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Back in college I had a Soviet studies professor whose office was decorated with lurid, humorless security posters from the U.S.S.R. I thought they were artifacts peculiar to repressive, secrecy-obsessed regimes — until I started covering the Pentagon.
On bulletin boards, doors and office walls throughout the building, my colleagues and I would find dozens of security posters and signs of varying quality and message some of them just as spooky as those Soviet posters in my professors office (and some still focused on the Soviets, for that matter). My favorite, which one of my co-workers was kind enough to swipe for me, was a warning to government officials about to travel abroad. Get your travel threat briefing before departing, it screamed, the words surrounded by hideous, bloody drawings of what might happen to if you weren’t careful hostage situations, attacks in cafs, etc.
These kinds of signs have been around a long time, of course. Here?s one of the all-time classics. (Some, though, were pretty horrible.)
Now, theyre official policy according to military regulations, such security warnings have to be displayed in certain areas.
But do they work? Consider this: According to an Army security manual, after a while, a security poster, no matter how well designed, will be ignored; it will, in effect, simply blend into the environment. For this reason, awareness techniques should be creative and frequently changed.
There are quite a few signs and posters online. Some are, in fact, creative. Some are attempts at humor. Most fail. And some are just plain weird. (Really weird. And what’s up with all the kids?)
Here’s a sampling of some of the best — and worst.

* Bad guys can be anywhere. And everywhere. No, really.
* Consider: Aliens. Clowns. Vampires. And …this guy.
* Remember Ames? Hanssen? Any of these charmers ring a bell?
* This one’s an award-winner. This one’s probably not.
* Watch that trash. And those carpoolers.
* Finally: European pigeons. The three little pigs. And Santa.

Then there’s this.
– Posted by Dan Dupont

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

AlphaGeek October 7, 2005 at 6:42 pm

Dan, I thought you did a good job standing in for Noah this week — but this just takes the cake. This is a classic.
You should consider developing this into a full-length magazine piece. Fantastic stuff.
-AG

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bubba October 8, 2005 at 12:58 am

…it seems, with your smirking chimp routine, that your intimating that security-awareness is just something that gawping yokels should care about?
I’ve never really understood the aloofly antagonistic attitude of defensetech with such clarity as I do after reading this.

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matt October 8, 2005 at 1:37 am

For the love of please do not directly link to pdf files!
…oh and good post ;)

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Zigue October 8, 2005 at 10:28 am

Fantastic post. As a government hack, I can vouch for the fact that after a very short while, they indeed do blend into the woodwork. Oh, and Bubba, stop taking yourself too seriously. If you can laugh at bureaucratic goofiness, you are probably part of the problem. And if Mr. Dupont is a smirking chimp, I can only surmise that you are a troglodytic low-graded ape.

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The Cenobyte October 10, 2005 at 9:34 am

seems like everyone does this. The company I work for has posters all over the place about being safe with this or that, protecting client info and laptops, etc etc.
Personally I always thought that kind of thing would have gone away after I got out of school but I guess what worked in Kindergarden still works on adults.

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Neil Calvin October 10, 2005 at 10:48 am

I’m going into Military Intelligence fairly soon, but now I’m rather frightened. Some of those posters…I’m guessing drug tests aren’t required for everyone after all.

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jeanine Vanatta October 10, 2005 at 2:53 pm

my husband is in Iraq right and it is hard to talk because iam deaf and speech inparmit..
plus my spelling is not good ..
i sometimes wonder how he is doing because i have not hard from him in along time..
I had to movie out of my home ..and movie with friends and he doesn’t no where Iam at ..i am hoping you can help me keep in contact with him by e-mail .. thank you
Jeanine Vanatta

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John Penta October 11, 2005 at 2:29 pm

Yes, yes. We know the posters can be stupid.
Some (the Pig one) probably were more relevant at an earlier time. (that one smells like an early-90s poster. Am I right, Dan?)
That said, even the dumbest ones stick in your mind (if only for their horribleness)…Which is the point. Ideally, security becomes a habit as second-nature as breathing or something.
Failing that, if your mind goes “Oh, man, that was a dumb poster…But I do have an overseas TDY scheduled, now that I think about it” or something, it’s done its job.
Still though, I’m hoping that the New Normal will incite DOD to find better artists.

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Mark Feldbauer October 11, 2005 at 2:35 pm

The gawping yokels up here in Canada loved your post. Thanks for the legwork in collecting the material, and the reminder that humor (in the right hands) can be the best way to make a point. But please! leave it to the pros…
As someone once said: “Death is easy. Comedy is hard.”

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Guvmint Weenie October 12, 2005 at 2:35 pm

“My favorite, which one of my co-workers was kind enough to swipe for me, was a warning to government officials about to travel abroad. Get your travel threat briefing before departing, it screamed, the words surrounded by hideous, bloody drawings of what might happen to if you weren’t careful hostage situations, attacks in cafs, etc.”
But you didn’t even post that one!
As for all the kids, I can guarantee you that the security office held a contest for the cutest kid picture to serve in a security poster. That’s how this stuff always works. They always think it’s a “fun” activity to include their kids… or their cats. (How come it’s always cats? Cat people are weird.)
Before the space shuttle returned to flight, NASA produced a poster with a picture of the commander and her kids, encouraging workers to, er, not kill their mommy. The photo was pretty good, but the message was typical.

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Peyton October 13, 2005 at 1:08 pm

Even more awful than the Security Posters are the safety ones. They had to be posted somewhere, by regulation, so like most units we had a Safety Bulletin Board. I bet my First Sergeant that no one read it and I could prove it. I put a 3×5 notecard on the board that said “Bring to the commander for a three-day pass.” A year later, we took the curled, yellow card down, and Top paid up.

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gwen hurst October 14, 2005 at 12:03 am

seem to remember those old ‘loose lips sink ships’ posters from behind the scenes at elementary school in the cafeteria and even at the neighborhood grocers in the stockroom. That was a different era, thanks for the solid reminders from a simpler time.

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neil October 14, 2005 at 4:01 pm

Speaking of security paranoia, none of those links work for me, because I’m coming from a South American IP address, I assume.

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jeremy October 15, 2005 at 3:47 am

would love to see some of those posters… but unfortunately that navy site is banned here in china.
makes me twice as curious to see what is so subversive that the chinese censors won’t allow me to view it!

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HadAClearance October 15, 2005 at 12:12 pm

I’ve got a bunch of these kinds of pictures/posters. Back when I had a clearance we had to get biweekly security lectures to keep us “peaked”. They’d hand out “coasters and posters” with all sorts of pithy “awareness” cartoons.
The one thing I concluded was: when in a restaurant, if you see a bear with a red-starred fur hat in the next booth, you know you need watch what you’re saying - it’s a Russian agent. If it’s a panda bear, it’s a Chinese agent. No bear, no problem.

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Peter October 17, 2005 at 10:08 am

‘smirking chimp routine’.. haha, listen to bubba up there crying his eyes out! I suppose everything’s different in a ‘post 9/11′ world and you better throw in your ‘buck o five’ or else bubbas gunna have to come around and clean house!
Awesome article, incredibly funny selection of links. That last one was so outrageous I had to bookmark it - don’t forget your helmet!

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name October 17, 2005 at 10:19 am

http://www.davno.ru/posters/collections/propaganda/poster-31.html
Some Soviet posters.

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Sasha October 21, 2005 at 1:24 pm

The army doesnt know how to get interest of young peaple to army. It looks very funny

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Tilman November 15, 2005 at 2:20 pm

Seems we Germans are just as bad for US security as the Chinese are - anyway, I can’t access most of the links from here in Germany either.

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peakcrew November 16, 2005 at 9:12 am

Over in the UK we’re supposed have a “special relationship” with the USA, but all the links to military sites are denied here, too!

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Carl December 14, 2006 at 6:57 pm

I retired from the DOD Security Institute several years ago as as senior security instructor. My collection of several hundred security posters-from government and private industry-I donated to ASIS [Alexandria, VA] for their reference collection.
Additionally, in the past year, I co-authored a book on Security Education, Awareness and Training: From Theory to Practice. In the book I discuss the advantages and disadvantages of security posters.
Also, if anyone is interested, I have an electornic file of many security posters, “gimmee” pictures [cups, rulers, pencials, and other security reminder products. If interested, email me and I'll work up one-time sending of them to all that are interested. In order to make sure everyone gets a chance to respond, I'll collect your addee [and any comments, thoughs or questions you may have on security education posters] then do a mass response early in Jan 2007.

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David December 18, 2006 at 5:57 am

Carl,
You did not give an email address to respond to your Dec. 14 posting. Please do so for those intersted in responding.

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Jimmy May 11, 2007 at 1:44 pm

Nice Article! I was recently appointed Security Manager of an Army unit that I’m in, because we have an inspection in 3 days and the last one just kind of LEFT…one of my tasks is posting security awareness poster around the building…think I’ll have some fun with it! Thanks!

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maj zahid May 9, 2008 at 12:02 am

do you have any poster on security of material?

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maj zahid May 9, 2008 at 12:05 am

do you have any poster on security of material?

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For the love of please do not directly link to pdf files!

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