Maybe you've heard of it and maybe you haven't, but in Bluffdale, Utah alongside one of the largest polygamist sects in America, the NSA is building a one-million-square-foot data collection center — five times the size of the U.S. capital.
Despite immense secrecy, and construction workers with Top Secret clearances, news of the project made it to the pages of Wired last month. Intelligence authority James Bamford wrote that the center is part of President Bush's "total information awareness" program that was killed by Congress in 2003 in response to public outrage over its potential for invading Americans privacy.
One senior intelligence official formerly involved with the project told Bamford "this is more than just a data center," that it's a code breaking megalopolis the likes of which the world has never seen.
Several years ago the NSA made a major leap in breaking complex encryptions used in everything from "financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications."
The official concluded by saying “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”
The story caused such a stir that the NSA's chief General Keith Alexander was called before Congress last week to testify about the project and categorically denied the facility will be used to spy on American citizens.
"The NSA does not have the ability to do that in the United States," Alexander told Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson. "We’re not authorized to do that, nor do we have the equipment in the United States to collect that kind of information.”
NSA public information officer Vanee' Vines backed up Alexander in an email saying: “What it will be is a state-of-the-art facility designed to support the Intelligence Community’s efforts to further strengthen and protect the nation."
While it's impossible to know the specifics of the work to be done in Bluffdale, it's pretty clear the NSA does have the power to snoop on Americans at will, despite what General Alexander said to Congress.
Former NSA analyst Adrienne J. Kinne told Bamford the NSA has had the ability to listen in on American phone calls in real time since 9/11 when, she said, "basically all the rules were thrown out the window."
The eavesdropping Kinne was involved in even included listening to U.S. journalists calling home from overseas.
“A lot of time you could tell they were calling their families,” she says, “incredibly intimate, personal conversations. It’s almost like going through and finding somebody’s diary,”