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U.K. spy agency GCHQ’s codenames turned into cocktails

If you can't beat 'em, drink 'em.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw


Posted on Jul 19, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 10:32 pm CDT

This week, journalist Glenn Greenwald, released his latest bombshell on mass surveillance based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Instead of exposing the U.S. National Security Agency, this one reveals the inner workings of the British intelligence agency GCHQ, which has been manipulating the Internet is major ways.

The report contains a list of surveillance techniques used by the U.K.’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), and is described by Greenwald as “some of the most startling methods of propaganda and internet deception contained within the Snowden archive.”

You can read the eight-page document here, where it was released to coincide with the “emergency” Internet surveillance bill that was fast-tracked through the U.K. Parliament this week.

JTRIG’s many surveillance techniques include harvesting private data from social media, email spoofing, and manipulating the outcome of online polls. But once the sinister nature of these tools has sunken in, you begin to notice something else: the names.

Honestly, GCHQ has managed to come up with some of the most ridiculous code names we’ve ever seen. Jazz Fusion. Photon Torpedo. Glitterball. Swamp Donkey. The list goes on. In fact, a whole bunch of them are inexplicably named after X-Men characters, meaning that they’re besmirching the names of Shadowcat, Nightcrawler and Deadpool by linking them to government surveillance programs.

The main thing we noticed, though, is that a hell of a lot of these names sound like cocktails. Enough to stock a really grim surveillance-themed cocktail bar, for sure. Brandy Snap and Devil’s Handshake? Both are real drinks already. Nut Allergy? Well, according to GCHQ, it’s a Tor Web browser, but to us it’s a variation on the peanut butter martini.

In case you want to host your own delightful surveillance state theme party (or possibly some kind of wake, following the death of our civil liberties), we’ve put together a few recipes based on the most cocktail-sounding of the GCHQ codenames.

GCHQ: Godfather

The Godfather
is what Big Brother drinks while he’s watching you. Specifically, while he’s watching your Facebook page, gathering information on your friends and family. This drink is classic and simple, with a dash of patriarchal disapproval. Serve in a whisky glass, with or without ice.

GCHQ: Deer stalker

For the Deer Stalker, we obviously had to think up something appropriate for Sherlock Holmes. So: a port wine cocktail. Mix in a cocktail shaker, strain out the ice, and serve with orange peel. Relax in a wood-paneled Victorian gentleman’s club, secure in the knowledge that you can legally geolocate any cell phone with a single, silent call.

GCHQ: Underpass

Finally, we have the Underpass, inspired by a tool that allows JTRIG to change the results of online polls. This isn’t technically a cocktail, but you can make it even if you don’t have a well-stocked liquor cabinet.

Taking inspiration from the name, we thought about what drink might be best suited to an underpass, and came up with jail hooch. This is a kind of wine or beer fermented in a plastic bag, made from pretty much any sugar or fruit-based substance you can get your hands on. You’ll want to just let this one sit a while before, uh, “enjoying” it.

The rest of Greenwald’s leaked JTRIG file is home to a myriad of other potential cocktail inspirations, which is just as well. You’ll have to do a lot of drinking to dull the pain of knowing that the British government has this much freedom to track and manipulate your Internet habits.

Illustrations by Max Fleishman

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*First Published: Jul 19, 2014, 10:00 am CDT