Army General Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, is having a busy year — hopping around the country, cutting ribbons at secret bases and bringing to life the agency’s greatly expanded eavesdropping network.
In January he dedicated the new $358 million CAPT Joseph J. Rochefort Building at NSA Hawaii, and in March he unveiled the 604,000-square-foot John Whitelaw Building at NSA Georgia.
Designed to house about 4,000 earphone-clad intercept operators, analysts and other specialists, many of them employed by private contractors, it will have a 2,800-square-foot fitness center open 24/7, 47 conference rooms and VTCs, and “22 caves,” according to an NSA brochure from the event. No television news cameras were allowed within two miles of the ceremony.
Overseas, Menwith Hill, the NSA’s giant satellite listening post in Yorkshire, England that sports 33 giant dome-covered eavesdropping dishes, is also undergoing a multi-million-dollar expansion, with $68 million alone being spent on a generator plant to provide power for new supercomputers. And the number of people employed on the base, many of them employees of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, is due to increase from 1,800 to 2,500 in 2015, according to a study done in Britain. Closer to home, in May, Fort Meade will close its 27-hole golf course to make room for a massive $2 billion, 1.8-million-square-foot expansion of the NSA’s headquarters, including a cybercommand complex and a new supercomputer center expected to cost nearly $1 billion.
The climax, however, will be the opening next year of the NSA’s mammoth 1-million-square-foot, $2 billion Utah Data Center. The centerpiece in the agency’s decade-long building boom, it will be the “cloud” where the trillions of millions of intercepted phone calls, e-mails, and data trails will reside, to be scrutinized by distant analysts over highly encrypted fiber-optic links.
Despite the post-9/11 warrantless wiretapping of Americans, the NSA says that citizens should trust it not to abuse its growing power and that it takes the Constitution and the nation’s privacy laws seriously.
But one of the agency’s biggest secrets is just how careless it is with that ocean of very private and very personal communications, much of it to and from Americans. Increasingly, obscure and questionable contractors — not government employees — install the taps, run the agency’s eavesdropping infrastructure, and do the listening and analysis.