Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Utah Data Center: Is It Big Brother's New Eyes? 2

We continue with our series on the new Supercomputer being built in Utah for the NSA.
Read In New Wide Format (or Internet Explorer Users)

The Utah Data Center Put Legislative Context
To some, there has been a steady erosion of the civil liberties of Americans.  To these people, there has been a dramatic increase in the surveillance of every day life by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.  As most Americans know and certainly many people around the world also know, America is a very different place after the attacks of 9/11 than it was before.  Nevertheless, the trend towards increased surveillance and control by law enforcement and the intelligence community was there.
Pre-9/11 Legislation
Even before 9/11 there were moves by the executive branch to have warrantless surveillance of groups suspected of acts of violence, including the destruction of government property.  This is underscored with the Keith decision (United States v. United States District Court (Keith) 407 U.S. 297 [1972]) where this idea was rejected by the Supreme Court,
This court affirmed the appellate court’s decision, finding that the internal security concerns articulated by the government did not validate electronic surveillance without a court order.
Because of this decision, "...FISA was designed to enhance the government’s ability to investigate the potentially dangerous activities of foreign powers by authorizing different types of surveillance in the context of such investigations."
Post-9/11 Legislation
The most significant legislation after 9/11 was the Patriot Act.  According to the Duke Public Law Online Center, this new law affected the government's ability to access an individual's communications or records in six main ways.

  1. Surveillance of Wire, Oral and Electronic Communication - the patriot act expanded the serious crimes that would be eligible for wiretapping including chemical weapons offenses, use of weapons of mass destruction, violent acts of terrorism transcending national borders, financial transactions with countries that suport terrorism and material suport of terrorist organizations.  It also expanded how the FISA court would apply.  No crime of illegal transportation of weapons was required, and "probable cause" required.  Instead the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order.
  2. Access to Non-Content Communications - This expands the ability for the FBI and the NSA to use pen register or trap and trace devices.  They no longer need a wiretap order but merely a warrant.
  3. Access to Business Records Held In Third Party Storage - reduces the wiretap requirements for voicemail and electronic media to just a request for a warrant.
  4. Physical Searches - physical searches are permitted only if foreign intelligence is a "significant purpose" rather then the sole purpose.
  5. Streamlining Surveillance Powers - Section 206 allows for roving surveillance of and eliminates the need for a new FISA order every time a subject changes location. Roving wiretaps assign the surveillance to a person, rather than a device. Also, under the Act, if assistance is needed in obtaining surveillance, a gag order may be placed on that request for assistance when "the Court finds that the actions of the target of the application may have the effect of thwarting the identification of a specified person."
  6. Reporting Requirements Related to the Government's Use of Its USA PATRIOT Act Powers - Provides that information voluntarily provided by individuals and businesses to the department that concerned the security of "critical infrastructure" may be excluded from Freedom of Information Act (PL 89-487) requests. This information could not be used in any civil action if it was submitted to the government in "good faith."
Computer rendering of the
NSA Data Center
via Commondreams
The Purpose & Dimensions of the Utah Center
This center will collect information.  A lot of it.  In most articles about this center Bamford is prominently quoted.

Yet Bramford is not the only person who has described ways in which the intelligence community uses this information gleaned from the internet and phone calls.  Some example are "entity extraction" and "relationship extraction."  Software programs like Catalyst, serve as a good example.
The intelligence community has been working for years to develop software and analytical frameworks capable of large-scale data analysis and extraction. Technological advances have now made it possible for spy agencies to not just capture the incredible amount of data flowing through public and private networks around the world, but to parse, contextualize and understand the intelligence that is being gathered. Automated software programs are now capable of integrating data into semantic systems, providing context and meaning to names, dates, photographs and practically any kind of data you can imagine.
Entity extraction & Relationship extraction
via: Public Intelligence
click to enlarge
The report goes on to explain how the CIA, Office of Naval Intelligence the NSA use their own programs that try to do similar things.
Many agencies within the intelligence community have already created systems to do this sort of semantic integration. The Office of Naval Intelligence uses a system called AETHER “to correlate seemingly disparate entities and relationships, to identify networks of interest, and to detect patterns.” The NSA runs a program called APSTARS that provides “semantic integration of data from multiple sources in support of intelligence processing.” The CIA has a program called Quantum Leap that is designed to “find non-obvious linkages, new connections, and new information” from within a dataset. Several similar programs were even initiated by ODNI including BLACKBOOK and the Large Scale Internet Exploitation Project (LSIE).
Yet this program Catalyst may be just the kind of program that may unify all these other attempts and may be the one that will be used in the Data Center.
Catalyst is an attempt to create a unified system capable of automatically extracting complex information on entities as well as the relationships between them while contextualizing this information within semantic systems. According to its specifications, Catalyst will be capable of creating detailed histories of people, places and things while mapping the interrelations that detail those entities’ interactions with the world around them. A study conducted by IARPA states that Catalyst is designed to incorporate data from across the entire intelligence community, creating a centralized repository of available information gathered from all agencies...
For a more detailed explanation of how Catalyst works look here.

The cost of this center, which is the first of the centers being built by a Presidential executive order named National Security Presidential Directive 54/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 (NSPD-54/HSPD-23) signed by President Bush in 2008.  The Obama Administration followed up on this order by authorizing the construction of this facility.  The total construction costs will be $2 billion.  In July of 2009 President Obama signed a bill that included $181 million to begin the "...preparatory construction of the Camp Williams (this is the name the Utah Center has tentatively received) facility."  The Official name of this facility is the Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center.  This initiative is part of Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative approved by President Obama.  The document explains,
In May 2009, the President accepted the recommendations of the resulting Cyberspace Policy Review, including the selection of an Executive Branch Cybersecurity Coordinator who will have regular access to the President. The Executive Branch was also directed to work closely with all key players in U.S. cybersecurity, including state and local governments and the private sector, to ensure an organized and unified response to future cyber incidents; strengthen public/private partnerships to find technology solutions that ensure U.S. security and prosperity; invest in the cutting-edge research and development necessary for the innovation and discovery to meet the digital challenges of our time; and begin a campaign to promote cybersecurity awareness and digital literacy from our boardrooms to our classrooms and begin to build the digital workforce of the 21st century. Finally, the President directed that these activities be conducted in a way that is consistent with ensuring the privacy rights and civil liberties guaranteed in the Constitution and cherished by all Americans.
Utah Data Center via Deseret News
The center will bring anywhere from 5,000-10,000 construction jobs to Utah.  It will employ 100-200 highly paid personnel to the center.  This center will add to the center that is already in Fort Meade, Maryland that has been there for years.  In 2006, the Baltimore Sun reported that the NSA could not expand that facility anymore due to the lack of electrical generation by the Baltimore Gas & Electric's maxed out local grid.  Indeed, the center will be the largest data center in the world, with the largest supercomputer ever built.  The computer will use 65 Megawatts of power, equal to the entire city of Salt Lake in Utah.  It will take $40 million a year just for energy costs.

In our last installment in this series we will discuss the power of this computer and how it is defended by those who support it.


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