What a ‘One-Time Opportunity’ Tour Inside the NSA’s Data Center That ‘Doesn’t Exist’ Was Like

For years, information has been trickling in about the NSA’s mysterious Utah Data Center in Bluffdale just outside of Salt Lake City. But in the months leading up to its completion this fall, more details about the center have been revealed, while the facility still maintains its shroud of secrecy around its intended operations.

BuzzFeed was recently able to speak with people who toured the massive facility in a “one-time opportunity.”

NSA Data Center

It started with an emailed invitation from the director of the NSA’s Utah Office Director David Windberg reading: “This will be a one-time opportunity and will likely be the only time we will be able to get uncleared people on a tour of the data center.” BuzzFeed reported the tour was part of an effort to find people to work at the data center.

But when Pete Ashdown and Grant Sperry, men who head the Internet service provider XMission, went for the tour and were trying to find parking, they were told by a soldier holding an AR-15, “There is no data center here.”

NSA Data Center

Here’s more from BuzzFeed’s article about the tour:

The tour guide refused to answer most of the group’s questions, including how much data was coming in. Information offered was almost comically general. He showed off the massive generators and electrical distribution system; the water-piping infrastructure. He showed them that the conduit where the fiber enters the facility is located in an area under the building, so far down that oxygen has to be pumped in for the service workers. And he explained that the facility is essentially divided into two redundant halves, each part running independently from the other. He shared them an outline, a collection of secondary facts.

At that point, the NSA was already starting to test out the computer systems. But those were kept behind closed doors. “They made special effort not to take us into rooms where there that had functioning systems,” says Ashdown.

When I asked various people who have toured the building with the consortium what their impression was, the responses were vague and similar: “huge,” “impressive.”

“I was interested in the mythology of the NSA, and was asking questions, like, can they crack the hardest encryption and crash hard drives?” says Ashdown, Utah’s most vocal internet privacy activist. “I wish I had not been so starstruck. I would have asked the question, ‘How do you rectify what you are doing with the Constitution?’”

A new NSA Data Center sits beyond a housing subdivision June 10, 2013 in Bluffdale, Utah. The center, a large data farm that is set to open in the fall of 2013, will be the largest of several interconnected NSA data centers spread throughout the country. The NSA has come under scrutiny after two large scale data surveillance programs were leaked to the press. (Getty Images)

This tour, however, came before the recent revelation of classified data collection programs run through the NSA that were leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden, prompting many to question the legality of collecting domestic communications data. Most recently, the Guardian reported from documents leaked to it of a program collecting data from Internet activity.

BuzzFeed’s feature about the data center goes on to report about its location in Bluffdale, what people from the town think or know of it, and other details that have been coming out as its completion date nears. TheBlaze previously has reported on estimates regarding how much data the center could store and the resources that will be required to run it. Blueprints of the data center were also recently leaked.

Read BuzzFeed’s full post.

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