In February of 2016, the people behind the website Government Attic made an unusual Freedom of Information Act request to the National Security Agency: “A digital/electronic copy of the NSA’s old security posters from the 1950s and 1960s.” It took more than two years, but the NSA finally got around to honoring the request—providing digital images of more than 100 posters from NSA’s Security Education Program, spanning from the agency’s early days in the 1950s up to the 1970s (with some minor redactions, of course).
The posters are a time capsule of Cold War era government secrecy culture, and they use every possible approach in the propaganda and advertising book to hammer home the need for security awareness. Posters from the 1950s heavily played on the threat of the Soviets to life, liberty, and religion—with a heavy emphasis on the role of Christianity in the lives of good, God-fearing Americans of the time. Others focused on patriotism and on the need to protect the American way of life.
But with the cultural changes of the 1960s and 1970s, things got a little… looser, as pop culture references started to seep into the security propaganda materials—along with occasional warnings about the counter-culture (such as “Don’t Blow Your Clearance on Drugs”). A themed poster, with an illustration of John Travolta that looks a bit more like a young Mitt Romney, is perhaps the high-water mark of the trend. While perhaps not as iconic as the World War II operational security poster “Loose Lips Might Sink Ships,” the “Security Fever—Catch It” poster is a lost classic.