The NSA Wants to Keep Its Water Usage Secret

When a government agency once considered so secret that its nickname was “No Such Agency” comes under scrutiny for more or less everything it does, it shouldn’t be considered too surprising that it resists disclosure of activities even (seemingly) as mundane as the quantity of water it uses at its Utah Data Center. Wired reports on the NSA’s reasons for wishing to keep this particular secret:

The National Security Agency has many secrets, but here’s a new one: the agency is refusing to say how much water it’s pumping into the brand new data center it operates in Bluffdale, Utah. According to the NSA, its water usage is a matter of national security.


The agency made the argument in a letter sent to officials in Utah, who are considering whether or not to release the data to the Salt Lake Tribune. Back in May, Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle asked for local records relating to the data center, but when he got his files a few months later, the water usage data was redacted.

The situation shows just how important the new data center will be to the agency’s operations, including its widely discussed efforts to eavesdrop on internet communication

The situation shows just how important the new data center will be to the agency’s operations, including its widely discussed efforts to eavesdrop on internet communication. If it revealed how much water it’s using in Bluffdale, the agency believes, outsiders could get a good idea of the scope of NSA surveillance.

“By computing the water usage rate, one could ultimately determine the computing power and capabilities of the Utah Data Center,” wrote the NSA’s associate director for policy and records, David Sherman, in an undated letter filed with Bluffdale in response to the Tribune’s public records request. “Armed with this information, one could then deduce how much intelligence NSA is collecting and maintaining.”

The reality is that Sherman’s argument requires a pretty big leap of logic. Data center engineers can get rough ideas of compute power based on how much power a building consumes, but figuring this out on water is another matter. Some data centers, like Facebook’s facility in Prineville, Oregon, use custom-made swamp coolers to mist the air and cool down servers. Others push hot air into evaporative cooling towers, which are kept cold by running water.

“There are many different ways to cool a data center,” says Jonathan Koomey, a research fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University. “Without knowing more about the actual facility then I don’t think anyone’s going to give you solid [computing capability] numbers.”

But, oddly enough, water usage has become a very contentious issue for the NSA. An anti-government group called the Tenth Amendment Center is calling for Utah to simply cut off the NSA’s water supply, saying that water is the $1.5 billion data center’s “Achilles Heel.” And last month, a state Republican lawmaker named Marc Roberts said he would introduce a bill that would do such a thing

[continues at Wired]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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4 Comments on "The NSA Wants to Keep Its Water Usage Secret"

  1. Liam_McGonagle | Mar 20, 2014 at 10:04 am |

    Spending a lot of time looking other peoples’ shoulders-check . . .
    Secretive lavatory habits-check . . .

  2. Cortacespedes | Mar 20, 2014 at 11:20 am |

    The city of Bluffdale has been ordered to turn over water records to the Salt Lake Tribune.

    I am sure they will appeal.

    Welcome to the second driest state in the nation.

    If the State of Utah thinks they can turn off the NSA water supply, they’d better be prepared for the closure of HAFB and an even more drastic reduction in contracts with ATK.

    Nice posturing tho, Republicans; shame you’d have to vote against your own bill.

  3. Damien Quinn | Mar 20, 2014 at 11:35 am |

    The NSA, the worlds most paranoid peeping Tom. They’re like terrified cockroaches, scuttling under the fridge at every glimmer of light shining their way.

  4. Simon Valentine | Mar 20, 2014 at 12:53 pm |

    no such thing as a secret

    only troll fences
    that let recruits in
    and force trolls out
    …too bad no such fence exists
    …just like any secret

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