In January 2006, David M. Winberg wrote a two-page paper lobbying the National Security Agency to build a computing center at Camp Williams.
Winberg, a Utahn with a long history with the NSA, lauded the technical advantages of the site. Then he used the last paragraph to promote Utahns as a whole.
“Utah has long stood as one of our nation’s most patriotic states,” Winberg wrote. “The people of Utah are committed to the principles and practices of maintaining and improving our national security.”
Winberg’s paper was included in a batch of records the NSA recently provided to The Salt Lake Tribune pursuant to a request made five years ago under the Freedom of Information Act. The records better explain how Utah was sold to the NSA and what the digital spy agency found alluring.
The documents affirm the practical assumptions for why the Data Center was built in Bluffdale: The NSA was seeking cheap electricity. The newly revealed records also elaborate on Winberg’s role in bringing the secretive facility to Utah.
The 58-year-old Winberg earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Utah State University in 1986. Published biographies say he had a 30-year career with the NSA, including time as a Chinese linguist. Those bios lack any specifics of his time at the NSA, though the recently provided papers offer some intriguing details.
Winberg, who did not respond to requests for comment, identified himself in his proposal as the director of the Utah Regional Language Center. At the time, it had the same addresses as the Joint Language Training Center that the Utah National Guard has operated for decades at Camp Williams, straddling the line between Salt Lake and Utah counties. The Joint Language Training Center uses linguists and intelligence gatherers to support military units and civilian police investigating drug trafficking.
Winberg’s proposal also gives his number to reach him through the National Secure Telephone System. That’s the NSA’s internal phone system. Winberg is currently listed as the director of special programs at USU’s Space Dynamics Laboratory.
The documents begin with the Jan. 25, 2006, proposal. Much of it reads like a Chamber of Commerce pitch.
Winberg began by promoting the security Camp Williams could provide and how the land could be had “at no cost to the government.”
He then addressed power transmission — Camp Williams sits along multiple high-volume electrical lines — and communications. He noted the Salt Lake City and Provo areas offered significant communications infrastructure and that Hill Air Force Base, 50 miles to the north, was on track for a major upgrade of its fiber optics.
That would “save the agency millions of dollars over the years in communications circuit lease costs,” Winberg wrote.
He touted the engineering and computing programs at his alma mater as well as the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. He also discussed the needs of the agency he was then running.
The Utah Regional Language Center, or URLC, had “attracted more than 80” analyst candidates since it opened a few months earlier, Winberg wrote, “and the number increases each week.” It was expected URLC would outgrow its facilities in three years, Winberg wrote. He suggested the Data Center include space for the URLC.
It’s unclear where the URLC operates today. On Saturday, Utah National Guard Maj. D.J. Gibb said the Joint Language Training Center is not housed at the Data Center. He said some NSA employees happen to be in the National Guard, but their work for the NSA is seperate from their duties as soldiers.
In a follow-up paper dated July 27, 2006, Winberg reports that he and Utah National Guard Col. Scott Olson had been further investigating a possible NSA site in Utah. Winberg reported that then-Gov. Jon Huntsman and the state’s Division of Facilities Construction and Management were prepared to propel the project to the top of their priority lists once the NSA approved. Winberg also reported “three large construction companies” were interested in building the Data Center.
An NSA analysis dated Feb. 18, 2009 — and labeled “TOP SECRET” — said the Data Center would use 65 megawatts of electricity (about the same amount as 66,000 Utah homes combined).
“Power” is listed as the first item of consideration on the analysis, followed by “space,” “cooling” and “communication.”
The NSA redacted specific attributes of the Camp Williams site and long-term costs of electricity and other expenses. But the provided records make clear the site was favored by the NSA.
“Camp Williams, Utah is the best value site,” one page of the presentation reads.
Congress and President Barack Obama approved the first phase of Utah Data Center funding about four months later. Those congressional budget documents were also the first time the federal government publicly disclosed plans for the Utah Data Center.
Construction cost about $1.2 billion. The center opened on Camp Williams in 2013.
Notations on the NSA analysis indicate the documents were shared with U.S. allies Australia, Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand.
Benjamin Lee, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke University, said the NSA’s electricity considerations are standard for an organization wanting to house a lot of information technology. What stands out is the size. Microsoft and Google data centers, Lee pointed out, typically use 10 or 20 megawatts.
Lee, who reviewed the documents at The Tribune’s request, said the NSA also appears to have placed greater emphasis than the private sector would on the high-speed telecommunication lines the Data Center could access. He noted communications infrastructure received significant discussion in the documents.
“I would imagine with NSA,” Lee said, “it’s about how quickly you can push data into the facility.”
Lee believes Winberg overemphasized the human resources available in Utah. Data centers generate few jobs, Lee said, because so much of the work is automated or can be done remotely.
Despite Winberg’s pitch about Utah patriotism, there’s no indication in the documents the NSA weighed that in its analysis. And there’s no discussion of the state’s predominant institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or its members. Some have suggested the NSA wanted easier access to returned Mormon missionaries with language skills or a population inclined to obey authority.
Editor’s note • Jon Huntsman is a brother of Tribune owner and Publisher Paul Huntsman.