Grady Ward was pretty sure he had the real thing: An Employee Security Manual, stamped "official use only," from the National Security Agency.
But he wasn't certain until the morning after he distributed the 21-page manual over Internet -- a global computer network with more than 16 million subscribers -- and the phone rang at his Arcata, Calif., home.
"Security Duty Officer No. 10," said the voice at the other end of the line.
"He asked me where I got it from. He grilled me," recalled Mr. Ward, 43, a computer software designer. He told the caller that he got the manual from a magazine for computer hackers based in Austin, Texas, he said.
The caller, who would not give his name, gave Mr. Ward a phone number at the NSA's Fort Meade head quarters.
The manual is not classified, said NSA spokeswoman Judith Emmel, but she added, "We'd prefer it stay in government use."
Despite the concern of Mr. SDO No. 10, "I don't think anybody here is going to pursue this," she said.
The manual provides a rare glimpse into the mysterious world of the NSA, which collects information from satellites and listening posts all over the world.
Under the heading "Answering Questions About Your Employment," the manual states: "Certainly you may tell your family and friends that you are employed or assigned to the National Security Agency. . . . However, you may not disclose to them any information regarding specific aspects of the Agency's mission."
When strangers ask, "an appropriate reply would be that you work for the Department of Defense," it says.
The manual suggests that when asked, "What do you do?" an employee should "formulate an appropriate answer" but "do not act mysteriously" because "that would only succeed in drawing attention to yourself."
A linguist may tell people what his job is, it says, but "you should not indicate the specific language(s) with which you are involved."
NSA workers "are prohibited from initiating or maintaining associations (regardless of the nature and degree) with citizens or officials of Communist-controlled or other countries which pose a significant threat to the security of the United States and its interests," the manual says.
"Additionally, close and continuing associations with any non-U.S. citizens which are characterized by ties of kinship, obligation or affection are prohibited. A waiver to this policy may be granted only under the most exceptional circumstances.
"In particular, a waiver must be granted in advance of a marriage to or cohabitation with a foreign national in order to retain one's access to NSA information."
Mr. Ward said he distributed the manual to embarrass the agency, which has designed a "clipper chip," a computer chip that would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to intercept computer communications. It could be put in every telephone and computer made in the United States.
"If NSA can't keep control of its manual," he said, "how can it keep control of the key" [to the clipper chip].
Ms. Emmel said the two keys to the chip would be maintained by the Commerce and Treasury departments and used when a judge issues a warrant.
Computer companies, civil liberties groups and computer-friendly types including Mr. Ward fear that it would give the government too much power to spy on its citizens.
Since he sent the manual on Internet last Thursday, Mr. Ward said, most of the several dozen computer messages he has received have said that sending the manual was "a great service." But one supporter of the clipper chip sent a different message. "He felt I should have kept my mouth shut," Mr. Ward said.