Seventh Movie-Plot Threat Contest Semifinalists

On April 1, I announced the Seventh Movie Plot Threat Contest:

The NSA has won, but how did it do it? How did it use its ability to conduct ubiquitous surveillance, its massive data centers, and its advanced data analytics capabilities to come out on top? Did it take over the world overtly, or is it just pulling the strings behind everyone's backs? Did it have to force companies to build surveillance into its products, or could it just piggy-back on market trends? How does it deal with liberal democracies and ruthless totalitarian dictatorships at the same time? Is it blackmailing Congress? How does the money flow? What's the story?

Submissions are in, and here are the semifinalists.

  1. Snowden as an NSA plant to incent homebrew crypto, by Doubleplusunlol.
  2. The NSA's quantum computer by Joshua Brulé.
  3. NSA takes over Google, by Jesse Shapiro.
  4. NSA, working for good, got the world dependent on them, by Guy Macon.
  5. Homeopathic factoring, by Ian McKellar.

Cast your vote by number; voting closes at the end of the month.

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 6:08 AM • 192 Comments


Anderer GregorMay 15, 2014 7:10 AM

1. But the rest is also pretty price worthy. Though I believe that 4 is what's actually going on, every single sentence of it (except the last, so far) -- you just have to replace "NSA" by "Google"...

Nick PMay 15, 2014 7:25 AM

1 is the plot govt would dream up. 3 is one we would. I vote for both.

SkepticalMay 15, 2014 7:39 AM

5 - easily. Lines like this are brilliant (and beneath the humor, with a point):

A solution of arnica that has become so diluted that none of the molecules remain in a particular dose is effective because of "water memory" - the vibrations of the active ingredient remain in the pure water, carrying the healing power. Software developed at the NSA and deployed in the mid-2000s is able to detect the "algebraic memory" in the products of the large primes enabling fast and reliable factoring.

JeffMay 15, 2014 7:59 AM

#2, Quantum.

If I had remembered to submit my entry, I would have included BitCoin as an NSA operation to convince people to use their own computers as a distributed SHA-256 collision rainbow table. We all know that BitCoins have to meet a certain criteria to be considered valuable but that doesn't mean that all those wrong hashes aren't being submitted to the servers.

stevenMay 15, 2014 8:02 AM

1; here are some more suggested points for the plot synopsis:

"NSA had many great successes behind it. The AES standardisation process brought selected algorithms into the spotlight that were easier than ever to parallelise on their ASIC-based hardware decryption cluster. Blowfish, still unbreakable, was now just a relic used by a handful of BSD hackers."

"But in the modern-era World-Wide Web, the NSA was at risk of being shut out. Their last backdoor in OpenSSL 0.9.8 had long been closed, and major targets weren't seeing a business case to upgrade to 1.0.1 yet."

"Attacks against the RSA algorithm were also slowing in pace; NSA persuaded NIST to standardise their kleptographic curves, but the industry was dragging its feet in adopting them. Windows XP didn't even support them, so had to be eliminated first. PR agencies were hired to promote Elliptic Curve, but had their only real success was to work the concept into a handful of Hollywood titles. A more powerful catalyst for change was needed, and fast."

GweihirMay 15, 2014 10:25 AM

2 The idea to sabotage a whole large academic field in this way is hilarious. Quantum Mechanics is highly implausible, but to make that the result of sabotage... priceless!

enobMay 15, 2014 11:17 AM

4 - hilarious that the last one about homopathy could make the list, really, why not just "magic".

wakiMay 15, 2014 11:37 AM


Looks like the 4th variant was somewhat inspired by David Brin's The Transparent Society.

David KreindlerMay 15, 2014 12:36 PM

3, though for years I have been saying the opposite -- that Google is an out-of-control project of the NSA

BPMay 15, 2014 1:23 PM

The game is not fully played out. Snowden returns to the US to scorn and acclaim. Quietly goes underground and works in an e-book depository, and the heirs of the Kennedies get Jeb elected and payback comes, with Snowden as the patsy tracking Jeb through an ebook poisoning hypnotic device which turns him into a North Korean Manchurian Candidate. Jeb is thoroughly humiliated when he proposes annexing North Korea as the fifty-second state after he turns Puerto Rico into the fifity-first. Then a Kennedy takes over, the CIA and NSA are splintered into a thousand pieces and everyone lives happily ever after.

RSaundersMay 15, 2014 2:27 PM

All finalists were great, but #4 was the best. I'd never considered a historical period piece movie plot.

jbMay 15, 2014 4:04 PM

1, no contest.

Gotta love a false flag operation, it's the most effective large-scale social engineering tool.

Todd FosterMay 15, 2014 4:17 PM


This is hysterical. It's paranoia squared into absurdist parody. And it breeds! Loved the comment that of course the XP debacle is part of the conspiracy. It lacks the latest, improved NSA vulnerabilities so it had to go. They want the bigger, fastest assed backdoor that's in Win 7. 8, 9. Wahoo, what a hoot.

Graham BlandMay 15, 2014 4:19 PM

Definitely No 5. Love the concepts involved. Starting work on a Homeopathic Random generator tomorrow!!

BobMay 15, 2014 6:54 PM

1 is brain dead: the NSA has already compromised all the encryption or has back doors that reduce its effectiveness to 0. Why again would they go to all that trouble to stage a massive disinformation stunt just to accomplish what they already can do? The question was, how does the NSA win, given what we already know from Snowden. And we know they can compromise any system, by installing a key logger for example, rendering encryption irrelevant.

2 and 5 are essentially the same concept--NSA uses some magical brute force method. Not much of a movie plot.

3 is absurd--why go to all that trouble when you can so easily blackmail someone after they get into office?

4 is pretty bad too. NSA would be gone in two seconds if it started to expose government dirty laundry. And Russia, China and many other countries would never buy into the good US spy agency narrative. Even before Snowden, Russia and China did not trust US technology.

David in TorontoMay 15, 2014 9:13 PM


And just for tie breakers/completeness my order of preference is (1, 4, 2, 3, 5)

Bruce is there anything to the order you listed these in? Could you be attempting to influence the outcome by your choice of listing order? Or were they manipulated by the NSA to conceal the truth?

Oh, don't you just love conspiracy theories :)

tyco_bassMay 15, 2014 9:28 PM

Numbers 1 and 3 are the ones with enough elements to flesh out McKee's screenplay structure model. But number 1 is potentially more character driven, so: number 1.

Peter McArthurMay 15, 2014 9:32 PM


It's hard to choose among such entertaining stories, but the good old double bluff wins for me because:

- it's the staple diet of conspiracy theorists

- it reminds us once again (should we need it) of the perils of homebrew crypto

- Foucault

Guy MaconMay 15, 2014 10:42 PM

For some strange reason I kind of like the one I wrote, but some of the others are really, really good. Perhaps some of you will vote for number four simply because I am such a nice person? I didn't think so... :)

TimMay 15, 2014 11:21 PM

I already voted for 3, so this doesn't count. But I think has a great plot mechanic that can be extended.

For example, in the sequel to 3 the NSA exploits the Google "filter bubble" to craft a certain perception of reality itself. The bubble doesn't end at the edges of the computer screen - actors move among the citizens to extend the illusion to every part of people's lives.

The main character of the story is a retired video game designer who by degrees learns that the ultimate purpose of the NSA program is to fake the existence of God as a law enforcement device.

Perceptual erosion of the boundary between mental contents and the external world is a tactic deliberately undertaken by the NSA in order to instill a feeling of a personal relationship with His supreme presence.

TualhaMay 16, 2014 6:31 AM


I don't actually believe they're that clever (though they're certainly devious enough), but it's a great story idea.

Lorenz DienerMay 17, 2014 9:54 AM

Kind of sad nobody went for cryptography being only a ruse, to distract from the real superweapon (say, formal verification being actually easy - if your systems are absolutely safe, whereas you have root on every system on the planet, who needs to cryptanalyse everything?), but lacking that


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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.