Having run out of room and power at its current Ft. Meade, MD, headquarters to house its proliferating array of acre-sized
supercomputers, the National Security Agency (NSA) is currently
building two gigantic data centers, one in Utah (a third larger than
the US Capitol building), and the other a complex nearly as large as
the Alamodome in Texas.
Though the details (as usual with things NSA) are classified, NSA scholar James Bamford suggests in a just published New York Review of Books essay/review of Matthew M. Aid's new book The Secret Sentry,
the new data centers will likely become centralized repositories for an
unprecedented collection of trillions of American phone, email,
internet and other communications transactions each year.
James Bamford writes:
On a remote edge of Utah's dry and arid high desert, where
temperatures often zoom past 100 degrees, hard-hatted construction
workers with top-secret clearances are preparing to build what may
become America's equivalent of Jorge Luis Borges's "Library of Babel,"
a place where the collection of information is both infinite and at the
same time monstrous, where the entire world's knowledge is stored, but
not a single word is understood. At a million square feet, the mammoth
$2 billion structure will be one-third larger than the US Capitol and
will use the same amount of energy as every house in Salt Lake City
Unlike Borges's "labyrinth of letters," this library expects few
visitors. It's being built by the ultra-secret National Security
Agency--which is primarily responsible for "signals intelligence," the
collection and analysis of various forms of communication--to house
trillions of phone calls, e-mail messages, and data trails: Web
searches, parking receipts, bookstore visits, and other digital "pocket
litter." Lacking adequate space and power at its city-sized Fort Meade,
Maryland, headquarters, the NSA is also completing work on another data
archive, this one in San Antonio, Texas, which will be nearly the size
of the Alamodome.
Just how much information will be stored in these windowless
cybertemples? A clue comes from a recent report prepared by the MITRE
Corporation, a Pentagon think tank. "As the sensors associated with the
various surveillance missions improve," says the report, referring to a
variety of technical collection methods, "the data volumes are
increasing with a projection that sensor data volume could potentially
increase to the level of Yottabytes (1024
Bytes) by 2015."
Roughly equal to about a septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000)
pages of text, numbers beyond Yottabytes haven't yet been named. Once
vacuumed up and stored in these near-infinite "libraries," the data are
then analyzed by powerful infoweapons, supercomputers running complex
algorithmic programs, to determine who among us may be--or may one day
become--a terrorist. In the NSA's world of automated surveillance on
steroids, every bit has a history and every keystroke tells a story.