NSA Anecdote

The gas mask is the first clue. The blueprint machine sometimes leaks ammonia, and the mask is worn while fixing it. I don't know how to put one of those things on, but the company VP knows because he has been in the service. Signal Corps. They are all like that. They belong to something called the Association of Old Crows. The company subscribes to the Journal of Electronic Warfare.

The company security officer doesn't like me. Maybe she doesn't like my long hair. Or maybe it is because I am 19, and I use my family doctor as a reference on the security forms. They want references going back more than 10 years.

The computer is down while they move it into a room-sized metal box that hangs from the ceiling by cables. When the double doors close the air pressure jumps with a sound like distant thunder. It's fun.

One day I get kicked out of the computer room. Strangers wearing suits carry in big disk packs that look like hat boxes. Twenty minutes later they come out, stripped down to unbuttoned shirts stained with sweat. "Why don't you turn on the air conditioner?" They can't run it while the room is sealed up.

My office is across from the company library. There's a doorway in there to something they call "The Vault." Every time the door opens there is a very loud alarm that makes me jump. They adopt a policy of warning me before the door opens.

They have interesting stationery, with yellow, red, and green stripes. I realize the stripes mean Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. I'm told to avoid being in the same room as anything green. Still, I take some home to wrap Christmas presents.

The cover sheets for proposals just say "The Agency."

I work there two years before I ask what is behind the door to The Vault. My boss says "It's really cool, let me show you - but I have to check something." He comes back and tells me I lack the appropriate security clearance.

To this day, I'm not sure what was in there, but the building was on a hilltop beneath a microwave relay line of sight, and I think they were intercepting stuff.