Raleigh, N.C. • North Carolina State University has won a $60 million federal contract to partner with the National Security Agency on a new center dedicated to researching the challenges of collecting, sorting and storing massive amounts of computer data.
Chancellor Randy Woodson announced the deal Thursday, which he said had been in the works for about three years. It is by far the largest research contract ever awarded to the state-supported university located in Raleigh. The new Laboratory for Analytic Sciences will be located in an existing building being renovated on the university's sprawling Centennial Campus.
"N.C. State is a leader in developing partnerships that solve the challenges facing society and promote innovative products and solutions to improve the lives of people around the globe," Woodson said. "Not only will (the new center) enhance the academic experience for our students and faculty, it will also add to the economic prosperity of our community through new jobs, new industry and new partnerships."
Many details of the university's collaboration with the spy agency are being kept secret. But the university says at least 100 new jobs will be created at the advanced data innovation hub over the next five years and that the program is intended to bring together some of the brightest minds in the field from government, academia and industry.
Woodson said the university and its personnel would not be directly involved in the collection or analysis of intelligence data, but would be focused strictly on scientific and technical research need to aid the NSA in its mission.
The NSA collects vasts amounts of data, some of which will be stored at the data center in Bluffdale, Utah, scheduled to open in September or October. But technology and mathematics is not yet advanced enough to effectively sort and analyze that data for patterns identifying terrorists and other security threats.
A 2008 study by the National Research Council found that while data-mining methods worked in analyzing consumer patterns, "They are less helpful for counterterrorism precisely because so little is known about what patterns indicate terrorist activity.''
NSA Director of Research Michael Wertheimer said N.C. State was chosen for the project because of its location in the Research Triangle and "its vibrant academic and industry interest in large data analytics." N.C. State had the nation's first advanced degree program in data analytics and remains an academic leader in the field.
"By immersing intelligence analysts with NC State's diverse group of scientists, we hope to discover new and powerful ways to meet our foreign signals intelligence and information assurance missions giving us an edge to better protect the nation," Wertheimer said.
The new lab will be affiliated with the NSA's military component, the Central Security Service, which is tasked with protecting national security systems and to produce electronic intelligence information. The NSA Research Directorate is the only "in house" organization in the nation's intelligence community dedicated to making breakthroughs in mathematics, science and engineering. These discoveries enable NSA to achieve and sustain intelligence advances against immediate and emerging threats to U.S. national security, the agency said.
Besides its cybersecurity collaboration with NSA, N.C. State also has multiple existing partnerships with the Department of Defense to research areas that include technologies to help soldiers identify improvised explosive devices, fire-protection equipment, special coatings to prevent barnacles from forming on the hulls of Navy ships and a linguistic training center for military personnel.
Nate Carlisle, of The Salt Lake Tribune, contributed to this report.