A Beginner’s Guide to The Utah Data Center

The Utah Data Center is also known as the Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center. The data center is alleged to be able to process “all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Internet searches, as well as all types of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter’.”

EFF_photograph_of_NSA's_Utah_Data_CenterWikipedia By Parker Higgins

It is located at Camp Williams at N 11600 W, Saratoga Springs, Utah, zip code  84045. It is near Bluffdale, Utah, between Utah Lake and Great Salt Lake. It was completed in May 2014 at a cost of $1.5 billion. This facility is very secure, but the following facts are in public domain: In February 2012, Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert revealed that:

… the Utah Data Center would be the “first facility in the world expected to gather and house a yottabyte“.  Since then, conflicting media reports have also estimated our storage capacity in terms of zettabytes and exabytes. While the actual capacity is classified for NATIONAL SECURITY REASONS, we can say this: The Utah Data Center was built with future expansion in mind and the ultimate capacity will definitely be “alottabytes”!

The Data Center’s web page reports that the structure has a 1 million square feet “mission critical Tier III data center”, and more than 900,000 square feet of technical support and administrative space.  A report suggested that it will cost another $2 billion for hardware, software, and maintenance. There are twenty buildings that  include water treatment facilities, chiller plants, electric substation, fire pump house, warehouse, vehicle inspection facility, visitor control center, and sixty diesel-fueled emergency standby generators with a fuel facility for a 3-day 100% power backup capability. The facility requires 65 megawatts of purchased electricity, costing about $40 million per year. The facility uses 1.7 million gallons of cooling water per day.

This is the facility spoken about by Edward Snowden. His disclosure, through wikileaks, exposed the capacity and capabilities for the facility to monitor all types of data transmission into through and out of the United States. It is a data storage facility where all intercepted communications are stored in meta form as well as content according to William Binney, a former NSA technical director.

Once available on its servers, the data is analyzed by a number of decrypting and parsing programs. Snowden’s wikileaks release revealed these systems are in place there:

Click on each link (links go to wikipedia) to take a look at each to get a clear understanding for the capability and purpose of each system and program. The wikileaks website also confirms many of these programs and their descriptions have been leaked by NSA contractors (Snowden and/or others?) and are available in the “Vault7” category there.

Let me give you an idea of how this works, using a hypothetical phone call between a “US Person” and a contact within Russia:

The intercept station receives the call in parallel with its transmission through a satellite or microwave relay station or through a fiber optic cable that has a repeater installed. The date, places, times and other metadata is logged and the content of the call is pushed through a system that looks for certain “hot words”, tagging each in a companion file for retrieval later. If the caller and recipient are on a “hot list”, the call may be switched to a live operator for immediate action.

The parsing and sorting programs listed above can search the companion and metadata files using custom searches if a need arises.

Given this scenario, when requested by proper authority (FISA or Criminal Court requests, for example) The content is sent to the requester, for review and use in case preparation.  If the US Person is under investigation for contacts in Russia, the material is in the hand of proper authority for those under investigation or, in the case of Jeff Sessions, at his confirmation hearing. Senator Franken more than likely knew the answer before he asked any question.

If the above scenario is true, and I can not confirm or deny that it is, then any other “US Person” who has had communication with anyone in Russia, or any other country, has a collection tagged with their name, timestamp, metadata, and content. For certain persons of interest, these collections are more than likely in the hands of proper authority now, and may be what the FBI revealed to the committee this week.

*45 may not be aware that “wiretapping” no longer takes place within the property under surveillance, but at any point within the route taken by the communication system – hard-wires, fiber optic, microwave or through a communication satellite. If he or any of his true believers spoke with anyone outside of the US, they will have it in the system.

About Terry Welshans

I grew up in Burbank, California. My dad worked at a company that made sub assemblies for about every airplane made in the 1960-1970 era, so it was only natural that the aviation bug bit me while I was quite young. I hold a commercial pilot certificate and fly as much as I can. I live in Bardstown, Kentucky with my wife, moving here after we retired. I am a Vietnam veteran and a cancer survivor. I like to keep politicians honest, and do so when they open an avenue where I feel they have erred.
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8 Responses to A Beginner’s Guide to The Utah Data Center

  1. Marge Cullen says:

    So who is in charge of this system?

  2. Normally the White House, but the the intel community appears to be cutting him out of the loop for obvious reasons. The buck ultimately stops with Congress’ secret intelligence committees. At the moment, Senators Grassley and Feinstein appear to be in shock.

  3. ann summers says:

    Monday could be an interesting day with Comey’s testimony
    ****”This is the facility where Edward Snowden worked as a contractor for the NSA. His disclosure, through wikileaks, exposed the capacity and capabilities for the facility to monitor all types of data transmission into through and out of the United States. It is a data storage facility where all intercepted communications are stored in meta form as well as content according to William Binney, a former NSA technical director.”****

    • Terry Welshans says:

      It may take some time to unfold, but it is there if they want to dig it out. Last week Josh Marshall published an interesting summary of the connections that may be very telling.


      • IMHO, once the ball is rolling, I have a suspicion that it may roll faster than anyone anticipated. The embarrassing episodes with the UK, Australia, and Germany, plus the heightened tensions with the North Korean nutcase leadership, may bring things to a head sooner than later. The DoD and most sane members of Congress realize we have an administration that is having wet dreams of having their own war so they can go down in the history books.

        Add to that mix are the Dominionists who want to bring on the End Times in our lifetimes. Bannon and his ilk are of that school of thought.

  4. unriliable narrator 66 says:

    Suggested Correction: Edward Snowden did not work at the Utah Data Center and it was not actually operational in his tenure as an NSA/Booz Allen contractor. Snowden worked at the Hawaii Operations Center.

    • Terry will see your suggestion. Good catch. I think he meant it was part of the same system, not the same facility. He is an editor here, so he can reword it. According to John Schindler, who was in a position to know, claims Snowden was still in a training position when he absconded with those files. If Schindler is right, Snowden did not have full access to everything, otherwise the damage could have been greater.

      The capability of the system is so vast, it is hard to get one’s head wrapped around it. They are hooked up to the Cray supercomputer at Oak Ridge, called Titan. Titan is supposed to be able to handle encryption and decryption problems that would probably stymie any other computer on earth.

      ORNL has been at the cutting edge of computer development since the first clunky monsters were built during the Manhattan Project. Titan came on line in 2012. Titan can handle 20 Petaflops. It is already obsolescent. A newer supercomputer, Summit, is under construction now, and will be operational in 2018. Summit has five (5) times the computing power of Titan.

    • Terry Welshans says:

      Thanks for the suggestion. I have corrected the sentence to indicate that he spoke about it, not worked there. Good catch!

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