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The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization
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The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  724 ratings  ·  54 reviews
In this remarkable tour de force of investigative reporting, James Bamford exposes the inner workings of America's largest, most secretive, andarguably most intrusive intelligence agency. The NSA has long eluded public scrutiny, but The Puzzle Palace penetrates its vast network of power and unmasks the people who control it, often with shocking disregard for the law.Withde ...more
Paperback, 656 pages
Published September 29th 1983 by Penguin Books (first published September 23rd 1982)
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Mike
The puzzle palace is getting a little old, but it still applies. The NSA is one of those government agencies that everybody knows about, except if you ask them what they know they scratch their head and say "not much." Much of the computer things we take for granted today from encryption to managing large data streams, to cloud computing and managing large networks to modern telecom routers was invented at or encouraged by NSA if the truth be known. Puzzle Palace was one of the first books about ...more
Barrett  Dylan Brown
Too much data to be light reading. Very well researched. Amazing how much information is available that the Media ignores.
John E. Branch Jr.
In the beginning, the NSA did not exist: though President Eisenhower created it in 1952, its very existence, not to mention what it did, was kept secret. Now, secrecy isn't necessarily a bad thing, but on the face of it you have to suspect something is amiss in such cases. As my parents would've said to me (and maybe did at some point), if you have nothing to worry about, why hide?

This was a provocative, informative, and valuable book when I read it, which I believe was during the late 1980s, an
...more
Charles
Recent revelations regarding massive data mining of phone and Internet activity (hello Uncle) reminded me of this read. Published in 1988 and read by me in perhaps early 2000's, the book lay out NSA's Hugh accumulation of computing power. Before even Bush era legal authorization this data was being collected and all foreign contacts swept for key words, slang, repeated unknown phrases - names, dates, locations.

I recall numerous newspaper references to criminals and suspected terrorists contacts
...more
Jay
Interesting - even fascinating - in parts, and deathly dull in others. Some of the history of the NSA is amazing stuff, but dissecting the org chart of the NSA back in the early 80's isn't worth my time. Recommended only for those who want to know everything about the NSA and its predecessors up through 1980 or so - almost ancient history now. I'm guessing that there are better books to read these days on the NSA.
Gerald
Long before the current scandals, The Puzzle Palace presented an insider's view of electronic eavesdropping capability. One can only imagine how far technology has developed since then. More
Omar Manejwala
Truly mind-boggling. I was blown away when I learned how much the NSA has done over the last few decades...really a page turner. Plus I grew up near there and never quite knew what it was. This is as thrilling as a spy novel with the added shock factor of being true.
James
Very informative......but boring as hell.
David
Well researched... poorly written.
Dan Cohen
A solid account of the NSA with lots of jaw-dropping information. The book is a little let down by the over-large number of individuals introduced, described briefly and then dropped. I felt there was no chance I'd retain any distinct memory of any of the character portraits and indeed, a month after reading the book, I find that only a few of the huge list of characters have any distinct space in my mind. So, it's no novel, but the intrinsic interest of the subject matter makes up for this. Wor ...more
Ilya
The National Security Agency is a U.S. government agency responsible for gathering and analyzing signals intelligence. In 1982, the NSA was far less known than the CIA and other alphabet agencies, but it had no less lurid a history. In 1958, a US Air Force-NSA surveillance plane invaded the airspace of Soviet Armenia, and was shot down by MiGs; all 17 crew were killed; neither government admitted to the incident publicly. In 1967, a US Navy-NSA surveillance ship observing the Six-Day War was att ...more
Tom Nixon
I take books like this with a large grain of salt. Don't get me wrong: the author, James Bamford speaks with authority and certainly has the footnotes and bibliography to back himself up but there's always something that makes me wonder. I mean, let's consider the subject matter. It's the National Security Agency- one of America's most secret intelligence agencies so while Bamford presents an engaging and well-researched story over the course of the book, you have to wonder what he doesn't know ...more
Lauren
Global communications have been monitored throughout the history of the world as civilizations try to gain information from neighboring peoples then share it in turn with other people they encounter. With the advancement of technology, the ways to obtain information have become more advanced and easy to get. The ideas acquired from others can help advance the civilization or ultimately to keep the threat of competition at a minimal. The Puzzle Palace by James Bamford is basically a novel about t ...more
Brian
Aug 21, 2007 Brian rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People looking for sensationalist depictions of NSA
This is an author who approached the subject of the most secretive and least understood organization in our Defense Dept and government with a sensationalist journalist perspective.

So of course the book sold like hot cakes and the author was investigated for exposing "secrets." The employees at NSA hated him and he was labeled a traitor by some. Bottom line is people would much rather have a controversial story than a real story of a the most interesting organization in government.

Almost 20 ye
...more
Patrick Rooney
Very interesting book. Describes the use of cryptography in a manner that is understandable to a layman reader. I was fascinated by the examples describing how U.S. and British cryptographers used deciphering tools and formulas to decrypt messages that ultimately helped the allies win the second world war. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in messaging spy technologies.
Cody
I would rather rate this book 3 1/2 stars but I can't so I'll go with 3. I had to keep putting this book down so that I could focus on school which is why it took me so long to finish. This book wasn't the easiest to read however, several chapters I ended up "speed reading" through as they seemed clogged with way too much uninteresting detail. Yet other parts of this book were fascinating, particularly the early days of US SIGINT. Also it's amazing to read this book that was written in 80's at t ...more
Sebastian Dörner
Some interesting facts and background knowledge on past cases that have become public. However, large parts of the book are just about e.g. who was director at the NSA at a certain time and are enormously long and boring.
Randy

In this remarkable tour de force of investigative reporting, James Bamford exposes the inner workings of America's largest, most secretive, andarguably most intrusive intelligence agency. The NSA has long eluded public scrutiny, but The Puzzle Palace penetrates its vast network of power and unmasks the people who control it, often with shocking disregard for the law.Withdetailedinformation on the NSA's secret role in the Korean Airlines disaster, Iran-Contra, the first Gulf War, and other major

...more
Karl Anders Ljungberg
I guess you could call it a classic in its genre-or it waiting to be..
John
Mar 09, 2013 John rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in spying
I worked as a linguist/cryptographer at the Puzzle Palace in the early 1960'sl Bamford interviewed a guy from my old unit, a bit like saying a sports writer talked to one guy at the local bar about pro football. Pity Bamford didn't interview a hundred vets, there might have been a bit more meat on the bone. Still, if it's the only book in town, I guess you read it. If you want more substantial, try TANS, Vol I and II, true stories from military intelligence professionals who not only served at t ...more
Gloria Evans
My hand therapist brought up this little known agency, NSA, that even some Presidents were unaware of. It is poorly written and is the first book by this author - which explains a lot. It is astounding how much money - billions - has and is going into this agency that often makes our American policies irrespective of the President! It is very well documented. I would recommend you read his second book about this agency: Body of Secrets. It is much better written.
Kirk Lowery
The first book of three on the NSA, written over the years. I'm reading all three in honor of the current PRISM brouhaha. Main takeaway: the NSA is the largest, most expensive agency in government. It also has no basis in law for its existence, just a 1952 presidential executive order. And PRISM is hardly the first illegal project for the NSA. It most does illegal intercepts...
Jeff Hedberg
It's an interesting time (Snowden leaking NSA's PRISM program) to read about the history of the NSA. Even though this book was written back in the 80's - so much of it smacks of being exactly the same today... you sure get the feeling that not a lot has changed since the NSA's founding in the 50's. (convincing telegram companies to turn over all correspondence to them... etc.)
Dm
All the stuff an American welfare/warfare state doesn't want you to know about how they listen in on your every move. Bamford documents carefully US Gov't eavesdropping internationally, but domestically as well. It's an even more important read now because the Patriot Act now permits the NSA to operate domestically.
Tolga
Interesting historical perspective on US security history with a sharp focus on NSA and its upbringing.
The author has sprinkled remarks of his own (or perhaps others', too); seemingly sarcastic and saying "can you believe what they had done?".
Anyways, extract the facts and combine with history on your own.
Stewart
If you like reading about spies, cryptography and cryptology, this is the definitive history the NSA from its signal intelligence beginnings. Why three stars? Two problems: it's by now quite dated, and the section on Israel's attack on the USS Liberty, while important, is written almost like a cheap action novel.
Jason Williams
Interesting information about the foundation and development of the NSA.
Detailed information about the formation of the FISA courts.
The author had some very keen insights into how the NSA has actually developed in the computer age.
It is like the author had a window into his future, which is now our present.
Jamey McMillen
It was an insightful look into the conception of the NSA. I enjoyed it but those looking for cloak and daggers will be disappointed since they are few and far between. This book gives mostly the history of the NSA from the black chamber to the NSA we know or think we know today.
Carlos Alonso-Niemeyer
Back before September 11 I became intersted in the KGB, FBI, Mossad, and the NSA.
This book was fantastic. Since I read it I have seen a few movies about this organization.
It is definately a guy book.
Eric
Although my rating doesn't show it, this book is a critical work on the NSA. If you are interested in learning about the NSA, this, or the authors revised work "Body of Secrets", should be on your short list.
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