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NSA Is Building a New Datacenter In San Antonio 119

Posted by kdawson
from the panopticon-economy dept.
An anonymous reader writes in with an article from a Texas paper on the NSA's new facility in San Antonio. "America's top spy agency has taken over the former Sony microchip plant and is transforming it into a new data-mining headquarters... where billions of electronic communications will be sifted in the agency's mission to identify terrorist threats. ... [Author James] Bamford writes about how NSA and Microsoft had both been eyeing San Antonio for years because it has the cheapest electricity in Texas, and the state has its own power grid, making it less vulnerable to power outages on the national grid. He notes that it seemed the NSA wanted assurance Microsoft would be here, too, before making a final commitment, due to the advantages of 'having their miners virtually next door to the mother lode of data centers.' The new NSA facility is just a few miles from Microsoft's data center of the same size. Bamford says that under current law, NSA could gain access to Microsoft's stored data without even a warrant, but merely a fiber-optic cable." The article mentions the NRC report concluding that data mining is ineffective as a tactic against terrorism, which we discussed a couple of months back.
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NSA Is Building a New Datacenter In San Antonio

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  • Terrorism? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:19AM (#26018273)

    The article mentions the NRC report concluding that data mining is ineffective as a tactic against terrorism
    Anyone wanna bet that Obama won't do a damn thing about these obvious attempts to spy on American citizens?

  • SaaS? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JeffSh (71237) <jeffslashdot&m0m0,org> on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:24AM (#26018293)

    If any business needs yet another reason to stay away from SaaS, this is the one to pay attention to.

    Businesses and their IP are becoming increasingly important. Any time your business IP crosses onto someone elses network, it's susceptible to snooping either by corporate espionage or now government eyes.

    If your company has a market advantage caused by proprietary information, SaaS is not for you. Why else would the NSA be shacking up next to a Microsoft data center?

  • This is why (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:30AM (#26018319)

    The US will never do anything to dislodge Microsoft from the throne. The intelligence value of having Microsoft products in a monopolistic position all over the world is far too important. You don't squander that just to please some customer rights hippies at home.

  • by cleatsupkeep (1132585) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @03:31AM (#26018325) Homepage

    I would have thought being near a Google data center would be more valuable, with the huge amount of traffic, and the indexing that comes through Google.

    Maybe Google has better practices in terms of security of their data centers?

  • by jcr (53032) <.jcr. .at. .mac.com.> on Sunday December 07, 2008 @04:15AM (#26018469) Journal

    The once Senator & future President has expressed a desire to shut down some of the most egregious abuses of power that Mr. Bush came up with.

    I am highly skeptical that he'll do anything of the kind. I hope I'm wrong.

    -jcr

  • Re:Terrorism? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by theaveng (1243528) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @04:29AM (#26018511)

    This isn't about terrorism.

    This is about catching other types of criminals like people distributing images of child sex, people discussing marijuana growing, people discussing anti-government ideas (i.e. like the LP), and so on. It's a way to circumvent the Constitution's requirement for a search warrant.

  • Re:SaaS? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drspliff (652992) <harry.roberts@NOSPAM.midnight-labs.org> on Sunday December 07, 2008 @04:46AM (#26018559)

    I wouldn't be too concerned with your business-confidential data leaking into the private sector via some unscrupulous NSA employee (who have a higher bar to employment I would hope, than say a TSA employee).

    I'm much more concerned about the NSA collecting data about foreign nationals who happen to be using whichever SaaS app they happen to be snooping, and that's ontop of all the feature creep that could end up being used to abuse US citizens.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @06:02AM (#26018767)
    Microsoft's data under today's laws "without a warrant" is simply false... unless Microsoft voluntarily cooperates. And the article did make it sound like they were voluntarily cooperating...

    which all adds up to yet another reason to boycott Microsoft and use Linux or OS X, and Open Source business software.
  • by Ravon Rodriguez (1074038) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @06:59AM (#26019013)
    People are used to organized crime, but terrorism is a relatively new concept in America; people are more afraid of Al Qaeda than they are of the Hell's Angels, so fighting terrorism takes priority. I'm not saying it's the right way to look at things, but that's the way most Americans do.
  • Re:SaaS? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FriendlyLurker (50431) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @07:13AM (#26019093)

    "Rogue" agents are not the problem. Sanctioned industrial espionage is the problem

    You got that right. Here is another "small" example - to the tune of 6 billion, with a 1.3 billion side show - all old news:

    July 11, 2001: European Parliament Report: Echelon Data Provided to US Corporations
    Glyn Ford.Glyn Ford. [Source: British Labour Party]The European Parliament releases its final report on its findings about the secretive US surveillance program known as Echelon. The report, two years in the making, exhaustively details many of Echelon's surveillance capabilities, and lists many of Echelon's surveillance stations around the world. One of the more interesting sections of the report concerns its apparent use on behalf of US corporations. According to the report, Echelonâ"operated by the NSA as a highly classified surveillance program ostensibly for tracking terrorist threats and activities by nations hostile to the West is also being used for corporate and industrial espionage, with information from the program being turned over to US corporations for their financial advantage. The report gives several instances of Echelon's use by corporations. One is the use of Echelon to "lift... all the faxes and phone calls" between the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Saudi Arabian Airlines; that information was used by two American companies, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, to outflank Airbus and win a $6 billion contract. The report also alleges that the French company Thomson-CSF lost a $1.3 billion satellite deal to Raytheon the same way. Glyn Ford, the MP who commissioned the report, says he doesn't have a problem with Echelon itself, but in the way it is being used. "Now, you know, if we're catching the bad guys, we're completely in favor of that... What we're concerned about is that some of the good guys in my constituency don't have jobs because US corporations got an inside track onâ"on some global deal."
    http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=airbus_1 [historycommons.org]

    British Labor party spokesman above says that they are completely in favor of spying on European citizens - as long as they can benefit from industrial espionage as well. I guess the "bad guys" now means anyone, anywhere either corporation, country or individuals - who do not contribute directly or indirectly to their political campaign fund, roll their national resources over to foreign exploitation. Talk about fringe benefits from (mis)using public office.

  • Re:Terrorism? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Haeleth (414428) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @07:43AM (#26019225) Journal

    Anyone wanna bet that Obama won't do a damn thing about these obvious attempts to spy on American citizens?

    I find your paranoia (and that of many other Slashdotters) interesting. Why are so many Americans so certain that everything their government does is an attempt to oppress them? NSA's mission is foreign intelligence. That means that most of what they do is about spying on people who are not American citizens. Believe it or not, the world out here is really quite big. Did you know that there are actually more non-Americans than Americans on the Internet? There's plenty of non-American data for NSA to mine, if data mining is what they want to do.

    You are not the centre of the universe. You are not the only thing your government cares about. You are not being spied on with satellite mind-control rays. Get over yourselves and drop the conspiracy crap, please.

    Or, you know, go and collect loads of guns and hole yourself up in a log cabin in the mountains while you wait for the Rapture. They can't eavesdrop on your communications if you're only communicating with the Lord!

    (Oh noes! I have disagreed with teh groupthink! Negative mods coming in 3... 2... 1...)

  • Re:SaaS? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @07:49AM (#26019255) Homepage

    Any time your business IP crosses onto someone elses network, it's susceptible to snooping either by corporate espionage or now government eyes.

    I'm not sure your business critical data is the real risk. Like a lot of things, it's the unintended consequences that may have bigger implications. If other countries are afraid of communications flowing through US relays being monitored, whether that fear is legitimate or not, they may be tempted to utilize more advanced encryptions schemes or develop relays that don't route through the US.

    Sort of like the laptop confiscations by TSA. Some companies stopped coming here to do business. That probably wasn't the only reason, but for a few it was the last straw. Those that did come were sudden converts to advanced encryption and off-site file storage.

    I think there's a certain level of trust that used to be there that the US could be trusted with your data because no one could access it without a warrant. Probably not the protection they imagined but still a reasonable assurance. Take that away and nothing really separates us from the most heavy-handed and tyrannical governments on the planet.

    Ultimately, I think that's the greatest blow to the US from the 6 years of right wing rule. The realization that another Bush could rise up and trample on our ideals and flout the law with little real consequence and even get enthusiastic support from a substantial minority of the population. Suddenly nothing is beneath us. Spying on friend and foe alike, unilateral military action, seizure of bank funds and property without due process, indefinite imprisonment without access to a lawyer, torture, racial profiling...nothing is out of bounds if we feel the justification is there. We can no longer be trusted to respect the rule of law. A perception we have, unfortunately, worked hard to deserve.

  • by Haeleth (414428) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @07:56AM (#26019297) Journal

    This is called "democracy":

    • The American people, as a whole, are happy to spend more money on fighting al-Qaeda.
    • The American people, as a whole, are not happy spending more money on fighting organised crime.
    • The American government, as a representative democracy, spends money roughly where the people want it spent, i.e. on terrorism.

    If you think the government is doing the wrong thing, then it is your duty as a citizen to stand up in public and explain why. If you make a persuasive argument, then other people will support your cause, and eventually you will have sufficient backing that the government will take note of your movement and adjust its actions to suit the new desires of the American people. Look at the history of the civil rights movement for examples of this working in practice -- and note that Martin Luther King did not become a household name by posting anonymously on Slashdot.

  • Re:Terrorism? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TapeCutter (624760) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @09:23AM (#26019633) Journal
    "Why are so many Americans so certain that everything their government does is an attempt to oppress them?"
    "Why are so many Canadians so certain that everything their government does is an attempt to oppress them?"
    "Why are so many Brits so certain that everything their government does is an attempt to oppress them?"
    "Why are so many Aussies so certain that everything their government does is an attempt to oppress them?"
    "Why are so many ...."
    Because they swap data, personally that hardly makes me certain they are out to oppress me but it is a valid concern.
  • by Kagura (843695) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @10:47AM (#26020169)
    From the summary/article:

    America's top spy agency has taken over the former Sony microchip plant and is transforming it into a new data-mining headquarters

    Sorry in advance, but I went ahead and read (some of) the article. Anyway, I'm having trouble believing for sure that this facility is a datacenter. Considering it's located at the site of a previous chip fab, it makes sense to me that it would stay a chip fab.

    The only source that says this will be used for datamining isn't even the article author, but rather the author of a book who hasn't worked for the NSA for 25 years. These are quotes from this book:

    No longer able to store all the intercepted phone calls and e-mail in its secret city, the agency has now built a new data warehouse in San Antonio, Texas," writes author James Bamford in the Shadow Factory, his third book about the NSA. "Costing, with renovations, upwards of $130 million, the 470,000-square-foot facility will be almost the size of the Alamodome. Considering how much data can now be squeezed onto a small flash drive, the new NSA building may eventually be able to hold all the information in the world."

    So just what will be going on inside the NSA's new San Antonio facility? Bamford describes former NSA Director Mike Hayden's goals for the data-mining center as knowing "exactly what Americans were doing day by day, hour by hour, and second by second. He wanted to know where they shopped, what they bought, what movies they saw, what books they read, the toll booths they went through, the plane tickets they purchased, the hotels they stayed in... In other words, Total Information Awareness, the same Orwellian concept ...

    The new NSA facility is just a few miles from Microsoft's data center of the same size. Bamford says that under current law, NSA could gain access to Microsoft's stored data without even a warrant, but merely a fiber-optic cable.

    What the Microsoft people will have will be just storage of a lot of the email that is being sent. They keep this email -- I don't know why -- and there should be some legislation saying how long it should be kept," said Bamford in a phone interview last week. "The post office doesn't keep copies of our letters when we mail letters; why should the telecom companies or the internet providers keep copies of our email? It doesn't make sense to me.

    That's a big wall of quotes. The author [wikipedia.org] of the book knew what he was talking about when he wrote his first book back in 1982, which was the first book revealing the existence of the NSA. Over the years he's written a lot of articles and books about the necessity of oversight, which is very, very good, but based on some excerpts [panopticonic.com] of his book, I'm not convinced that he exactly understands the some of the issues he talks about nowadays, and I'm not convinced that this is a datacenter or a datacenter for datamining.

    Note that my post is not talking about whether the NSA is actually data-mining or not, or whether it's warranted or not... it's just a post about the supposed purpose of this particular Texas facility.

  • by fangorious (1024903) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @01:02PM (#26021345)
    The problem is that according to testimony by engineers at the co-operating telecom facilities, the surveillance technology intercepts all traffic, not just requested traffic. So the NSA is intercepting domestic communications between citizens of no interest, without a warrant. That is in direct violation of the law. Develop a system that intercepts only the communications of interest, obtain a warrant for those streams that need it, and all will be will. Continue the dragnet approach and people will continue, rightfully, to protest the crime.
  • Re:Terrorism? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mikkeles (698461) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @01:03PM (#26021351)

    'Why are so many Americans so certain that everything their government does is an attempt to oppress them? '

    Six thousand years of historical evidence about governments.

  • Re:Terrorism? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by kd5zex (1030436) on Sunday December 07, 2008 @01:05PM (#26021369)

    Get over yourselves and drop the conspiracy crap, please.

    Yeah, you are right, there are no examples of governments oppressing its citizens in history. What was I thinking!? Thanks for waking me up.

    Or, you know, go and collect loads of guns

    Jealous?

  • Re:neighbors (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 07, 2008 @08:08PM (#26025401)

    paraphrase of a not so old M$ report about moving data.

    You mean a decades-old pearl of wisdom attributed to MINIX creator Andy Tanenbaum? [webperform...atters.com]

Do not simplify the design of a program if a way can be found to make it complex and wonderful.

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