Various government agencies have rushed to put out "funny" or "cute" press releases about Santa's upcoming visit to the United States. But this situation isn't endearing; rather, it reveals an insidious arrangement between our nation's military and a man who tracks the behavior of every child in the world. Edward Snowden barely scratched the surface.
As you're no doubt aware, NORAD — the North American Aerospace Defense Command — has tracked Santa's trip across North America since 1955. It began, legend has it, with a typo in a Sears circular that led to confused phone calls to America's premiere air defense facility. Since then the agency has created increasingly complex tracking tools to follow St. Nick. This year's version (available for your browser, iPhone, or iPad!) was developed with Microsoft, the company that sells the operating system on most desktop computers.
That fabled 1955 typo, it's important to note, came only months after then-President Eisenhower announced America's entry into the space race. NORAD's relationship with Santa wasn't an historical accident. It was a military necessity, aimed at allying the country with a leader in high-atmosphere travel.
Other agencies have lined up alongside NORAD, offering flat statements of fact in the guise of light-hearted holiday banter. The Department of Agriculture announced today that it had "issued a movement permit to Mr. S. Claus of the North Pole, a broker with Worldwide Gifts, Unlimited," that allows him to bring nine reindeer through American airspace — even waiving the normal $150 permit fee. Santa's good fortune during a time of imposed austerity is, at a minimum, suspicious.
Idaho's Mountain Home Air Force Base was less discreet in its release. The missive alerts the nation of its preparedness, beginning: "What would the world be like if Santa was shot down by a [rocket-propelled grenade]?" The rest of the release outlines that the base is ready to prevent a terrorist from downing Santa's sleigh. It cites various staffers who, among other things, have "flown multiple sorties in the skies over Afghanistan, providing close-air support to servicemembers battling insurgents."
[W]hy would anyone want to kill such a jolly chap - an old fella' who only wants to bring smiles to children's faces? Some maintain it's not that strange of an idea. After all, terrorists would destroy a school or other humanitarian project in a heartbeat. ...
"There's no doubt that insurgents would try to kill Santa Claus," said [Master Sgt. Brian] Chris. "However, with the low reliability of an RPG, I imagine they'd be using an SA-7 Man-Portable Air Defense System, or MANPADS."
A quick survey of the news out of other bases around the world makes obvious just how closely Santa works with our military. In September, he stopped by NORAD to outline his planned flight route, a necessary precaution in these dangerous times. Over the past month, he's repeatedly spent weekends travelling to various military installations around the world — Alaska on November 22, Kyrgyzstan on December 7, Eglin Air Force Base two days later. (He also visited Moody Air Force Base, yielding the unfortunate headline, "Santa visits Moody children.")
The map below shows how Santa has hopscotched around the world, according to military press releases. It is inconceivable that he has time to manage toy production in light of this schedule .
If you think that this is the trade-off, robust security in exchange for a few visits to military bases, you're being naive. Over the past six months, we've learned the National Security Agency's detailed plans to collect every bit of information possible. Santa and the NSA, then, work in concert: The former uses his intel on behavior to inform the latter, which crunches the numbers and assists Santa in his naughty/nice determinations. It's PRISM, but for kids. You can't spell "Santa" without N-S-A.
All it takes to get favored treatment from the United States government is a little backscratching. Don't be fooled. The conspiracy only starts at the North Pole. It ends at the base of your chimney.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.