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NSA posters from the 50s and 60s [pdf] (governmentattic.org)
380 points by rinze 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 111 comments

Anyone recognize the paper tape format on page 103? I wonder if they included some hidden message in it.

EDIT: I manually transcribed the clearest part of the tape to binary (the start of the tape is the center of the poster, and it's viewed from behind at the part I transcribed), and pasted it into the converter at: https://v2.cryptii.com/ita2/text

Binary: "00100 00011 01100 01001 00100 00101 00111 10110 00001 01010 00110 11000 01010 00100 10010 00001 00011 01001 00001 01010 00101 10100 00110 10110 010001 00100 00010 111001 10100 111101 00110 00101 00100 00111 01100 00110 10111 00111 00001 00100 01110 11000 01100 10000 01010 00110 11001 00111 10000 00110 11000 01100 00101 00000 110101 101001 00011 01100 01001 00100 00011 01110 10100 00110 00001 11110 00001 11100 00001 01100 10000 00101 00100 11100 00011 10000 00001 01010 00110 00011 10010 10010 10101 00100 00011 00110 01001 00001 01001 00100 10000 11000"

Decoded: " and superior leadership his unique contributionsand achievements materially aided to"

Decoded, with the mysterious sixth bits deleted: " and superior leadership mhvis unique contributionsghand achievements materially aided to"

Unless the sixth bits have some hidden meaning, this appears to be just management's praise for somebody. It's tedious to transcribe manually, and a lot of it is unreadable, so I'll stop here.

Looks like standard RTTY (Radioteletype)


It looks like the sixth bit is used as rubout (even though per wikipedia, the 0x1f code, letter-shift, was normally used for that purpose).

I was wondering the same thing.

A had a few NCSC security posters that look like they came from the same art department, which I scanned:

Uncle Sam pointing: I want to protect the information in YOUR computer. https://i.imgur.com/e0a67w9.jpg

Santa shooshing: He does not give away PASSWORDS. SHOULD YOU? https://i.imgur.com/ZZDXBBn.jpg

Pirate and Spy: Pirate or Thief? Respect Copyright. It's the law. https://i.imgur.com/Oa8DDeU.jpg

And I took screenshots from that PDF of my favorites:

Magician pulling rabbit out of hat: No Trick to Security. It's Just Common Sense. https://i.imgur.com/9EvTtsI.png

People with safe dials in their mouths: Put Security Where Your Mouth Is. https://i.imgur.com/WAbAEuM.png

Hot pink poster with James Dean in a sultry pose with his arm draped around a safe: Up tight and out of sight. (I'll refrain from cracking any safe sex jokes!) https://i.imgur.com/dBv13kU.png

That poster with safe dials on their mouths looks horrifying.

TPC (The Phone Company, in The President's Analyst) would rather put phone dials in everyone's mouth.

art department

Some of these actually look quite great, as far as art goes. I mean compared with what i usually see ob billboards etc these days, there's some nice gems here.

There are books of political posters. I wonder if there are any for US political posters?

The artwork in these books is amazing.

I have this one: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Soviet-Political-Poster-1917-1980/d...

(I was awarded a book token as a merit prize at school. I chose this book. There was fleeting mild consternation on the faces of the teachers and the Conservative politician as they handed me the book in the award ceremony.)

A little off-topic, but clicking imgur "direct" links on mobile redirects you to the standard m.imgur.com URL now? Eww.

Maybe you'd like this web extension, Imagus:


https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0Bx8fnUCX4W2IN0E1UFN4... (versions for Chrome, Firefox, Maxthon, Opera and Safari)

You just press $key when hovering over an image (edit: or image link) and voilà!

They started enforcing this pretty strictly in the last few weeks. It's a massive turnoff as a service, but considering they're a "social network" now and not just a reddit-specific image host, it's not a surprise.

Ah, the undending cycle of image hosting services. First they start clean and useful, then they gradually degrade in an increased effort to be profitable, then they get replaced by something new that's clean and useful...

Only for as long as initial investor money lasts I guess. There's just no money to be made in 'free' image hosting without starting to do some nasty tactics, mostly involving direct (hot) linking.

How do you make money off hot linking? I thought hot linking was the thing users want to be able to do, that's inherently impossible to monetize.

Which is why you directly charge the users for it. cf. Photobucket

Which is what makes people not want to use the service, and switch to whoever allows hotlinking at the moment. That's how imgur came to be.

They've been doing this for a while now; at least requesting the desktop site will still redirect you back to the actual image.

Still enough for me to dislike any imgur link, however.

(This also happens on non-mobile browsers.)

Some trippy posters in there. My favorite was the one where all of the NSA employees had lock mouths.

I was surprised how religious some of these were, beyond just "Merry Christmas, don't forget about security"

e.g "Christian ideals created freedom"

Ivan is an atheist, you see. This way we all know we aren’t soviet.

I’m reasonably convinced that explains a fair bit of the “we are very publicly religions”part of the 1950s.

I agree, I feel that's the reason. Since the ideology of the Soviet Union was explicitly anti-religion, the US doubled down on being pro-religion.

You're exactly right. Religion was used as a foil against Communism in the Cold War. It was the Good Christian USA vs the Evil Atheist USSR.

"In God We Trust" was adopted as the official motto of the USA in 1956. "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.

Regarding putting "In God We Trust" on currency, Representative Charles E Bennett said "In these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, we should continually look for ways to strengthen the foundations of our freedom" [1].

[1] http://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1951-2000/The...

"In god we trust" was a swipe against the UK monarchy. The US government rejects rule "By the Grace of God". In most western monarchies God anoints kings and queens. But God has no role in picking the president. The root of power in the US is "the people". Those people trust that God could step in if needed, but they don't expect God to play the active role he does in monarchy.

Given that historical context, it is funny to see the phrase now used to support religion.

I've always wondered how the political right in the West ended up with such seemingly odd bedfellows as capitalism and religion. e.g., the Jesus of stories seems like a potentially Socialist sort? A friend of mine thought that it was likely that the pairing was a reaction to the communism and atheism of the USSR.

Intel agencies also heavily recruited missionaries and Mormons due to “clean” backgrounds and language skills. That’s a big influence on the culture.

This is a common strand within protestantism, imported from northern Europe into the United States.

It is quite at odds with the catholic view of things and with what Jesus is reported to have said in the bible.

The Calvinist work ethic is less Jesus and more Old Testament: you were born into sin, you live under the Curse of God, and you'd better work as hard as you can every day and shun vice or you'll go to hell.

That's no different than orthodox Christian theology. Like with a handful of other unique religions, orthodox Christianity fundamentally put great value into and encouraged work in the temporal world. In Roman Catholic theology science--knowing the physical world through exploration and labor--is at least in principle an avenue of holy revelation similar to that of the bible and the Church.

I think the difference is in the shedding of the ancient modes of worship. Follow Protestant theologies to their logical end and the only way to manifest piety is through industrious labor. It's not just that work is prayer; that concept was already present in orthodox Christianity. Work becomes the religion, rather than being one aspect of a more complex system of worship.

Well, as far as I was taught growing up Roman Catholic, you were supposed to be faithful and good, and honour God every day, and over time your soul would be saved through faith and good deeds. In old-school Calvinism, original sin is upon you until He takes it away, like the bomb in Jackie Chan's mouth in Rush Hour 2, and he'll just as quickly give it back if you break the faith.

EDIT: not the mark of Cain, duh...

I'm not sure that's official Catholic doctrine[1] but in any event compared to many other religions, and many strains of Christianity (think early Gnostic sects) it's all splitting hairs. People quibble endlessly over how and why good works and labor are important--do they reflect salvation or further salvation?--but I don't think those theological distinctions have substantively effected our political culture. Such minor distinctions are exaggerated by denominations precisely because of their larger shared characteristics that require them to work hard at differentiating themselves. Most of these nuances lose their importance when, e.g., comparing Christianity to Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism.

[1] AFAIU official Roman Catholic doctrine, as well as most Protestant faiths, is that salvation only comes from the grace of God; and that the only sure-fire way of receiving that grace is wholehearted belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God who died for the remission of sin. But that just begs the question of what "belief" means, thus the centuries of dispute subsequent to the domination of Trinitarianism.

I was trying to refer to the doctrine of righteousness being infused vs. imparted.

could you clarify what you mean by orthodox in this case? This is like, the one place where it really does make a difference. (Roman Catholicism, which is what luther forked, may be little-o orthodox but it is explicitly not big-O Orthodox)

Yeah, I use little "o" for the dominate strain of Christianity that can be traced back to the 4th or 5th centuries and which Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and (to a diminished degree) most Protestant sects can readily and directly trace their doctrines and beliefs. Trinitarianism isn't as good of a fit in this context even though there's substantial overlap. But Trinitarianism would outright exclude, e.g., Mormonism even though I think it's fair to say that much of the social ethos in Mormonism derives from orthodox Christianity, and particularly from aspects of Protestant theology, even if Mormonism doesn't share the once singularly defining characteristic of orthodox Christianity. That shared characteristic--that engaging in the world and doing good works matters, however it's framed doctrinally--is what I wanted to emphasize.

At the very least I think it helps exclude all the niche sects, old and new, that pedantic people could bring up as exceptions to generalizations about the origin and evolution of Western value systems.

worse. “... even though your fate is preordained!”

Selection bias? Cultures (including religions) that reject capitalist values are disadvantaged in terms of global industry. One might expect dominate industrial powers to either outright reject community-oriented religious systems or for such religious systems to internalize capitalist values.

I think there's probably something to that. Insightful!

To be honest I'm not particularly surprised that there's a religious undercurrent to them. I don't exactly know how to quantify it, but as an outsider that's just sort of how I'd expect US propaganda posters to be. The US has always been particularly outwardly religious, so I guess I sort of expect it to play to those sensibilities when making these.

Today, it's hilariously illegal to put this kind of thing in an official employee communication. No government agency would even dream it.

Even in the 1960s, that kind of overtly religious appeal would have been very, VERY controversial. This kind of material _never_ appeared in military stuff, and I am very surprised to see it in NSA publications.

> Even in the 1960s, that kind of overtly religious appeal would have been very, VERY controversial. This kind of material _never_ appeared in military stuff...

The Air Force barred an airman from reenlisting because he would not say "so help me God" in his oath, in 2014.[0]

[0]: https://www.yahoo.com/news/atheist-must-swear-god-leave-us-a...

To be fair, the military doesn't want to accept people who would disobey a direct order over something so petty. If they aren't mature enough to say "so help me God" and move on, they don't want them.

Insisting that the federal government obey by the Constitution is petty? For the government to enforce any religion on any level is strictly forbidden and the interpretation is even broader than that. It's the very first thing in the Bill of Rights.

"I'm not firing until this war has been authorized by Congress, sir!"

That this is a punchline is the problem.

There have been some stories about evangelical christians infiltrating military academies and preying on the students:


The response illustrates that, as you say, it is clearly against the rules. But it is, nonetheless, happening.

It was the Red Scare. We added “under God” to the pledge of allegiance on the theory that undercover commies would explode if they tried to say it. I’m not surprised.

> The US has always been particularly outwardly religious

As other threads / comments explained, this only became a thing during the 50's; before that there was a much stronger separation between church and state.

The ruling class of any country always abuses the most popular belief system for their profit.

1. It's a common view that "Christian ideals created freedom" dating back at least, to the time of the Founding Fathers.

2. I would guess that many (but not all) of the people working for secret government agencies in a support role, are more conservative than the general population.

If you think the Santa ones are religious, wait 'til you scroll down to the one that reads "Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants".

You know,the scary thing about the US intelligence community isn't that they all are "after out liberties" or "againsy our privacy". My experience and encounters related to the IC scare me because they genuinely believe they're the good guys who're on the right side of justice. The real scary part is that they are scared of what will happen if they don't do something (where something entails disregarding laws and the will of the people). I would rather they be "after me" than scared of me.

I hope academics consider this before getting into bed with them. They don't just have a subersive mission,they're making decisions out of fear.

> The real scary part is that they are scared of what will happen if they don't do something

In the context of these posters, the implied "what will happen" is mostly worldwide Communist revolution with the U.S. losing the Cold War. You can see that for example in the poster depicting the edited version of the Gettysburg Address, which someone commented on elsewhere in this thread. The concern is worldwide totalitarianism on the Soviet model, and that's mostly the danger that these posters are meant to allude to and frighten the NSA staff with. If you say the wrong thing at Christmas dinner, Communism may win.

That sounds like a joke nowadays, but I'm sure it didn't sound like a joke to the people who created the posters or the people who saw them every day. Both sides of the Cold War fought it super-hard.

One problem that the people making the posters left out is that the Cold War also led to vastly bigger, stronger, more secretive states—including on the NATO side. It led to creative people being given billions upon billions of dollars to dream ever-bigger dreams about military and intelligence capabilities. We still don't even know what some of those dreams were, partly because generations of classification holders brought up on these posters and other versions of them have taken them to heart so strongly. So, we've got states that continue to be extraordinarily ambitious and capable in some ways that they don't really want anybody to talk about. To me, that's a tragic legacy of the Cold War. If the people who made the Gettysburg Address poster were serious in their concern for the state's apotheosis, they might have done well to also consider how "war is the health of the state"—evidently, whether it runs hot or cold.

We kind of know about some parts of the nuclear side of that, and we kind of know about some parts of the espionage and covert action side of that, but these parts all kind of hurt to think about and the people who've dreamt and are still dreaming those billion-dollar dreams would mostly just as soon that we didn't go too far down the rabbit holes.

Any particular background on any of this you might recommend?

Fear brings money to security agencies like products bring money to corporations. I'm sure if you visited Apple you'd see a lot of iPhones.

>You know,the scary thing about the US intelligence community isn't that they all are "after out liberties" or "againsy our privacy". My experience and encounters related to the IC scare me because they genuinely believe they're the good guys who're on the right side of justice. The real scary part is that they are scared of what will happen if they don't do something (where something entails disregarding laws and the will of the people). I would rather they be "after me" than scared of me.

>I hope academics consider this before getting into bed with them. They don't just have a subersive mission,they're making decisions out of fear.

sed 's/ US intelligence community/Commies/g'

sed 's/ US intelligence community/Hippies/g'

sed 's/ US intelligence community/Liberals/g'

sed 's/ US intelligence community/Mormons/g'

sed 's/ US intelligence community/4chan/g'

sed 's/ US intelligence community/OP/g'

sed 's/ US intelligence community/The alt right/g'

sed 's/ US intelligence community/BLM/g'

sed 's/ US intelligence community/white supremacists/g'

sed 's/ US intelligence community/academia/g'

sed 's/ US intelligence community/the tech industry/g'

sed 's/ US intelligence community/whatever group I happen to disagree with today/g'

See the point? You could have said that about any group you didn't like.

In my opinion any individual or group seeking to restrict the freedoms of the individual is inherently subversive to democracy.

edit: And I'm wrong because why?

Why would you need a government, even a democratic one, if you had no intention of restricting any individual's freedom?

Individuals are generally trustworthy. Groups generally act like sociopaths.

There's a difference between restricting the freedom of all individuals and restricting the freedom of some individuals.

Eventually you have to draw some lines (e.g. not letting people murder each other).

But don't laws that apply to all individuals inevitably apply only to some subset? Most people have no desire to murder others and so are basically unaffected by a law forbidding it.

just mirrored to imgur: https://imgur.com/a/30Co0Q2

I hope the "That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the state by the state for the state shall not perish from the Earth" (with "under God" struck out) poster meant something other than its literal meaning...

It was alluding to the risk of Communism.

The state words in red allude to Soviet communism, and of course, its totalitarian governance model.

If the there higher res of these? I'm considering printing some and hanging around.

"Men must be governed by God or they will be rules by tyrans"

Ah... O tempora, o mores...

Heh, Cicero wouldn't have said that himself; he was a republican and would advocate for the rule and freedom of the patricians and senators, rather than mob rule or kingly rule. Theocratic rulership was definitely out of the question.

Like the way the use Big Ben (Elizabeth Tower) as an example of those dangerous subversive places where beat combos run wild.

In what context did these exist?

Were they posted on streets or in schools? Or were they internal posters, hung around NSA offices?

And also the 70s, seemingly, even though the request didn't specify that.

Specifically, 6614806 is clearly from 1970. And that's John Travolta from 1977's "Saturday Night Fever" in 6614848.

Also interesting that there are various images of paper and filing cabinets, but no computers or terminals.

Wish I could get some of these full sized and in original quality.

would definitely hang up a few of these in the office if they were good scans

These are amazing. So many to choose from.

Some of those are very disturbing.

"dont talk yourself to death"


" ... government of the state, by the state, for the state ... "

(The more things change, the more they stay the same...)

I'm pretty sure that one was meant to show communism, with "under God" cross out and people replaced with state, supposedly with the blood of the revolution.

Kind of unnerving how a lot of those propaganda posters would be almost ironic to use in today's societal setting; or maybe its more unsettling how most people today don't care about having their rights infringed upon.

What strikes me (besides NSA apparently meaning 'Non-Secular Americans') is that a lot of these posters don't have the design flair and inspiration of, say, WWII propaganda posters.

The NSA's existence was still not publicly acknowledged when some of these were commissioned (the versatile initialism then being "No Such Agency"), which may have shrunk the artist pool.

Most of these are pretty basic workplace safety posters, they don't really have the same purpose (or attention lavished on them) as posters aimed at the public during a war.

Well to be fair this is a random assortment and not a cherry-picked list of the most interesting ones.

They would be using opposing themes today. Those posters were made for their time. Surely you don't think the NSA was led by religious people no more than the Donald Trump administration is led by Christians. They'd be screaming islamic chants in arabic if it helped their political goals.

what on earth is with the black telephone hanging by a noose? some of these are pretty interesting.

"Hang up the phone."

Spot the person who spent their childhood watching https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catchphrase_(UK_game_show)

That's the normal phone everyone used. Today, it would be a mobile. And talking about classified info, or even unclassified, but related stuff, was tantamount to sending out a broadcast

Something along the lines of "careful what you say over unsecured phone lines, as it may come back and hang you".

Pretty dope. Downloading these. Might have them wide format printed to hang at my house.

What does poster on page 25 (No: 20, ID 6614809) mean and who is that guy?

More info: After messing around with the image levels, the faded text shows as "Eternal Vigilance is the price of Liberty" (a quote which has been incorrectly attributed to numerous famous figures: https://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/eternal-vigilance-...)


I suspect it's meant to portray George Washington at Valley Forge (where he spent a winter with his army during the War of Independence). From Wikipedia:

"Valley Forge long occupied a prominent place in American storytelling and memory. The image of Valley Forge as a site of terrible suffering and unshakeable perseverance emerged years after the encampment ended." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valley_Forge)

The man in the foreground appears to be George Washington. There's some barely visible text in the space above the cannon ("Pri"; "Lib") but I can't make out the rest (I'd guess something about liberty).

Simple question about these (great) posters : whats their legal statuts regarding IP ? Possible use for commercial purpose ? Obligation to mention the source ? I'd love to use them for presentation about security.

Any link to information about that would be very welcome too.

"The U.S. government asserts that it can still hold the copyright to those works in other countries."

Going a little further I read : "the U.S. Government may obtain protection in other countries depending on the treatment of government works by the national copyright law of the particular country." (from the CENDI FAQ), which is adequate with private international law.

Anyway, thank you !

I was going to ask the same - and it seems they're essentially public domain.

I'm going to paint a few of these on ten foot high canvasses, to adorn the lair.

can someone adjust the colors so printing them wouldn't take so much ink? I don't have the skill.

Might be tangibly related -- and honestly I have no dog in this fight -- but it seems that a certain sect of our political parties really are trying to eliminate or counter the narrative that America was founded on Judeo-Christian values must have complete blinders on when it comes to history of this country, and just flipping through some posters from the 50's and 60s made it very apparent that it was the prevailing value in this country. Say what you want for bigotry, the patriarchy, or whathaveyounot, but you cannot deny the impact, and the unifying value system this country used to all share which is yet another reason, among many, for the large divisions in our society today.

I probably shouldn't bother, but-

America was founded by a bunch of Christians, and some of the country's construction surely was influenced by that.

However America was NOT founded as a Christian state.

Where the left & right butt heads over this is usually when, for example, pro-lifers say "God clearly forbids abortion and America is a Christian state so our laws must follow the Bible", and pro-choicers say "Uh, no, this is not a Christian state, the Bible does not set our laws".

And this is NOT what I am saying, I said it was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.

It was founded on Enlightenment principles, some of which are deliberately conflated with Judeo-Christian principles, but are actually quite distinct.

Then, I guess I have to ask you to be more specific about who is trying to erase that from history. I don't think many people dispute the faith of our founders.

This "fight" over what separation of Church and State means has been ongoing since before the very beginning. Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Statute_for_Religious...) was actually quite controversial, even long after it was (barely) adopted by the Virginia legislature.

The fight has never been about the political and religious history; it's been about the meaning and implication of that history. Does the fact that Christianity played such an important historical role in European and American political history mean that it should therefore be given special legal status? For example, is it therefore okay for the government to display the 10 Commandments but refuse to display Buddhists' 5 Precepts? Where do you draw the line between historical homage and preferential treatment? Can such a line even be drawn? The anecdotes and contours of the debate have changed over the centuries but not the fundamental conflicts and tensions.

I don't see that at all. I think everyone tacitly and explicitly acknowledges that the US was founded, primarily by Christians, on primarily Judeo-Christian values, while enshrining freedom of religion in the Constitution.

It's when you get a large number of people in public office explicitly fighting to bring their religion into the public space, to force prayer on schools, to question and be suspicious of anyone with different religions, that we get a problem.

The pushback you're seeing is the pushback against a majority trying to impose its faith on all Americans.

It's a huge stretch for you to take propaganda posters from the 50s and 60s, during the Red Scare against atheist communists, and project that upon the entire country's 200+ year history, and to assert that the POSITIVE IMPACT of that religion cannot be denied.

? doesnt load

It's a huge pdf. Maybe just download in background.


Could you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News?

I'm happy to see them "held accountable" in a number of senses, but this is mostly just Cold War security culture stuff to try to mitigate the impact of Soviet spying on U.S. spy agencies. It doesn't seem to be encouraging the viewer to be more aggressive, ambitious, extralegal, deceptive, or whatever.

The mission patches that Trevor Paglen has collected are like 80 times creepier to me. They remind me of "His ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono; / imperium sine fine dedi."

> "Don't TALK yourself to death!"

That's macabre - I interpret it as "leak classified information and we will kill you"

I think it's more of a "leak classified information and they'll find out how to kill all of us".

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