Utah data death star is symbol of NSA’s reach into US citizen’s lives
The Bluffdale sinkhole has quietly started sucking in mountains of data
When US National Security Agency director general Keith Alexander was asked a year ago if the Bluffdale centre would hold the data of Americans, he replied no: “We don’t hold data on US citizens.” Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters
At the Husband and Wife lingerie store in Bluffdale, Utah, in Mormon country – where babies are welcome amid the sex toys and the motto is “Classy, tasteful and comfortable” – no one had heard of it.
At the Allami smoke shop across the street, adjacent to a hypnosis centre that can help you stop smoking, they were disturbed by it. Down the road at Quiznos, the young man making subs went on a rant about his insular community’s compliance with the government’s intrusions into Americans’ private lives.
Indeed, this valley of subdivisions, sagebrush and one of the remaining polygamous sects gets more exercised about the letter “c” – there’s a Kapuccino cafe, a Maverik convenience store and a Pikasso print shop – than they do about the National Security Agency’s secretive new $2 billion, one-million- square-foot data death star.
As Mark Reid, Bluffdale’s city manager, told the New York Times’ Michael Schmidt, the community’s initial excitement about new jobs faded because many of the data analysts are elsewhere. The good jobs, he says, are for security dogs who have a “plush” kennel.
“They don’t interact with anybody, they don’t let anybody come up there,” he said. “It is like they are not there. It is not like they are IBM and they join us for town days and sponsor a booth.”
At a hearing of the Senate Intelligence committee in Washington on Thursday, Democratic senator Mark Udall of Colorado tried to pin down the shadowy and largely unchecked Emperor Alexander, as the NSA head, Gen Keith Alexander, is known, on whether his agency is indiscriminately hoovering up Americans’ phone records.
“I believe it is in the nation’s best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox that we could search when the nation needs to do it, yes,” Alexander said.
When Alexander was asked a year ago if the Bluffdale centre would hold the data of Americans, he replied no: “We don’t hold data on US citizens,” adding that reports that they would “grab all the emails” were “grossly misreported”.
Democratic senator Ron Wyden of Oregon told me ruefully that on Thursday, “Alexander put in a lockbox information that he’s told the public he doesn’t have. This is what we’re dealing with”.
“They think it’s okay to repeatedly say one thing to the public about domestic surveillance and do something completely different in private,” continued Wyden, who pressed Alexander on whether they’re collecting mobile phone location information.