The NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Photo: Public Domain)

A version of this story originally appeared on Muckrock.com.

The NSA has a well-earned reputation for being one of the tougher agencies to get records out of, making those rare FOIA wins all the sweeter. In the case of Untangling the Web, the agency’s 2007 guide to internet research, the fact that the records in question just so happen to be absolutely insane are just icing on the cake - or as the guide would put it, “the nectar on the ambrosia.”


MuckRock’s Michael Morisy initially requested the guide after finding an entry on Google Books. A month later, the NSA responded with a complete release, minus the author’s names …


Which was a bit odd, seeing as Michael had provided them in his initial request. But hey, gift horses and all that.

Now, at 650 pages, there’s far too much to go into depth here, but fortunately, as you can see from the table of contents …


you don’t have to go very far before this takes a hard turn into “Dungeons and Dragons campaign/Classics major’s undergraduate thesis” territory.

The preface employs a comical number of metaphors to describe what the internet is and isn’t - sometimes two a paragraph. But don’t take our word for it!

According to the NSA, the internet is …

A Persian’s personal library:


Sisyphus’ boulder …


A Freudian psycho-sexual pleasure palace …


A Borgesian world-consuming knowledge-cancer …


A labyrinth (with bonus Mino-Troll):


Two quick asides - one, in case your memory needed jogging as to what aclew was, the footnote helpfully provides that information …


and two, before you cry foul that the beast in the center of the labyrinth isclearly a centaur, Ovid technically just describes the Minotaur as “half-man and half-bull” without specifying which half is which, so that interpretation is valid, if a bit needlessly obscure.

But while we’re on the subject of pedantic footnotes …

A shape-changing sea-god:


And finally, jumping ahead 600 pages, an endless frontier/a cemetery of dead ideas/a reminder of your aunt’s 15-minutes of fame:


After that journey of discovery, Untangling the Web ends perhaps the only way it could: with a back cover design that looks cribbed from a ‘90s Christian rock album.


Read the full thing here.