Electricity shortages hamper NSA's modernization project

Published 26 June 2007

The NSA has an ambitious modernizations prgram code-named Turbulence; that program has been held up owing to power shortages at NSA HQ

For want of a nail: The National Security Agency has nearly maxed out its electrical capacity. It is one thing for some offices to experience power disruptions which weaken the air conditioning system, and it is another for the agency to realize that its infrastructure is stretched to its limits, making it difficult if not impossible to embark on an ambitious modernization program. Indeed, the Baltimore Sun reports that the spy agency has delayed the deployment of some new data-processing equipment because it is short on power and space. Outages have shut down some offices in NSA headquarters for up to half a day. And some officials fear that major problems could occur this summer as temperatures climb.

The NSA has been working to develop and implement short- and long-term plans to ensure a steady supply of electricity to the nation’s largest intelligence agency. These plans range from from creating rapid-response teams to revamping power substations. The current shortage do not really surprise anyone: Some of the rooms which house the NSA’s gigantic computer systems were not designed to handle newer computers which generate considerably more heat and draw far more electricity than their predecessors.

It is the result of “mismanagement at very high levels,” said Ira Winkler, a former NSA analyst. “They let it get out of hand.” The agency has already been forced to delay installing high-tech equipment to avoid overloading the system.

New equipment for data processing, as well as some purchased for one of the agency’s signature initiatives, the mammoth modernization effort code-named Turbulence, are among those that have been held up, the senior official said. The lengths of the delays are classified.