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The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  955 ratings  ·  116 reviews

A Washington Post Best Book of the Year

James Bamford has been the preeminent expert on the National Security Agency since his reporting revealed the agency's existence in the 1980s. Now, Bamford describes the transformation of the NSA since 9/11, as the agency increasingly turns its high-tech gaze within America's borders.

The Shadow Factory reconstructs
Kindle Edition, 1st edition, 395 pages
Published October 14th 2008 by October 14, 2008 (first published January 1st 2008)
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Will Byrnes
“There is now the capacity to make tyranny total in America. Only law ensures that we never fall into that abyss—the abyss from which there is no return.” (p 344)

Bamford’s turf is the NSA and he mines that lode again. This time with an eye towards how the gathering of intelligence changed from a focused peering into the doings of potential enemies abroad to spying on the doings of everyone, American or not, in the USA or outside. It is a chilling account of how fear-mongering and a near complet
Kirk Lowery
Bamford has made a career of writing about the NSA. In this volume he recounts the events of 9/11 from the NSA's viewpoint, showing how they screwed up, refused to acknowledge it, and proceeded to ask for -- and get, tons of money to increase their surveillance capabilities. As he tells it, with the cooperation of the telcoms, the NSA now simply copies the Internet globally and mines the data. And who are the corporations who help it? Israeli companies founded by and staffed by former Israeli in ...more
Dear NSA, hope you enjoy this review. Your government (whichever on it is) monitors you when you think it not, it always has and always will – to one degree or another. This used to be a cumbersome proposition involving the infiltration of groups and verbally reporting what was overheard to government handlers. However, modern communication technology makes eavesdropping relatively simple given enough of the right resources. In his extensive review of the National Security Agency (NSA) and Big B ...more
The Shadow Factory follows the history of the NSA to about 2007 through its shift from Cold War tradecraft and basic crypto to being a data-vacuuming giant. The author seems to have a certain respect for the job the NSA does and heavily criticizes its roll as a political pawn to the expansionist view of presidential power pushed by Dick Chaney and George W. Bush. The book is an easy to follow narrative and is broken up into chunks based in the missions of the NSA interspersed with history. As a ...more
Erik Graff
Oct 08, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: privacy rights fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
This book covers the history of the NSA from the months prior to 9/11, during which time they tracked some of the known terrorists who participated in the hijackings on that day but didn't relay the information, to 2008, when they had pretty much obtained full access to all telecommunications in the USA, if not the world. It is also, given the period covered, a history of the Bush administration's circumvention of the law in the pursuit of social control and its agenda of controlling the Middle ...more
First I'd like to thank Tom for turning me on to this book via goodreads (and you're welcome for getting you put on a watch list there, old buddy). This book is singularly unsettling. Whether you're upset about warrant wiretapping, or upset about outsourcing our electronic (warrantless) surveillance to foreign companies run by Israeli Unit 8200 alumni, or upset that the people in charge seem to be either asleep at the wheel or cravenly political, there is plenty to be unsettled about in this boo ...more
Mildly interesting and predictably highly biased. The problem with books like this one and "Legacy of Ashes" is that little or no mention is given of the successes of our nation's intelligence community, most likely because none of us will likely know when an attack could have happened. Regardless, the author drops all pretense of neutrality early in the book. He frequently sympathizes with the "frustration" of the 9/11 hijackers while simultaneously condemning Jewish/Israeli involvement in cont ...more
Drew Thompson
I read this book back in '10 and pretty much forgot about it until the other day when something about Edward Snoden caught my eye. The author of this book laid out in remarkable detail how (thanks to the Patriot Act) our government is collecting and mining every bit of web based and cel phone data generated here in the US and some places over seas. That being said, I don't understand how Snowdens revelation is news ... This info has been out there in the public forum for years. Anyway, its a goo ...more
Chris Conrey
Considering I started this about a week before all of the most recent PRISM leaks about the NSA and their data collection, I found this a timely look at the past of the NSA as well as a nice fill in on what the mainstream media is covering about today's news. Clearly not in favor of the NSA's tactics, the author lays out a look at the technical aspects of the NSA's operations and how and why they have grown to the power and danger they are.
A polemic, but not an especially persuasive or informative one. There is a lot of interesting information in the book, yet the poor organization and frequent digressive critiques of the Bush Administration muddies the book. To be fair to the author, he was trying to write about the recent past and highly compartmentalized intelligence programs -- an extremely difficult task in either case, and all but impossible together. With greater distance and the disclosure of additional information, author ...more
James Bamford writes a good book on the National Security Agency in the post-9/11 era. This is a good follow up to his groundbreaking work, The Puzzle Palace (1982). It's a quick read as long as you've been following real news over the last ten years (i.e. not watching Faux News) and are either familiar with or don't care about some of the multitude of details about communication systems that Bamford describes. At times it feels like he weaves his story throughout a large encyclopedia on the int ...more
Very thorough look at the subject of electronic eavesdropping inside & outside u.s. borders. Basically, if you've ever had suspicions that this sort of gunk goes on in the u.s., this book gives you the facts -- good or bad.

A fascinating part of the book chronicles the policy & procedures leading up to the attacks of Sept 11, 2001. It's an exceptional detail of the hindrances to u.s. spy agencies' being able to detect all the terrorists that were moving around free & easy inside our
"Thus if an American businesswoman in Surabaya, Indonesia, sent an e-mail to her husband in Cincinnatti, the signal would likely be routed first to the Ancol landing station on a beach area about five miles from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. At Ancol, like a passenger boarding a very fast ship, it would travel over the SEA-ME-WE 3 cable to the Shantou landing station, arriving a millisecond or so later. At Shantou, the e-mail would transfer to the China-U.S. cable, which, in a few blinks of ...more
Although the NSA was monitoring the calls between the future 9/11 hijackers and Osama bin Laden's command-and-control center in Yemen, it never bothered to notify the FBI. Bamford says that the failure to catch the hijackers was not due to legal restrictions on the agency, but to the three main American intelligence agencies' distrust of each other. After the terrorist attacks, the NSA had a lot of new funding and fewer legal restraints, so it expanded its wiretapping, data collection and data m ...more
Detailed, informative, well researched, James Bramford’s ‘The Shadow Factory’ provides a rich history of the variety of actions, which lead directly to illegal wiretapping and data mining programs of the NSA. It is a great piece of investigative journalism, a must for anybody who wants to know more about the NSA abuses than the glossy surface stories provided in newspapers and on tv. Other than at the end, it mostly avoids the punditry that passes for journalism today, instead focusing on the fa ...more
Christopher Sutch
The things Bamford uncovers are pretty amazing. He has terrific access to current and former employees of the NSA and that, coupled with a massive amount of archival research, makes his books the authoratative account of the history of spycraft in the modern age. It's too bad so much of that history simply highlights the moral bankruptcy of our country and its leaders. The account of the attempt to bypass the FISA court by getting AG John Ashcroft, on death's door in a hospital at the time, to s ...more
Keith Davis
The Shadow Factory is a frightening book. It is especially frightening when you realize that the incomprehensibly massive database of phone calls, emails, and web searches that the United States government is indiscriminately intercepting and stockpiling in the name of the War on Terror could easily be used as the foundation of a future tyranny. What is needed right now is a national organization as fanatically devoted to defending the 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable search and sei ...more
Gabriel Schoenfeld
James Bamford is a prodigious researcher but also very much a partisan in the fierce debates over counterterrorism policy. It is one thing to claim, as Bamford does, that the NSA wiretapping program was illegal, a violation of the 1977 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires warrants for wiretaps on foreign agents in the U.S. It is another thing to take such a position without even deigning to acknowledge the arguments on the other side.

Despite the wealth of information it provide
The problem with any of these books is that it is very nearly impossible to separate the facts from the author's opinions, especially when the author lacks the self-awareness to see when his/her bias creeps in. Unfortunately, my constant impression throughout this book was that Bamford had twisted every legitimate fact by a 1/4 turn, to the point where there was clearly another "side" to every issue.

Another critique is that this really felt like 4 or 5 different books (or long articles) tied tog
Bob Schmitz
If you would like know the details and to be frightened about Orwell’s “1984” having arrived this is the book to read. The book describes the development of warrantless eavesdropping by the NSA and others over from the 1970’s to 2008.
The recent flap about wiretapping seems odd in that the extent of NSA surveillance is documented in this 2008 book.

Bamford gives a detailed account of the mechanism of electronic surveillance including the addresses of buildings, phone #’s of terrorists including O
Mark Reiter
Time and circumstance render Bamford's "Shadow Factory" a bit less shocking as it was written before Edward Snowden laid the breadth of the NSA's reach bare. It also leads you to believe that the NSA is backed and protected solely by the Republican party as it was penned before Obama was elected and his administration actively broadened the powers of America's biggest signals intel agency (they just did it again today as a matter of fact.) What you WILL get is a detailed background of the agency ...more
James Bamford has written a fascinating account of the National Security Agency and the technology and techniques employed by the NSA pre- and post-9/11. At times the book reads like a novel and is incredibly engaging. At other points, the book becomes tedious as the reader becomes lost in discussion of terabytes, gigabytes, and all the various bytes. The biggest flaw in Bamford's book though isn't the writing, it is his personal biases that shine through from page 1 through the end. Bamford cle ...more
Bamford literally wrote the book on the National Security Agency with Body of Secrets, a thorough and compelling look inside the NSA's past and present, where "present" is defined as pre-9/11. Since that book, much of Bamford's writings have tended towards political polemics, and despite the fact that I generally agree with Bamford's politics, I still found those books and articles to be less compelling. So I was happy to see The Shadow Factory return to inside scuttlebutt about the NSA over the ...more
A fascinating, if somewhat terrifying look at the NSA and all it entails - going in at first to the problems leading up to 9/11 (including the names, places, dates, and phone numbers some of the hijackers used and other specific information) and from there goes into the massive expansion the agency went through in the last ten years - both legal and extralegal.

Bamford goes into specific methods used (often with telecom and internet company help) to examine and sort through practically every pac
I'd never read anything regarding the NSA and, as a result, knew next to nothing about the agency. This book is like a fire hose of information on the subject.

I feel overwhelmed by the amount of information, and by the gross inefficiency of the associated buraucracy. At the same time, I'm offended by the breadth, depth, and scope of the intrusion on American privacy, and the near impossibility of doing anything about it.

The book was a slow read for me, as a lot of technical information is necess
From a riveting, detail-oriented account of the events leading up to 9/11, ('...Mohammed Atta's phone number was ...', 'they were in Room xxx at the hotel...', the satellite phone in Kandahar was xxx-xxx', I found this to get very tedious, very fast. Not much about the NSA history, but the title does not claim to offer that; but, then, not much about the trajectory of the agency big-picture, either. Lots of inside info, sure; but the balance of the book, while at times fascinating, reads like a ...more
Andrew Dolbeare
This book will make you angry. You probably could have guessed that before you opened it though. The sheer amount of collusion, nepotism, and corruption behind the scenes of these giant companies that the NSA relies upon is unsettling. These are the people who are allowed to listen to our conversations, text messages, emails. I'd say that this book will make you change the way you think about the NSA but what Bamford does in this book is make the clear case that it's as bad if not worse than eve ...more
I couldn't put this book down. Chilling to know what is being collected by the government.
Interesting historical points made throughout.
Every so often I have to go back and reference the book, because i hear something in the news that has mentioned parts of this book.
I found this book enlightening, but a bit one sided and already dated. Given the revelations from Edward Snowden in 2013, much of what this book has to say is now confirmed and frankly not as shocking (I'm not sure what that says about us as a nation getting used to being surveiled). A LARGE part of the book is spent going over the leadup to 911, which is not exactly what I wanted. I wanted to know more about how the NSA worked and less about one specific case they've dealt with. The later third ...more
Tom Schulte
I thought it was prudent to read this well-resarched, detailed NSA revelation/expose in our post-Snowden, post-Patriot Act world. There seems to be a real pattern of war and violence leading to overly invasive wiretapping with at pendulum pushed back and tragedies and malfeasance happening in both cases: American shamed, terorrists undetected, etc. This work lays out the government spying that led to the FISA firewall and how Bush's "warrantless wiretapping" basically took the teeth out of that, ...more
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“Like a black hole, NSA pulls in every signal that comes near, but no electron is ever allowed to escape.” 3 likes
“There is now the capacity to make tyranny total in America. Only law ensures that we never fall into that abyss—the abyss from which there is no return.” 2 likes
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