Ever since Moses came down from Mount Sinai and smashed the Ten Commandments, society has been looking to destroy information, regardless if it is a stone tablet or a computer hard drive. For the better part of millennia, the preferred method of destruction has been burning, that is if it isn’t a stone. Burning information, although very effective in destroying information, is in many cases not very practical. Remember King Leopold II of Belgium and the Congo? The skies over Brussels were black from burning of incriminating information weeks before Leopold was required to turn over information to the Belgium government on his rape and pillaging of the Congo. It became evident a new mechanical method was needed to destroy sensitive information.
The first mechanical information destroyer was patented by A.A. Low in 1908. Mr. Low was looking to develop a waste paper receptacle to eliminate paper. Although he is credited as the “inventor “of the paper shredder, he never commercialized it. The first real paper shredder was commercially developed by Adolf Ehinger, in Germany in 1935 when he needed a method to destroy anti-Nazi propaganda he was printing. Mr. Ehinger survived the war and founded EBA Maschinenfabrik, in Balingen Germany to supply a variety of paper shredders for commercial and government use.
Burning continued to be the primary method of destruction of information until two major events occurred. First, society found that they were polluting their environment with all of the smokestacks. Second, a U.S. spy boat was captured by the North Koreans.
The capture of the Pueblo (the U.S. spy boat) was not so much of an issue for the U.S. in that they eventually got their sailors back (the boat remains in North Korea today as a tourist spot), but the loss of intelligence and classified information was a major issue. The U.S. needed a solution to mechanically destroy thousands of pounds of information quickly and they found it in two guys with an idea. Leonard Rosen and Dick Ross came up with a plan to modify a granulator and make it information unfriendly; the disintegrator was born.
Disintegrators are a great piece of industrial equipment, but they have limitations such as being loud, dusty, and big. Paper shredders still dominated the information destruction world until the next major traumatic event unfolded in Iran. In 1979, the militant Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran, capturing the staff and the embassy. Again, like the Pueblo, 10 years earlier, they not only captured the embassy, but tons, yes tons, of shredded information. The difference between the Pueblo and the embassy was that the information was shredded. Unfortunately, the information was shredded using a strip cut shredder and was easily put back together. The U.S. then decided it needed a uniform standard for the destruction of paper information. The responsibility fell to the NSA to develop standards for the destruction of information and the end waste required to “sanitize” the information.
As technology has advanced, so has the method of storage. Where there was once only stone tablets and paper media for information, today there are multitudes of information storage media. The NSA has been the driving factor for all information destruction equipment requirements since that day forward. Today, the group oversees the evaluation of equipment that destroys all types of information, from paper, optical media, and computer hard drives. Today if Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he would be able to consult the NSA for the proper method and technology to destroy the Ten Commandments.