The NSA sucks at Powerpoint

Yesterday, The Guardian broke the news that the National Security Administration has ordered Verizon to hand over a tremendous amount of customer data for a three-month period this spring. Documents about this program, titled PRISM, appeared on the sites of the Washington Post, Business Insider, and the Guardian. Even the Atlantic entered the mix, publishing a great opinion piece by security expert Bruce Schneier about why what we don’t know about this program is scarier than what we do know. Foreign Policy posted some interesting stats about the program. Here’s a short selection of them:

9: The number of tech companies whose servers NSA has access to via PRISM.

6: The number of years PRISM has been in operation.

0: The number of times Twitter has agreed to participate in PRISM.

According to Business Insider, “Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google have all denied involvement in the PRISM program.” I’m sure that more and more details about the PRISM program will come out in the days and weeks to follow. It’s certainly a hot topic, though less than 48 hours old as a news story. After reviewing the leaked PRISM slides myself, one thing is certain: the NSA sucks at Powerpoint. Yes, the leaked PRISM slides clearly demonstrate that the NSA violates almost every rule set forth by @jessedee‘s “You suck at Powerpoint.”

Let’s take a look at these slides, before I comment further.

What the fuck? What the FUCK? WHAT THE FUCK? Not the content, the design. What fourth grader put this presentation together? “Nice job Billy! B+ for content. It’s somewhat totalitarian in nature, but you’re entitled to your opinions. C- for design. You haven’t followed many of the principles we studied in class. You can do better!”

Looking at the Header of the presentation, the first thing I notice is a totally disorganized mess of tech company logos.

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 1.31.09 PM

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 1.37.12 PM

First, The author mashed the Facebook logo under the NOFORN text. And, is that really the best Facebook logo you could find? You couldn’t make the name bigger?

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 1.37.49 PM

Second, what the hell is paltalk.com? I’ve lived my life on the internet for the last 5 years, and this is the first I’ve heard  of it. Looking at their company website, I couldn’t find investors. What kind of tech company doesn’t have investors? Maybe it’s one of those “only in Brazil” sites like Orkut. Third, why smash YouTube, AOL, and PalTalk together? It looks like that scribbly handwriting I do when I start a sentence, realize that I don’t have much paper left, and insist upon finishing the thought on that side of the page.

Hotmail_logo

Fourth, is that the most recent Hotmail logo you could find? I could swear that the newest version was the one at the right, found on Wikipedia after a simple search. Furthermore, Hotmail was folded into Outlook.com on the 3rd of April, 2013. This presentation was given in April 2013, so unless it was given on the 1st or 2nd of the month, technically, Hotmail no longer existed.

Who designed that PRISM logo, by the way? The Eagle wrapping itself around the earth is badass. The PRISM logo looks like something you’d see on a mid-90’s university website.

Finally, is it really necessary to cram all of the tech company logos onto each slide? Wouldn’t it look nicer if they were all on one slide, titled “Project Participants” at the beginning of the presentation?

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 1.53.01 PMMoving along, you couldn’t find a better looking font than Times New Roman? Seriously, one of the main ideas in “You suck at Powerpoint” is to use beautiful fonts. And what is with the title “PRISM/US-984XN Overview or The SIGAD Used MOST in NSA Reporting Overview”? Is this an episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle?

As for slide number 2 from above, the bullet points on the left are excellent: to the point and informative. But really, in a big orange square with rounded corners? The graphic on the right is lacking. Though it has great information and conveys the message of data flow through the US, I can barely read the text. Why have such big circles, but such little tiny fonts? Plus, the title text is overcrowded.

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 2.01.44 PM

Slide three is just plain boring. Not sexy at all. Moving onto slide four, what the hell is this up-and-to-the-right arrow with yellow bubbles on it? You have the X-axis, which is Time. What is the Y-axis? Are we just supposed to guess? Isn’t this just a timeline? Also, why do you decrease the font size of Microsoft to make it fit on one line, but Facebook (one letter shorter, I might add) rolls over onto the next line with “Facebo-ok”?

Screen Shot 2013-06-07 at 2.17.13 PM

From the confusing graphs to the crowded headers, from the terrible default graphics to the outdated logos, the design of this powerpoint is fucking awful. If I were the NSA, I’d be embarrassed. Seriously guys, in the words of Mary Poppins, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” I’m thinking about holding a contest to beautify these slides and really help the information show. Willing to participate? Drop me a line in the comments.

4 comments

  1. Gavin

    If you could figure out what the point of the slides is – it might be possible to do something with them. Without notes or seeing someone present, it’s difficult to understand what they’re really trying to say. – for instance the Y-axis less timeline – does it mean that Microsoft were cheap to add to the program because they were added early? probably not but you could infr it from the graph…

  2. Pingback: PRISM Would Have Come Off Better With Better PowerPoint Design | TechCrunch
  3. tim

    They only have default fonts on government computers and no one in the government cares about design as long as the information is dumbed down as to not offend anyone in the room who may have worked for the government their entire life and have no outside experience.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s