Utah – Achilles’ Heel of the Surveillance State

The movement to end the Surveillance State is finally getting serious. With the failure by Congress to rein in the NSA – although the heroic Rep. Justin Amash nearly succeeded in doing so – activists on the state level are mounting a campaign that promises to hit Big Brother where it really hurts – by cutting off the NSA’s water supply at its Bluffdale, Utah, Data Center.

A bill introduced in the Utah legislature by state representative Marc Roberts (R-Santaquin) would cut off the water supply to the NSA’s massive facility which will gobble up 1.7 million gallons of water per day – in a state already hit hard by a region-wide drought.

What do they need all that water for? To cool the mega-computers housing the NSA’s huge store of intercepted data – virtually all the emails transmitted in the country and beyond, including phone calls and our all-important "meta data." The heavily fortified Data Center will store all this purloined information in four halls, each 25,000 square feet, with an additional 900,000 square feet for bureaucratic high mucka-mucks and their administrative and technical peons. The electricity bill alone is estimated at $40 million annually.

The people of Utah, however, are having second thoughts about having this monster in their midst.

"If you want to spy on the whole world and American citizens, great, but we’re not going to help you," says Roberts.

The Roberts bill is part of a nationwide "Nullify the NSA" campaign spearheaded by the OffNow Coalition, a politically diverse group – including Antiwar.com, one of the founding members – that is pushing model legislation already introduced in fifteen states and counting: if passed, these bills would not only forbid local publicly owned water utilities from servicing the NSA, but would also stop any sort of cooperation and/or subsidies from going to the spy agency – including in the educational sphere. The University of Utah, which is publicly funded, has been sucking up to the NSA in order to qualify for grants and has even recently inaugurated a new course on "data management" at the NSA’s suggestion. But the University of Utah chapter of Young Americans for Liberty is on their case, along with Roberts – and a good number of state legislators of both parties.

Former Utah governor and Republican squish Jon Huntsman, whose laughable presidential campaign garnered most if not all its support from the media, apparently cut a deal with the NSA to exempt the Data Center from taxes on their usage of resources such as water and electricity. State lawmakers, however, aren’t buying it. A bill introduced by Republican state senator Jerry Stevenson, SB 45, which would exempt a number of federal projects – including NSA facilities – from state resource taxes is running into vocal opposition. "This property is already getting a great deal on water, and creates very few jobs on a choice piece of land," averred Democrat Jim Dabkis, of Salt Lake City, during debate. "Why do we want to give up that utility tax and have the rate payers from the state have to make up for what is really very little contribution from the rest of the federal government?"

Good question, to which supporters of the bill answer: Huntsman made a deal with the feds and we have to stick by it. But there isn’t much sentiment to abide by an agreement that was apparently made in secret. Says Dabkis:

"I’ve asked, and I have not been able to be provided with it, any piece of paper that says as part of this agreement to bring this very low-job development… That here is commitment that the State of Utah makes [to the federal government] that you don’t have to pay the utility taxes."

In reply, Stevenson bleated that "there is a great deal of institutional memory that puts this agreement in place." But that memory is apparently too ephemeral to have been written down in black and white, as Stevenson sheepishly admitted.

Stevenson’s fellow Republicans aren’t too hot on the NSA either. Interrogated by state senator Wayne Harper as to why Stevenson refused to delete the most controversial section of his bill – the part shielding the NSA Data Center – the Taylorsville Republican said: "I don’t remember that I made any commitments to giving tax subsidies to a spy center." State senator Margaret Dayton (R-Orem) doesn’t recall that either, nor does she remember repealing state laws mandating local control over tax waivers:

"[The data center is] not creating jobs, it is creating a lot of consternation in my area…[this was] not something discussed with the legislature as far as I am aware of."

"Creating a lot of consternation" – this is the key to beating the NSA and its neocon and "progressive" defenders. This is what we have to do in every locality, but especially in Utah – the Achilles heel of the Surveillance State.

Utah state legislators are clearly getting a lot of flak from the voters, and are quite nervous about the Data Center being in their state, but you’d never know that from the national and international coverage of the issue. Spencer Ackerman, writing in The Guardian, deemed the anti-NSA effort "quixotic," without quite saying why, and the Washington Post, the voice of our political class, contends state legislators are sending "mixed messages" when it comes to the NSA. This is pure spin.

One imagines an enormous amount of pressure is now being exerted on these recalcitrant state legislators to go along with the program and allow their state to become world-renown as the NSA’s Mount Doom, but will those ferociously independent Westerners knuckle under? Somehow, I doubt it.

Just in case they need a little persuading, however, I would suggest that the threat of an international boycott of the state of Utah hanging over their heads might push them in the right direction.

That may not be necessary, however, because it looks to me like the local political dynamics are moving in the right direction. If the effort looks like it’s going to succeed, you can expect both the neocon right and the "progressive" left to come down hard on the Beehive State. While the former will denounce the nullification movement as an assault on our "national security," the "progressive" argument, as enunciated by the Center for American Progress’s Zack Beauchamp, is that this will lead to the reintroduction of slavery, racial segregation, and secessionism!

Yes, really.

It’s a pathetic argument, and one I dealt with here. However, let us stop and pay tribute to the sheer demagogy of Beauchamp & Co., whose "thinktank" is fat with big donations from military contractors and Obama administration insiders. Their answer to the libertarian and authentic left critique of the NSA is pure race-baiting – the Joan Walsh argument, which characterizes each and every proposal to scale back our overweening federal government as a conspiracy to impose White Supremacy.

As ready-made as this cheap "argument" is for the McCarthyite atmosphere bubbling over in Washington, it isn’t going to enjoy much traction in Utah – or, indeed, anywhere outside of the offices of the Center for American Progress. To say that the entire post-New Deal apparatus of the welfare state is going to suddenly collapse because the people of Utah decided not to countenance a spy facility in their midst is beyond absurd.

Notice the similarity of this "progressive" argument to the fear-mongering of the neocons, who hold up the specter of another 9/11 to justify our emerging police state: if we let the locals kick out the NSA Data Center, says Beauchamp, something terrible is going to happen – the blowing apart of the American nation-state.

What is really going on here is that the residents of Official Washington, who are sitting on a gold mine of government money – and inflated real estate values – while the rest of the country is in the poorhouse, are jealous of their assumed prerogatives. Beauchamp and his fellow Beltway "progressives" don’t think those hicks out in the cornfields should have a say about what uses their resources are put to. That’s a decision for Washington bureaucrats – Beauchamp’s buddies – to make.

Well I have news for Beauchamp: this burgeoning nationwide movement to liberate us from the NSA’s unwanted embrace isn’t going to be stopped by some harebrained conspiracy theory. The American people, no matter what their politics, have had enough, not only of the NSA but of an intellectually bankrupt "progressive" movement that has sold its soul to James Clapper.

As I am writing this, I’ve just learned that Iowa state senator Jake Chapman (R-Adel) has introduced the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, which directs state agencies and subdivisions to not "provide material support for participation with or assistance to, in any form, any federal agency which claims the power, or which purports due to any federal law, regulation, or order, to authorize the collection of electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant that particularly describes the person, place or thing to be searched or seized."

Says Chapman:

"When I took the oath of office, I swore to support the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the great State of Iowa. This federal agency has usurped our Constitutional rights. My bill affirms our Constitutional rights and protects the citizens of Iowa. We have learned in recent months through investigations and through the media, the NSA is collecting and storing nearly 30 percent of all Americans’ call records, they collect and store over 200 million text messages daily, and they are tracking American’s through social media, including GPS tracking. We must not trade freedom for security. My bill may not protect all Americans, but it will certainly protect Iowans."

Forget dealing with this in Washington – the corrupt capital of a world empire that has no regard for the Constitution or the opinions of those they supposedly represent. The only way to dismantle the monstrous Panopticon built in secret by our wise rulers is to subvert it at the local level. We’re through with supplication – now let’s move to resistance.

Let the battle cry go up: Turn it off!

Resources for local activism:

I’m so busy with this #NullifytheNSA campaign – Antiwar.com is a member of the OffNow Coalition – that I barely had time to note that, yes, our fundraising campaign is still waaaay behind – and to remind you that we can’t continue this kind of activist journalism until and unless we make our fundraising goal. So please – if you support our campaign to nullify the NSA and want to make sure it not only continues but succeeds, then now is the time to make your donation to Antiwar.com.

Because, guess what – this local movement to bypass Washington and nullify the NSA looks like it could really succeed.


You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].