Officials in Utah Defend NSA’s $1.7 Billion Data Center

The National Security Agency's massive data center in Utah isn't being used to store Americans' personal phone calls or social media activity, but plays a key role in protecting the country from cyber-attacks by hostile foreign governments, U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah said Tuesday.

Stewart's comments came during a national security conference he hosted on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City. NSA Utah director Dave Winberg was among the speakers, but didn't talk specifically what happens at a $1.7 billion data center south of Salt Lake City. He instead focused his remarks on the NSA's global purpose.

Stewart, a Republican, said the public shouldn't believe the misconceptions about what goes on at a facility that sits on a National Guard base about 25 miles south of Salt Lake City in the town of Bluffdale. The center became a target of scrutiny after revelations in 2013 that the NSA has been collecting millions of U.S. phone records and digital communications stored by major Internet providers.

Stewart said the center provides language translation, transcription, analysis and reporting as well as development services to several operations levels of the NSA.

"There's this narrative that every time you drive by Bluffdale, you think, 'They are collecting my Facebook, they are collecting my taxes, they are listening to my phone calls,'" Stewart said. "I promise you that is not the purpose."

Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told the audience that they would be proud of the work done there if they were privy to that information.

Stewart had strong words when asked about Edward Snowden, the exiled whistleblower who leaked classified documents about U.S. government surveillance. Stewart called him one of the "most destructive traitors America has ever seen" and said his supporters don't understand what he did to the country.

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