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[infowar.de] NSA electricity crisis gets Senate scrutiny
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From the Baltimore Sun
NSA electricity crisis gets Senate scrutiny
By Siobhan Gorman
January 26, 2007
WASHINGTON -- The National Security Agency's impending electricity
shortfall is "sort of a national catastrophe," Sen. John D. Rockefeller
IV, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said yesterday.
Rockefeller, who took over as head of the panel when Democrats regained
control of the Senate this month, called the power shortage a symptom of a
larger problem: the NSA's failure to manage long-range issues.
"They haven't focused on the large picture," the West Virginia Democrat
said in an interview.
The Sun reported last year that the NSA expects its power demands to
exceed its supply within the next two years - an issue it has been aware
of since the late 1990s. NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander has
acknowledged the problem and assured lawmakers that he has assigned some
of his top lieutenants to tackle it, according to a committee aide.
The NSA has set up an "issue management team" to work through the problem,
The Sun reported last week. Such groups are usually assembled to focus on
key spy targets, not infrastructure problems.
"It's true that the power, space and cooling needs of the agency weren't
adequately addressed, and we're fixing it," said NSA spokesman Ken White.
He said the agency had been working on the problem with lawmakers for nine
months, updating them as recently as this week.
The NSA is "effectively addressing this complex situation, and is
confident that we have a strategy that will receive the necessary funding
to ensure sufficient power capacity and reliability for the future," he
said in a statement.
As part of a broader look at the nation's intelligence agencies,
Rockefeller said he plans to take up, at a hearing in March, the NSA's
coming electricity crisis and its inability to adapt to 21st-century
"We have been very weak on oversight since the beginning of the Bush
administration, and this has not been a good time to be weak on
oversight," he said.
That is about to change, the senator promised.
"There's going to be a showdown," he said, noting that the administration
has already rebuffed other senators' requests for documents. If his
committee does not get the information it needs, "I'm not going to rule
out the process of the subpoena."
The electricity shortfall appeared to be a chief concern as he discussed
his panel's priorities.
NSA officials "were so busy doing what various people wanted that they
forgot to understand that they were running out of power, and that's sort
of a national catastrophe," he said. "We cannot have that place go dark."
With its focus on intercepting communications, the NSA is the country's
largest intelligence agency and also one of its most technology - and
electric power - dependent.
Three main factors have contributed to the problem: insufficient
electricity available from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., lack of
capacity at substations serving the NSA, and infrastructure in agency
buildings that cannot handle rising electrical demands.
To curb its appetite for electricity in the short term, the NSA has shut
off some equipment and delayed plugging in some new supercomputers.
According to a committee aide, Rockefeller's panel has posed basic
questions to the NSA about the agency's present electrical capacity and
its expected capacity when new items in the pipeline are added. It has
also inquired about capacity when longer-term modernization projects take
hold and where the agency expects to get the electricity to support it all.
So far, the NSA has given the committee data on how much electricity the
agency uses, though, the aide said, there is a significant margin of error
in that estimate. There are also concerns that the NSA might not fully
understand its future needs.
The NSA uses about 65 to 75 megawatt-hours of electricity, The Sun
reported last week. Its needs are projected to grow by 10 to 15
megawatt-hours by next fall.
Another shortcoming - the NSA's continuing difficulty in devising a
computerized system to collect electronic communications in the wake of
the global information explosion - will also be explored by his committee,
"They have had their problems there," he said, noting that the NSA's last
modernization effort, dubbed Trailblazer, "didn't work."
Rockefeller said he had not yet reached a conclusion on the NSA's latest
modernization projects. His staff expects to report its findings to the
committee in advance of the March oversight hearing.
Rockefeller's committee is also evaluating the legality and effectiveness
of President Bush's Terrorist Surveillance Program at the NSA.
The senator said his early priorities include getting more information
about the authorization that a secret national-security court provided
recently for the program, which had previously conducted warrantless
eavesdropping on conversations between the United States and overseas if
one party was believed to be linked to al-Qaida.
Last week, Bush announced that he had submitted the program to the secret
court and it had given the administration warrants for the eavesdropping.
Rockefeller said the new court orders don't satisfy his concerns. His
committee is also examining whether the program provided unique
information that helped the government find terrorists, as administration
officials have claimed, a committee aide said.
Even though Rockefeller had been among a small cadre of lawmakers updated
on the program since its inception, he said he still does not have enough
information to know how Congress should respond to the program or whether
it has been effective.
"What they haven't told us is so overwhelmingly large," he said, that "you
would laugh" at the meagerness of the information lawmakers have been given.
Rockefeller said he has asked the administration for copies of documents
authorizing the program in 2001 and a Justice Department analysis of why a
warrant could not be used.
A committee aide said the panel also wants to see copies of orders
recently issued by the secret national security court that OK'd the
program, the government's application for warrants, and intelligence
reports provided to such agencies as the FBI and CIA. The committee also
wants to know whether those intelligence reports produced valuable tips on
"We can't get that information," Rockefeller said. "We need that
information. We deserve that information. By law, we have to have that
Rockefeller said he has already spoken with Democratic Sen. Patrick J.
Leahy of Vermont, who chairs the Judiciary committee. The two panels
expect to produce legislation this year that would set new guidelines
designating the types of domestic surveillance that U.S. intelligence
agencies may, and may not, conduct.
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