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Meltdowns metaphor

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Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or

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Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Hindering the National Security Agency's scarily awesome high-tech prowess is a rather mundane difficulty — explosive electrical meltdowns delaying its new Utah facility for storing vast U.S. spying data.

Ten times in the past 14 months, electrical surges at the classified, cumbersomely named National Security Agency Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center have caused nearly $1 million in damage, according to a United Press International account based largely on Wall Street Journal reporting.

Overseeing construction, the Army Corps of Engineers says contractors don't understand these “arc-fault failures” well enough to explain or fix them. Contractors say they do. Project officials say the contractors' fix won't prevent more such failures. The NSA maintains the failures “have been mitigated.” But The Journal found evidence of corners being cut to “fast-track” construction.

Continuously using enough electricity for a city of 20,000, the center reportedly will store trillions of gigabytes of data drawn from emails, cell phone calls, online searches, parking receipts, travel itineraries, even bookstore purchases. The NSA maintains the data center won't be used illegally — but once open, it will only deepen concerns about government tracking millions of innocent Americans.

This project does not engender confidence that the NSA is any better at avoiding violations of Americans' constitutional rights than it is at avoiding electrical meltdowns.

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