November 6th, 2009

Do We Really Want an NSA Data Center in Utah?

The following is an op-ed I wrote that was published in the Salt Lake Tribune yesterday (my submission is below; the Trib edited it slightly for publication):

Along with the recent announcement of the NSA data center to be built near Lehi came numerous praises of the jobs it would bring to Utah. Governor Herbert called it a “godsend”, referencing the estimated 10,000 construction jobs it would create. Congressman Chaffetz said it would be a “benefit to our economy”.

Have we become so myopically focused that alleged job creation is the solitary metric by which we judge any action?

Those who claim to oppose big government often love to quote Benjamin Franklin, who once said that “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And yet in a quest for safety from potential unemployment and economic hardship, principles (and liberty) are thrown to the wind for what the Governor also claimed to be a “win, win, win” situation.

Would we similarly welcome with open arms private businesses of ill repute if they likewise promised to create jobs? Would Utahns praise an industrial meth lab, prostitution ring, or child labor camp simply because they created jobs? Surely not.

Apparently, then, nobody seems to have a problem with what this data center will be doing, nor what kinds of information it will be harvesting, interpreting, and acting upon. News reports from April of this year describe the NSA’s regular interception of private, domestic communications obtained without a court order—all this in complete disregard of the fourth amendment. That we as Americans have not risen up against such Constitutional abuses is a sad statement of how we value our quickly-eroding liberties.

Few individuals, if any, have publicly challenged the creation of this data center in our backyard on principled grounds. Are we so desperate for more jobs that we are willing to put up with a “collection point for surveillance of domestic and international telecommunications”? And do we not realize that jobs created by the government do not fall from on high like the manna of Moses’ day, but that they require the taxation and confiscation of wealth from other individuals? To create new jobs for this alleged “godsend”, the government must take that money from other hard-working, private citizens. This action is hardly a “win, win, win” for those footing the bill.

Still worse is the response given to concerns over potential infringements of civil liberties. NSA officials suggested that congressional oversight would be sufficient to ensure that the government could be trusted—as if this has worked well in the past. For most, this is hardly reassuring. We are to designate as watchdogs of the NSA the individuals who have been asleep at the wheel of our Titanic-esque federal government? It seems absurd to entrust this important oversight to the people who are saddling future generations with mountains of debt, worrying about football conferences, and expanding the wars on terror, drugs, and free enterprise.

In these days of economic difficulty, government officials eager to score political points have taken up job creation and economic management as their own personal quests. Thus, hard questions are not asked, nor are apparently antiquated things like the Constitution and civil liberties even considered worth using in the conversation. All that matters to them is that magical number of jobs being created by their enacted programs and policies.

The NSA’s data center will largely be forgotten once it becomes operational. By then, the “godsend” of the 10,000 temporary construction jobs will be history. But the 1-200 individuals employed at the facility will continue their Orwellian mission of monitoring anybody they desire. Get ready, Utah: Big Brother will be camped out in your backyard.

30 Responses to “Do We Really Want an NSA Data Center in Utah?”

  1. Vin Barger
    November 6, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    Admired your editorial. Keep up the good work.

  2. rmwarnick
    November 6, 2009 at 10:40 am #

    Glad you got this on the Salt Lake Tribune op-ed page, for the folks who don’t read blogs. Our government must end the Bush administration’s de facto suspension of the Constitution.

    Aside from your implication that government jobs are not real jobs, I’m with you on this.

  3. M
    November 6, 2009 at 11:01 am #

    An NSA data center in Utah is cause for much concern. Well done Connor, you hit all of the key issues.

    The question I have not found a good answer for is why does the NSA want to locate a data center in Utah?

  4. G. Jones
    November 6, 2009 at 11:19 am #

    Yes, I do care to pontificate on Mister Boyack’s editorial on DO WE REALLY WANT AN NSA DATA CENTER IN UTAH?
    Every morning, I peruse the Salt Lake Tribune; working my way toward the Jobs Section. This is neccessary since I am unemployed, through no fault of my own, going on six months now. Right after that section is the editorials, which I rarely pay great attention to. However, Mr. Boyack’s sorry piece of journalism caught my eye.
    Apparently, Mister Boyack, from the lofty, comfortable perspective of your secure job of Senior Web Developer of a Local Design Agency, you live in a computer engendered graphic world of illusion. I, along with those “10,000” construction related jobless people (this includes Engineers, such as myself, surveyors, architects and designers), view the construction of this facility as a thin ray of hope in the bleak world of day-to-day unemployment. In a thirty year career of perpetually advancing and improving myself and my economic standing, I have had the rug literally jerked out from underneath me; I can’t find a job, any job, to save my bacon. And this is through no fault of my own.
    Your chain of logic in this pathetic editorial would cause Plato to roll over in his grave. Myopic? You’re the one who is myopic. At this point in time, at this point in the history of this nation, JOB CREATION is NUMBER ONE priority. Without it, we don’t function, we don’t eat, we don’t pay rent, we don’t dally on somebody’s stupid website or blog.
    Your quote by Benjamin Franklin has nothing to do with “liberties” being “thrown to the winds” by the installation of a large building. That’s not what he was referring to.
    Comparing the NSA installation to “businesses of ill repute” is not only patently absurd, but another demonstration of illogic in a chain of thought that would cause Mr. Spock to launch into a Vulcan rage.
    You say “10000 construction jobs will be history when it’s done. But the 100 to 200 individuals employed at the facility will continue their Orwellian mission. . . monitoring anybody they desire.” Where the hell have you been anyway for the last 25 years? Sitting in front of a monitor? Gleaning all your information on line since you were old enough to suck your thumb? What are you afraid of? That they might monitor you?
    Gees-Louise, Connor. There are checks and balances you know, in place, to protect your privacy and rights. I would be more afraid of forces in Utah monitoring my privacy than I would of an organization that needs a giant facility to keep tabs on terrorists and espionage agents half way around the planet.
    The spinoffs of economic improvement from this facility will certainly extend beyond the cessation of “10000 construction jobs.” Infrastructure support alone: utilities (including green energy power), roads, maintenance, housing, administration, etc.
    I am, by the way a registered democrat and liberal, just so you know. Thanks to the Obama administration I am able afford to pay my Cobra Health Insurance during my term of unemployment; prior to that administration I would be very hard pressed to pay it.
    Governor Herbert, nor for that matter his predecessor Huntsman, sure as hell had anything to do with the location of this massive construction project. It is thanks to our FEDERAL GOVERNMENT choosing the sight that it is going to built here, not Utah’s politicians (who seem to be more interested in worrying about gay marriages -WHO CARES? – living for extended quiet periods in China, shorting funds to the school system and being sympathetic to real estate crooks who bilk millions out of unfortunate investors in pyramid schemes.)
    One other thing. Jobs created by the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, manna from on high as you call it, just might save this country from complete economic disaster, as it narrowly did during the depression of the thirties.
    You should walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes, Mr. Boyack, the shoes of an unemployed American worker worn thin on the soles from pounding the pavement. You should know the experience of waking up every morning to another day of unemployment. To those who wish desperately to work, want to work, the dream of having a job to go to daily is akin to euphoria.

  5. Clumpy
    November 6, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    I found it beneficial to read G. Jones’ letter in Keith Olbermann’s voice. 🙂

    Anyway, the location of the data center is probably irrelevant, and debating the constitutionality of amendment-breakin’ data centers might be a debate for another time. I take primary issue with the idea that job creation can be in and of itself a priority.

    If a job is damaging or fundamentally at odds with citizens’ rights, I would rather have people like Jones receive a large unemployment check than put blinders on and give him a job digging and then filling holes or building a pyramid or something, for no reason other than to get him working. If I wouldn’t agree to the construction of a Child Molestation Center to create a couple dozen jobs I can’t imagine the same logic applying to a wiretappin’ installation dedicated to the warping of civil liberties.

  6. Tim Carter
    November 6, 2009 at 1:16 pm #

    I think G Jones hit it on the head. ‘Principles’ will always take back seat to a paycheck, even here in principled UTAH. GJ will always be able to hide behind the ol’ “I was just doing what I was told” or “just following orders”, that has worked so well in the past.

    GJ has just laid out how this will come to pass in Utah. The reddest of the red UTAH, the home of limited government conservatives, Constitution conservatives, Glenn Beck loving, tea partying, government get out of my life conservatives…..unless it pays. Oh ye generation of hypocrites..

  7. James roudabush
    November 6, 2009 at 1:44 pm #

    You are a verrry paranoid individual.
    Must have something to hide!
    George Wythe University? Have never heard of it.
    Good luck! Get some meds!

  8. Kelly W.
    November 6, 2009 at 2:22 pm #

    I loved reading GJones’ comments. They tend to reinforce a saying I heard from, I think it was President Benson, wherein some Russian leader was visiting some US government leader or president, and said that we in America would soon be socialist or communist or fascist, because when Americans got to that point, they would be BEGGING for government to give us jobs and to feed us.

    In other words, when USA’s constitution hangs by the thread, we will all beg for our freedoms to be sacrificed and exchanged just for some bread to eat.

    Perhaps someone can help me out on where that quote is about the Russian leader……….

    Also, the NSA is NOT an organization that is concerned about the normal man. It is the embodyment of a Secret Combination, or, our shadow government at work.

    Mormon warned us about letting those kinds of organizations get power over us.

  9. Tim Carter
    November 6, 2009 at 2:39 pm #

    We should all be paranoid of “state insured security” through surveillance. I have no doubt ‘pricipled’ Utahns like GJ will work for the “Staatssicherheitsdienst” or NSA.

    GJ: “There are checks and balances you know, in place, to protect your privacy and rights.”

    Tell that to Mark Klien, GJ.

    “I learned that the person whom the NSA interviewed for the secret job was the person working to install equipment in this room,” Klein wrote. “The regular technician work force was not allowed in the room.”

    Klein’s job eventually included connecting internet circuits to a splitting cabinet that led to the secret room. During the course of that work, he learned from a co-worker that similar cabinets were being installed in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.

    “While doing my job, I learned that fiber optic cables from the secret room were tapping into the Worldnet (AT&T’s internet service) circuits by splitting off a portion of the light signal,” Klein wrote.

    From here:

    GJ: “There are checks and balances you know, in place, to protect your privacy and rights.”

    Tell that to former NSA/CIA Head Micheal Hayden. He knows all about the Fourth Ammendment just like you do:

    It is a brave new world out there G Jones. Sold to the highest bidder. Good luck.

  10. Brandon Dupuis
    November 6, 2009 at 3:08 pm #

    Wow, G. Jones is a perfect example of just how indoctrinated, not to mention fearful and dependent Americans have become.

    FYI, G., contrary to everything you’ve been taught in the gov’t run propaganda mills known euphemistically as “public schools,” FDR’s policies not only did not save the American economy from the Great Depression, the New Deal (which in many ways was an extension, not a repudiation, of Hoover’s policies) actually lengthened and deepened the Depression, i.e. made it WORSE!

    You also completely failed to recognize the basic fallacy of gov’t job creation. In order for the gov’t to create a job in one place, they have to tax others to do so! Apparently it never occurred to you that this taxation could/does lead to LOSS of jobs elsewhere!

    Finally, as “a registered democrat and liberal,” you should be the first in line to defend civil liberties, something the ACLU, a favorite among your kind, fights for (though not consistently). They have been at the forefront of the fight against warrant-less wiretaps!

    BTW, you mentioned at least twice that you are unemployed “through no fault of [your] own.” Pray tell, whose fault is it? Oh, right, it’s the FEDERAL GOVT’s irresponsible monetary and fiscal policies! And these are the folks to whom you look to save the economy?!?

    Ah, who cares, as long as you have a job, right?

  11. Kelly W.
    November 6, 2009 at 5:19 pm #

    I found the quote I was looking for previously. Here it is:

    “At one point during Khrushchev’s visit, the Soviet Premier boasted to the Agriculture Secretary that Benson’s own grandchildren would live under Communism. Benson replied tartly that he expected to do all in his power to assure that Khrushchev’s and all other grandchildren would live under freedom. The Communist leader then responded in essence, according to Benson’s personal account: “You Americans are so gullible. No, you won’t accept communism outright, but we’ll keep feeding you small doses of socialism until you’ll finally wake up and find you already have communism.” (Soviet Premier of Russia Nikita Khrushchev, to Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson 1959.)

  12. JHP
    November 6, 2009 at 5:57 pm #


    I didn’t read all the comments above, but here are my two cents.

    I definitely agree with you about the “economic development” points you made and I agree that we should be wary of NSA intrusion into our private lives. The point I’m not following, unless I’m misinterpreting your opinion, is how having the NSA in our backyard will infringe on the civil liberties of Utahns any more than the average American. Are you saying that the NSA will spy on Utahns especially because their building is here?

    I understand what you mean about opposing it on grounds of principle, but I didn’t quite get what you meant in that regard.

  13. Kelly W.
    November 6, 2009 at 6:14 pm #

    I’ve had many weird happenstances this week – like with genealogy research where things of unimportance suddenly happen from two different sources coming to me on the same day, or that two unrelated people from different states in the US contact me within 5 minutes of each other and thank me for the onion starts I sent them last spring. There have been other freak occurances happen to me this week! I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Well, I read Connors blog today about the NSA in Salt Lake. Then I have this ritual of reading the lead stories in the Hamburg Germany newspaper online everyday. The Spiegel newspaper is reporting today about the Stasi of East Germany (Communist) before the Berlin wall came down 20 years ago. The Stasi is just like our NSA. The Stasi left over 100 kilometers of files on shelves which they were keeping on East German citizens as they spied on them and their activities. These 100 kilometers of shelves do not even include over 16,000 sacks of shredded files which they are putting back together with the help of computers. Now that the East German government is past history, people are allowed to view their own files which were kept on them by the Stasi. This was a very interesting article to read. It is just ironic that Connor would put the NSA in his blog today, the same day that Der Spiegel reported on the past Stasi of 20 years ago.

    It just makes me wonder about our own government keeping the recordings of our telephone calls, emails, etc. in their huge data banks in other secret buildings around the country. I have been aware of this NSA story for a few months now, knowing way back then that this new secret NSA center was coming, but I certainly didn’t expect it to appear in our mainstream news. But it did! The reason that the NSA needs to build new facilities is that the existing ones take so much electricity to keep storing all that data that the local power systems cannot provide that much electricity to them! They have experienced brown-outs in the past, so in order to keep collecting the vast amounts of data on the US citizenry, they need to build multiple centers around the country to even get enough electricity to continue.

    These secret NSA data collection centers allegedly collect every phone call and email made by citizens, from what I read. All of this is done without warrant. At least that is what I read, if you can trust what you read. Regardless, the government and NSA is NOT telling us what is being collected. The mere fact that they are not telling us what they are doing is reason enough to suspect that IF we knew, we would NOT approve.

    The funding for these secret data collection sites comes from somewhere. That the funds for these things does NOT come through normal methods of things like taxation, or bonding, or even with the awareness of Congress – ought to give one pause as to who is behind all of this! It doesn’t even have the oversight of Congress for crying out loud! This, in and of itself, is reason to believe in a secret, shadow government that is really controlling the direction of our nation and the world from behind closed curtains.

    If you have interest to read the article in the Hamburg newspaper about the Stasi files, you can read it at the following URL. (in English),1518,659708,00.html

  14. Kelly W.
    November 7, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    In today’s headlines of one of my favorite sites is an article on the NSA and the $1.5 billion construction project at Camp Williams. It talks about what kind of data they are collecting on each and everyone who surfs, banks, telephones, swipes, texts, etc.

  15. Connor
    November 9, 2009 at 9:45 pm #


    The point I’m not following, unless I’m misinterpreting your opinion, is how having the NSA in our backyard will infringe on the civil liberties of Utahns any more than the average American. Are you saying that the NSA will spy on Utahns especially because their building is here?

    I’m not arguing that having the data center in Utah will adversely affect Utahns (though it will). I’m arguing that the existence of such facilities infringes (potentially and realistically) on the civil rights of all Americans. So while I don’t want it in my backyard, I likewise don’t want it anywhere.

  16. Connor
    November 12, 2009 at 5:29 pm #

    This letter to the editor was published in the Trib today:

    I read with depth Connor Boyack’s “Do we really want an NSA data center in Utah?” (Opinion, Nov. 5), and then I shook my head and wondered how Boyack could be so naive. I applaud his desire to keep sacrosanct the delineated liberties of deified ancients such as Ben Franklin and his cronies, but the horse is out of the barn and ran away a long time ago. Shutting the door now is an exercise in futility.

    Our wonderful, leviathan government is making certain that we are safe (see Thomas Hobbes). Anything that gets in the way of our national security will be sucked asunder and trammeled into oblivion. Information-gathering by our government is a fact that at this point cannot be changed. Nothing but a complete and violent revolution could change this fact (please, FBI, I am not advocating this).

    The only question is: Who will profit from hosting the National Security Agency data center? It may as well be us in Utah because someone is going to, and it is un-American to look a gift horse in the mouth, even if it does crap in your yard.


  17. Clumpy
    November 13, 2009 at 4:25 pm #

    There’s a guy who thinks the world is burning and he might as well make a couple of bucks off of fire extinguishers while it’s at it.

  18. T Buhler
    November 16, 2009 at 12:34 am #

    G Jones,
    I’m sorry you’re out of work. I’m sorry a lot of other people are out of work, too. Unfortunately, too many people, in their desperate hour of need, fail to see the inmorality in the government taking something from someone to give it to another. A government “of the people, by the people, for the people” cannot create jobs. As Connor pointed out, funding for these “created” jobs will come from the sweat off another’s brow (i.e. taxes). G Jones, what price do you demand I pay to ensure you have a job?

  19. Marc
    November 28, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    It may as well be us in Utah because someone is going to, and it is un-American to look a gift horse in the mouth, even if it does crap in your yard.

    Keep the gift horse and the crap off my property please. LOL

  20. Marc
    November 28, 2009 at 7:01 pm #

    100 kilometers of filing cabinets kept by the Stasi? What an utter and rediculous waste of time, energy and resources by cretinous, paranoid and unrighteous domination masters. What an absolute joke. What is the point of the government keeping tabs on all our doings when our govt’ is the one to be feared. I do not fear my neighbors, but i do fear the IRS, NSA, CIA etc. If anything the people need a spy data center in which the people keep tabs on all the govt emails, phone calls etc. The jobs that that project would create would be welcome jobs indeed!

  21. Pete
    December 5, 2009 at 1:43 pm #

    Government jobs are not real jobs. They do not, in the end, add to the productivity of our nation. We have allowed government to become far too large and it is time to reduce their scope before we become a nanny state. Government must only provide three services: Protection (International relations, military, police, immigration control, etc.), Infrastructure (highways, sewer, water, etc), and Regulation to prevent fraud and ensure safety. PERIOD!

  22. Connor
    January 12, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    This op-ed was referenced in an article at titled “Privacy’s Long Shadow”.

  23. Connor
    October 2, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    Here is a related news story worth reading on the topic. A preview:

    A local ABC affiliate in Salt Lake City, Utah has caused a stir online with a report suggesting that self-proclaimed Israeli art students, peddling their artwork from door to door, have been asking disturbing questions about plans to build an NSA data center in the area.

    “These salespeople say they’re Israeli students,” ABC4 reporter Brent Hunsaker explained. “They even produce Israeli passports. They say they’re selling their own artwork to raise money to open a gallery. So why would the Israeli art students want to know about the National Security Agency?”

  24. Rob
    July 7, 2013 at 12:59 am #

    The point of the mountain gravel pit dust will gum up their computers. I know, I live on the East side in Draper and I can see where the dust storms go. I wonder if they noticed that before committing the 1.5 billion. They might have to clean up the air in order to protect their dirty data.

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