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NSA spy center: Unsettling details emerge, but director denies allegations

Wired magazine published a long-form exposÉ last week about the National Security Agency's $2 billion spy center in Bluffdale, Utah, that is under construction and slated to open in 18 months.

"A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade," James Bamford wrote for Wired. "Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. … Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails."

Bamford's article basically makes a strong case that the NSA now has the capability to spy on U.S. citizens via all of their phone conversations and email exchanges.

Citing the comments of former NSA senior crypto-mathematician William Binney, Bamford strongly asserted, "Everything a person does becomes charted on a graph. … Thus, as data like bookstore receipts, bank statements, and commuter toll records flow in, the NSA is able to paint a more and more detailed picture of someone’s life. The NSA also has the ability to eavesdrop on phone calls directly and in real time."

Apparently even members of Congress are reading Wired these days, because on Tuesday the Armed Services Committee's Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee grilled NSA director general Keith Alexander about the domestic spying allegations that are woven throughout the Wired story.

"Georgia Representative Hank Johnson directly questioned NSA director general Keith Alexander about Bamford’s Wired article, which lays out the agency’s domestic spying program in new detail," Andy Greenberg wrote for Forbes. "Alexander denied the article’s claims, which included on-the-record interviews with multiple ex-NSA staffers describing phone- and data-based surveillance of Americans, 14 times."

The Deseret News published a comprehensive story on the construction of the center in 2009, including a look at its place in the NSA ring of cybersecurity centers.