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5 Secretive NSA Code Names That Sound Like Everyday Things

"...describing operations, exercises, weapons activities, programs, pieces of equipment, spying things."

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You've likely heard of STELLARWIND or PRISM, classified programs run by the NSA, revealed through whistleblower leaks, but have you ever wondered just how such code words came to be?

code word Depending on the agency, code words follow certain naming conventions. (Image source: Shutterstock)

Bill Arkin, a man formerly in Army intelligence who has authored books about spy activities, spoke with NPR about the prevalence of the secretive language.

"There are tens of thousands, describing operations, exercises, weapons activities, programs, pieces of equipment, spying things," he told NPR. "No one really has one, single, super-duper database on all of them."

Here are a few included in NPR's report:

NEVERSHAKEABABY (Arkin's personal favorite)

KEYSTONE

TWISTEDPATH

BLAZINGSADDLES

EGOTISTICALGIRAFFE

While it might not sound like it to the average person -- and that's probably the point -- there is some sort of rhyme to the reason for most code words.

According to NPR, the CIA often uses metals or stones for inspiration. The NSA's code words are always one word -- even if it's technically two words strung together -- and uppercase.

There was a time when deciding upon a code name was left to leaders or a group, but by the 1960s a woman likely had the job, according to NPR.

"Anytime they needed a new code word she would just pull it out of a computer," James Bamford, who has written about the NSA in the past, told NPR. "She'd just take the next one in line."

He added that he believes code words used by the agency are still generated by computers.

Read more details about naming conventions and history of code words in NPR's report.

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