I’ve noticed some disturbing emoticon use and abuse since the military and intelligence establishments have come under so much fire recently.
Here are the four examples from this year, the only, as far as we can tell, examples ever officially documented:
1. The indictment of Navy officials who allegedly traded secrets for big money kick-backs, prostitutes and (yes, really) Lady Gaga tickets.
In fact, the smiley face emoticon in question was in regards to those tickets.
[Malaysian CEO Leonard] Francis allegedly purchased the concert tickets and paid for prostitutes for the men who attended, according to [Navy Cmdr. Michael Vannak Khem] Misiewicz’s complaint.
“Don’t chicken out bro we need u with us on the front lines J … Who can we trust in the Office for Lady Ga Ga?” Francis said in a May 2012 email to Misiewicz, prosecutors allege, noting the playful use of emoticons in the message. “Tickets are not the issue who will keep silent :)”
There was also an even creepier bunch of (alleged) emoticon slinging when Francis forwarded a note and some pics from a prostitute to Navy Cmdr. Jose Luis Sanchez, who replied, “Nice pictures…..Brings back good memories :).”
2. Email traffic between CIA officials discussing the scripted talking points for the Benghazi scandal contained smiley face emoticons.
Eventually, CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell reduced the talking points to three main items … But the simplified version prompted concerns within the CIA that Petraeus would not sign off on the revisions. And an email quoted by the newspaper shows that some within the agency warned that the House panel that requested the information would not be satisfied with the talking points.
“They are fine with me. But, pretty sure [the House committee] won’t like them,” the CIA terrorism analysis director responded, according to the story, which notes that he ended his email with an emoticon of a smiling face.
It might not be prudent to slap an emoticon at the end of an email which admits the Benghazi talking points will be insufficient in the eyes of America’s representatives, especially considering that journalists will likely petition for copies of those emails.
3. Surprise! The NSA hacked into Google and Yahoo’s cloud services :)
This is probably the most disturbing of all the examples of emoticon faux pas: the smiley face in the hand-drawn Top Secret slide which reveals the NSA’s alleged access into encrypted cloud services.
Of course, the NSA’s rudimentary slide drew most of the attention, birthing a Guardian creation over Twitter called #NSAsplaining.
4. Finally, in her dissertation about the Intelligence Community in America, Bridget Rose Nolan, herself a former counterterrorism intelligence analyst, covers humour and jokes inside the IC.
One particular passage contained a popular emoticon IC employees liked to pass around on “Sametime,” and instant message service inside the IC:
There is this series of emoticons making the rounds on Sametime. They’re like animated smiley faces. One has become especially popular — it’s a smiley face that smiles, then starts to frown, and then shoots itself in the head. It’s pretty morbid, but people in real life make that gesture a lot around here when they are stressed out or frustrated by something that’s happening. People find it really funny.
One thing I never understood about emoticons was how people seem to use them to gloss over a joke in bad taste, or a veiled insult, or a generally inappropriate statement — as if it’s all ok because you pressed colon and parenthesis.
Certainly, in some of these instances, they seem to mask a certain nervousness, or at the very least, a lack of confidence that a proposed course of action is the most right course of action.
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