Yes folks, your favorite bunch of spooks have decided that the best way to get back into your good graces is by using up to 5 million gallons of wastewater daily to cool the new data center they are building in Maryland. Apparently, the NSA has reached an agreement with a local utility to use their wastewater rather than have them dump it into the Little Patuxent River. As part of the agreement, they (read “you, the taxpayer”) will spend $40 million to build a pumping station to deliver the non-potable fluid to their new 600,000-sq-ft facility that is due to open in 2016.
Personally, I think this use of “grey water” is certainly a step in the right direction for the NSA. Sure, maybe it’s not as cool as building a field of solar panels bigger than the average subdivision, or harnessing the seawater of Finland — this is a domestic spy facility after all — but in today’s parlance does anything say “mea culpa” more than a commitment to green? And wouldn’t you think that 5 million gallons daily would buy you a tsunami of good will? Although groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have yet to weigh in, I think that we can all agree that when a domestic spy agency embraces a commitment to the betterment of the planet that our government certainly has its priorities straight.
Oddly, companies like Facebook and Google have been silent about this technical development. Google is actually using a similar methodology at their data center near Atlanta to help keep the waters of the Chattahoochee River pure. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I imagine Sergei Brin and Eric Schmidt must be thrilled that these devotees of covert surveillance agree that the best way to cool a facility dedicated to capturing detailed information on U.S. citizens is via treated wastewater. Maybe sometimes government can do things as well as the private sector.
Like any PR effort, it’s going to take a while to see if this decision to use wastewater to cool the facility vaults the NSA back into our good graces. Privacy is a tricky thing, and a lot of folks just aren’t comfortable with the thought that the government knows that they call Aunt Marge every Tuesday evening or like that recipe for banana cream pie that someone posted on Facebook, so I don’t think they will be reclaiming their position as this country’s favorite cloak and dagger organization anytime soon.
Certainly, based on history, hardcore fans will be the first to rally, after all the Stasi and KGB both still retain their own rabid fan bases. But I don’t think this green initiative was ever really aimed at them. No, this effort is really designed to target the more casual subject of surveillance — Mr. and Mrs. America if you will. When you really think about it, this wastewater cooling decision is indicative of the type of surreptitious thinking that we want and expect from an organization whose whole purpose is to protect us from things that we’ll never know about. I guess the question that each of us will have to answer for ourselves is if the NSA is really committed to green or are we being subtly manipulated at a rate of 5 million gallons a day?