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Congress Lops $35 Million Off Funding for NSA Supercomputer Center

Patrick Semansky/AP

Deep inside legislation authorizing 2014 Pentagon activities is a line item that reduces construction spending for a National Security Agency data mining facility near Baltimore. The Obama administration had requested $431 million for the third phase of development of the 28-acre server estate. 

A report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act -- expected to clear Congress as early as Thursday night  -- caps expenses at $396 million. The vague explanation states that military officials said they won’t be able to expend the full amount asked for in fiscal 2014.

The budget trimming coincides with calls from Congress, a federal court and a White House review panel to sharply curtail the stockpiling of information concerning American citizens. Costs were expected to total $792 million in May, when workers broke ground on the center near the agency's headquarters at Fort Meade.

Recommendations released on Wednesday by White House-appointed intelligence watchdogs call for legislation that "terminates the storage of bulk telephony metadata by the government.” The practice, a post-Sept. 11 counterterrorism program, amasses U.S. citizen and foreign national call logs with phone numbers, conversation lengths and other phone records that can show relationships between individuals. 

The Maryland facility is the younger sibling of a $1.2 billion surveillance warehouse in Utah that is 15 times as large as MetLife stadium. NSA recently hid from the public electrical meltdowns that were delaying the activation of data-munching machines in Utah.

Both centers are part of a series of NSA computer complexes that one day could manage yottabytes of data. Wired has reported that “should the agency ever fill the Utah center with a yottabyte of information, it would be equal to about 500 quintillion (500,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text.”

Last year, the Energy Department, in a cost-savings move, brokered an agreement with technology companies to prototype exascale supercomputers (a million exabytes equal a yottabyte) needed by 2020 for espionage, among other national security efforts. This year's defense bill directs Energy to develop a new class of exascale supercomputers to model nuclear weapons explosions

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