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Op-Ed: Utahns should deny water to NSA center

Published November 15, 2013 5:17 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"Concealed within his fortress, the lord of Mordor sees all. His gaze pierces cloud, shadow, earth, and flesh."

— "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"

Like the eye of Sauron, the NSA's new facility in Utah overlooks hundreds of thousands of people in the valley below. Perched on a mountainside fortress of concrete and barricades, the 1-million-square-foot complex exists solely to allow the NSA to "see all."

In the wake of the Snowden leaks and widespread concern with the pervasive surveillance activities of the federal government, many Americans have been wondering how to fight back. Can an effective opposition even be mounted against the power of the NSA? What can be done to restore privacy and protect our rights?

The strategy to succeed is quite simple. When fully operational, the NSA facility is expected to require a staggering 1.7 million gallons of water every day to cool down the computers harvesting information on people worldwide. That water is supplied by the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District, a political subdivision of the state. Without it, the facility cannot function.

To defeat Sauron, Frodo had to take the One Ring and throw it into the pit of Mount Doom — the dark lord's power base at the heart of Mordor — where it was originally forged. To defeat the NSA, we must also take the fight to the base of operations and turn off the water supply.

In 2006, the NSA faced major challenges at its facility at Fort Meade, Md. The energy consumption required by the computers at that complex maxed out the electric capacity of the Baltimore area power grid. The NSA, as Baltimore Gas & Electric's largest customer, was using as much power as the entire city of Annapolis. Unable to use some of their costly and sophisticated new equipment, the agency knew it needed to look elsewhere.

Cheap resources therefore became a primary consideration for the NSA as they considered new locations. Utah's inexpensive power and water were quite attractive to government officials, and the decision was made to build a new facility—seven times larger than the Pentagon—in Bluffdale, beating 38 other contenders.

Harvey Davis, NSA director of installations and logistics, affirmed that the low utility costs were a key factor. "Utah is a wonderful place with abundant and inexpensive power," he said. "Plenty of sources of water for cooling. Utah, because of the facility and the utilities, just came out far and ahead of everywhere else," he said.

Currently, Utahns are aiding and abetting the NSA's invasive surveillance activities by supplying the agency with the resources it needs to operate. Without power and water, the NSA cannot spy on Americans.

When Edward Snowden forced transparency upon the NSA, his greatest fear was that "nothing will change." He continued: "People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They'll know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society. But they won't be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests."

Congress must statutorily restrain the NSA, and the courts should protect "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches," as the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states. Unless and until substantive reform is made at the federal level, states in which NSA facilities are located should refuse to be made complicit in the agency's activities.

Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute.