Lots of children play games and use toys related to adult careers: cops and robbers, spaceman, Operation, among many others. Playing in this manner teaches children about different jobs and inspires them to want to become doctors, cops or actors.
But it’s a bit trickier to imagine what we’d give children to motivate them to become National Security Agency agents.
According to the NSA’s CryptoKids website, the answer is information about creating and breaking codes, math and logic games and a healthy dose of propaganda. After all, how else will the NSA convince the next generation that it’s harmless?
Nine cartoon characters, all with backgrounds in language or intelligence, inhabit the website. The troupe is designed to appeal to the youngest of visitors, especially to their fervent sense of patriotism. One of the characters is an American eagle named Sergeant Sam, who joined the military right out of high school. Each cartoon’s biography advocates the “kewl” aspect of breaking codes and of being a step ahead of “the enemy.” The site also emphasizes how vital it is to know what “the bad guys” are up to, without clearly defining just who they are. The website’s whole approach reads like propaganda trying to show kids that spying and invasions of privacy are fun and acceptable.
While national security is an important topic children should be educated on, they shouldn’t be taught that having no privacy from the government is a normal part of life. If allowed to spread this message, the feds are essentially telling kids that their rights as citizens are conditional and subject to change according to the government’s will.
In addition to this “Big Brother is good” concept, the NSA is teaching children to be overly suspicious. In our post-9/11 society, anyone can be targeted as a threat to national security. This is a practice that the NSA is trying to instill in the impressionable minds of our nation’s kids, though this may not be immediately apparent.
At first, it may seem like the NSA is also interested in dispensing genuine information about job opportunities. CryptoKids contains a page specifically for high school and college students about NSA programs and careers with the agency. But with such childish themes, the site seems ill-suited for these age groups. Their more developed minds would see through the NSA’s tricks quickly: The site is clearly intended for children.
The inclusion of a section about Internet safety on the site is another trick disguising the NSA’s underlying motives. Two of its characters, Cyndi and Cy, aka the CyberTwins, talk about the importance of protecting personal information and passwords online.
But plenty of information about Internet safety already exists for kids to find. An agency responsible for spying doesn’t need to be the group giving advice about protecting personal information and online activities, when these will most likely be monitored by said agency at some point in time. It’s yet another attempt by the NSA to hide its true agenda: indoctrination.
Children should be taught about security and national pride, but they should learn about these concepts from more objective sources than CryptoKids. The NSA’s approach to educating children about its duties and about threats to the nation’s safety is simplistic, partisan and more useful for recruitment than as an honest attempt at education. Trickery or biased persuasion, especially by the government and especially targeted at children, will always be unacceptable, no matter how much the times — and children’s games — change.
Eleanor Ferguson is a pre-journalism freshman. Follow her @DailyWildcat.