The Spooks' Style Guide: FOIA'd!


The National Security Agency generates lots of reports. Though we do not get to read these communiques, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request we know the standards its authors are expected to maintain. The NSA has a style guide—a Strunk and White for spooks—which we're delighted to publish here for the first time.

Most of the document is an alphabetized compendium of ambiguous, easily-misused or otherwise troublesome words. As style guides go, it's standard fare: more interesting than the grammar tips are clarifications on obscure intelligence terms and the usage examples, which often lean toward military operations, geopolitics, killings and diplomacy.

NSA SIGINT Style Manual 2010

Download the NSA Style Guide

PDF (Tidied)

PDF (As released)

TXT (Beta)

The FOIA request was filed on April 30, 2010 by Government Attic, and it took the NSA almost a year to release it.

Posted above is a version of the guide that we've cleaned up for readability's sake. The version released by the NSA was clearly printed out from a website: pages often have crude graphical headers, denuded hyperlinks and other web-cruft. There are numerous redactions throughout, including–on every page–the URL from which the document was saved or printed before release.

Please note that the text version was simply OCR'd from the cleaned-up PDF: there are many formatting errors and typos.