So what’s in a name?

When we think about it, perhaps one of the deepest insights into the mindset of our national intelligence agencies can be gleaned through their choice of codenames for projects…


BULLRUN is the codename for the NSA’s decryption program, a massive undertaking aimed at cracking, backdooring, and weakening all major encryption protocols in the world. Its level of success (as revealed courtesy of Mr Edward Snowdon) is frightening, and is major contributor to a worldwide backlash against US technology products that could cost US business billions of dollars.


The First Battle of Bull Run (also called the ‘First Manassas’ by Confederate forces) was fought on 21 July 1861, near the city of Manassas (not far from Washington D.C.), and was the first major battle of the American Civil War.

Both sides were noted for their inexperience, but Confederate reinforcements brought up by train during the course of the battle tipped the conflict in the rebel’s favor, and resulted in the Union troops routing. The famous ‘Stonewall’ Jackson earned his nickname during this battle, the ferocity and bloodshed of which shocked both sides, and presaged the violence which was to follow.


MANASSAS was the codename for the predecessor to the NSA Bullrun program.


The Second Manassas (more commonly known by its Union name as the ‘Second Battle of Bull Run’), was fought 28–30 August 1862, almost a year after the first battle of same name. A set-piece fight on a much larger scale than the First Manassas, a devastating counterattack led by Confederate Maj. Gen. James Longstreet (the largest simultaneous mass assault of the war) carried the day for General Robert E. Lee’s Southern army. Union forces did however manage to mount an effective rear guard action, which prevented a massacre on the scale seen at the First Manassas.


EDGEHILL is the parallel program to BULLRUN, run by the NSA’s UK Five Eyes partner GCHQ.


The Battle of Edge Hill was fought on 23 October 1642, and was the first pitched battle of the First English Civil War, in which King Charles I faced off against Parliamentary forces led by the Earl of Essex. The Battle happened almost by accident, and a brilliant cavalry charge led by the King’s dashing nephew Prince Rupert might have ensured an early victory for the Royalists , had it not then set off in pursuit of the routing enemy and not returned again to the field of battle. As night fell both side withdrew with no clear winner, but with Charles having lost his chance to win a decisive early victory.

So what’s in a name?

What is striking about the NSA and GCHQ’s choice in codenames is that they refer to civil war battles – battles fought by their governments against their own people. We cannot help but wonder, then, at the mindset of organizations whose purported job is to protect their country’s citizens, and at who they consider the real enemy to be…

Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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