Perhaps you remember a time, two years ago, when the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office released its new mission logo, an enormous tentacled monster covering the earth with its sucker-lined legs. Perhaps it reminded you of a comic-book villain from your youth. Perhaps you were only vaguely familiar of the NRO before then, and have since come to think of them only as “the scary octopus guys.” Now, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request by security researcher Runa Sandvik, highlighted at MuckRock today, we know a bit more about how the scary octopus logo came to be.
In response to Sandvik’s request for documents relating to the preparation of the logo, the NRO sent 15 heavily redacted pages of paperwork dating to 2012, months before NRO launched the satellite bearing the octopus. According to the documents, on some level the logo is an inside joke about a piece of equipment called an “octopus harness.” But mostly, the men and women at the agency chose the image because it looked badass, and you can’t really disagree with them there. One slide from a presentation reads:
The NROL-39 Octopus symbolizes the resourcefulness, adaptability, and perseverance of this mission. The image of the Octopus reaching around the world is representative of this mission and the warfighters it supports, who serve valiantly all over the globe protecting our nation. Like the Octopus, our mission, our warfighters, and our nation will always remain versatile and find a way to adapt to and overcome any threat we face.
Some other interesting details: the text and symbol had to be approved “to ensure neither contains any hidden classified meanings,” and the tentacles were “randomly placed,” perhaps to avoid the appearance of bias.
In 2013, the American public was at the height of its post-Snowden wokeness about surveillance overreach, and the Octopus was rightfully criticized as a tone-deaf way to represent the U.S. intelligence community. As MuckRock notes, there is only one indication in the documents that anyone saw the backlash coming: a handwritten note, in blue pen, on the report’s front page. “A little sinister!!” it reads.