Calling the NSA’s Bluffdale

Agency wants $264 for docs on its $1.4 billion data center’s electricity use

Written by Shawn Musgrave
Edited by Michael Morisy

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the National Security Agency’s massive data storage center in Bluffdale, Utah has melted down at least 10 times in the past 13 months. While many details regarding the center are classified, MuckRock has been doggedly pursuing documents that pry open its operational details, including its electrical bill.

The tight-lipped NSA is also tight-pursed, and wants more than $200 for agreements with Utah lawmakers on utility rates. With your help, we can flip the switch on the NSA’s energy use and send the agency a message in bright lights: transparency is a public demand.

Contribute to the crowdfunding effort right on the request page, where you can also read the NSA’s fee letter. Try not to think about the data center’s price tag (upward of $1 billion, according to WSJ) as you ponder the NSA’s penny-pinching over fundamentally public documents.

This isn’t MuckRock’s first tangle with the NSA over FOIA documents or fees. We wrote the guide on submitting a FOIA request to the famously secretive agency, and just this week unearthed the impact Edward Snowden’s leaks have had on its FOIA caseload–we’re talking a ten-fold increase in requests over this time last year.

Many of MuckRock’s requests in that unprecedented backlog center around the Utah data storage center. Back in July we released talking points from the May 30 groundbreaking, which included thanks to the Utah Congressional delegation and underscored the NSA’s perspective that “cyber[security] must be a team sport” that includes private industry.

The NSA guesses that it will cost an additional $968 to complete that request for ribbon-cutting documents, a baffling quote that MuckRock has appealed. We’ve also submitted a request for diagnostic reports cited in the WSJ article to bring wider attention to the Bluffdale center’s electric woes.

MuckRock sees tactics like these all the time. In addition to taking their sweet time on processing documents, converting files into burdensome formats or refusing to respond altogether, government agencies often use steep fees to get journalists and watchdogs to drop their FOIA requests, particularly when the request is for sensitive information. Intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA have some of the worst track records in this regard.

With your help, MuckRock can continue its critical pursuit of transparency and oversight for the NSA’s broad intelligence activities. Check out our crowdfunding progress, spread the word and check back for updates.


Image via NSA.gov