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

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  1,543 ratings  ·  153 reviews
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 ears on the American public.

The Shadow Factory reconstructs how the NSA missed a chance to thwart the 9/11 hijackers and
Hardcover, 410 pages
Published October 14th 2008 by Doubleday Publishing/Random House (NY) (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
Jan 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Erik Graff
Oct 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Michael Burnam-Fink
Sep 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2020
Intelligence journalism is an odd trade, writing on people who would prefer to keep everything classified forever. And this book from 2008, prior to Edward Snowden's revelations, is very much a peace of history, that while dated is still worth reading.

Bamford tracks three major threads. The first is the absolute failure of the NSA to connect the dots on 9/11. Various parts of the US intelligence apparatus knew something was coming, but despite copious intercepts, they were unable to figure out t
Bob Schmitz
Jul 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great account of the NSA (and the overall technical signals surveillance ecosystem, including other agencies and private companies). The one big missing area was TAO and some of the offensive cyber private contractors (covered somewhat, but not in depth).

By far the best is the account of the 9/11 hijacking, the NSA/CIA/FBI role in collecting and fucking that up, and then pushing for broad powers in response to their own failures, when extant law and systems would have been fine if properly app
Kirk Lowery
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
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
This was a fascinating read.

There are two parts to this book really - Part One started off giving the back story to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with a play by play of how the NSA, CIA and FBI did their thing (or not, as the case may be!), basically explaining where each of these organisations fits into the intelligence-gathering world. And wow - what a lot of mishandling, ego-driven, counter-terrorist type organisations there are. And sadly, early on in the peace, there was not too much communi
Jul 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 11, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book with lots of details on the NSA's unconstitutional domestic spying program.

As I read this book, I had to keep reminding myself that it was published 5 years before Ed Snowden's disclosures. Reading this book filled in a lot of details I didn't know before. It also does a good job at laying out how the terrorist attacks of September 11th should have been prevented using existing surveillance capabilities.
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
While the book was copyright in 2008 so it does not deal with the present day NSA, I'm betting not a great deal has changed. That is, they have been in the business of sweeping up all forms of communications and installing faster and faster (primarily Cray) computers to digest that which they capture. Are just those suspected of communicating with terrorists, or terrorists themselves the only ones under surveillance, or are innocent citizens included. The latter were as the author documents in t ...more
Matt T
Aug 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me about 4 months to finish this book because I kept getting so upset after every page. The book describes how the lunacy of a powerful few combined with excessive fearmongering rhetoric can co-opt a lawful system. (Don't like the rules? Ignore them. And if you get caught, rewrite them!) I love this book because of all the details it reveals, but I feel like it only tells half the story (how we got here) and is missing what is happening (or can be done) to combat this monstrous invasion ...more
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Published a full 5 years before Edward Snowden blew the whistle on mass spying of Americans by its own government, James Bamford lets us peek behind that curtain just a bit early, detailing the NSA practices before, during, and in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. It serves today as an insightful historical document for the birth of the data collection era we live in today and the mechanisms that facilitate it
Nov 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
Gave up on this. Didn't finish. Recommended to me by my husband. Dry, and most of it I already new. Is it surprising to any one that we are collecting tons of data on people, from buying habits, medical records, phone or internet usage, that we have no idea how to sift thru? Finding the needle in the haystack has always been difficult. Look at what the Brits did in WWII to crack enigma. At least they were successful. ...more
Tim Dodd
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thoroughly researched and meticulously footnoted, the third of James Bamford’s NSA trilogy is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the mindless clusterfuck that is America’s intelligence industry. These are criminal agencies aided and abetted by a craven, mindlessly incompetent government no matter which party rules the roost.
Bill White
Mar 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The scary part of this story is that this is just scratching the surface of what we may never know. Still, the author tells a tale plenty scary enough. The book is over tens years old now. The past 12 years must have manifested an ever more complex collection of analysis automation techniques. Worth a read.
Jul 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Ever see "Enemy of State" with Will Smith? This book paint the picture that thing are both not nearly as bad and worse in some ways. A bit dry with many details, but that seems to be the nature of the topic. ...more
Branden Morrell
Aug 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Not the easiest read, but an eye-opening look at the deep underworld of the 3-letter agencies, specifically this one, and its recent history. Will probably make you seek out a VPN on your devices going forward.
John Autero
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is 'scary' good stuff. Who knew the NSA was watching everything we do and every breath we take. And the idea of storing every email, phone call and text is mind blowing. I can't get enough of this stuff. It's like the X-Files on steroids. ...more
Ian Lee
Nov 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
3.5 stars.

Lots of descriptions in this book with extraordinary detail. That said I feel like it was more a collection of statements without really pulling all together in a particularly compelling story to actually say anything.
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Slow start, strong finish

Learned a lot about the threat to our personal freedoms. The power of the government is almost endless. It seems like the best approach is to bury them in information so it makes it hard to find stuff.
Aug 15, 2020 rated it liked it
This book is well written and has some interesting stories about events and programs related to the NSA. However it's lacking in detail about how these programs work and how what they are in simple layman's terms. ...more
Nov 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Out of the 345 pages, I really enjoyed about 325 pages. Alot of good information and whose who in the intelligence field. It would be great for Mr Bamford would do a update or annex to this book. Spot on!
Oct 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
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
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Equal parts awe and terror; the technology is only slightly less astounding than the decision making skills of those using it.
Jun 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Not so much an insight into the workings of the NSA as it is more a dramatization of the events leading up to 9/11, with the intercepts gathered before and after making up the bulk of the narrative
Jun 06, 2018 rated it liked it
As tech spying grows exponentially, there is nothing private even to our own thinking.
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James Bamford (born September 15, 1946) is an American bestselling author, journalist and documentary producer widely noted for his writing about United States intelligence agencies, especially the National Security Agency (NSA).

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