NSA Manual for Budding Spies Quotes Greek Mythology

The NSA, a key component of America’s Intelligence Community, released a manual for budding spies titled, ‘Untangling the Web‘. Warning, it is a large pdf file. Given the sensational headline on Wired, I took a peek inside. Many points stood out, let me list a few for you.

Libraries in Persia

Love of learning in Persia

The opening passage of the Preface starts by illustrating love of learning in Persia. What struck me was the stark contrast of how Persia was then and how it is perceived now.

Sisyphean Fate of Spies and Information Seekers

Sisyphean Labors - 1

Sisyphean Labors - 2

This section captures the futility of trying to grasp the Internet. And what better way than to highlight the parallels with Sisyphus. This feeling of hopelessness should be familiar to anyone trying to gather any insight from unstructured data!

Minotaur in the Labyrinth

Minotaur in the Labyrinth

Love this parallel about being lost in the Labyrinth and role played by the Minotaur. And guess the irony, NSA might be the Minotaur, capturing every unwary piece of information that flows through the labyrinth!

Every Angle of the Universe

Every Angle of the Universe

To bring Borges and Boswell in the span of a single paragraph about the Internet does count for something in my view. I had never heard about Aleph but that  idea of “Aleph..little more than an inch..which nonetheless contains all space, actual and undiminished..in which one can see every angle of the universe” is profoundly beautiful.

Not sure if anyone other than Borges could have thought it up. Of course there are parallels with the Upanishadic idea of “Purusha, lodged in the heart and no larger than a thumb“. Purusha in this case is the Highest Consciousness, or the Brahman, in whom is contained All Time & Space and yet exceeds everything.

After this I was half-expecting references to the Library of Babel but unfortunately I did not find any. Neither could I search through the pdf because the whole document is made of images. So much for data transparency from the NSA, they basically gave a document that is not a document.

I have not read the entire document yet but found the preface and initial sections with references to Greek Mythology, Persia’s love of learning, Borges and Boswell strangely beautiful. Another example of beautiful minds serving fuzzy purposes.