention.

In a recent Wired Magazine cover story titled "Inside the Matrix," James Bamford wrote that the Utah Data Center is being built for surveillance within the United States. In other words, it’s there to facilitate domestic spying.

“Telephone calls, email, all kinds of communications from around the world, it's intercepted by the NSA, and then transmitted virtually in real time to the data center in Bluffdale, Utah,” says Bamford. “And then from locations all around the world, especially from NSA headquarters in Maryland and very big listening posts in Geogia, Texas, Colorado and Hawaii, they'll be able to analyze the information being stored there.”

But Bamford's claims aren't being backed up by the NSA. NSA Director Keith Alexander was asked about the Utah facility by Representative Hank Johnson, Democrat of Georgia, during a recent congressional hearing.

Johnson said, “An article in Wired magazine reported this month that a whistleblower formally employed by the NSA has stated NSA's signals intercepts ‘eavsdropping on domestic phone calls and inspection of domestic emails.’ Is that true?”

To which Alexander replied, “No. Not in that context. The question that, er ... I think what he's trying to raise is, ‘are we gathering all the information on the United States?’ No, that is not correct.”

The NSA declined an interview for this program and would neither confirm nor deny Bamford's claims. 

Here’s what the agency told us:

Many allegations have been made about the planned activities of the Utah Data Center.  What it *will* be is a state-of-the-art facility designed to support the Intelligence Community’s efforts to further strengthen and protect the nation.  NSA is the executive agent for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and will be the lead agency at the center. 

We are not going to dissect any particular news story – especially one that relies in part on the speculation of former officials and several unnamed sources.  Those of us who are privileged to be a part of this great institution, NSA, see firsthand that our nation is indeed becoming safer as a result of our hard work, dedication and the collaboration across the entire Intelligence Community.

Bamford says he talked to people, some anonymous, some named, who knew what was going on. “One of them is William Binney, he was one of the very top officials at the NSA. He was a senior-grade official in charge of basically constructing all the eavesdropping activities around the world and automating them.”

I mentioned to Bamford that the NSA pointed out to us that several of the sources in Bamford’s story are unnamed and that the story relies in part on the speculation of former officials.

“Well, I'd be very happy to have the NSA officials sit before Congress and answer about 3 hours worth of questions and then we don't have to have all these unnamed sources and named sources risking their life,” Bamford replied. “I mean, these people are risking years and years and years in jail by speaking out about the NSA. This is very, very rare that you have someone in a senior position at the NSA coming out and saying they left NSA after nearly 40 years because of the switch from eavesdropping around the world to the switch to eavesdropping domestically.”

Also on today’s program, we talk to Ranjit Bhatnagar, purveyor of found poetry. Ranjit culls random tweets from strangers, finds ones that fit iambic pentameter, then arranges them like sonnets and posts them to his site Pentametron.com.

Here’s an example (original spelling and punctuation maintained for authenticity):

On to the Final Four! Ohio State

I'll taste the sky and feel alive again

hey twitter world, whats going on tonight.

I love the ending of the lion king :)

 

I have the sweetest boyfriend ever. #blessed

Play Station Network: nacho_yepez add!

En casa de amigo Javier.

Why is a raven like a writing desk??

 

I wanna join a motorcycle gang!!

i always have a headache anymore.

My only trending topic is the Cash??

done beating everyone in basketball

 

I Haven't met a honest woman yet.

Free! Getting locked in happens I suppose.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.
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