Slate—a Secret Agent of the NSA?

Is the formerly secret agency giving a nod to the Post's online sister?

By: Harry Jaffe

Time was not so long ago when the National Security Agency was so secretive that its acronym, NSA, was said to stand for “no such agency.”

Now the NSA has a Web site.

And a kids’ page.

With a character named “Slate.”

Which happens to be the name of the iconoclastic and reliably liberal online magazine now owned by the Washington Post.

So we now have the NSA—the agency President Bush has tasked with eavesdropping on Americans without first obtaining warrants—promoting on its Web site a rabbit using the same name as a bunch of journalists who routinely skewer both Bush and the NSA.

“There is absolutely no connection between the character Slate and the Washington Post Web site,” NSA information officer Kwanza Gipson wrote in an e-mail to The Washingtonian. “Any similarities in name is purely coincidental.

“Our character Slate is a Rabbit and he represents our Math skill community,” Gipson explained. “As you can imagine all of the characters are equally popular.”

Slate editor Jacob Weisberg immediately sought to distance the Slate character from the others: “I note that ‘Slate,’ the rabbit in shades, is the quickest-witted character as well as apparently the coolest in the bunch.”

“Decipher Dog” or “Crypto Cat” might take issue with that assertion. They are among the six characters on NSA’s “CryptoKids” Web site. There’s also a turtle, a squirrel, and a fox.

To get to NSA’s youth site, go to www.nsa.gov, then “New! Kids Page,” where you will find “CryptoKids—America’s Future Codemakers and Codebreakers.”

Says Weisberg: “It’s great that the NSA is doing this for the kids. If you’re planning on a career in extra-Constitutional, warrantless eavesdropping, you really can’t start too early.”

NSA’s Gipson wrote that the agency first included a “modest” kids’ page when it launched a new Internet homepage in 2004. Since then it has developed the fictional characters to represent the agency’s main missions and “skill communities” so as “to inspire future generations of codemakers and codebreakers,” Gipson explained.

“These characters and their bios were conceptualized, developed, and designed in-house,” he wrote.

But Jake Weisberg detects some conceptual similarities between the Slate character and the Slate writers: “Actually, our writers have been accused of being ‘crypto-kids’ before. I like to think we’ve matured. But the NSA has been listening closely, so they would know.”

The CIA also has a “Homepage for Kids,” but it is a much more staid. No cartoon characters.

Yet.