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NSA data center opening delayed by faulty wiring, explosions

The NSA's spying capabilities are unmatched in the world. Who knew it could be affected by something as simple as explosions?


Kevin Collier


Posted on Oct 8, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 4:44 am CDT

Terrible, repeated electrical problems have delayed the opening of the National Security Agency’s new data center for at least a year, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

The data center is something of a mystery. It was originally slated to be completed in the fall of 2013, and a leaked intelligence budget (revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden) shows that the agency plans to spend a whopping $5.3 billion this year on “management, facilities, and support.” Presumably, a sizeable chunk of that goes toward completing the Utah facility, which is estimated to continually pull the electrical needs of a town of 20,000 people.

No publicly leaked documents are believed to conclusively say how much data the center is meant to hold, so there’s an open debate about extrapolating its storage capabilities from its floor plans. Experts who talked to the Daily Dot varied in their estimations, but said it’s possible the center could store compressed copies of much of the entire world’s communications. Other Snowden documents, particularly those referencing the program XKeyscore, show the NSA currently has the storage capability to capture a “snapshot” of much of the entire Internet’s communications for a few days at a time.

The Journal has reported that the Utah center’s bad wiring has led to ten failures in a little over a year, often in fiery explosions that destroy circuitry. The causes of eight of those meltdowns haven’t been definitively identified, and a litany of construction contractors have tried their hand at addressing the facility’s electrical problems, with varying results.

A person familiar with the construction told Forbes that the problem was maddeningly simple.

“The problem, and we all know it, is that they put the appliances too close together,” the source said. “They used wiring that’s not adequate to the task. We all talked about the fact that it wasn’t going to work.”

Still, it’s likely a temporary problem. Contractors said in late September they’d found a “consensus” solution to the fires and explosions. The NSA expects to try some of the facility’s computers this week. It’s possible it’ll become operational without the agency even telling anyone.

Photo by oskay/Flickr, remix by Fernando Alfonso III

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*First Published: Oct 8, 2013, 12:57 pm CDT