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The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency

3.5 of 5 stars 3.50  ·  rating details  ·  215 ratings  ·  33 reviews
In the first complete history of the National Security Agency, America's most powerful and secretive intelligence organization.

In February 2006, while researching this book, Matthew Aid uncovered a massive and secret document reclassification program--a revelation that made the front page of the New York Times. This was only one of the discoveries Aid has made during two
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published June 9th 2009 by Bloomsbury Press
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(showing 1-30 of 603)
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This is a very well-written, intensely detailed, and massively footnoted (95 pages of 'em), history of the National Security Agency (NSA), from its inception up to the book's publication. The earlier parts are more detailed - and less interesting - than I would wish for; but the sections depicting the NSA's role in the second Iraq war are brilliant.

The author carefully phrases his depictions of how the NSA's intelligence products - especially its signals intelligence (SIGINT) products - were ign
This book wasn't exactly what I was expecting. I thought it would be more of a political treatise on the activities of the NSA, but it was almost more of an "agency history." While this was a different focus, I found it very interesting, especially as the author pulled back the curtain on many important events in U.S. history that were affected by SIGINT (signals intelligence) collected by the NSA since its foundation.
The author cited many sources, both written and oral, which lends academic we
Douglas Ivan Brown
Initially, I found this book to be a tedious read. I caught myself skimming through sections several times. I finished the book unsatisifed and set it aside. However, later as I thought about what I had read, I had unanswered questions and returned to the book. I came back to it, reading it again in sections, and discovered that it was well worth the second effort - Informative, well- researched, and interesting.
Matthew Aid's book The Secret Sentry makes a good companion to Bamberg's histories of the NSA. The focus of this book is on ways the NSA's successes and failures have had an impact on events in the U. S. and the world, so it's more outward-looking than Bamberg's studies. The last couple of chapters--on the war on terror and the role of the NSA going forward--raised this from three to four stars for me. Aid asks some tough questions about the role of SIGINT, or signals intelligence, in a world wh ...more
Ted Compton
This is a nearly must-read book for anyone interested in current events; a definitive history of the National Security Agency from its beginning to the early days of the Obama administration. But it's a little difficult to read because the author, perhaps overly committed to objectivity and impartiality, often becomes concerned with administrative details to the detriment of storytelling. Fortunately, it's also an easy book to skim, and its underlying story is both engrossing and essential to un ...more
From the Back:

In February 2006, while researching this book, Matthew Aid uncovered a massive and secret document reclassification program--a revelation that made the front page of the New York Times. This is only one of the discoveries Aid has made during two decades of research in formerly top-secret documents. In The Secret Sentry, Aid provides the first-ever full history of America's largest security apparatus, the National Security Agency.

This comprehensive account traces the growth of the a
More like 2.5 stars for the writing (literally "literally" everywhere ugh!), but 3.5-4 stars for the research. I think Aid is interested in different aspects of the NSA (military successes, failures, and minutia) than I was looking for (cryptographic details and successes, cyber-intelligence, combating other spy agencies).

Weirdly I started this book before the Edward Snowden escapades - I got it on a Kindle special and was in the mood for some cryptography and spy stuff. I was in the middle of t
I feel like I'm in a no-win situation with books like this. I find something that I'm interested in, maybe read a long article about one specific event or person, and then get excited about learning more. Suddenly, I see a robust book on that topic, and I dive in. And sure enough, it's not that interesting. I don't know if it's the writing (this, as many are, is information regurgitated with no story whatsoever), or the fact that magazines and/or newspapers that don't sell anymore have to pick l ...more
Aug 10, 2009 Weavre marked it as laid-down
Recommended to Weavre by: Osterhout Display Shelf
What I learned from the first few dozen pages of this book: I'm more interested in what the NSA is doing now, and what it's been doing in the last ten years or so, than in what was going on in 1959. I want to know the history of the NSA. I believe that "secretive" plus "powerful" is a risky combination for any organization in a purportedly free society, and I also believe I can't fully understand who and what the NSA is without understanding its history. I just want, somehow, to absorb that hist ...more
I started this book before Edward Snowden dragged the National Security Agency kicking and screaming into the limelight. Suffice to say this high-level overview of the NSA's record helps to make sense of some of this recent news. A very amusing coincidence is the author, Matthew Aid, was discharged for stealing secrets... just like Snowden!

The book starts w/ the US military's intelligence needs during World War 2 and goes all the way to the post-9/11 invasion and occupation of Iraq. The amount o
Will you sleep better at night after reading this book? Probably not. If, however, you are willing to exchange your untroubled slumber for a detailed look at the history of the NSA and the struggles and setbacks it has faced in the last 50 years, read on. The chapters are mostly structured around our post-WWII military engagements and foreign crises, and the author discusses the ways that NSA's SIGINT collection contributed to, was not prepared for, grew from, or suffered from, each event, and h ...more
I wanted to know more about 9/11 and the warrantless surveilance program, but it's more an overall history of the NSA. Seems like most intelligence failures are a variation of this event from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, it seems that it's more a function of what a person wants to believe than the collection of faulty data.

Cao Cao was fleeing from the capital Luoyang after a foiled assassination attempt on Dong Zhuo. . . . [Cao Cao and Chen Gong] arrived in Chenggao and sought to spend the
Todd N
Artlessly written, but interesting book about the NSA. One gets the impression that the editor had to remove a lot of lines like "I'd tell you but then I'd have to kill you."

This history starts with the code breaking at Bletchey Park and continues all the way through post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan. The NSA starts out with a handful of people and by the end of the book is the majority of the people (~65% or so) of the entire intelligence community.

Along the way are some amazing revelations ab
Oct 28, 2009 Anne rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in current politics
Recommended to Anne by: review copy
This book reads like an intensely detailed report. I would have welcomed a point of view to put things in context. Without that voice the data is not directed, it's just there. The amount of data is staggering, and this is the unclassified information!
The author puts so much information in front of you that your opinion of the NSA will be supported, no matter what your opinion.
The style of writing only reinforces the report feel of the text. It's as if you were sitting down with the author and
It is said that the vast majority of intelligence successes are not known, while failures are quick to be seen and pointed out. The Secret Sentry presents some of both in it's survey of the NSA from the beginnings as the Signals Intelligence groups at the end of World War II to the present. The early development of the Agency occupies the first third of the book, while the second third mostly focuses on Vietnam to 2000, and the final third analyzes the NSA's involvement events since 9/11. I enjo ...more
Ken Schaefer
Good read pre-Snowden. Balanced approach telling successes and failures. I would have liked a tie-in with how big business drives NSA. However that may be a post-Snowden realization only.
I have to agree with what many others have said about this book. For the average citizen who is not in any way associated with the US governement, especially the high security divisions like the NSA, it was very hard to get into and stay interested in. I have to give the author loads of credit though for the incredible research and expertise which obviously went into the book. The footnotes alone were impressive! I am not a big reader of non-fiction so I might not be the best person to review a ...more
I'm still working my way through this book. It is a fascinating history of the NSA, but is written much like a college history book. I struggled a little to get through the first 50 or so pages. It seemed like a bunch of names strung together with start and end dates. I have found some of the information more than disturbing as it would appear that the truth about some conflicts seemed to have been "watered down" when I was taught about them in school.

I will finish this book, but need a short b
Michael Norwitz
A brief history of the NSA, from its origins in WW2 to the current day (although the book came out prior to Edward Snowden's revelations, so a new volume is probably being prepared as we speak). It covers a lot of material in not much depth, the typical problem of most over-arching historical works that try to cover vast amounts of time in 400 pages. But I still found it quite informative and quite interesting, even exciting, in spots.
Tim Gillen
A bit procedural, especially in the beginning. As it went on, I thought it was a bit insightful, especially in the descriptions of the agency post 9/11.
I won this on Goodreads! It took a while to get through this book - it is a fairly dense, comprehensive history of the NSA (including insight into the agency's more questionable activities - thank you Patriot Act). The chapters on the NSA since 9/11 are particularly interesting and relevant. So, while this book was not something I would have usually picked up, I feel like I learned a lot and am glad to have read it!
Chris Welbon
More of an exhaustive research paper than a book (fully half of it is reference notes), it feels light on analysis, opinion ad technology. It details everyone's role in major intelligence failures (Gulf of Tonkin, 9/11...) and the distressing ways the intelligence community repeats its mistakes. But I guess I expected more Tom Clancy-style descriptions of big bundles of fibre lines tapped by spooks.
This book was extremely hard to get in to. Another reviewer put it well when they stated it was "written like a college textbook". I would say it would be something that someone wanting to go into intelligence should read, but not a good book for entertainment value. There was a lot of good historical information in there, but it was very hard to read without falling asleep.
Dull. Randomly meandered into other topics frequently. Jumped from clinical reporting to editorializing occasionally. I did learn that the intelligence community doesn't have their shit together near as much as conventional wisdom suggests, which is something. At least it only cost me $3.
Wonderfully detailed account of the agency once referred to as "No Such Agency". Includes details of the agency's cooperation with our leading telephone companies where they have equipment installed to aid in warrentless wiretapping - today!
Michael Bond
Does a lot of storytelling in a relatively short space, which gives the reader an idea of what has been done by the NSA, but details about "how" are lacking, even for older time periods.
Jan 01, 2010 Brian added it
Shelves: 2009-books
I received this book as part of Goodreads' First Read program. I enjoyed the parallel between recent US history and the way the NSA played a role behind the scenes.
Not a particularly well-written tome, with all its repetitions of phrases like "based on recently declassified." HIstory-wise, however, it's a necessary book.
Not what I expected. A book that is dense with detail and facts about the NSA. Excellent investigation and reporting by Aid.
Was very informative but the conversion of the book to Kindle format was not that well done.
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