Credit: Reason MagazineCredit: Reason Magazine

Suppose you're devising a logo for a new wing of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an office charged with developing intelligence tools and integrating the government's existing surveillance networks. Suppose that it has a vaguely sinister name—say, the Information Awareness Office—and that it's to be run by a former Iran-contra conspirator. What would your design be?

If you work for the actual Information Awareness Office, created earlier this year with one-time National Security Adviser John Poindexter at its helm, you'd depict a Masonic eye-in-the-pyramid blasting a sci-fi death ray across the globe. If you wanted to play on the fears of every paranoiac in the country, you couldn't do much better than the IAO's logo, on display at the Office's site. (That's where we got this low-resolution graphic, after DARPA stonewalled our attempts to secure a high-resolution version. Hmmm...)

Another agency may be trying to outdo the IAO. The Patent and Trademark Office's symbol for homeland security is an eyeball floating behind a keyhole, with an upside-down flag in the background. If a dissident Web site put up a picture like that, it would be accused of fomenting panic.

Semiotically speaking, this is the most inept administration in years. Either that, or its art department is trying to tell us something.