SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that news that the National Security Agency spied on Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics adds to his concerns about federal government overreach.
The NSA was created to protect Americans from terror threats, and the Government says the program has prevented attacks at least 300 times over a 10 year period. However, the agency's power has frightened many Americans.
But Herbert told reporters at the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7 that the Wall Street Journal report Wednesday doesn't affect his support of the NSA's massive Utah Data Center set to open this fall in Bluffdale.
"I think we're all concerned about Big Brother and the overreach we see the federal government in many levels. It's not just with our emails and surveillance and spy tactics," the governor said.
Herbert said the $1.5 billion, 1 million-square-foot NSA facility — so top secret that the governor wasn't invited inside during a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony closed to the media and the public — isn't the issue.
"It's not the building. Having the facilities here is not the problem. It's the people inside the building, those who run the NSA," Herbert said. "Storage of data and information is probably a good thing for us to be able to do."
Congressman Jason Chaffetz also mentioned that he supported an investigation into the NSA.
"We're going to dive deeper into this," Chaffetz said. "Because they have not come clean, they haven't told congress what they're doing and the American people deserve to know."
The governor said the worry comes with "what they do, who's out there doing it, whose information they're storing and how they're getting it," concerns he plans to raise with Utah's congressional delegation.
"It's not the building. Having the facilities here is not the problem. It's the people inside the building, those who run the NSA." Gov. Gary Herbert
"We need to believe and hope it's true that our Congress and our executive branch are working together" to provide oversight and make sure "we don't have some kind of rogue department or rogue individual that's out there violating our constitutional rights under the cause of public safety," he said.
However, Herbert said he understood why the agency and the FBI would want to monitor emails, reportedly during a six-month period surrounding the February 2002 Olympics, with the help of Qwest Communications.
Because the Olympics came just months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States, Herbert said the government was just trying to make sure the public was safe during the Olympics.
"The Olympics have been targeted by terrorists in the past," he said. "So I cut them a little slack in that regard. That being said, the challenge we have is to make sure we have the appropriate balance."
Utah's Senators Orrin Hatch and former Senator Robert Bennett said they are willing to cut the NSA a little more slack as well due to the terror threat and safeguards in place. Even so, they said they are supportive of hearings to re-examine those safeguards.
Contributing: Richard Piatt