Ineffably yet mildly disturbing best describes America’s CryptoKids, the National Security Agency’s (NSA) outreach website for children. Here your kids can learn about Crypto Cat and her pals including Decipher Dog, the cryptanalyst and Rosetta Stone, the language analyst. All of the cartoon characters are trademarked, and according to BoingBoing‘s Xeni Jardin, Crypto Cat’s trademark application is dated 19 December 2005, about the same time the news surrounding the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretap program was breaking.
Kate Greene, writing for Technology Review, notes that the NSA has “gradually shed its anonymity” since 1982 when James Bamford’s The Puzzle Palace was published. But this isn’t your sister’s Nancy Drew or your brother’s Hardy Boys. Nope, CryptoKids is a transparent attempt to get your kids interested in careers related to cryptography and cryptanalysis. Greene cites a 1997 order by President Clinton compelling all government agencies to set aside space on their websites for children, but there’s something about the CryptoKids cartoon characters and their downloadable coloring books that are somehow unnerving. The NSA was somehow more palatable when it was “No Such Agency.”