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Cryptome logo.jpg
Web address
Commercial? Yes
Registration None
Owners John Young, Deborah Natsios
Editors John Young, Deborah Natsios
Launched June 1996; 19 years ago (1996-06)
Current status Active

Cryptome is a 501(c)(3) private foundation[1] created in 1996 by John Young and Deborah Natsios and sponsored by Natsios-Young Architects.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] The site aggregates information about topics including crypto-architecture,[10] freedom of expression, privacy, cryptography, dual-use technologies and military conversion, national security, intelligence, conspiracy theories, government secrecy and protection from electromagnetic radiation.[11][12][13][14]

Cryptome is considered the predecessor of Wikileaks. It is known for publishing the alleged identity of the CIA analyst who located Osama Bin Laden,[15][16] lists of people allegedly associated with the Stasi,[17] and the PSIA,[18] the alleged identity of Irish Republican Army assassin Stakeknife.[19] Cryptome is also known for distributing Stuxnet[20] and the alleged internal emails of the Wikileaks organization[21] Cryptome republished the public surveillance disclosures of Edward Snowden and announced in June 2014 that they would publish all unreleased Snowden documents later that month.[22][23]

Cryptome is controversially known for publishing the location and pictures of vulnerable critical infrastructure and posting guides on "how to attack critical infrastructure" in addition to other instructions for illegal hacking "for those without the patience to wait for whistleblowers".[24][25][26]


Cryptome was created by John Young and Deborah Natsios, both architects by trade. They married just before starting Cryptome.[27][28] The two share editorial duties and both approve all posts.[29] John Young is listed as the principal on Cryptome's trademark application.[30]

John Young[edit]

John Young was born in 1935. He grew up in West Texas, and served in the United States Army Corps of Engineers in Germany (1953–56) and earned degrees in philosophy and architecture from Rice University (1957–63). He went on to receive his graduate degree in architecture from Columbia University in 1969. A self-identified radical, he became an activist and helped create community service group Urban Deadline, where his fellow student-activists initially suspected him of being a police spy.[31] Urban Deadline went on to receive citations from the Citizens Union of the City of New York and the New York City Council, and which later evolved into Cryptome. His work earned him a position on the nominating committee for the Chrysler Award for Innovation in Design in 1998.[32][33][34]

He has worked as an architect, contractor or independent consultant for notable organizations such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York, Columbia University, W Hotels, Reuters, Opus Dei, the Rockefellers, the Mafia, Five Percenters, the Church of Scientology, the Black Panther Party.[34][35][36][37] According to his CV, in addition to his work as an architect, has worked in space exploration, information distribution and security, as well as safety and health inspection.[38]

He has received citations from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Legal Aid Society. In 1993, he was awarded the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition.[32][39][40] He is an anarchist[41] and has stated he doesn't "acknowledge the power of the law."[42]

Deborah Natsios[edit]

Deborah Natsios received her graduate degree in architecture from Princeton University. She has taught architecture and urban design at Columbia University and Parsons The New School for Design, and held seminars at the Pratt Institute and the University of Texas.[43][44] She is the principal of Natsios Young Architects.[45]

In the 1990s, she ran the design studio on Burning Down the White House. In addition to being co-editor for Cryptome, she is responsible for the associated project Cartome, which was founded in in 2011[46] and posts her original critical art and graphical images and other public resources to document sensitive areas. She additionally holds a degree in mathematics from Smith College. She has given talks at the USENIX Annual Technical Conference[47] and Architectures of Fear: Terrorism and the Future of Urbanism in the West,[46] and written on topics ranging from architectural theory[43] and entomofilia,[48] to defenses of Jim Bell and assassination politics.[49]


She is the daughter of Nicholas Natsios, who served as CIA station chief in Greece from 1948-1956, in Vietnam from 1956-1960, in France from 1960-1962, in South Korea from 1962-1965, in Argentina from 1965-1969, in the Netherlands from 1969-1972, and in Iran from 1972-1974.[27][50][51][52][53] While stationed in Vietnam, his deputy was William Colby, the future Director of Central Intelligence.[54] His name was included in the 1996 membership directory of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, which Cryptome helped to publish.[55][56] Cryptome acknowledged its link to Nicholas four years later, in 2000.[57]

Her cousin is Andrew Natsios.[27] He has served as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, and Vice President of World Vision. Currently, Natsios teaches as Executive Professor at The Bush School of Government and Public Service.


Digital library[edit]

On November 2, 2015, Cryptome stated that their archive contains 99,335 files totaling 42 gigabytes. The website states that in addition to the online archive, and the USB drive archive includes 112 INSCOM dossiers, and 14,000 files taken from ProEnergy Services.[58] On October 21, 2015, the website announced that about 350,000 Wikileaks documents totaling 70 gigabytes were made available on a separate USB.[59] The combined archives contain 444,000 files totaling 62 gigabytes.[60] Cryptome initially said the archives were free to public libraries, then later called it a prank.[59][61][62]

Download policy[edit]

Users of the online archive are limited to downloading 100 files per day. Cryptome claimed that the online archive "is seeded with a few hidden trojans and viruses" which the server sends to "bots, spiders and siphons" that access more than 100 files per day.[11]

Editorial policy[edit]

According to the website, "Cryptome welcomes documents for publication that are prohibited by governments worldwide, in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance -- open, secret and classified documents -- but not limited to those."[63]

John Young has said of Cryptome, "We do expect to get false documents but it’s not our job to sort that out."[64] In a 2013 Associated Press article, Young said Cryptome has an "editorial role in selecting files, but we don't tell people what to think about them."[31] Earlier that year, Cryptome wrote to an interviewer, "If a document will annoy, and best, deeply anger, believers in authority then it gets published".[65]

In another interview, Young declared: “Facts are not a trustworthy source of knowledge. Cryptome is not an authoritative source. It’s a source of imaginatory material. Don’t trust Cryptome, we lie to you helplessly. Don’t believe anything you see there.”[66] In the same interview he quoted Cryptome's privacy policy, saying "Cryptome is not trustworthy, and lies."[67][68] When asked about providing context for material, Young said, "We do not believe in 'context.' That is authoritarian nonsense. For the same reason, we do not believe in verification, authentication, background."[65]

The front page of the states that "documents are removed from this site only by order served directly by a US court having jurisdiction. No court order has ever been served; any order served will be published here – or elsewhere if gagged by order."[11] However, documents are removed at the request of both law enforcement as well as individuals.[42][52][69]

Privacy Policy[edit]

Cryptome currently has two privacy policies. The first privacy policy states:

We don't willfully disclose, but that's no assurance with the way the Internet is designed for the convenience of its operators which leaves it open to wizard intruders, greedy marketers and evil authorities. We don't know who's snooping our site and logs with intrusive tools. We see that Verio checks this site regularly; while its courteous sysadmins claim they do not snoop who knows what corruption maddens under-rockers.

So we don't promise false assurances of privacy which dissolve through negligence, duress, business deals, bribes and increasingly sophisticated intrusive technology. We believe it's best to try to protect your privacy with trustworthy and up-to-date armaments -- particularly with the use of anonymizers, strongest encryption and vigilance against snooping -- and to distrust disarming statements of privacy policy that are probably out of date and touch. Or stay far away from an Internet seemingly purpose-built for covert surveillance of unwary users.[70]

In 2003, Cryptome informed users that they have been able to delete logs for (Cryptome's predecessor website) and[71] In late 2008, Cryptome added its second privacy policy stating, "No user data is collected by Cryptome. Logs are deleted several times a day."[72][73] Cryptome had given a similar statement in an answer to a subpoena several years before.[74] However, Cryptome later informed users that Network Solutions forced them to log users and would not allow the logs to be deleted.[75] According to Network Solutions, logs are deleted after thirty days and Cryptome could choose to prevent the logging.[76]

In 2015, it was discovered that Cryptome's USB archives contained web server logs, containing clues to the identities of Cryptome visitors including their IP addresses and what files they had accessed on Cryptome. Cryptome initially denied the logs were real, stating that they had been faked as part of a disinformation campaign. Several days later, Cryptome confirmed the logs were real. The logs had been mailed out to users who ordered the site's archive since they changed web hosts in 2007, which Cryptome blamed on their current ISP, Network Solutions.[77][78][79] Cryptome later added that "there are no accidental leaks", that they pay for the internet, and that the leak succeeded in its intention of creating scandalous publicity to increase visitors to the website.[80][81] Soon after, Cryptome posted pictures of their logs, showing that they had records spanning the sites' history.[82][83] According to Cryptome, the then nineteen years of logs added up to about one terabyte.[84]

Cryptome has warned users that they will not protect the anonymity of their sources, saying "don’t send us stuff and think that we’ll protect you."[68]

Other activities[edit]

Cryptome's trade mark application describes its business as "computer services, namely, on-line scanning, detecting, quarantining and eliminating of viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, adware, malware and unauthorized data and programs on computers and electronic devices."[85] Another trade mark application by Cryptome describes "electronic storage of electronic media, namely, images, text and audio data" with a focus on "[s]cientific and technological services and research and design relating thereto; industrial analysis and research services; design and development of computer hardware and software; legal services."[86]

According to emails sent and published by Cryptome, the website has a three step "crypt-architecture" plan for combining social issues with architectural and security issues. Step one is preventing the removal of social programs like the Bowery Mission and "to valorize them as far more valuable than the best of the best art institutions." Step two relates to Cryptome's Eyeball Series which uses photographs and video recordings to document "national security sensitive infrastructure which handles global and financial communications", and the mass transit system which John Young and Deborah Natsios worked as architectural consultants when they "learned of its appalling insecurity -- which has also been superficially reported, honest coverage denied for alleged security concerns, aka security by obscurity." Cryptome has not publicly discussed step three.[87][88] This project runs parallel to Architome.[10]

Cryptome claims to initiate new disclosure methods every few months.[89][90] In 2014, Cryptome stated that it "operates several sites, twelve of them with NetSol, all of them except, as well as sites hosted by other ISPs."[91]


1968: Urban Deadline is created as an extension of the Columbia strike and the Avery Hall occupation.[92] Three decades later, Cryptome evolves out of Urban Deadline.[93]

1993: John and Deborah meet and their collaboration begins "some time late in 1993".[27][28] John Young receives the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition.[40]

1994: What will become Cryptome begins with John and Deborah's participation in the Cypherpunks electronic mailing list and Urban Deadline.[27] Deborah Natsios called this time “seminal” and “transformative” for the internet.[28]

1995: Architome, a project parallel to Cryptome, is created.[10]

1996: Cryptome officially begins as part of their architectural practice.[94] In an article written by John Cook, "the closest Young comes to explaining to me why he created Cryptome is this: 'I'm a pretty fucking angry guy.'"[27]

1998: Cryptome complains of attempts by their landlord to harassing them in attempts to force them to vacate their apartment, which Cryptome is run out of. They begin to post documentation of this “for education and information on commercial and residential property practices.” The documentation included their correspondence with the company responsible for the building, but does not include documentation of the “building-wide disruptions” or the damages to their apartment that the page said would be added. The page was later taken down.[95]

1999: In May, Cryptome posts a list of alleged MI6 officers found on a mailing list.[96] In June, is registered.[97] In October journalist Declan McCullagh writes about John Young's perusal of the site's access logs.[39][98][99]

2000: Cartome is founded.[46] In July, two FBI agents speak with Cryptome on the phone after Cryptome publishes a Public Security Intelligence Agency personnel file. The file lists 400 names, birthdates, and titles, notably included Director General Hidenao Toyoshima. The FBI expresses concerns over the file, but admits it was legal to publish in the United States but not Japan. After speculation that the documents may have come from someone called "Shigeo Kifuji", Cryptome identifies the source as Hironari Noda.[18][100]

2002: In January, Cryptome applies for press credentials with New York City. They are denied because they "could not provide letters of reference" regarding their previous press activities.[101] In December the Attorney General issues a subpoena requiring that John Young appear before a grand jury and turn over "all logs recording the I.P. addresses and/or users" who visited Cryptome. John Young posts a notice online declaring that visitor logs are deleted daily,[102] a claim which may be contradicted by statements in 2015 (see below).

2003: In November, Cryptome is visited by two FBI agents from a counter-terrorism office, asking for any information which Cryptome "had a gut feeling" could be a threat to the nation and the purpose of site.[103] Cryptome informs users that they have been able to delete logs for (Cryptome's predecessor website) and[71]

2004: New York City removed warning signs around gas mains after Cryptome posts pictures of them, citing security concerns.[104] In October, Cryptome removed their universal block on web robots.[105][106]

2006: Cryptome becomes one of the early organizers of Wikileaks. John Young reveals that he was approached by Julian Assange and asked to be the public face of Wikileaks; Young agreed and his name was listed on the website's original domain registration form.[107][108][109]

2007: In the early part of the year, John Young and Deborah Natsios leave Wikileaks due to concerns about the organizations' finances and fundraising, accusing it of being a "money-making operation" and "business intelligence" scheme, and expressing concern that the amount of money they sought "could not be needed so soon except for suspect purposes."[107][108][109] Cryptome publishes an archive of the secret, internal electronic mailing list of the Wikileaks organizers, from its inception through Young's departure from the group.[21] On April 20 the website receives notice from its hosting company, Verio, that it would be evicted on May 4 for unspecified breaches of their acceptable use policy.[110][111] Cryptome alleges that the shutdown is a censorship attempt in response to posts about the Coast Guard's Deepwater program.[112] In 2015, Cryptome claims that as a result of changing ISPs at this time, they began mailing out copies of site logs that included potentially identifying information about the site's visitors. (See privacy policy)

2010: Cryptome adds its second privacy policy.[70] Cryptome's Earthlink account is compromised, leading to its website being hacked and Cryptome's data copied. The post screenshots of the compromised email account. Cryptome confirms the accuracy of the information taken, but contests specific assertions, claiming they had only about seven gigabytes of data, not the seven terabytes the attackers claimed to copy.[113] In February, Cryptome is briefly shut down by Network Solutions for alleged DMCA violations after it posted a "Microsoft legal spy manual".[114][115][116] Microsoft withdraws the complaint 3 days later and the website is restored.[117] In March, PayPal stops processing donations to Cryptome and freezes the account due to "suspicious activities". The account is restored after an "investigation" by PayPal.[42][118] Cryptome ends on bad terms with Wikileaks, with John Young directly accusing them of selling classified material and calling them "a criminal organization". He calls Julian Assange's anti-American rhetoric insincere, calling him "just a crowd pleaser".[108] In a separate interview, he calls Assange a narcissistic and compares him to Henry Kissinger. Young accuses George Soros and the Koch brothers of "backing Wikileaks generously".[119]

2011: In July, Cryptome names the CIA analyst who found Osama Bin Laden.[120][121] In September, Cryptome publishes a list of Intelligence and National Security Alliance members, alleging that they were spies. Cryptome removes the names of members from the list upon their requests.[122] Cryptome stops cooperating with the production team for We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks upon learning its tentatively titled "Unnamed Wikileaks Project," saying that "the project appears to have retreated into a narrow-focussed commercial theme, perhaps unavoidable in buzzy-headline Media World."[87]

2012: In February, the Cryptome website is hacked to infect visitors with malware.[123] In August, internet hacktivist The Jester accuses Cryptome of running the website Cryptocomb and exposing Mark Owen.[124] Cryptome denies any connection to Cryptocomb or exposing Mark Owen's identity.[125]

2013: In February, Cryptome's website, email and Twitter account are compromised, exposing whistleblowers and sources that had corresponded with Cryptome via email. Cryptome blames hackers Ruxpin and Sabu, who was an FBI informant at the time.[126][127] In June two US Secret Service agents visited Cryptome to request removal of a former presidential Bush family email allegedly hacked by Guccifer.[42] In August, a complaint about Cryptome's identification of alleged Japanese terrorsts leads Network Solutions to briefly shut down the site.[7] In October Cryptome informs its users that Network Solutions has generated logs of site's visitors, and that requests to delete the logs are not being honored.[128] (According to Network Solutions's website, logs are deleted after thirty days and Cryptome could choose to prevent the logging.[129]) In December Cryptome reports receiving a letter attempting to blackmail them. The letter demanded money in exchange for the Guccifer archive and claimed to have embarrassing information about Cryptome and Cryptome's email exchanges.[130]

2014: In January, Cryptome uploads a copy of the Guccifer archive to Google Drive, posting the links on Pastebin and their website.[130] Later that year, Cryptome attempts to raise $100,000 to fund the website and its other disclosure initiatives.[8][131] In June, Cryptome is pulled offline again when malware was found infecting visitors to the site.[132] In July, Cryptome says it would publish the remaining NSA documents taken by Edward Snowden in the "coming weeks".[133] Since then, Cryptome has not published any new Snowden documents.[134]

2015: In August, Cryptome complains of “thieving” web robots and posts allegations that the bots are the result of a “whistlebreaker” project run by SAIC. The alleged project targeted Cryptome and other websites using SecureDrop.[135][136] In September, Cryptome announces that their encryption keys are compromised,[137] then later claims they are not.[138] A few days later, Cryptome files for incorporation in New York.[139] Later that month, a GCHQ document leaked by Edward Snowden reveals that the agency is monitoring visits to Cryptome.[140] Cryptome confirmed the information in the slide, stating that logs showed the IP address "visited Cryptome on dates listed for files shown."[141] In October, a sold edition (USB stick) of the Cryptome archive is observed to contain web server logs, containing clues to the identities of Cryptome visitors. The logs had been mailed out to users who ordered the site's archive at least since 2007. Cryptome denied the logs were real, and ccused the discoverer of forging the data and other forms of corruption. Cryptome later confirmed they were real.[77][78][79][142] One of Cryptome's privacy policies at the time said that "No user data is collected by Cryptome. Logs are deleted several times a day," adding the caveat: "Cryptome is not trustworthy, and lies."[67] Cryptome later added the comment that "there are no accidental leaks".[80] Cryptome posted pictures of logs dating back to the site's creation, claiming that Cryptome is for sale. Cryptome later claims that the sale is a parody and that "Cryptome has no logs, never has", noting that their "various ISPs have copious logs of many kinds" along with metadata and that Cryptome tracks these "to see what happens to our files".[111][141][143][144][145] Later in October, Wikileaks launched a searchable version of the Cryptome archive and Cryptome's tweets.[146] In response, Cryptome criticized Wikileaks and called it "misleading hype" and "click bait to garner user data".[147][148] Cryptome also criticized Wikileaks' Cryptome search for being "a mess of Google and Archive dumpstering."[149] In November, Cryptome announced it was constructing a SecureDrop system.[150]


A 2004 New York Times article assessed Cryptome with the headline, "Advise the Public, Tip Off the Terrorists" in its coverage of the site's gas pipeline maps.[104] Reader's Digest made an even more alarming assessment of the site in 2005, calling it an "invitation to terrorists" and alleging that Young "may well have put lives at risk".[151][152]

The Village Voice featured Cryptome in its 2008 Best of NYC feature, citing its hosting of "photos, facts, and figures" of the Iraq War.[153]

Wikileaks accused Cryptome of executing a "smear campaign" in 2010 after Cryptome posted what it alleged were email exchanges with Wikileaks insiders, which Wikileaks disputed.[113][154][155]

Cryptome was awarded the Defensor Libertatis (defender of liberty) award at the 2010 Big Brother Awards, for a "life in the fight against surveillance and censorship" and for providing "suppressed or otherwise censored documents to the global public". The awards committee noted that Cryptome had engaged with "every protagonist of the military-electronic monitoring complex".[156]

In 2012, Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, described John Young and Cryptome as "fearless and contemptuous of any pretensions to authority” and “oblivious to the security concerns that are the preconditions of a working democracy. And he seems indifferent to the human costs of involuntary disclosure of personal information.” Aftergood specifically criticized Cryptome's handling of the McGurk emails, saying "it’s fine to oppose McGurk or anyone else. It wasn’t necessary to humiliate them".[157][158]

In 2013, Cindy Cohn, then the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, praised Cryptome as "a really important safety valve for the rest of us, as to what our government is up to."[52]

In 2014, Glenn Greenwald praised and criticized Cryptome, saying "There is an obvious irony to complaining that we're profiting from our work while [Cryptome] tries to raise $100,000 by featuring our work. Even though [Cryptome] occasionally does some repellent and demented things - such as posting the home addresses of Laura Poitras, Bart Gellman, and myself along with maps pointing to our homes - [they also do] things that are quite productive and valuable. On the whole, I'm glad there is a Cryptome and hope they succeed in raising the money they want."[8] When asked about it two months later Young criticized Greenwald, saying that he had not "offered to pay for the publicity," calling the journalist a "deadbeat arrogant leech on other people’s work" for capitalizing on the Snowden disclosures.[89][90]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]