6 December 1998. Thanks to Anonymous.

See other NSA declassification actions: http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/nsa/index.html

The Washington Post. The Fine Print, Sunday, 06 December 1998, Page W09

Speaking in Code

Keeping secrets is probably a good habit for a spy agency, but then it leads to e-mail like this, an internal memo from the National Security Agency announcing that it is okay to use the word "ZARF" -- without divulging what it means.

Steven Aftergood received this redacted memo through a Freedom of Information Act request (in other words, the NSA declassified a code word without telling anybody). Aftergood doesn't work for the NSA; he's director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. He believes the agency took this step not to reflect the values of an open and democratic society, but to make it easier for non-ZARF-cleared people, such as secretaries, to push paper on which the word appeared. He also has a theory on the meaning of ZARF. He ran the word through the AltaVista search engine on the Web and got a lot of hits. Most of them were in Turkish -- a language in which "zarf" means "receptacle" or "envelope" -- but a few were Air Force references to a project on computer multi-tasking. His theory is that the NSA is researching ways to defeat other people's computer security systems -- "unless there are two government Project ZARFs."

The NSA declined to comment.

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