At an old Sony factory in San Antonio, the National Security Agency is making plans for a huge data-mining facility, the Texas Cryptology Center. The 470,000 square foot center will allow the NSA to identify potential terrorists from intercepted phone calls and emails.
For civil libertarians, the frightening aspect of the facility is its size and room for growth.
“No longer able to store all the intercepted phone calls and e-mail in its secret city, the agency has now built a new data warehouse in San Antonio, Texas,” writes author James Bamford in the Shadow Factory, his third book about the NSA. “Costing, with renovations, upwards of $130 million, the 470,000-square-foot facility will be almost the size of the Alamodome. Considering 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.”
One reporter was detained for 45 minutes and asked to destroy the five photographs he took. Although he refused and was eventually released, once the center is in full operation, things may change. Surrounding the area is a wire fence, multitudes of surveillance cameras and warning signs. Then, just to make it all appear odd, a WalMart is not far away on the other side of the street.
Initial employment is expected to be 1,500 employees with the capacity of expanding to 4,000. Four thousand spys have to find ways to keep busy. While civil libertarians have always worried about the broad and intrusive powers of the NSA, the real worrying might just be starting.
“Cybersecurity in the public domain has largely been about defense, but there’s certainly an attack component to it. To some degree, the U.S. Department of Defense and intelligence agencies are now starting to talk about the attack component in the public domain,” says Ravi Sandhu.
Sandhu is the Executive Director of the University of Texas, San Antonio’s Institute for Cyber Security and the school’s Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security.
The NSA has a lot of power at its disposal. Bamford writes about “Uncle Sam’s skyrocketing use of ‘national security letters’ for obtaining personal information.”
The NSLs, which do not require probable cause or court approval, jumped from 8,500 in 2000 to 143,074 between 2003 and 2005, according to a 2007 Justice Department inspector general’s report. Under the revised version of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, it’s not only a crime for any company to refuse to cooperate, it’s also become a crime for company officials to even disclose their cooperation.
However, not everyone considers data mining a worthwhile venture.
One senior intelligence officer described the entire data-mining system as “a disaster,” claiming that the software was incompatible with other government-intelligence systems, and that the NSA isn’t accountable for the errors that result.