Yet another highly classified surveillance facility — this one managing to maintain secrecy for decades despite its rather prominent location in lower Manhattan — was revealed this week. A report published Wednesday by the Intercept describes it in depth.
As more continues to come to light about the US government’s surveillance operations, it is becoming possible to assemble a substantial list of known surveillance sites operated by the National Security Agency and similar outfits. Here is a quick look at a few of them:
The facility revealed this week in the Intercept was apparently the result of something called “Project X,” an ambitious effort to build a New York City skyscraper that could withstand a nuclear blast, and which would also serve as a major surveillance center. The article details how this operation, ostensibly run by AT&T but apparently controlled at some level by the NSA and also known as the “Broadway Building” or by the codename TITANPOINTE, has functioned to collect huge amounts of communications data for decades. The building is at 33 Thomas Street in Manhattan, known locally as the “Long Lines Building,” and has been a source of mystery of some time. According to the newly published report, the Broadway Building is responsible for routing calls between the US and other countries, and may route more than a billion calls per week. The facility is also thought to be the site of an operation codenamed SKIDROWE, which is aimed at intercepting satellite communications.
At this Air Force base outside of Denver, the NSA collaborates with other intelligence agencies including the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). According to the NSA, the Aerospace Data Facility “Leads the worldwide, end-to-end production of Weapons & Space SIGINT (“signals intelligence”), and provides related data and expertise to other SIGINT Product Lines.” As of early last year, the base reportedly employed more than 10,000 people and was America’s fastest growing military installation in terms of personnel and construction projects.
This 500,000 square foot facility at Fort Gordon, Augusta, Georgia cost upwards of $300 million to build, though the amount spent might “be closer to $1 billion when considering the equipment,” according to one report. Though this site is often referred to simply as NSA Georgia, it also has the more colorful nickname “Sweet Tea.” It reportedly focuses on intercepting communications from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
What was once a Sony chip manufacturing plant in San Antonio, Texas, has “dramatically expanded” over the past decade under the watchful eyes of the NSA. But while their bosses have changed, many employees have reportedly been working there since it was still run by Sony. Presumably, though, not many of these people are the same ones working at Texas Cryptologic as part of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations — a secretive, elite hacking unit, which reportedly has a team in San Antonio, as well as at agency headquarters in Maryland, and at its facilities in Georgia, Colorado, Hawaii, and perhaps elsewhere.
As recently as last year, a small town in rural West Virginia was home to a disproportionate number of federal employees. Now, the National Security Agency hopes to sell the entire town of Sugar Grove Station, which was part of its surveillance facility by the same name. The bidding started earlier this year at $1,000,000. But while the town has been vacated, “there are still government operations nearby,” according to ABC News. About a mile from the town, hidden in the forest, lies an active array of massive satellite dishes for intercepting telecommunications. Perhaps that explains the low asking price (for an entire town!) Nearby NSA spy satellite dish array and clandestine facility not included.
In 2006, a former employee of AT&T — the same company implicated in the more recent “Project X” revelations — exposed the existence of a “secret room” used by the NSA and known as Room 641A at AT&T’s offices at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco. While the secret room revelation was somewhat shocking in 2006, the San Francisco location was not the only such arrangement. AT&T “installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil, far more than its similarly sized competitor, Verizon,” the New York Times reported last year. Other rumored “secret room” locations as of 2006 reportedly included San Diego, San Jose, Los Angeles and Seattle.
This facility, technically called the Capt. Joseph J. Rochefort Building and located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, was the site of Edward Snowden’s last NSA contracting job before he made worldwide headlines for blowing the whistle on the agency. The current building cost more than $350 million to build. “The new building will provide cryptology professionals with the tools necessary to better access and collaboratively interpret data from a broad variety of sources at various classification levels,” a press release stated at the time of its completion in 2012. A press release regarding the previously existing facility that the new building replaced, meanwhile, noted that it would “be used to gather and analyze intelligence from U.S. interest areas, such as the Middle East and Southeast Asia, allowing high-ranking officials to make better tactical decisions.”
Though this facility located in rural northern England, rather than America, was long protected by an “established cover story,” it was revealed this year by the Intercept as a major hub for US drone operations. The base apparently is a focal point for programs called GHOSTHUNTER and GHOSTWOLF, which are used to track and target people for drone strikes, and the majority of personnel working there are Americans, though the NSA’s British counterpart GCHQ also employs hundreds of people at the base. Though much more is now known, the Guardian had previously reported in 2012 that the base was then expanding “as it becomes increasingly vital to US intelligence and military operations” and that it had a “role as an active provider of integrated intelligence to support new forms of warfare.” The NSA undoubtedly has other facilities located outside the US that have received less attention than Menwith.
This massive facility outside of Salt Lake City, which was scheduled to open for business in late 2013, has been described as “the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade,” by national security reporter James Bamford. “Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.” The facility reportedly cost $2 billion to build, requiring the labor of 10,000 construction workers despite its secretive nature, and features four 25,000 square foot buildings filled with servers, another 900,000 square feet for administration and technical support, and $10 million worth of security. Prior to the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013, the NSA was claiming that Utah Data Center would not be used to spy on US citizens’ emails.
This massive facility, nicknamed “Crypto City,” is one of the largest employers in Maryland, featuring 18,000 parking spaces, and an appropriate headquarters for the secretive NSA, whose name is jokingly said to stand for “Never Say Anything” or “No Such Agency.” The main building at Crypto City is a gigantic, reflective, black structure covered with darkened one-way windows reportedly lined with copper shielding to prevent outside surveillance of the building. It is the perfect metaphor for NSA: the agency can see you and all the details of your life as revealed by any electronic records or traces you leave, but you can’t see into its inner workings. Indeed, given the agency’s secrecy, this list, while it includes many facilities about which more has become known in recent years, is likely far from a comprehensive accounting of the NSA’s surveillance sites in the US and around the world.