North Carolina State University Gets $60 Million To Help NSA Build Bigger And Better Haystacks

from the institute-of-spy-er-learning dept

Who wants to work on a collaborative data project with a badly wounded intelligence agency? I'm not seeing a lot of hands... How about if I ask it with a couple of exclamation points thrown in?!?! Still nothing...

Given what we know now, it's probably safe to assume that no one wants to sign a deal with this particular devil if the NSA's abortive recruitment drive at the University of Wisconsin is any indication. The recruiters appeared to believe they could just walk in and harvest a few souls hand out a few heavily-redacted business cards while talking up Team NSA's anti-terrorism efforts.

Instead, the recruiters found themselves on the receiving end of their own words, wielded with deadly accuracy by a handful of mouthy linguistics students. Forced to defend themselves, the recruiters delivered phrases like, "We don't tell complete lies," and "we drink heavily and sing karaoke while wearing wigs."

In what has to be one of the most unfortunate press releases ever released, another institute of higher education has just announced its partnership with the NSA. You can practically feel the aching jaws of several forced smiles that accompany this bit of "good news" from North Carolina State University.

A $60.75 million grant from the NSA is the largest research grant in NCSU’s history – three times bigger than any previous award.

The Laboratory for Analytic Sciences will be launched in a Centennial Campus building that will be renovated with money from the federal agency, but details about the facility are top secret. Those who work in the lab will be required to have security clearance from the U.S. government.

NCSU officials say the endeavor is expected to bring 100 new jobs to the Triangle during the next several years. The university, already a leader in data science, won the NSA contract through a competitive process.
There's nothing like two solid months of negativity to take the shine off a hard-won grant battle. If the race started today, one imagines the field might have a bit more breathing room. Everyone involved is quick to point out that the university won't be involved in the NSA's day-to-day privacy violations.
“As a university, we’re not going to be involved in the operational intelligence work of the National Security Agency,” [Chancellor Randy] Woodson said. “Our partnership with them is really about the science of big data and data analysis. I don’t think there’s anything more difficult right now for both government and the private sector than making sense out of the deluge of data that we’re all swimming in every day.”
Well, if there's anything the NSA needs, it's more haystack wranglers. Someone might want to point out that targeted surveillance efforts usually result in much more manageable "deluge." Of course, the NSA's really not interested in shallow pools of data. It would much rather swim in accumulated data, even inadvertently if it has to.

As for not being "involved?" That's probably true as far as data harvesting goes. But the leaks have shown us that every American has the chance to "get involved" by inadvertently lending their data to the NSA at some point or another, like say, the residents of Tallahassee, FL, whose area code (850) is also North Korea's country code.

Timing is everything and, through no fault of its own, NCSU has nothing. The original announcement was supposed to happen back in early June, but Snowden's first batch of leaks altered those plans. Presumably everyone was waiting for the whole "leaks thing" to blow over, but with time running off the clock to get the grant allotted before the end of the fiscal year, the university rushed out its belated announcement, just in time to coincide with the most damaging leak yet.

Synergy.

You know how it goes -- the morning starts out bright and full of promise but by the end of the day you're issuing statements that put you as far away as possible from the foul odor emanating from the NSA while still keeping the grant money within reach of your outstretched arm.

The NSA's statement, on the other hand, bears the devilish grin of someone who has not so much lost $60 million but gained a rare ally, albeit one that keeps pointing out that it's not involved with the unpleasantness.
In the announcement from the NSA, the agency’s director of research, Michael Wertheimer, said NCSU is the ideal location for the new lab.

“We have chosen the Research Triangle area for its vibrant academic and industry interest in large data analytics, and NC State for having the nation’s first, and preeminent, advanced degree program in data analytics,” Wertheimer’s statement said. “By immersing intelligence analysts with NC State’s diverse group of scientists, we hope to discover new and powerful ways to meet our foreign signals intelligence and information assurance missions – giving us an edge to better protect the nation.”
Well, it would be nice if the experts at NCSU could give the NSA some guidance on how to keep its "foreign signals intelligence" foreign and its "information assurance missions" a bit more focused. But this isn't what the NSA wants from NCSU. It's looking for bigger haystacks and better pitchforks and the occasional needle to justify it all.

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Filed Under: bad timing, data collection, north carolina state, nsa, nsa surveillance


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  1. icon
    Vidiot (profile), 21 Aug 2013 @ 5:14am

    An island of not-NCSU

    Hard to see what NCSU has to celebrate... they're giving a building to an outside group that will renovate it, staff it with only the people they choose to allow inside, and then operate the facility themselves, for their own non-educational, proprietary purposes. Sounds less like a triumph of endowed academia, and more like a commercial real estate deal.

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