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Wired: NSA building massive surveillance facility, 'everybody with communication is a target'

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Wired takes a look at two top-secret NSA projects: the building of a massive data center in Utah meant for curating and storing data transmissions for both international and domestic citizens, and the supercomputer program meant to decrypt them.

Camp Williams Google Maps Shot
Camp Williams Google Maps Shot

In 2005, a New York Times article broke the news that the National Security Agency had been engaging in a warrantless wiretapping program that monitored domestic communications — but the agency may have much bigger ambitions in mind. Wired takes a look at the construction of a top-secret $2 billion facility in Utah — known simply as the Utah Data Center — that will reportedly be a storehouse for incredible amounts of both public and private data from international and domestic citizens. The facility is said to be filled with 25,000 square feet of servers, housing everything from Google searches, online product purchase records, as well as intercepted emails and cellphone calls. According to Wired, the incoming data is being mined by plugging into telecommunications companies' switches, the same behavior exposed in the New York Times piece, as well as by monitoring AT&T's "earth stations," massive satellite dishes that handle communications from the US to Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific Rim, and Asia. The new center is needed to collate the massive amounts of data being collected; former NSA employee William Binney estimates that between 15 and 20 trillion communications have been intercepted since 2001.

Of course, collecting such incredible amounts of data isn't very useful unless it can be read, and that's where another facet of the NSA's operation comes into play. Much of the communications the agency intercepts are encrypted, either through proprietary means or using the Advanced Encryption Standard. To tackle this side of the issue, the NSA has allegedly been developing a supercomputer in what is known as the "Multiprogram Research Facility" — or Building 5300 — aimed specifically at decryption. The team behind the project reached what is described as a "breakthrough" in creating a usable brute-force decryption system, but to handle the volume of messages the NSA is intercepting, more processing power is needed. The agency is said to be targeting 2018 as the launch for an exo-flop computer that would integrate directly with the Utah Data Center, allowing the combined system to easily collect and read transmissions from around the world. According to an unnamed security official, "Everybody's a target; everybody with communication is a target." If you're thinking this sounds like something out of the movie Sneakers, you're not alone, but according to Wired, the Utah Data Center will go live by September of next year.