NSA to close secret Yakima Training Center facility

      YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - The National Security Agency is closing a secretive listening post it has quietly operated near Yakima since the early 1970s, a newspaper reported Thursday.

      The electronic eavesdropping operation, located within the U.S. Army's Yakima Training Center, has been linked to Echelon, a global surveillance network operated by the NSA.

      The office of U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., confirmed the closure to the Yakima Herald-Republic on Wednesday. Hastings' 4th District includes the NSA operation.

      Hastings was informed of the pending closure last summer by the NSA, spokesman Neal Kirby said. The closure is part of NSA's effort to streamline and reorganize its operations, with some Yakima functions moving to Colorado, he said.

      The NSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

      Kirby said an exact date of the closure was not available, and that the number of employees at the facility is considered classified.

      Motorists on Interstate 82 can catch a glimpse of the operation in the distance. The center includes several buildings and a collection of large white satellite dishes set amid the rolling arid steppe land of the military reservation north of Yakima, about 180 miles southeast of Seattle.

      Access is highly restricted. The training center, a 327,000-acre Army base used primarily for artillery training and target practice, does not mention the facility on its website. And the Army routinely refers any inquiries about the facility to the NSA, which is based in Fort Meade, Md.

      The Yakima facility has been mentioned in several books on national security but otherwise hasn't attracted widespread attention.

      James Bamford, whose groundbreaking 1982 book about the NSA, "The Puzzle Palace," has said the Yakima facility has played a major role for decades in Echelon, the global surveillance network operated by the NSA and its counterparts in the British Commonwealth - Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The system has been reported to be capable of intercepting satellite communications traffic, such as emails and calls, from cellphones.

      President Harry S. Truman created the NSA in 1952 to protect U.S. national security systems and produce intelligence information on foreign signals.


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