The National Security Agency does not want you at the Utah Data Center.
And the NSA especially does not want you filming there.
Three journalists learned as much Thursday when they entered the Utah Data Center parking lot and security officers confiscated their cameras.
Infowars.com posted video of the confrontation Thursday. The website said it livestreamed the confrontation.
Anthony Gucciardi, a journalist for the website Storyleak.com who is a frequent contributor to Infowars.com, is seen on the video telling security he wants to speak to NSA public affairs. A security agent repeatedly tells Gucciardi and his two camera operators they need to stop filming.
“I wasn’t expecting a confrontation in the parking lot,” Gucciardi said Friday in an interview with The Tribune. “I thought maybe they would get mad when I asked for a tour and tell me no.”
Instead, security personnel took an iPhone that was filming and a larger handheld video camera. That’s where the video posted online stops.
Off camera, Gucciardi said, the security agents told the threesome they could not leave until they deleted the footage. At one point, Gucciardi said, an agent was holding one of the cameramen by the arm preventing him from getting into his car.
“After I kept saying, ‘We’re not deleting the footage,’ he ripped the cameras from the camera guy’s hands and deleted all of the footage except for that one video,” Gucciardi said.
The missed video is the one posted online.
Then an agent wrote Gucciardi a warning on a standardized form. In the space for listing the violation, the agent handwrote “PHOTOGRAPHY.”
Gucciardi said he wasn’t seeking a confrontation; his goal was to demonstrate U.S. surveillance is a one-way relationship.
“While the NSA spies on everything we do, we can’t even film them and have any kind of check on what they’re doing,” Gucciardi said.
NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines, in an email Friday, emphasized what is printed on signs outside the data center.
“When journalists or others call Public Affairs with requests to photograph or videotape the Utah Data Center, I share the same information: Both videography and photography are prohibited on the federal property of such U.S. Intelligence Community sites; photos and videos are subject to confiscation,” Vines wrote.
The Utah Data Center in Bluffdale has a parking lot accessible from Redwood Road. In March, Forbes posted an article about how one of its reporters and University of Utah law professor and media attorney Randy Dryer were detained in the parking lot. Security asked the reporter to delete photos on her camera. The reporter complied.
On Friday, Dryer said it’s not clear whether the NSA acted lawfully. There is a federal statute against trespassing on military installations and photographing defense installations where the president has defined the installation as vital to national defense, but it’s not known if President Obama has made such a declaration for the Utah Data Center. It also could be argued the journalists only took video of the same exterior visible from the public roadway.
Dryer said the issue is further complicated by how the Utah Data Center sits on a portion of the Utah National Guard Camp Williams Reservation that has been annexed by Bluffdale. That could raise an argument over whether state or federal law applies here, Dryer said.
But, Dryer added, if the NSA really wanted to prevent what happened this week, it would erect a gate in front of the parking lot and post bigger warning signs.
“The bottom line is it’s a very fuzzy area, fuzzy issue exacerbated by the NSA’s unwillingness to have any transparency at all around the installation,” Dryer said.
The NSA has discussed little about the data center, even refusing to specify if it is operational. In an interview with The Tribune earlier this year, John Inglis, the NSA’s deputy director and the top civilian at the agency, described the Utah Data Center as a backup data farm and said it would not touch the content of Americans’ private emails or personal phone calls.
The NSA has previously said the center would be operational in September or October.