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Why Is the NSA Buying a Maryland County's Waste Water?


"A peculiar project.”

What does the NSA want with treated sewage?

No, the spy agency, which has been criticized for its data collection programs, isn't analyzing the water for any personal information. But it will use it to keep some of its data initiatives running.

Servers that house massive amounts of data generate a lot of heat. Water is used to help cool such a center. The Utah Data Center, owned by the NSA in Bluffdale, has been speculated to use up to 1.7 million gallons of water each day.

The Baltimore Sun reported that the NSA reached a deal last week with Howard County, Md., in which the county agreed to sell its waste water to the NSA for up to $2 million per year -- not to mention the $40 million it's putting in for a new pump station. It could provide up to 5 million gallons each day.

NSA This June 6, 2013 file photo shows a sign outside the National Security Agency (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md. (AP/Patrick Semansky, File)

The water will be used to cool the NSA's High Performance Computing Center-2, which is is being built at the agency's headquarters in Fort Mead, Md.

The Sun reported the thoughts of county workers who were brought onto the project:

Workers at the pump-station site on Route 198 underwent background checks and were made to sign nondisclosure forms before they were allowed to participate.

Stephen C. Gerwin, chief of the county utilities bureau, called it “a peculiar project.”

“I went on the base,” he said. “You watch a film and you sign a document that says if you say anything, you go to jail for a million years. They’re real tight about their security, as they should be.”

From an environmental standpoint, the project has been hailed as more eco-friendly than alternatives, which would include drilling a well for groundwater.

Harvey Davis, director of installation and logistics at the NSA, told the Sun the plan to use treated waste water from the county is “dramatically beneficial for the taxpayers and also really good for the ecosystem.”

The project does have its critics:

A coalition of rights groups has targeted similar deals elsewhere — notably in Utah, where the NSA recently completed a $1.5 billion data center — lobbying state lawmakers to make it illegal for local governments to supply water and other utilities to the agency.

“Maryland is one of the most crucial states in this national campaign,” said Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Washington. “Because Congress has been so abysmally dysfunctional and inactive in the oversight arena for the last 10 years, the municipal checks and balances are really all that we the people have had an opportunity to exercise.”

The NSA isn't the only one eyeing the county's waste water either. The Sun reported Dreyer’s Ice Cream, which has to keep its facility cold for obvious reasons, might have a use for the water as well.

An international debate regarding the NSA's secretive data collection programs has been raging since former government contractor Edward Snowden leaked top secret information to media outlets beginning in June 2013.

Recently, Sen. Rand Paul announced he was suing the Obama administration for the NSA's "snooping on the American people." Congress members also asked NSA whether it spied on the communications of elected officials, to which the NSA responded "members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all U.S. persons."

Featured image via Shutterstock.com.

This story has been updated to correct the number of gallons speculated to be used by the Utah Data Center from 17 million gallons to 1.7 million gallons.

(H/T: Gizmodo, Washington Post)



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