Free At Last

by wjw on June 14, 2011

Let it not be said that we are not living in a free and open society.  After all, the National Security Agency just declassified a 202-year-old book on cryptography.  (I didn’t know the NSA was around 202 years ago to classify the book in the first place!)

In addition to the cryptography text, the NSA declassified 50,000 pages of venerable documents once considered so sensitive that our national security would be compromised should they ever be made public.

The document dump was “the first in a series of releases planned over the next two years” as part of NSA’s “commitment” to comply with President Obama’s January, 2009 memo demanding more transparency from federal agencies. Last month, the CIA released a trove of allegedly-explosive information from World War I, including the 90 year-old German formula for invisible ink.

Included in this new motherlode (.pdf) of supposedly secret-packed documents: a 1944 report on Japanese merchant ships, a 1946 dossier on Chinese railroads, and a 1954 German article on Lenin’s use of secret writing (with milk) while in prison. Presumably, this refers to Lenin’s stint in Siberia, in the mid-1890s. Exactly why Vladimir Ilyich’s reliance on lactose letters needed to be kept under wraps for 11 decades, the NSA doesn’t say.

The timing of the document dump is delicious, however. The government’s five-year effort to charge an NSA employee with violating the Espionage Act collapsed yesterday. Thomas Drake was charged with leaking to a reporter damaging — though not necessarily secret — information about a near-useless $1.2 billion project. Presumably, the government would have rather kept its billion-dollar boondoggle to itself for another two hundred years.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ivan Yakubovich June 14, 2011 at 6:41 am

Funny. The story about Lenin using milk to write letters from Siberia to his revolutionary colleagues was included in all Soviet elementary school textbooks (or at least appeared in one when I was in elementary in mid-80s). Accroding to the story, V.I. made inkwells out of bread, poured milk inside and wrote with milk on the margins of books he was sent from St. Petersburg – and in case of trouble just ate the whole thing (the ‘inkwell’, not the book).

Never knew it was a closely-kept NSA sekkrit!

Foxessa June 16, 2011 at 4:50 pm

There remain at least 100,000 classified Civil War dox.

Love, C.

Katy June 16, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Thanks for the links – I obsessively collect documents, books, stories, etc. – this will make a nice addition to my “cyber” chaos!!

I just stumbled across your blog – I just want to say that I read a short story of yours in the annual Best of Science Fiction from a few years back and for some reason it completely obsessed me – I read it twice in a row, forced my husband to read it, and am now on the look-out for your books where ever I go … Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way as I’ve yet to find a single one of your books in the second-hand store …

wjw June 17, 2011 at 9:24 pm

100,000 classified Civil War documents? Pretty amazing.

Katy, I don’t suppose you recall what story it is? Just curious.

I’ll be making all my out-of-print works available electronically, so you won’t have to depend quite so much on those used bookstores.

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