August 26, 2013

NSA to Build Data Analytics Lab at North Carolina State

Alex Woodie

The National Security Agency will build a $60.76 million data analytics laboratory at North CarolinaStateUniversity, the college announced this month. The Laboratory for Analytic Sciences (LAS) will be used to conduct research and promote advances in the field of data analysis, including classified and unclassified work.

The LAS program is expected to bring 100 new jobs to the region, and provide another feather in the cap of North Carolina’s famed Research Triangle, as outlined by the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.

People who work in the LAS program will need to have a security clearance issued by the U.S. government, although there will also be some unclassified work done at the lab, the university says.

North Carolina initially planned to announce its selection by the NSA in early June, but decided to delay the announcement due to the disclosure of NSA’s mass surveillance programs by former NSA employee Edward Snowden, according to a story on the News & Observer website.

“A very important announcement about our new NSA-funded Laboratory for Analytic Sciences was suppose to be made public this morning, but with that bit out of The Guardian (newspaper) on NSA collecting phone records of Verizon customers–everyone thought it best to not make the announcement just yet,” Randy Avent, NC State’s associate vice chancellor for research, wrote in a June 6 email to NC State administrators, according to the News & Observer.

NC State will not be involved in the NSA’s operational intelligence work, the university’s chancellor, Randy Woodson, told the News & Observer. “Our partnership with them is really about the science of big data and data analysis,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything more difficult right now for both government and the private sector than making sense out of the deluge of data that we’re all swimming in every day.”

NC State was picked following a competitive bid process. According to NC State, the NSA picked it due to its “national leadership and expertise in data analysis,” along with partnerships with industry, universities, and government agencies.

Data analytics is one of NC State’s strong suits. The university boasts that its Institute for Advanced Analytics offers a 10-month Master of Science in Analytics degree that is unlike anything else in the country. The program has a job-placement rate of more than 90 percent–and that’s before the students even graduate.

Then there is the data analytics company SAS, which was founded by Jim Goodnight and John Sall when they were graduate students at NC State. SAS maintains almost a third of its workforce at its headquarters in nearby Cary, North Carolina.

“It’s a natural fit for us because as an institution we’ve been about data analysis and big data for a long time,” Woodson told the News & Observer. “I think the National Security Agency realized that when they selected us as a university partner.

Prior to the new LAS program, NC State worked with the NSA on a collaborative project involving cybersecurity.

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