The Utah Data Center (UDC), also known as the Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center,[1] is a data storage facility for the United States Intelligence Community that is designed to store data estimated to be on the order of exabytes or larger.[2] Its purpose is to support the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI), though its precise mission is classified.[3] The National Security Agency (NSA) leads operations at the facility as the executive agent for the Director of National Intelligence.[4] It is located at Camp Williams near Bluffdale, Utah, between Utah Lake and Great Salt Lake and was completed in May 2014 at a cost of $1.5 billion.[5]

NSA's Utah Data Center



Critics believe that the data center has the capability to process "all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Internet searches, as well as all types of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital 'pocket litter'."[6] In response to claims that the data center would be used to illegally monitor email of U.S. citizens, in April 2013 an NSA spokesperson said, "Many unfounded allegations have been made about the planned activities of the Utah Data Center, ... one of the biggest misconceptions about NSA is that we are unlawfully listening in on, or reading emails of, U.S. citizens. This is simply not the case."[4]

Utah Data Center

In April 2009, officials at the United States Department of Justice acknowledged that the NSA had engaged in large-scale overcollection of domestic communications in excess of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's authority, but claimed that the acts were unintentional and had since been rectified.[7]

In August 2012, The New York Times published short documentaries by independent filmmakers titled The Program,[8] based on interviews with former NSA technical director and whistleblower William Binney. The project had been designed for foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection, but Binney alleged that after the September 11 terrorist attacks, controls that limited unintentional collection of data pertaining to U.S. citizens were removed, prompting concerns by him and others that the actions were illegal and unconstitutional. Binney alleged that the Bluffdale facility was designed to store a broad range of domestic communications for data mining without warrants.[9]

Documents leaked to the media in June 2013 described PRISM, a national security computer and network surveillance program operated by the NSA, as enabling in-depth surveillance on live Internet communications and stored information.[10][11] Reports linked the data center to the NSA's controversial expansion of activities, which store extremely large amounts of data. Privacy and civil liberties advocates raised concerns about the unique capabilities that such a facility would give to intelligence agencies.[12][13] "They park stuff in storage in the hopes that they will eventually have time to get to it," said James Lewis, a cyberexpert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "or that they'll find something that they need to go back and look for in the masses of data." But, he added, "most of it sits and is never looked at by anyone."[14]

The UDC was expected to store Internet data, as well as telephone records from the controversial NSA telephone call database, MAINWAY, when it opened in 2013.[15]

In light of the controversy over the NSA's involvement in the practice of mass surveillance in the United States, and prompted by the 2013 mass surveillance disclosures by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the Utah Data Center was hailed by The Wall Street Journal as a "symbol of the spy agency's surveillance prowess".[16]

Binney has said that the facility was built to store recordings and other content of communications, not only for metadata.[17]

According to an interview with Snowden, the project was initially known as the Massive Data Repository within NSA, but was renamed to Mission Data Repository due to the former sounding too "creepy".[18]


Utah Data Center area layout

The structure provides 1 to 1.5 million sq ft (93,000 to 139,000 m2),[19][20][21] with 100,000 sq ft (9,300 m2) of data center space and more than 900,000 sq ft (84,000 m2) of technical support and administrative space.[6][19] It is projected to cost $1.5–2 billion.[3][6][19][22][23] A report suggested that it will cost another $2 billion for hardware, software, and maintenance.[19]

The completed facility is expected to require 65 megawatts of electricity, costing about $40 million per year.[6][19] Given its open-evaporation-based cooling system, the facility is expected to use 1.7 million US gal (6,400 m3) of water per day.[24]

An article by Forbes estimates the storage capacity as between 3 and 12 exabytes as of 2013, based on analysis of unclassified blueprints, but mentions Moore's Law, meaning that advances in technology could be expected to increase the capacity by orders of magnitude in the coming years.[2]

Toward the end of the project's construction it was plagued by electrical problems in the form of "massive power surges"[25] that damaged equipment.[16] This delayed its opening by a year.[25]

The finished structure is characterized as a Tier III data center, with over a million square feet, that cost over 1.5 billion dollars to build. Of the million square feet, 100,000 square feet are dedicated to the data center. The other 900,000 square feet are utilized as technical support and administrative space.

See also



  1. ^ "NSA Utah Data Center". Facilities Magazine. 14 September 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2013.
  2. ^ a b Kashmir Hill (July 24, 2013). "Blueprints Of NSA's Ridiculously Expensive Data Center In Utah Suggest It Holds Less Info Than Thought". Forbes. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
  3. ^ a b Fidel, Steve (6 January 2011). "Utah's $1.5 billion cyber-security center under way". Deseret News. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
  4. ^ a b Shalal-Esa, Andrea (15 April 2013). "U.S. agency denies data center to monitor citizens' emails". Reuters. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
  5. ^ Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (September 17, 2014). "MilCon Status Report - August, 2014 - Under Secretary of Defense for AT&L". Archived from the original on December 10, 2014. Retrieved April 16, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d Bamford, James (15 March 2012). "The NSA Is Building the Country's Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)". Wired. Retrieved 19 November 2020.
  7. ^ Eric Lichtblau and James Risen (April 15, 2009). "Officials Say U.S. Wiretaps Exceeded Law". The New York Times. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
  8. ^ Poitras, Laura (August 22, 2012). "The Program". The New York Times. Retrieved August 5, 2016.
  9. ^ Lawson, Kent, "What Does the NSA Know About You?" Archived 2013-10-21 at the Wayback Machine, Private WiFi, August 27, 2012
  10. ^ Gellman, Barton; Poitras, Laura (June 6, 2013). "US Intelligence Mining Data from Nine U.S. Internet Companies in Broad Secret Program". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 11, 2013.
  11. ^ Greenwald, Glenn; MacAskill, Ewen (June 9, 2013). "Edward Snowden: The Whistleblower Behind Revelations of NSA Surveillance". The Guardian. Hong Kong. Retrieved June 9, 2013.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ James Risen & Eric Lichtblau (June 8, 2013). "How the U.S. Uses Technology to Mine More Data More Quickly". The New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2013.
  13. ^ Howard Berkes (June 10, 2013). "Amid Data Controversy, NSA Builds Its Biggest Data Farm". National Public Radio. Retrieved June 11, 2013.
  14. ^ Scott Shane and David E. Sanger, "Job Title Key to Inner Access Held by Snowden", New York Times, June 30, 2013
  15. ^ Thomas Burr (June 6, 2013). "Phone records could end up at NSA's Utah Data Center". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved June 11, 2013.
  16. ^ a b Siobhan Gorman (7 October 2013). "Meltdowns Hobble NSA Data Center". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 19 October 2013. The Utah facility, one of the Pentagon's biggest U.S. construction projects, has become a symbol of the spy agency's surveillance prowess, which gained broad attention in the wake of leaks from NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
  17. ^ "NSA Collects 'Word for Word' Every Domestic Communication, Says Former Analyst". PBS NewsHour. 1 August 2013.
  18. ^ James Bamford (August 2014). "Edward Snowden: The Untold Story". Wired.
  19. ^ a b c d e Kenyon, Henry (Jan 7, 2011). "New NSA data center breaks ground on construction -- Defense Systems". Defense Systems. Archived from the original on 5 October 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  20. ^ "NSA to store yottabytes in Utah data centre". CNET Networks. Archived from the original on 23 June 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  21. ^ Bamford, James. "Who's in Big Brother's Database? by James Bamford". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  22. ^ LaPlante, Matthew D. (July 2, 2009). "New NSA center unveiled in budget documents". Salt Lake Tribune. MediaNews Group. Retrieved 2009-07-05.
  23. ^ LaPlante, Matthew D. (July 2, 2009). "Spies like us: NSA to build huge facility in Utah". Salt Lake Tribune. MediaNews Group. Retrieved 2009-07-05.
  24. ^ Adams, Andrew (July 12, 2013). "New Utah NSA center requires 1.7M gallons of water daily to operate". Retrieved 2013-07-25.
  25. ^ a b "NSA data center 'crippled' by huge power surges". DatacenterDynamics. October 8, 2013. Retrieved April 27, 2014.

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