In the years before Pixar officially became an animation studio, it was Pixar, Inc., purveyor of high-end, computer graphics hardware, namely the Pixar Image Computer. One of the few takers for the machine was the U.S. National Security Agency.
An organ of the Department of Defense, the NSA is charged with the interception of (mostly) foreign communications and signals intelligence, as well as the protection of U.S. government communications systems.
Put another way, they're the nice folks who may be listening in on your conversations with grandma.
Last October, after ages of procrastination, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the agency for "all relevant records relating to the procurement and use of the Pixar Image Computer by the National Security Agency from 1984 to 1990".
At the end of January, I received an invoice enumerating the transaction—two pages. In July 1989, the NSA paid a total $112,422 for a pair of the computers, and peripherals such as 12 MB additional memory ($21,663!) and a RGB color monitor.
But there was nothing about how, or on what, the machines were ever used after being installed, at a cost of $2000 each, at NSA facilities. Regarding this, the agency wrote, "a thorough search of our files was conducted, but no records responsive to your request were located."
I appealed, specifying that my request included "all records that reference the use, evaluation, disposal, or transfer to another government agency" of the computers, and any data obtained through their use.
On Monday, one year and two days after submitting my initial request, I received the agency's formal denial of my appeal. It states that the NSA's search was conducted 'reasonably' and there are no further documents relating to the Pixar Image Computer.
So it appears that we will never know exactly what the agency did with the two systems it bought (the best guess is reconnaissance image rendering) and what the results of their use were.
But I still have the feeling that somewhere in Maryland sits a file with some very interesting stories.