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What's in a name? For the NSA's 'Perfect Citizen,' quite a bit.

By Alexandra Petri

Really, NSA, really?

What names did you reject before picking "Perfect Citizen" for your newly contracted cyber-surveillance program, a name -- as numerous commentators have already pointed out -- that seems to imply everything nefarious about government supervision that people have feared since 1984 hit the shelves?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the National Security Agency has just awarded a classified contract to Raytheon Corp. for a program to help secure the networks of crucial domestic infrastructure. True, vital utilities like power plants and transport systems do require protection from cyberattacks. But how did the NSA decide to call it something that sounds so creepy?

I can just picture how the name-selecting meeting must have gone:

As usual, name brainstorming has been postponed until the last minute. Now, team members Ray, Tara, Carl and Frank sit around the boardroom table, frantically trying to come up with something.

"We’ve just been referring to it as Big Brother in all our internal communications," team leader Ray says, shuffling papers in front of him. "But we won’t get the contract with a name like that. Remember what happened to our Thought Police Program?"

Everyone shakes their heads sadly. "It was so efficient," someone murmurs.

"We can’t let that happen again," Ray goes on. "So think, people! Think!"

They think. Finally someone says, "How about we call it, ‘In This Day and Age We Live In, Sometimes There's a Tradeoff Between Freedom and Security.’"

"That’s not a name, Frank. That’s a sentence," Carl says, from the end of the table.

Frank sniffs. "It’s what I called my son. He goes by Tradeoff for short."

Everyone ponders. "If we call the program that, they’ll think we’re installing Frank’s son on vital infrastructure computers," Tara says finally. "How about, iSpy? People like things that start with a small "i". It reassures them."

"Apple might sue."

There is a murmur of agreement. "Remind me what’s wrong with Big Brother again?" Frank says.

"How about Big Bro?" Carl suggests. "It’s like Big Brother, but friendlier, and with more fist-bumping."

"I think America’s bromance with bromances is over," Ray says. "What about Big Bother?"

"How about Innocuous Program That in No Way Impinges on Anyone’s Civil Liberties or Privacy?"

"Why would they give us the contract for a program like that?" Tara asks. "How about Big Brother is Watching, But Not in a Threatening Manner."

"That’s a sentence," Ray says.

"That’s my daughter’s name," Frank adds. "How about Santa? He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, when you’ve been bad or good, et cetera, but it’s all for goodness’ sake."

"I kind of like that," Ray says. "But I’m not sold."

"Why don’t we name it after something everyone likes?" Carl says. "Like coffee, or kittens, or Jessica Biel? I'd install her on my critical infrastructure computer."

"I wouldn’t," Frank says.

"Come on," Ray says, "we aren’t leaving this meeting without a name."

"How about we call it Pretty Good Citizen?" someone says.

"Perfect!" Tara shouts.

"What?" everyone asks, excitedly.

"Perfect Citizen," Tara says. "People like things that are perfect, like 10s or SAT scores."

"Or Jessica Biel," Carl puts in.

"Perfect Citizen," Ray says. He shrugs. "Yeah, why not? It’s better than Santa."

By Alexandra Petri  | July 12, 2010; 1:55 PM ET
Categories:  Petri  | Tags:  Alexandra Petri  
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This was truly funny! I enjoyed it.

Posted by: secretaryofspite | July 13, 2010 1:15 AM | Report abuse

I know too many NSA-ers. Those geek-spies would never be that witty. I suspect NSA hires outsiders with liberal arts degrees to develop their names for them. Otherwise everything would either be a string of 1s and 0s, or references to Joss Whedon characters.

Posted by: Rocket88 | July 13, 2010 7:15 AM | Report abuse

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