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NSA’s vast new Utah data hub suffering from ‘meltdowns’ – report

national-security-agency_s-utah-data-center_siThough the NSA’s vast data storage facility in Utah is now hardly a secret, new information has surfaced indicating widespread technical failures delaying its opening, including 10 “meltdowns” within the past 13 months.

The Pentagon’s facility, located in Bluffdale, which lies south  of Salt Lake City, is being built to house a gargantuan quantity  of data harvested, presumably, by many of the NSA’s surveillance  programs now made public by former intelligence contractor Edward  Snowden.
Estimates of the facility’s capacity, which is classified, ranges  from exabytes or zettabytes, reports the Wall Street Journal. An  exabyte being equivalent to 100,000 times the size of printed  material held by the Library of Congress, while a zettabyte is  1,000 times that amount.
A new report compiled through project documents and information  provided to the WSJ by officials cite a number of electrical  surges — called “arc fault failures” — which over the  past 13 months have destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars’   worth of equipment, and delayed the facility from going active  for a year.
According to one official, such arc fault failures can resemble   “a flash of lightning inside a 2-foot box” and can melt  metal and destroy circuitry.
Speculation as to whether the NSA’s facility in Utah is already  active has been rampant, and indications are that its equipment  is being slowly brought online as it becomes available, rather  than in one dramatic on-switch moment.
“We turn each machine on as it is installed, and the facility  is ready for that installation to begin,” NSA spokeswoman  Vanee Vines told the Salt Lake City Tribune in late September.
The $1.5 billion facility is estimated to be not only the NSA’s  largest data center, but the largest in the world, with some 1  million square feet of space. Engineers have said the center will  dwarf even Google’s largest data hub.
Special teams from the Army Corps of Engineers have been assigned  to investigate the electrical issues at the Utah center. The most  recent arc failure according to the WSJ seems to have occurred on  September 25, causing $100,000 in damage. The first such reported  failure is thought to have taken place on August 9 of last year.
So far the information available indicates that the reason for  the technical failures remains in dispute. A statement issued by  a consortium of private contractors currently working on site  eluded to the sheer complexity of the data warehouse as the  culprit.
“Problems were discovered with certain parts of the unique and  highly complex electrical system. The causes of those problems  have been determined and a permanent fix is being  implemented,” said the firms.
According to various reports, including the latest by the WSJ,  the Bluffdale site was chosen by the NSA owing to its affordable  electricity. The data hub will consume some 65 megawatts of  energy at a cost of $1 million per month.
Beyond its logistical hurdles, the NSA’s data hub will also open  amidst heightened scrutiny. Lawmakers including Senator Ron  Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who recently  questioned whether the NSA has also been harvesting geo-location  data, have expressed a need to lay out just how the NSA will  justify the collection of an increasingly dramatic amount of  data.
“There is no question there is going to be increased scrutiny  of these kinds of practices,” said Wyden, “because  Americans understand this is a dangerous time, but the  government, if it’s going to collect [this information], ought to  have to say here’s how it contributes to security of the American  people. They have not made that case.”
Only a week prior to Edward Snowden’s first batch of published  leaks, the massive Utah center had been billed by the agency’s  Deputy Director, John Inglis, as only one additional working part  of the country’s national security apparatus.
“They shouldn’t be worried because, A, we’re Americans,”  Inglis said. “We understand what the principles are that  govern the nation; [and] B, we take an oath to the Constitution,  and we take that very seriously.”


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