The National Reconnaissance Office came under fire in December when its logo for a new satellite boasted “nothing is beyond our reach” along with the image of an octopus taking over the world, but new documents obtained by Business Insider through a Freedom of Information Act request show even the agency itself believed the logo was “sinister” and was apparently excited about this.
The NRO coordination sheet, a document passed along with information about the logo meant for signatures up the chain of command contains an interesting handwritten note with the NRO Director’s approval: “Ok,” it reads, “A little sinister!!”
While the agency came under fire for its choice of logo at a time of increased scrutiny on U.S. intelligence services, the documents show the logo was approved on Feb. 13, 2012, long before Snowden’s disclosures.
In an article meant for internal consumption at NRO and “The Five Eyes” intelligence services called “The Patch Story,” the agency explains how it was thought up:
“The secret origin of the patch is initially from [redacted] where the problem during the test stage in the thermal vacuum was traced to a large piece of cabling called an octopus harness,” the article reads, while also mentioning the intelligence of the octopus and how it can reach prey in intricate spaces. “The running joke for the crew was that the octopus harness had taken over the world.”
Indeed, many critics viewed the logo in a similar light, despite NRO’s assurances its capabilities are aimed only at enemies of the United States.
“You may want to downplay the massive dragnet spying thing right now,” Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist and senior policy analyst for the ACLU, tweeted to the Office of Director of National Intelligence. “This logo isn’t helping.”
The details of the launch and much of the NRO’s work is still classified, although William Graham at NASA Spaceflight.com believes NROL-39 will be used for radar imaging:
… it can be inferred that NROL-39 is the third satellite in the NRO’s current-generation radar reconnaissance fleet. It follows the NROL-41 mission, or USA-215, launched in September 2010, and NROL-25 (USA-234) which was launched by a Delta IV in April 2012.
The radar imaging program is believed to be a remnant of the NRO’s Future Imagery Architecture (FIA) program, which was intended to produce new-generation optical and radar-imaging surveillance satellites, replacing the earlier KH-11 and Onyx radar imaging spacecraft.
“It’s really neat to me. It’s kind of a, the enemy has no where to run,” reads a video transcript provided with the request. “We’re putting capabilities up in the sky that can [redacted]. And the octopus kind of to me represents the idea that we are always [redacted]. We’ve kind of got our fingers everywhere at any given time.”
Besides the logo’s association with mass spying programs, the imagery used also brings up controversial usages of the past, including a political cartoon of a Standard Oil octopus taking over industries, and pictures evoking an anti-semetic tone.
The agency did not discuss these other types of images, the documents show.
The agency said it found five documents totaling fifteen pages and a 2:55 video. NRO provided the five documents (with redactions), along with the video script, but would not release the video as it may reveal names, titles, and/or other information on individuals working at the spy agency.
Read the documents below:
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.