Secret NSA mind reading at U.S. university?

By Aaron Klein

Does the National Security Agency run covert facilities at the University of Maryland or any other U.S. university?

There is information that one such facility may be involved in data mining to gain insight into what people are thinking, among other potentially intrusive programs.

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations, told the London Guardian newspaper that he previously worked as a security guard for what the publication carefully described as “one of the agency’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland.”

While the Guardian did not specify the covert NSA facilities, the agency does have open relationships with the University of Maryland.

Still, some reports clearly indicate a possible covert nature to the NSA’s relationship with the university, with one such program apparently involved in data mining and the use of intrusive, controversial technology, according to reports.

Brian Ullmann, the university’s assistant vice president for marketing and communications, was asked for comment. He would not address the query, posed twice to his department by WND, about whether the NSA operates covert facilities in conjunction with the university.

Ullmann’s only comment was to affirm that Snowden was employed as a security guard at the university’s Center for the Advanced Study of Languages in 2005.

One report came from PBS in January 2009, which described an NSA artificial intelligence program “designed to gain insight into what people are thinking.”

PBS reported the system is so potentially intrusive “that at least one researcher has quit, citing concerns over the dangers in placing such a powerful weapon in the hands of a top-secret agency with little accountability.”

According to the PBS report, the data mining system and other secretive surveillance programs were being run out of a 120,000-square-foot building in M Square Research Park in College Park, Md., operated in collaboration with the University of Maryland.

“Their budget is classified, but I understand it’s very well funded,” Brian Darmody, the University of Maryland’s assistant vice president of research and economic development, told “They’ll be in their own building here, and they’re going to grow. Their mission is expanding.”

In the 2009 report, PBS referred to possible data mining from social media websites.

“With the entire Internet and thousands of databases for a brain, the device will be able to respond almost instantaneously to complex questions posed by intelligence analysts,” read the report, referring to the NSA’s high-tech program.

Continued PBS: “As more and more data is collected – through phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records – it may one day be possible to know not just where people are and what they are doing, but what and how they think.”

It’s not the first such report of NSA mining data from Facebook and other websites.

WND reported last week on a recently unearthed 2010 project seeking to predict criminal activity using vast quantities of data on citizens mined from social network websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Meanwhile, the NSA runs other facilities from the University of Maryland campus.

In 2006, the NSA, the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the university announced the creation of a joint research institute designed to advance quantum physics research. The institute was described as “deciphering the secrets of nature at the submicroscopic scale.”

The institute is located on the University of Maryland campus in College Park. It boasts an annual budget of approximately $6 million and a staff of about 20 scientists.

In March 2009, the NSA, through the National INFOSEC Education and Training Program, identified the University of Maryland as one of 95 universities that conformed to its standards for acceptable programs in information security.

Also that year, the NSA designated the university as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Research. The university received the formal award at the 13th Colloquium for Information Systems Security Education.

With additional research by Brenda J. Elliott.

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