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After The 'Octopus Incident' White House Threatened To Stop 'Menacing Logos' From Spy Satellites

from the what's-so-menacing-about-talledega-nights? dept

Back in late 2013, we wrote about the insanity of the "logo" placed on a spy satellite by the National Reconnaissance Organization, which consisted -- literally -- of an octopus enveloping the globe, and the tag line "Nothing is Beyond Our Reach." Incredibly, the Director of National Intelligence tweeted out this image, just months after the Snowden revelations, and no one seemed to think the public might find it... creepy as fuck. Our good friends at Muckrock decided to dig in with some FOIA requests about all of this and wrote up the following amazing story about the aftermath of the fallout of that decision and posted an excellent story about it which, of all things, includes trying to translate quotes from "Talledega Nights" into Latin to avoid scrutiny. That article, by JPat Brown is reposted, with permission, below.

Records released to William Pierce show that the fallout from the National Reconnaissance Office's infamous "world-eating octopus" logo was enough for the White House to threaten veto power over future logos on spy satellites. Despite this warning to steer clear of controversy, the designers for the NROL-76 logo tried their best to sneak in a "Talladega Nights" reference - even resorting to Latin to get around copyright.

In early May of 2016, someone within the NRO asked if the mission patch for the NROL-76 mission had been approved.

As launch wasn't due for a year, the question was oddly premature, and someone on the team voiced their curiosity.

A later email from August 2016 explains the concern - following the embarrassment over the NRO-39's octopus logo (which records released to Runa Sandvik show was an engineering in-joke that backfired to a comical degree), the NRO wasn't even sure if it could approve its own logos without the White House's final say.

As far as they were told, the NRO could still have "ultimate authority" over logos … so long as they avoided "menacing designs." Which means "yes" to fluffy animals …

and "no" to creepy cephalopods and whatever's redacted here.

Fortunately, the theme for this design was "Lewis and Clark," which the NRO thought was fairly family-friendly, especially when compared to, say, a dragon with American flag wings.

But we'll let you be the judge.

If that slogan strikes you as oddly familiar, then congratulations on your excellent cinematic tastes; "If you ain't first, you're last" is indeed the catch-phrase of Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell's character from "Talladega Nights."

The design notes make this explicit, as well as explain that it was chosen as a slogan because one team member "loves NASCAR" and "wanted to go fast."

From the beginning, the person that appears to be the NRO team leader tried to drop a few hints that they weren't all that confident a "Talladega Nights" reference was going to (literally) fly …

before finally giving it the formal nix on copyright grounds.

Undaunted, one team member proposed a sneaky compromise - just Google Translate it into Latin and nobody will notice.

This team member claims the "Latin approach" has worked before, though a quick search shows that it didn't work out quite as well as they made it sound. And there were a few other minor considerations ...

Ultimately, the team leader vetoed all Latin phrases as "hard to understand and remember," using the NRO's own motto as an example. A list of pre-approved slogans (including a few redacted ones) was sent to the team, and with a topical joke about the 2016 presidential elections, the matter was put to a vote.

The lesser-known Ricky Bobby quote "Explore - Discover - Know" won out …

and you can see it here on the finalized logo.

Read the full release embedded below or on the request page.


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  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 18 Jan 2018 @ 12:09pm

    Discovered - meeting notes

    Action items:

    • Rework Sponge Bob "Squidward" character - not menacing enough

    • Wait... boss says no menacing octopi

    • Suggest Lewis and Clark... historical, safe

    • Make them menacing like octopus

    Advice for the team:

    Stultum est queri de adversis, ubi culpa est tua.

    -Syrus

    (It's stupid to complain about misfortune that is your own fault.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JMT (profile), 18 Jan 2018 @ 1:53pm

    Not menacing?

    "The good news is that neither Lewis nor Clark look menacing."

    Not sure if is entirely agree with that. They look pretty grumpy to me, and they're armed...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Jan 2018 @ 2:01pm

      Re: Not menacing?

      You walk across the entire damn country and see if you're still chipper and happy!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Jan 2018 @ 2:21pm

      Re: Not menacing?

      The graphic is interpretable as we will find you and kill you. Why else would they use an observer/sniper pair.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 18 Jan 2018 @ 3:21pm

        Re: Re: Not menacing?

        That was EXACTLY how I interpreted the logo. I'm sure many others have as well.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          JPat, 18 Jan 2018 @ 4:45pm

          Re: Re: Re: Not menacing?

          They actually address that in the docs - the rifle is determined to be "not menacing" because it's not pointed at anybody.
          Sounds legit.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2018 @ 1:17pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Not menacing?

            Also they tied a racoon tail to the tip of the rifle so, its not really combat ready. Looks they Davey Crocketted it up.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 18 Jan 2018 @ 2:04pm

    _You will endeavor to inform yourself by inquiry of the character of the country._

    You could just do government out in the open then, it's cheaper.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jan 2018 @ 2:22pm

    Vide falco, occidere falco

    Although I think they should just leave the bird alone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jan 2018 @ 2:40pm

    I liked the world-enveloping cephalopod. It was one of the few times the intelligence community was actually honest about their plans.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Valkor, 18 Jan 2018 @ 2:55pm

    No problem here...

    Following the wikipedia link to the flag dragon, I found the list of all the NRO launches and logos. In no particular order, I saw a sorceress, a crusader, lots of peering eyes, and the actual devil. Compared to that, Lewis and Clark are the Teletubbies.

    I've seen a bunch of logos and patches that these classified project teams make, and this is only objectionable to the degree that you object to spy satellites in general. (That's a separate discussion entirely.) Heck, the black and white Lewis and Clark is downright classy compared to an eagle claw squeezing the globe (L-28). I'd rather argue over the symbolism of a Teutonic knight (L-37) than a rather silly Ricky Bobby quote.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 18 Jan 2018 @ 3:30pm

      Re: No problem here...

      I liked the one with the ape carrying an American flag. Because of the way it was drawn, it looks like it has a mohawk, and that is HELA-COOL. :)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stan (profile), 18 Jan 2018 @ 2:57pm

    What does that logo say?

    >"The good news is that neither Lewis nor Clark look menacing."

    Hey injuns! Guess who owns your land now?!?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Jan 2018 @ 4:25pm

    Doing God's work with other peoples money.

    Uhhhhhh

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    BroD, 18 Jan 2018 @ 6:29pm

    Spy Satellites Logos

    Junior high schoolers can be so mischievous!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2018 @ 2:18am

      Re: Spy Satellites Logos

      That reminds me of the old joke about the CIA:

      Q) What is the difference between the CIA and a Sunday school picnic?

      A) Adult supervision.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jan 2018 @ 9:52pm

    Looking back at the original Octopus article it was hilarious to watch out_of_the_blue and Slonecker squirm in giddy outrage about the NSA being criticized and pointing, "BUT BUT BUT GOOGLE!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 19 Jan 2018 @ 6:25am

    Not a single mention to "all of your bases are belong to us"???? Shame on you guys.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 19 Jan 2018 @ 9:36am

    I can't believe nobody has mentioned the similarity of the "Octopus" logo to the logo of the infamous Hydra organization in the Marvel universe ("Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.").

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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