Utah State Records Committee Orders City Of Bluffdale To Reveal Data On NSA's Water Usage

from the water,-water-everywhere,-and-nary-a-drop-publicly-accounted-for dept

The NSA’s new home in Utah is increasingly looking like a bad idea. While local politicians were likely delighted to have a federal money funnel set up shop in state, that initial euphoria has faded in the wake of the Snowden leaks.

Multiple legislative attempts have been mounted by various states to basically nullify the NSA’s programs, either directly or indirectly. In Utah, the leverage point has been the public utilities. There is no doubt that the NSA’s new data center consumes massive amounts of electricity. But it also goes through water like… water. Not much is known about how much the data center uses (estimates place it at about 1.2 million gallons a day), but one fact that has emerged so far is that the NSA is paying far less ($2.05 vs. $3.35) per thousand gallons than other high-volume businesses.

The Tenth Amendment Center has been pushing for the adoption of legislation aimed at cutting off public support (meaning “public utilities”) for the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs. While this legislative battle has been moving forward, attempts to gain more insight into the NSA’s utility usage have been stonewalled by both the City of Bluffdale and the NSA itself.

Fortunately, the state has stepped up and ordered Bluffdale to release the NSA’s water usage records.

This month, the Utah State Records Committee ruled that the City of Bluffdale must release water records pertaining to the massive NSA data center located there.

Salt Lake City Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle pursued the information, and his success shows how a series of small, seemingly insignificant actions can lead to a major victory.

The committee voted unanimously to require the city to make details of the NSA’s water use public last week.

The City of Bluffdale was a major combatant, insisting on collecting a $45/hour fee for compiling responsive documents. All told, the total stood at $767.45 when the reporter brought this to the attention of the State Records Committee.

The agency itself was no better. It refused to release info on its water usage by relying on the same excuse it uses for everything: terrorism.

By computing the water usage rate, one could ultimately determine the computing power and capabilities of the Utah Data Center. Armed with this information, one could then deduce how much intelligence NSA is collecting and maintaining, and this clearly relates to one of NSA’s core missions, which is the collection of foreign intelligence.

Robert McMillan at Wired calls bullshit on this argument.

The reality is that Sherman’s argument requires a pretty big leap of logic. Data center engineers can get rough ideas of compute power based on how much power a building consumes, but figuring this out on water is another matter. Some data centers, like Facebook’s facility in Prineville, Oregon, use custom-made swamp coolers to mist the air and cool down servers. Others push hot air into evaporative cooling towers, which are kept cold by running water.

“There are many different ways to cool a data center,” says Jonathan Koomey, a research fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University.”Without knowing more about the actual facility then I don’t think anyone’s going to give you solid [computing capability] numbers.”

Without access to all of this water, the NSA’s shiny new home can’t function. That it consumes over a million gallons a day (at least) should be of concern to Utah’s residents, especially considering the ongoing water management issues the state is facing. Early in 2013, water experts met to discuss the problems inherent in the nation’s second-driest state — one which also sports the nation’s highest birth rate.

Among the many suggestions were removing the tax subsidies from water that kept prices artificially low and starting to meter secondary usage. Nowhere in the discussion was a suggestion to funnel 400+ million gallons a year into a surveillance agency’s data center.

This cut rate on top of an already artificially low water price would explain the attractiveness of the locale to the NSA, but in the end, it’s the rest of Utah’s citizens who will be screwed. When its water usage details are finally revealed, one can safely expect there to be more public support for the Tenth Amendment Center’s attempt to literally drain the agency of resources.



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Comments on “Utah State Records Committee Orders City Of Bluffdale To Reveal Data On NSA's Water Usage”

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58 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

400ish million gallons of water a year, in a state that already has drought problems, to help a government agency spy on the public and violate their rights… yeah, that water needs to be re-routed to a use not involved with screwing over the public, even a freakin’ waterpark would be a better use than selling it to them(at lower rates than everyone else pays at that), as that would at least be enjoyable for people.

David says:

I interpret this differently:

The agency itself was no better. It refused to release info on its water usage by relying on the same excuse it uses for everything: terrorism.

By computing the water usage rate, one could ultimately determine the computing power and capabilities of the Utah Data Center. Armed with this information, one could then deduce how much intelligence NSA is collecting and maintaining, and this clearly relates to one of NSA’s core missions, which is the collection of foreign intelligence.

That’s not “terrorism” as an excuse but rather “oversight”. The argument here is “if congress was able to figure out what we are up to, a lot of people would be out of a job here”.

The pretense is collection of call records. That needs storage capacity, not computing power. Storage capacity does not require water cooling at all (and you don’t need a data center merely to store call records).

So what we are talking about is not storage, but decryption and data mining. Decryption is incompatible with the stated goal of collecting call records, and data mining is incompatible with the legal frame of examining records based on judicial warrants and oversight.

While there are elements of terrorism involved since the NSA has the power to initiate drone attacks based on location data, this is tangential to its principal operation.

The NSA and CIA systematically break the law in order to gain their information. They are organized crime syndicates operating with blackmail and extortion (the CIA also uses torture, illegal arms trading, hitmen, paramilitary operations). In contrast to rival operations like the Mafia or Cosa Nostra or the Triades, they have specialized on extorting their operational expenses from the U.S. government rather than the private sector.

As long as these organized crime syndicates are running the U.S. government, the U.S. constitution is not good for much beyond wiping your ass with it.

The CIA torture people for fun. The NSA listens on everybody for sports and blackmail. The purported thwarted terrorist acts have been shown to propaganda lies to 100%. And even if they were not: those activities alone recruit more terrorists than they keep at bay. And that’s glossing over the fact that pretty much every leader of a movement that the U.S. declared an enemy of democracy was trained or paid or installed by the CIA. Saddham Hussein, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban etc etc.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: I interpret this differently:

The pretense is collection of call records. That needs storage capacity, not computing power.

You can’t write data to hard drives without powering the computer.

Storage capacity does not require water cooling at all (and you don’t need a data center merely to store call records).

Of course you need a data center to store data. That’s exactly what a data center does.

So what we are talking about is not storage, but decryption and data mining.

Very likely all three, and has NSA ever stated exactly what this facility does? Seems unlikely, they never say anything they don’t have to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I interpret this differently:

Storage capacity does not require water cooling at all (and you don’t need a data center merely to store call records).

Of course you need a data center to store data. That’s exactly what a data center does.

That’s like saying you need an atomic bomb to break down buildings because that’s exactly what an atomic bomb does.

For storing call records, two tape drives, one hard disk, and a computer will be sufficient.

We might want to use a database server in order to serve all individually made warrants on personal data.

In fact, if we are just talking call records, a single database server will be fine for all specific individual requests even when made by law enforcement without a warrant.

“data center” is a different class of endeavor.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I interpret this differently:

For storing call records, two tape drives, one hard disk, and a computer will be sufficient.

You’re only talking about scale. For a very small amount of data, yes that would be fine. For enormous amounts of data (which I think we can all agree is what the NSA is after), you need a big data center. I’m not claiming that the NSA is only using this for data storage, just that the claim that its size proves it is more than that is nonsensical.

Beech says:

MADLIBS!

“By computing the water usage rate, one could ultimately determine the computing power and capabilities of the Utah Data Center. Armed with this information, one could then deduce how much intelligence NSA is collecting and maintaining, and this clearly relates to one of NSA’s core missions, which is the collection of foreign intelligence.”

This is fun. Someone needs to make a Madlibs out of the NSA’s response here. I bet you still couldn’t get a response as hilarious and nonsensical as theirs!

And by knowing how many flies are buzzing around the data center one ultimately determine how much bullshit is spewing out of their mouths at all hours of the day, one could then deduce that they are lying sacks of shit who are breaking the law, and clearly this relates to one of NSA’s core missions, which is being a lying bunch of shitbags.

David says:

Re: Re:

Uh, there is something called the First Law of Thermodynamics. A “closed cooling system” is an oxymoron. You can either heat a lot of water a bit, or a a bit of water a lot (meaning that you’ll have steam escaping). You can also choose to heat a lot of air, but the heat capacity of air is not impressive.

But every bit of energy you put into that data center has to get out again as heat. A “closed cooling circuit” is just a means of transporting heat efficiently, but it cannot get rid of it. It still has to go somewhere. Evaporating water is a common solution for that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: A "closed cooling system" is an oxymoron

The heat energy is used up by changing the state of water from a liquid to a gas. If the water is not allowed to expand, it will not change it’s state. That is how water cooling systems work. The heat energy doesn’t escape. It is used.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:2 A "closed cooling system" is an oxymoron

So you are planning to operate your computers at temperatures higher than water’s boiling point?

At any rate, let’s assume a closed system and we can use something with a lower boiling point, like ammonia or whatever. You still have to get the heat out again for it to condense. Where are you going to put that heat?

If you use it for turning water into gas you either need to let the gas (and thus the water) escape, or you need to condense the gas at some point of time, getting the heat back. Or you put the heat into river water continuously. Or you heat up air you are pumping through the facility.

I repeat: there is no such thing as a closed cooling circuit. Anything a closed circuit can achieve is transport of heat, but not elimination of it.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 A "closed cooling system" is an oxymoron

I repeat: there is no such thing as a closed cooling circuit.

Your car uses a closed cooling circuit. It gets filled with coolant, and then you don’t add any more coolant, it just circulates.

Anything a closed circuit can achieve is transport of heat, but not elimination of it.

No system, closed or open, can ever eliminate heat.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 A "closed cooling system" is an oxymoron

Everything in the environment is a potential heat sink.

You are misunderstand the uses of the term closed system. The mere fact you need to pour energy in it already makes it open in the strict technical sense. What we are discussing is how to build a system that does not waste water. You can recycle the water by throwing the heat into the air or by removing it from the water with a better coolant such as ammonia. It is considered a closed system as opposed to letting the watter evaporate into the air.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 A "closed cooling system" is an oxymoron

If the water is not allowed to expand, it will not change it’s state. That is how water cooling systems work.

Not necessarily. A car cooling system works without changing the liquid to gas. Unless you’re distinguishing water cooling from water to air cooling, or something.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 A "closed cooling system" is an oxymoron

Yes, technically that is not water cooled. That is air cooled. The water merely acts as a conduit to carry the the heat to a radiator that then allows it to be transferred into the air. Something that is actually cooled by water would be cooled by the change in state of the water.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 A "closed cooling system" is an oxymoron

Wow, the semantics Nazism is strong in you, no? You got the point. The idea is to use water in a closed pipeline that will carry heat from the electronics to the outside where it will be transferred to the environment via air, ammonia or whatever goddamn fluid suitable instead of transferring by evaporation, which uses shitloads of water in a place that is suffering from scarcity. Happy?

David says:

Re: Re: Re:5 A "closed cooling system" is an oxymoron

Sigh. “Transferred to the environment” means transferring to flowing water, to evaporating water (which takes a lot of heat) or transferring to air. Since dry air has a rather low heat capacity, you’ll need to blow ridiculous amounts through radiators to carry off the heat. And it’s not like Utah has low air temperatures to start with.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 A "closed cooling system" is an oxymoron

Would it be possible to have a system that combines evaporative cooling with a radiator circuit of some kind? So it’s still cycling water rather than just flowing it through once and then dumping it? If workable, that would require much less water, though I don’t have any idea what the up front expense would be.

I’m guessing the decision to not recycle the water at all (which is what it sounds like from the huge quantity involved) is based on a relatively short term cost analysis – it’s cheaper over 2 years or 5 years or whatever to do it this way than to reuse the water somehow. But we all know this facility is going to be around for a very long time.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

A fully closed system is impossible yes but with a proper setup you can waste very little water. I would probably go for an industrial scale ammonia/water+glycol heat exchange. But that would require more study. The only water needed here is to replace natural losses and maybe to prevent salt build up in the system.

When you say closed system in engineering you are usually referring to a system that wastes as little water as possible to the environment. Sure if your water supply is infinite then you can go for fully open and just let water evaporate to cool stuff down. But as the article notices this is not the case.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Most computers will not happily operate at the temperature of a car radiator. If you have the computing power of 200 desktops in a rack, putting out the excessive heat at similar operating temperatures will require the air flow of 200 desktops. Scale this up, and the air flow requirements actually increase since it gets harder to suck in cool air unimpressed by the exhausts.

Putting heat in water and back into the river stashes a lot more. Evaporating water is even better, though at operating temperatures you’ll need a lot of air flow to get significant evaporation.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

There are losses. Always.

Losses of coolant? How? Again, assuming the system is constructed without leaks. Presumably eventually a leak will develop somewhere, but I’m not talking about that.

And you’d be inputing energy from the outside (ie: electricity) so it’s not closed in the strict sense of the word.

I’m referring to a closed coolant system, not a closed thermodynamic system.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I’m referring to a closed coolant system, not a closed thermodynamic system.

Yep, I got it.

Losses of coolant? How?

If you have parts that can be replaced there will be losses somewhere (ie: tubes with junctions). If you have less of those potential nano leaks you’ll have to recharge less often. Obviously some coolants are better than others at this leaking thing. Honestly I have yet to see a water based cooling plant that doesn’t use one or two m^3 every once in a while to replace losses.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

You cannot sensibly recover much energy here. The theoretical maximum efficiency of recovery is 1 – (Tout/Tin), temperatures in Kelvin. Since we are talking Utah, Tout is likely something like 290K. If your CPU’s are running 30K hotter than that, we are talking about roughly 10% of energy that can be recovered theoretically if your cooling circuit is so efficient that the temperature arriving at the heat exchange circuit is not significantly below the temperature of the circuits.

Let your circuits run at the boiling point of water and use perfect heat pipes, and you can recover maybe 25% of the energy you put in when your heat conversion units are working at 100% theoretical efficiency.

If you cool your circuits down to environmental temperature, none of the energy invested for cooling can be recovered unless the cooling units are less than 100% effective, and then what you can recover will not be offset by what you need additionally.

Thermodynamics is a bitch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Don't look at the data center

By observing the size of the data center building, it is possible to determine the number of servers, and thus the computing power and capabilities of the Utah Data Center. Armed with this information, one could then deduce the how much intelligence NSA is collecting and maintaining, and this clearly relates to one of NSA’s core missions, which is the collection of foreign intelligence.

Lurker Keith says:

Re: Don't look at the data center

You’ve got it all wrong. We can’t know where it is, what the computing power is & what the capabilities are all at once. Didn’t you pay attention to Heisenberg?

We can only know some factors precisely, while others must be estimated. Since we know where it is & that they need to store EVERYTHING, they’re not going to let ANYONE know what they can do w/ it.

However, we can estimate what they can do: since they couldn’t stop the Boston Marathon bombing, AFTER THE RUSSIANS TOLD US WHO TO KEEP AN EYE ON, we can estimate capabilities on average as 0. 0 x anything is still 0, so the estimated “what they can do” w/ a huge building is nothing beneficial to the US.

Simpler solution: Subtract water & let it burn to the ground. They do have fire problems. We get to the same 0 result. Though, is positive 0 a thing?

terry_allen (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Underground would be best. Once you get about five feet underground the temperature is a pretty even ~55 degrees or so pretty much anywhere in the world, pretty much any time of the year. Sure it’s expensive, particularly if you’re using the ground as a heat sink for your overheated cooling water from the NSA Death Star, but this is war, right? Right? Hello?

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