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.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: latin, nro, octopus, patches, satellites, surveillance, talledega nights


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  1. 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.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.