NSA's Water, Power Supply Under Threat in State Legislatures

With federal reform elusive, state lawmakers and activists resume back-up plan to shut down mass surveillance.

Anti-surveillance lawmakers believe the National Security Agency has an Achilles heel: its reliance on public utilities. The NSA's $1.5 billion Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah, pictured, requires millions of gallons of water a month to cool its computer systems.

Anti-surveillance lawmakers believe the National Security Agency has an Achilles heel: its reliance on public utilities. The NSA's $1.5 billion Utah Data Center, pictured, requires millions of gallons of water a month to cool its computer systems.

By Jan. 28, 2015 | 5:14 p.m. EST
Congress failed to agree last year on a measure that would reform the practice of mass government surveillance, but privacy-minded state legislators have a back-up plan for shutting down alleged violations of their constituents’ constitutional rights.

In eight states, legislators are pushing bills they hope will either boot National Security Agency facilities or ban the agency from setting up shop. The bills would prohibit state and local governments from offering material support to the agency, including use of public utilities that carry water and electricity. Two of the bills would criminalize official cooperation with the NSA and several seek to squeeze contractors out of work with the electronic spy agency.

The state-level push began months after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed in June 2013 the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. phone records and Internet-mining programs. 

Last year, bills in Utah - home of the NSA’s massive Utah Data Center - and Maryland - host of the agency’s Fort Meade headquarters - sought to shut down those operations, winning broad media coverage.

The Utah bill remains active and its sponsor, Republican state Rep. Marc Roberts, is cautiously optimistic about its chances, particularly after a seemingly receptive committee hearing in November.

Roberts says colleagues he’s spoken with “have concerns with the NSA programs and violations of the Fourth Amendment.” But, he says, “when it comes down to a big vote on it like this I'm not sure [what] they will do.”

[READ: NSA Phone Dragnet Weighed by Third Appeals Court]

Roberts is waiting to learn which legislative committee this year will hear his bill, which seeks to shut off the water supply to the NSA's vast Utah Data Center that's currently provided through a sweatheartdeal with the city of Bluffdale.

Legislators in AlaskaIndianaMississippiMissouriOklahomaSouth Carolina and Washington, meanwhile, introduced similar bills this month, many called Fourth Amendment protection acts, based on model legislation from the OffNow coalition. More are likely to be introduced as the legislative season unfolds.

The bills generally say states and their political subdivisions cannot supply material support to federal agencies that collect citizens’ metadata without individualized warrants, and they intend to bar NSA-derived evidence from state courts and block the agency from research partnerships with state schools.

In Washington, the proposed bill goes further. It would force companies to choose between NSA and state contracts. And if state contractors or officials do provide “material support, participation, or assistance in any form” to the NSA, they would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to one year behind bars.

[MORE: California Governor Signs Anti-Surveillance Bill]

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. David Taylor, has an NSA facility within his district, on the U.S. Army's Yakima Training Center. The facility, however, is reportedly slated for closure and may be immunized by its independence from state and local utilities.

But Taylor, whose seven cosponsors include six Republicans and one Democrat, says he's heard there are other, smaller NSA facilities that would be affected. Taylor says he fears the lack of a quick death-knell to exposed NSA programs has emboldened local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to "move forward at a more rapid pace" to collect data and communications without warrants.

“We’re saying, 'No, it’s inappropriate.' We have a Fourth Amendment to the Constitution," he says. "And if you violate that there’s going to be civil penalties and jail time." Taylor is working with larger bipartisan coalitions to require warrants for use of Stingray cellphone tracking devices and to limit the use of drones.

The Oklahoma and Mississippi bills, like the Washington version, would make companies who work with the NSA “forever ineligible” to work with the state and local governments. Officials who knowingly violate the law “shall be deemed to have resigned,” all three bills propose. 

[ALSO: NSA Denies It Accesses Global Data Centers of Yahoo, Google]

Violators of the Oklahoma legislation would be guilty of a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $1,000 and one year in jail.

The Mississippi bill, which would not establish criminal penalties, is sponsored by state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a popular conservative leader who lost a tight Republican primary for U.S. Senate last year.

In Maryland, where the NSA recently negotiated a water deal with a county government, eight Republicans introduced a bill in February 2014 threatening to darken and dry the agency’s headquarters.No similar bill has yet been introduced this year, and it’s unclear if one’s coming.

Five cosponsors of the now-dead bill, including the lower chamber's minority leader, bailed before it was considered in committee. The two leaders of the Maryland push lost primary races last year, and the remaining cosponsor wasn’t re-elected.

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Utah – Achilles’ Heel of the Surveillance State

Photograph: Rick Bowmer/A

By Justin Raimondo | AntiWar.com | Feb. 14, 2014

"Turn it off!" campaign targets the NSA’s Utah Data CenterThe movement to end the Surveillance State is finally getting serious. With the failure by Congress to rein in the NSA – although the heroic Rep. Justin Amash nearly succeeded in doing so – activists on the state level are mounting a campaign that promises to hit Big Brother where it really hurts – by cutting off the NSA’s water supply at its Bluffdale, Utah, Data Center.A bill introduced in the Utah legislature by state representative Marc Roberts (R-Santaquin) would cut off the water supply to the NSA’s massive facility which will gobble up1.7 million gallons of water per day – in a state already hit hard by a region-wide drought.What do they need all that water for? To cool the mega-computers housing the NSA’s huge store ofintercepted data – virtually all the emails transmitted in the country and beyond, including phone calls and our all-important "meta data."
The heavily fortified Data Center will store all this purloined information in four halls, each 25,000 square feet, with an additional 900,000 square feet for bureaucratic high mucka-mucks and their administrative and technical peons. The electricity bill alone is estimated at $40 million annually.The people of Utah, however, are having second thoughts about having this monster in their midst."If you want to spy on the whole world and American citizens, great, but we’re not going to help you," saysRoberts.
The Roberts bill is part of a nationwide "Nullify the NSA" campaign spearheaded by the OffNow Coalition, a politically diverse group – including Antiwar.com, one of the founding members – that is pushing model legislation already introduced in fifteen states and counting: if passed, these bills would not only forbid local publicly owned water utilities from servicing the NSA, but would also stop any sort of cooperation and/or subsidies from going to the spy agency – including in the educational sphere. The University of Utah, which is publicly funded, has been sucking up to the NSA in order to qualify for grants and has even recently inaugurated a new course on "data management" at the NSA’s suggestion. But the University of Utah chapterof Young Americans for Liberty is on their case, along with Roberts – and a good number of state legislators of both parties.Former Utah governor and Republican squish Jon Huntsman, whose laughable presidential campaign garneredmost if not all its support from the media, apparently cut a deal with the NSA to exempt the Data Center from taxes on their usage of resources such as water and electricity. State lawmakers, however, aren’t buying it.
A bill introduced by Republican state senator Jerry Stevenson, SB 45, which would exempt a number of federal projects – including NSA facilities – from state resource taxes is running into vocal opposition. "This property is already getting a great deal on water, and creates very few jobs on a choice piece of land," averred Democrat Jim Dabkis, of Salt Lake City, during debate. "Why do we want to give up that utility tax and have the rate payers from the state have to make up for what is really very little contribution from the rest of the federal government?"Good question, to which supporters of the bill answer: Huntsman made a deal with the feds and we have to stick by it. But there isn’t much sentiment to abide by an agreement that was apparently made in secret.
Says Dabkis:"I’ve asked, and I have not been able to be provided with it, any piece of paper that says as part of this agreement to bring this very low-job development… That here is commitment that the State of Utah makes [to the federal government] that you don’t have to pay the utility taxes."In reply, Stevenson bleated that "there is a great deal of institutional memory that puts this agreement in place."
But that memory is apparently too ephemeral to have been written down in black and white, as Stevenson sheepishly admitted.Stevenson’s fellow Republicans aren’t too hot on the NSA either. Interrogated by state senator Wayne Harper as to why Stevenson refused to delete the most controversial section of his bill – the part shielding the NSA Data Center – the Taylorsville Republican said: "I don’t remember that I made any commitments to giving tax subsidies to a spy center." State senator Margaret Dayton (R-Orem) doesn’t recall that either, nor does she remember repealing state laws mandating local control over tax waivers:"[The data center is] not creating jobs, it is creating a lot of consternation in my area…[this was] not something discussed with the legislature as far as I am aware of.""Creating a lot of consternation" – this is the key to beating the NSA and its neocon and "progressive" defenders.
This is what we have to do in every locality, but especially in Utah – the Achilles heel of the Surveillance State.Utah state legislators are clearly getting a lot of flak from the voters, and are quite nervous about the Data Center being in their state, but you’d never know that from the national and international coverage of the issue. Spencer Ackerman, writing in The Guardian, deemed the anti-NSA effort "quixotic," without quite saying why, and the Washington Post, the voice of our political class, contends state legislators are sending "mixed messages" when it comes to the NSA. This is pure spin.One imagines an enormous amount of pressure is now being exerted on these recalcitrant state legislators to go along with the program and allow their state to become world-renown as the NSA’s Mount Doom, but will those ferociously independent Westerners knuckle under? Somehow, I doubt it.Just in case they need a little persuading, however, I would suggest that the threat of an international boycott of the state of Utah hanging over their heads might push them in the right direction.That may not be necessary, however, because it looks to me like the local political dynamics are moving in the right direction.
If the effort looks like it’s going to succeed, you can expect both the neocon right and the "progressive" left to come down hard on the Beehive State. While the former will denounce the nullification movement as an assault on our "national security," the "progressive" argument, as enunciated by the Center for American Progress’s Zack Beauchamp, is that this will lead to the reintroduction of slavery, racial segregation, and secessionism!Yes, really.It’s a pathetic argument, and one I dealt with here.
However, let us stop and pay tribute to the sheer demagogy of Beauchamp & Co., whose "thinktank" is fat with big donations from military contractors and Obama administration insiders. Their answer to the libertarian and authentic left critique of the NSA is purerace-baiting – the Joan Walsh argument, which characterizes each and every proposal to scale back our overweening federal government as a conspiracy to impose White Supremacy.As ready-made as this cheap "argument" is for the McCarthyite atmosphere bubbling over in Washington, it isn’t going to enjoy much traction in Utah – or, indeed, anywhere outside of the offices of the Center for American Progress.
To say that the entire post-New Deal apparatus of the welfare state is going to suddenly collapse because the people of Utah decided not to countenance a spy facility in their midst is beyond absurd.Notice the similarity of this "progressive" argument to the fear-mongering of the neocons, who hold up the specter of another 9/11 to justify our emerging police state: if we let the locals kick out the NSA Data Center, says Beauchamp, something terrible is going to happen – the blowing apart of the American nation-state.What is really going on here is that the residents of Official Washington, who are sitting on a gold mine of government money – and inflated real estate values – while the rest of the country is in the poorhouse, are jealous of their assumed prerogatives. Beauchamp and his fellow Beltway "progressives" don’t think those hicks out in the cornfields should have a say about what uses their resources are put to. That’s a decision forWashington bureaucrats – Beauchamp’s buddies – to make.
Well I have news for Beauchamp: this burgeoning nationwide movement to liberate us from the NSA’s unwanted embrace isn’t going to be stopped by some harebrained conspiracy theory. The American people, no matter what their politics, have had enough, not only of the NSA but of an intellectually bankrupt "progressive" movement that has sold its soul to James Clapper.As I am writing this, I’ve just learned that Iowa state senator Jake Chapman (R-Adel) has introduced theFourth Amendment Protection Act, which directs state agencies and subdivisions to not "provide material support for participation with or assistance to, in any form, any federal agency which claims the power, or which purports due to any federal law, regulation, or order, to authorize the collection of electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant that particularly describes the person, place or thing to be searched or seized."Says Chapman:"When I took the oath of office, I swore to support the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the great State of Iowa. This federal agency has usurped our Constitutional rights. My bill affirms our Constitutional rights and protects the citizens of Iowa. We have learned in recent months through investigations and through the media, the NSA is collecting and storing nearly 30 percent of all Americans’ call records, they collect and store over 200 million text messages daily, and they are tracking American’s through social media, including GPS tracking. We must not trade freedom for security. My bill may not protect all Americans, but it will certainly protect Iowans."Forget dealing with this in Washington – the corrupt capital of a world empire that has no regard for the Constitution or the opinions of those they supposedly represent.
The only way to dismantle the monstrous Panopticon built in secret by our wise rulers is to subvert it at the local level. We’re through with supplication – now let’s move to resistance.Let the battle cry go up: Turn it off!

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