Power Outages Hit U.S. Security Agency

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has suffered two major electrical-supply outages in the last three years, says one of the agency's leading suppliers, indicating that concerns raised following a three-day outage in January 2000 have yet to be fully addressed. The NSA uses sophisticated supercomputers to monitor satellite interceptions of telephone and electronic communications.

03/01/2003


The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has suffered two major electrical-supply outages in the last three years, says one of the agency's leading suppliers, indicating that concerns raised following a three-day outage in January 2000 have yet to be fully addressed.

The NSA uses sophisticated supercomputers to monitor satellite interceptions of telephone and electronic communications. The outages, caused by failures in uninterruptible power supply systems, were reported in a recent issue of the Baltimore Sun. Gerald Loe, vice president of supercomputer manufacturer Cray Inc., said power supply was lost over two holiday weekends last year—Labor Day and Fourth of July.

The NSA is under pressure to modernize its systems in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A December 2002 report issued by a joint House and Senate intelligence committee called on the agency to draw up plans for upgrading and protecting its activities.

Reports say the outages occurred in posts maintained by the agency, not in its Fort Meade headquarters. NSA maintains three regional U.S. posts in Texas, Georgia and Hawaii, along with smaller offices in the states of Washington and Colorado.

The three-day outage in January 2000 hit NSA headquarters, requiring the agency to ask British security counterparts for help analyzing backed-up intelligence data. Neither subsequent outage was as severe, says Loe. But in both cases, Cray's on-site maintenance staff had to request additional technical help from company headquarters.

According to the Sun report, an NSA spokeswoman denied that either of these subsequent outages occurred on the dates mentioned, although she admitted the agency had suffered occasional problems since the January 2000 event. The representative told reporters that no data had been lost and that computers had continued to function as required.

From Pure Power, Spring 2003





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