Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


Anyone interested in the technical details of US and British internal signals espionage, as practiced by NSA and GCHQ in the second half of the 20th century and beyond, should read James Bamford’s The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Some of the details are fascinating, many are disturbing, and some are just unimaginably bizarre. Like the fawning letter sent by Sir Leonard Hooper, director of GCHQ in the late 1960s, to his NSA counterpart Marshall “Pat” Carter, in which he suggested (perhaps tongue in cheek) he might like to name GCHQ’s two giant radio dishes after Carter and his deputy. After effusive thanks for the NSA’s support, and Carter’s personally, he goes on:

Between us, we have ensured that the blankets and sheets are more tightly tucked around the bed in which our two sets of people lie and, like you, I like it that way.

I’ve read this over multiple times, and I don’t think I can decipher it. Are the blankets and sheets wrapped around the two sets of people separately, or are they bound in a transatlantic conjugal embrace? Are the intelligence agencies the Mommy and Daddy, tucking us in for the night while they protect us from the bogeys (from whom they derive much of their power, while themselves knowing that they are mere figments). This talk of wrapping sheets “tightly” around two sets of people who passively “lie” makes me think of winding sheets wrapped around corpses.

And then, there’s the closing: “like you, I like it that way”. Is he still speaking metaphorically here? Was he ever? Or is he proposing or recalling a secret tryst? Is that the sort of pillow talk that deeply closeted military types engaged in half a century ago?

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