PUBLISHED: 19:56 EST, 3 April 2012 | UPDATED: 20:30 EST, 3 April 2012
The National Security Agency is facing claims that its new spy centre in Utah will have the power to monitor ordinary Americans.
Intelligence expert James Bamford recently interviewed a whistleblower who claimed that the NSA has software that is able to search through the emails, phone calls and texts of U.S. citizens, in an article published in WIRED magazine.
But Mike Baker, a former cover field operations officer for the CIA, told Fox News that the paranoia surrounding the billion dollar project was understandable yet exaggerated, adding that the main problem was the size of the data collection warehouse.
‘The fact that they’re building a new data center isn’t news,’ Baker told Fox News. ‘They’ve got several other [similar] facilities. The size of this is what is creating the stir.’
Once built, the million square foot centre will be more than five times the size of the US Capitol, and will use an estimated $40m of electricity every year, according to one estimate.
But Baker said the scale of the center is perhaps necessary because of the potential threat to the U.S.’s national safety.
‘The number one threat that we face as a nation frankly is not Iran. It’s not actually the war on terror,’ he told the channel.
‘It’s cyber warfare. It is the daily, astounding number of attacks against our government infrastructure, our private sector. The amount of economic espionage that’s directed at our country on a daily basis would stun the American public. So the NSA has both a defensive and offensive requirement.’
The former intelligence officer said most people’s suspicions were unfounded.’There’s a tendency on the average American to think their life is fascinating enough for the government to want to surveil them all the time, to collect information on them,’ Baker continued to Fox News.
‘I come from the other side of this, having spent the time and looked behind the curtain. I honestly can say they don’t care about the average American. That’s not the point of the exercise.’
The NSA’s chief General Keith Alexander vehemently denied the controversial claims when he was questioned during a Congressional hearing last week by Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson.
When responding to questions about the WIRED article, Alexander said: ‘NSA does not have the ability to do that in the United States. We’re not authorized to do that, nor do we have the equipment in the United States to collect that kind of information.’
NSA public information officer Vanee’ Vines added: ‘Many allegations have been made about the planned activities of the Utah Data Center
‘What it will be is a state-of-the-art facility designed to support the Intelligence Community’s efforts to further strengthen and protect the nation. NSA is the executive agent for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and will be the lead agency at the center.’