National Security Agency in popular culture

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The National Security Agency (NSA), the main signals intelligence organization of the United States, has been featured in numerous works of spy fiction over the past decades, with its depictions augmenting along with the growing public awareness of this highly-secretive organization. NSA's mystique makes it a popular candidate for the role of a powerful antagonist and the agency has been portrayed performing tasks that are illegal.


  • The 2017 memoir "Working on the Dark Side of the Moon: Life Inside the National Security Agency" by Thomas Reed Willemain reports the observations of a professor and software entrepreneur who spent a sabbatical year working in the Research Directorate of NSA, followed by multiple summer assignments in an NSA-affiliated think tank. About 15% of the book is redacted.
  • The 1990 novel Terminal Compromise by Winn Schwartau followed the life of an NSA agent. It was one of, if not the, first novels under copyright to be published on the Internet by a for profit publishing firm.It became Pearl Harbor Dot Com in 2001 and was the story basis of Die Hard IV. It was released as shareware in 1993. It is currently available from Project Gutenberg.
  • In the novel Zeitgeist by Bruce Sterling, the physical world could be shaped by ideas, and the NSA's orbiting cameras forced the normal rules to apply, and were used as a threat against the main character, who understood and used the true nature of the universe.
  • The novel Digital Fortress by Dan Brown is based mainly in a (fictitious) part of the NSA's facility.
  • In the 2003 novel Warpath by Jeffry Scott Hansen the character of Terrance Stewart is an undercover NSA operative who infiltrates a Detroit drug gang.
  • In the 2005 novel The Circumference of Darkness by Jack Henderson, the NSA attempts to coopt a hacker for its Total Information Awareness program.
  • In the Tom Clancy novel Red Storm Rising the character Robert Toland is an NSA analyst. Typical for his books, he properly depicts the NSA as an agency specializing in SIGINT. The agency is also referenced in the novel Teeth of the Tiger.
  • Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell novel series is based on a fictional branch of the NSA called Third Echelon.
  • In the 2005 published podcast novel Earthcore by Scott Sigler, various NSA agents are depicted as being ultra-violent and power hungry.
  • In the comic book XIII, the hero (whose name is not certain) is constantly tracked down by the NSA.
  • The Lovecraftian science fiction novel The Spiraling Worm features an NSA agent Jack Dixon, who investigates alien intrusions upon the Earth.
  • In Greg Iles' The Footprints of God the NSA attempts to build a supercomputer capable of thought equivalent to that of a human. The main character is a scientist for the project who tries to escape NSA custody after a fellow scientist is murdered by NSA agents.
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson ends one story thread with cryptographers who were crucial in winning World War II going on to found the NSA.
  • Most of Patrick Robinson's books feature the NSA
  • In Steven Gould's novel Reflex, David Rice, a man with the ability to teleport works for the NSA.
  • In 2009, M.E. Harrigan became the first NSA insider to write a book about the agency since its inception in 1952. In 9800 Savage Road, A Novel of the National Security Agency, reality and fiction intersect in a terrifying story of the events leading up to 9/11.
  • In Robert J. Sawyer's WWW Trilogy (2009-2011) the emergence of the self-aware Webmind artificial intelligence on the Internet draws the attention of the Web Activity Threat Containment Headquarters (WATCH), a fictional secret division of the NSA. WATCH serves as an antagonist for the second and third books of the trilogy as it attempts to destroy Webmind.
  • In the Animorphs book #20, The Discovery (and the two books that follow it), David mentions on a number of occasions that his father works in the NSA.
  • In the two-part technothriller series Daemon by Daniel Suarez, the female protagonist is a gifted young cryptanalyst with an eidetic memory working at the NSA. Part of the novels' plot takes place in NSA building OPS-2B.
  • In the 1994 Judge Dredd novel The Medusa Seed by Dave Stone, the NSA carries out brutal and illegal medical experiments on children in order to give them psionic powers.
  • Both of Mark Russinovich novels Zero Day (2011) and Trojan Horse (2012) focus around stories of various forms of cyberterrorism. The protagonist(s)—former government agent(s)—and their acquaintances within the NSA are playing a major role in defeating the threats.


  • The 1984 film Starman features a USG agent with an NSA badge (among others).
  • The 1987 film No Way Out features a scene in the Pentagon where a DoD worker comments that they have access to an NSA computer in Fort Meade.
  • The 1992 film Sneakers features NSA agents.
  • The 1994 film On Deadly Ground features a scene where the mercenaries suspect Steven Seagal's character is a former NSA agent.
  • The 1997 film Good Will Hunting mentions the NSA offering Will Hunting a job that he turns down.
  • The 1997 film Grosse Pointe Blank shows two NSA agents seeking to capture or frame Martin Blank.
  • The 1998 film Enemy of the State shows rogue NSA agents tracking a man, using advanced microphones and real-time video from spy satellites.[1]
  • The 1998 film Mercury Rising, based on a book of the same name, shows multiple NSA agents working on a cryptography code known as "Mercury." It also shows the murder of a couple and attempted murder of their child who breaks the NSA's unbreakable encryption code that he found in a magazine.
  • The 1999 animated film The Iron Giant, based on Ted Hughes' book of the same name, features an arrogant, ambitious and paranoid NSA agent named Kent Mansley (voiced by Christopher McDonald) as the main antagonist, who is working with the United States Army to locate and destroy the titular Iron Giant due to paranoia of the 1950s Cold War that the Giant was created by Soviet forces.
  • The 2002 film Die Another Day shows an NSA agent named Giacinta 'Jinx' Johnson working with James Bond to defeat a villain.
  • The 2004 film The Forgotten featured NSA agents working in conjunction with an alien race, allowing them to kidnap human children.
  • The 2006 film The Listening (film), set in 1999, features an estranged NSA agent Michael Parks who becomes a whistleblower when he discovers the ends to which NSA and its contractor companies will go to protect TUMBLEWEED a new add-on program to their ECHELON electronic surveillance system. TUMBLEWEED will enable NSA to listen in on switched-off cell-phones and on-the-hook hard lines. The agent hides out in the Alps and mounts a clandestine counter-listening station to disseminate the data collected through TUMBLEWEED to journalists and lawyers across the world.
  • The 2007 film Live Free or Die Hard features NSA agents assisting the FBI Cyber Division, alongside the main character of the film, John McClane, against an Internet-based terrorist organization which is systematically shutting down the United States.
  • The film xXx (and its sequel) has the main character being recruited by the NSA.
  • The 2007 film The Simpsons Movie depicts the NSA listening to and transcribing every telephone and public conversation in the US. This leads to Marge, Lisa, Bart and Maggie's capture by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The 2008 film Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay has the Vice Chairman of the NSA providing a rational counterpoint to a rabid Homeland Security agent.
  • In Liam Kyle Sullivan's short video "Txt Msg Brkup", a woman who works at the NSA is featured.
  • The 2009 film Echelon Conspiracy features the NSA and advanced computer surveillance.

Tabletop Roleplaying Games[edit]

  • In horror Role-playing game Delta Green, NSA agents are frequently employed by the eponymous organization as computer scientists and SIGINT specialists, the Player Characters can be NSA agents. The NSA also plays an important part in the backstory of the 2016 edition, when Majestic-12 was disbanded and merged with a reactivated Delta Green, most of its assets were moved under the umbrella of the NSA due their extensive black budget and secret projects.

Video games[edit]

  • In the 2000 Nintendo 64 video game Perfect Dark, Trent Easton, the corrupt head of the agency, uses agents to do his dirty work.
  • In the video game series Splinter Cell, the main protagonist, Sam Fisher, a former U.S. Navy SEAL officer, works for "Third Echelon", a secretive division of the NSA, responsible for intelligence gathering.
  • The game James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing featured NSA agent Mya Starling working with James Bond.
  • The game Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, features NSA agents charged with trying to stop a major terrorist attack in Las Vegas.
  • In the game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater ADAM and EVA are former NSA code-breakers.
  • In the game The Pandora Directive, the antagonist Jackson Cross is an NSA Agent.
  • In the game Battlefield: Bad Company 2, the protagonists, Bad Company, must make contact with Aguire, an NSA agent, in Bolivia.
  • In the game Infamous 2, the character Lucy Kuo is an agent for the NSA.
  • In the game Alpha Protocol, the character Mina Tang was (and is implied to still be) working for the NSA.
  • In the games Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto V, there's a federal agency that is a parody of the NSA and Department of Homeland Security known as the National Office Of Security Enforcement (or N.O.O.S.E. for short). They respond to major crimes committed by the player or serve as backup for the authorities by sending SWAT teams. They also combat terrorism and crackdown on drug smugglers as portrayed in several missions.


  • In the radio drama Adventures in Odyssey, the main character's son Jason (Whit would get hired to write programs from time to time) is a former employee of the NSA, a fact that plays into story arcs from 1989 through 1996.


  • In the 1968 Star Trek episode "Assignment: Earth", Agent Gary Seven has an ID card from the NSA.
  • In the 1980s television program Scarecrow and Mrs. King, the title characters were operatives for "The Agency," an allusion most likely to the NSA, as the agents mentioned that they're not CIA, but another government intelligence agency.
  • In 1997 Murder, She Wrote's TV Movie Murder, She Wrote: South by Southwest
  • The 1998-2001 UPN TV series Seven Days followed a fictional "special branch" of the NSA—"BACKSTEP"— involved with using time travel for national security.
  • In the 1999 Highlander: The Raven episode "The Rogue", Bert Myers claims to be from the NSA.
  • Season 2 of the television series 24 featured the NSA as one of the organizations responsible for preventing the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. Roger Stanton, the fictional director of the NSA, is found to be a traitor whose goal is for the government to take a more hawkish stance against terrorism, and the president ordered his interrogation and torture. In season 5 there is also a reference to communications intercepted by the NSA. Then again in season 8 references are made to the NSA using the ECHELON programme to find Jack Bauer,
  • In show Numb3rs, mathematician Charlie Eppes was mentioned in several episodes to have worked with the NSA as a consultant. Two NSA agents also appeared in the season 3 episode Finders Keepers.
  • In Jake 2.0 TV series, main protagonists work for the NSA.
  • The NSA/CSS is in the TV series Burn Notice.
  • In Chuck, the title character works with the NSA and its agent John Casey, in addition to the CIA and its agent Sarah Walker.
  • The main character of the DC animated series The Zeta Project is an infiltration robot whom the NSA believe has gone renegade. In reality, he has only decided that he no longer wishes to kill anyone.
  • In the third episode of The X-Files, titled "Conduit," NSA Agents break into Mulder's hotel room.
  • In the first season of Person of Interest an NSA analyst becomes a Person of Interest when he accidentally discovers the existence of The Machine, an elaborate surveillance system used by the main characters.
  • The 2013 episode of South Park entitled "Let Go, Let Gov" satirizes the 2013 mass surveillance disclosures. Aware of the NSA's omniscience, Butters goes to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and confesses his sins. When visited by Jehovah's Witnesses, Butters shares with them the truth about the government they three of them begin sharing DMV literature with their neighbors. According to Butters, "the government loves you and it wants to forgive you if you just let [it] into your heart". Eventually, others begin showing up at the DMV to confess their sins.
  • On NCIS Eleanor 'Ellie' Bishop worked as an NSA analyst before becoming an NCIS agent.


In comics[edit]

  • A Non Sequitur strip poked fun at the NSA, claiming it has a time-travel enforcement division. The character Danae thinks any job inside that division is cool but fake [4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Day, Dwayne A. (July 2, 2000). "A Look at . . . Spy Satellites & Hollywood". The Washington Post. p. B03. Archived from the original on September 19, 2000. templatestyles stripmarker in |title= at position 1 (help)
  2. ^ David Haglund (25 June 2013). "Codefellas: Watch John Hodgman spoof the NSA for Wired. (VIDEO)". Slate. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
  3. ^ Todd Spangler (21 June 2013). "Wired's 'Codefellas' Plays NSA Privacy Flap for Laughs". Variety. Retrieved 2013-08-01.
  4. ^