July 27, 2013
He works at one of the three-letter intelligence agencies and oversees construction of a $1.2 billion surveillance data center in Utah that is 15 times the size of MetLife Stadium, home to the New York Giants and Jets. Long Island native Harvey Davis, a top National Security Agency official, needs that commanding presence. His role is to supervise infrastructure construction worldwide for NSA, which is part of the Defense Department. That involves tending to logistics, military installations, as well as power, space and cooling for all NSA data centers.
In May, crews broke ground on a $792 million computing center at the agency’s headquarters near Baltimore that will complement the Utah site. Together the Utah center and Maryland’s 28-acre computer farm span 228 acres—more than seven times the size of the Pentagon.
During an interview with Government Executive in June, amid the uproar over leaked details of NSA’s domestic espionage activities, Davis describes the 200-acre Utah facility as very transparent: “Only brick and mortar.” A data center just provides energy and chills machines, he says.
About 6,500 contractors, along with more than 150 Army Corps of Engineers and NSA workers, including some with special needs, are assigned to the project. Davis perks up when he talks about the hundreds of individuals with disabilities he has steered into NSA.
But ask him why the facility is so big and what’s inside, and he is less forthcoming. “I think we’re crossing into content. It’s big because it’s required to be big,” says Davis, a 30-year veteran of the spy agency.
At NSA, secrecy is not exclusive to intelligence analysts. Every civil servant in the Installations and Logistics Directorate Davis leads has a security clearance. He earned his in the early 1980s, entering the agency with a master’s degree in business administration, experience managing inventory for a women’s apparel chain, and a yearning for a higher calling than retail.
For security reasons, some of the contractors erecting the data center don’t even know its purpose, other than the equipment needed—nothing about snooping. The 2010 public work solicitation called for a 65-megawatt center with a chiller plant, fire suppression systems, electrical generators and an uninterruptible power supply backup capacity.
Davis lets out that inside there will be supercomputers, or what NSA labels “high perfor
mance computers.” These need “different cooling and different power distributions as opposed to something you bought from Best Buy,” he says. The machines, along with whatever other technology is tucked in the facility, are slated to power on by Oct. 1.
Four years ago, the stated purpose of the megaplex near Salt Lake City was to amass foreign intelligence and warnings about hackers. Officials described it as an extension of President George W. Bush’s 2008 Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, a largely classified, cross-agency program to protect U.S. computer networks against adversaries. Today, it is evident the data plantation will not be linked to any one program. Instead, the systems inside will warehouse counterterrorism information collected in aggregate, including millions of Americans’ phone logs for five years and certain foreigners’ online messages, NSA officials confirm. Spies at other locations will decipher what’s accumulated to thwart terrorist attacks, cyber assaults, and weapons of mass destruction.
The Utah effort is the largest ongoing Defense construction project in the United States. Still, it is only three-quarters the size of the department’s largest in the world—the Medical Center Replacement Project at Rhine Ordnance Barracks, Germany.