LAS VEGAS -- The debate about domestic surveillance programs has arrived on our doorstep.
In neighboring Utah, the National Security Agency is spending an estimated $1.7 billion to build a gigantic data storage facility in Bluffdale, near Provo.
Once it is up and running, it will be capable of ingesting every communication in the entire world -- for centuries.
Not surprisingly, they didn't invite the I-Team in for a look-see. The facility is ominous, imposing, and massive, sort of like the NSA's version of Area 51, except it is in plain sight.
With the exception of a few hundred people at a 4th of July protest, the NSA plant has been welcomed to Utah with open arms. But, as more Americans learn about how far the NSA has reached into our private lives, will we continue to view this program is such a positive light?
Talk radio veteran Jack Stockwell thinks his K-TALK listeners on the right and the left can agree on one issue -- the threat posed by sweeping government surveillance.
"This text says there were a lot of trendy liberals that showed up at the NSA protest," Stockwell said during his radio broadcast. "Every walk of life showed up -- approximately 300 people."
Stockwell is creeped out by what's being built just down the road, a humongous complex of gloomy concrete warehouses, a million square feet in all, space enough for supercomputers capable of storing pretty much everything. The NSA's Bluffdale facility will be up and running later this year.
"I think we are all being listened to," Stockwell said. "I think we are all being transcripted and digitized and put into a memory bank somewhere."
Former NSA analyst William Binney, whose warnings about domestic surveillance programs fell on deaf ears until this year, said the sheer size of the facility proves the NSA is lying when it says it will only collect metadata -- big picture stuff. Bluffdale could house every single communication in the world for 500 years, Binney said.
"There are several lies inherent in that," Binney said. "One is that you could keep all the metadata in the world in a space 12 feet by 20 feet. That's all you would need. Metadata doesn't require them to build anything to store it. They wouldn't need it. The only reason is content."
By Binney's calculations, the Bluffdale computers will be able to digest the equivalent of the Library of Congress every minute.
What's more, he said, Bluffdale is one of at least six similar NSA facilities, and every one of them has undergone expansion.
The NSA doesn't grant interviews, but has told Congress it needs all of this data to root our terrorists and to protect us from cyber attacks. Journalist D.B. Grady, who has written extensively about government secrecy, is not convinced.
"If you wanted to collect every phone call, every email, every electronic record in the world, it would look exactly like the Utah data center," said Grady, who co-authored "Deep State." They say no, but that's what it would look like. Why do you need 100 million data records from Verizon? There aren't 100 million terrorists in the U.S."
Prior to the attacks of 9/11, the NSA was strictly forbidden from conducting surveillance in the United States. Now, such data collection is virtually unlimited. Grady thinks that once the NSA opens Bluffdale, there is no way it will ever be disconnected, only expanded.
"Even if you trust our current leaders, the president, heads of intelligence agencies, et cetera, now, you would have to trust everyone until the end of time," Grady said. "Literally, it's anything you say or write or think."
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, one of the few lawmakers who voted against the Patriot Act, said he and other members of Congress are well aware of the vast expansion of the NSA's capabilities. Heller has co-sponsored legislation to open up the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) -- that is, the secret court which has OK'ed nearly every single surveillance program sought by intelligence agencies.
"The only way you can solve this problem is to become public," Heller said. "You have to open up these courts and know specifically what their decisions are. If we do that, I think we can roll back some of the concerns the American people have."
Back on the 4th of July, about 300 people rallied in Bluffdale to protest against increased surveillance. But the crowd dissipated, and each day, the massive plant gets closer to full operation. Much of the public looks at the facility as a warm, protective blanket.
"When I see stuff like that, I don't see us moving toward a freer society," Stockwell said. "I see us moving toward a more controlled collectivist society, where you are going to be on a list."
Is oversight of the intelligence agencies even possible, as Congress hopes? Binney says no. The programs are so huge, and the information so classified, that congressional committees and the FISA courts basically have to take the word of the NSA or Central Intelligence Agency because there is no way to verify what they are actually collecting or what they are doing with it. And, as we have seen, those agencies have not exactly been truthful in the past.
Monday, September 1 2014 6:06 PM EDT2014-09-01 22:06:07 GMT
Some medical providers say they often deal with Hispanic patients who are afraid to seek medical care. In some cases, it has to do with a language barrier, but in most cases, it is fear among undocumented immigrants that they could end up being deported. More>>
Some medical providers say they often deal with Hispanic patients who are afraid to seek medical care. It's hoped the opening of a new medical clinic will change that.
Monday, September 1 2014 5:58 PM EDT2014-09-01 21:58:50 GMT
The three-day holiday weekend ended with visitors crowding the airport and freeways as they made their way back home. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Association, around 313,000 people visited Las Vegas over the Labor Day weekend. More>>
The three-day holiday weekend ended with visitors crowding the airport and freeways as they made their way back home.
Monday, September 1 2014 5:51 PM EDT2014-09-01 21:51:43 GMT
Tens of thousands of people bid farewell to summer by enjoying Lake Mead for Labor Day weekend. While there were a few minor rescues, DUI's and boating incidents, the vast majority of people had some fun in the sun. More>>
Tens of thousands of people bid farewell to summer by enjoying Lake Mead for Labor Day weekend. While there were a few minor rescues, DUI's and boating incidents, the vast majority of people had some fun in the sun.