At the intersection of Loop 410 and Military Drive on Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas lies the Texas Cryptology Center. It’s a huge and intimidatingly bland building, covered in massive A/C units and shrouded in secrecy. Operated by the NSA, the general function of this spy center was unknown until fairly recently. In fact, one of the only public statements released from the center was in response to signals emanating from the building which were interfering with garage door openers.
Photo: Maryland NSA Headquarters
Then in early 2013, the purpose of the Texas Cryptology Center and several other of the NSA’s behemoth computing centers started to become clear. The now infamous NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the agency had created, through use of the Patriot Act, a vast and sophisticated network of surveillance under the code name PRISM. This program allows the collection of personal data from some of the internet’s most frequented sites. Companies such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, and Skype are all participants. It later broke that the NSA was also monitoring vast quantities of phone calls. All this was done under the guise of national security, and preventing terrorism.
NSA officials initially attempted to calm the frenzied media reaction by saying that only data from international communications was being collected. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked at a hearing whether the National Security Agency collects any data on millions of Americans. “No sir … not wittingly,” Clapper responded, acknowledging there are cases “where inadvertently, perhaps the data could be collected.” It turns out that this statement was dangerously close to a blatant lie. In reality, “The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.” To the NSA’s defense, supposedly only “metadata” is being collected. That is the NSA only records the location, duration, and identities of two callers, but not the content. However, it seems plausible that if the NSA officials lied about not collecting Americans data, then they maybe lying about the kind of data being collected. This is currently just speculation, but it wasn’t long ago that people who were paranoid about Big Brother spying on them were labeled as crazies.
In fact, it’s not just American citizens or international terrorist that should be worried about NSA snooping. While Snowden fled to Hong Kong, and then to Russia seeking political asylum, it was leaked that the NSA had bugged the offices of European Union officials. “The leaked documents suggest the aim of the bugging exercise against the EU embassy in central Washington is to gather inside knowledge of policy disagreements on global issues and other rifts between member states.” While governments spying on each other is nothing new, it’s seems quite brazen for the U.S to treat some of its closest allies with the same lack of respect as suspected terrorist.
Despite the fact that all of this already resembles the plot of a spy movie, the type of revelations coming out now may be just the tip of the iceberg. It’s unclear how much insider information Snowden was able to retrieve about the NSA’s operations, or if he will leak anymore statements about the extent of the snooping. As of right now, business is booming for the NSA. Based on a study of property records, the San Antonio NSA campus “has grown by nearly 135,000 square feet, to almost 633,000 square feet. In 2008, the facility was worth $33.5 million; now it is valued at more than $72 million.” Clearly the NSA anticipates no slowdown in their operations. But if the leaks continue, the citizens of San Antonio might just gain some insight into the Texas Cryptology Center, and how their city plays a key role in the emergence of local and global surveillance.