NSA’s Yottabytes of Data

Aerial view of NSA HQ at Fort Meade, via NSA

The NSA is building two new storage facilities to house yottabytes of data. One in Utah and one in Texas. The scale is staggering. There are a thousand gigabytes in a terabyte, a thousand terabytes in a petabyte, a thousand petabytes in an exabyte, a thousand exabytes in a zettabyte, and a thousand zettabytes in a yottabyte. A yottabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000 GB¹.

This data is mostly pocket litter: trillions of phone calls, email messages, web searches, parking receipts, bookstore visits, and other data trails.

The issue is critical because at the NSA, electrical power is political power. In its top-secret world, the coin of the realm is the kilowatt. More electrical power ensures bigger data centers.

Does this scare you? As for myself, no. As a mathematician, I’ve often fantasized working at the NSA. From the article, it seems like they don’t have enough supercomputing power to deal with the vasts amounts of data that they are harnessing and storing.

I like the term infoweapons used in this article. Infoweapons are supercomputers running complex algorithmic programs.

On a remote edge of Utah’s dry and arid high desert, where temperatures often zoom past 100 degrees, hard-hatted construction workers with top-secret clearances are preparing to build what may become America’s equivalent of Jorge Luis Borges’s “Library of Babel,” a place where the collection of information is both infinite and at the same time monstrous, where the entire world’s knowledge is stored, but not a single word is understood. At a million square feet, the mammoth $2 billion structure will be one-third larger than the US Capitol and will use the same amount of energy as every house in Salt Lake City combined.

Unlike Borges’s “labyrinth of letters,” this library expects few visitors. It’s being built by the ultra-secret National Security Agency—which is primarily responsible for “signals intelligence,” the collection and analysis of various forms of communication—to house trillions of phone calls, e-mail messages, and data trails: Web searches, parking receipts, bookstore visits, and other digital “pocket litter.” Lacking adequate space and power at its city-sized Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters, the NSA is also completing work on another data archive, this one in San Antonio, Texas, which will be nearly the size of the Alamodome.

Just how much information will be stored in these windowless cybertemples? A clue comes from a recent report prepared by the MITRE Corporation, a Pentagon think tank. “As the sensors associated with the various surveillance missions improve,” says the report, referring to a variety of technical collection methods, “the data volumes are increasing with a projection that sensor data volume could potentially increase to the level of Yottabytes (1024 Bytes) by 2015.”[1] Roughly equal to about a septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text, numbers beyond Yottabytes haven’t yet been named. Once vacuumed up and stored in these near-infinite “libraries,” the data are then analyzed by powerful infoweapons, supercomputers running complex algorithmic programs, to determine who among us may be—or may one day become—a terrorist. In the NSA’s world of automated surveillance on steroids, every bit has a history and every keystroke tells a story.

Eric Haseltine And Intellipedia

Kottke mentioned something cool in his latest post: Intellipedia, a wikipedia-like tool for people working in intelligence.

Chuck S01E09 (NBC) Chuck Versus The Imported Hard Salami

Chuck is an American science-fiction television program created by Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak. The series is about an “average computer-whiz-next-door” who receives an encoded e-mail from an old college friend Bryce Larkin, a rogue CIA agent, which happens to embed the world’s greatest spy secrets into his brain. This is called the intersect.

From the Wikipedia entry on Chuck.

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Chuck S01E08 (NBC) Chuck Versus the Truth

Chuck finds that he doesn’t like to get everyone involved in his spy games. It’s not his fault, but Ellie gets involved when she saves someone. At the same time, Chuck finds out from Sarah that nothing is going on between them, in no uncertain terms.

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Chuck S01E07 (NBC)

Chuck gets pulled back to Stanford, but not for the reasons that he thought he would.

In this episode we learn a lot about why Chuck got kicked out of Stanford and what Bryce had to do with this.

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Chuck S01E06 (NBC)

Chuck is running into trouble at work, and it’s because of his spy gig. He meets his new mission while looking for Morgan at the pier. It’s time for his interview at the BuyMore for the assistant manager position, but Chuck will have to make a choice.

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Chuck S01E05 (NBC)

Chuck is trying to juggle his new spy life with his personal life and getting into trouble on the homefront. Ellie isn’t happy about no longer being the exclusive girl in Chuck’s life. I think it’s about time that the guy met other people.

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Chuck S01E04 (NBC)

Morgan meets a girl that he likes. It’s “Karina”, one of Sarah’s old friends. She works undercover for the DEA. She wants an op setup to retrieve a precious diamond from a guy involved in the heroin trade in the Middle East.

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Chuck S01E03 (NBC)

This is the first show of the series Chuck to use it’s normal intro and song by Cake.

Chuck is set a challenge by Big Mike. He has to complete it to become assistant manager. Harry Tang doesn’t make things easier for him. Meanwhile Casey, Sarah and Chuck are hunting for an elusive arms dealer code named La Ciudad. Morgan is acting like a third wheel in Chuck’s relationship with Sarah. Ellie, Chuck’s sister, thinks that Sarah really likes him. Chuck is surprised to hear this.

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Chuck S01E02 (NBC)

Part of The Sky Is On Fire In Banqiao Series.

Chuck is a series about an ordinary guy, who got kicked out of Stanford thanks to his pal Bryce, who is pushed into extraordinary circumstances. Chuck’s life is at a standstill. He works at a giant mart called BuyMore and is an assistant manager. Most of the time, he hangs around his friend Morgan.

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