Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War Through the Dawn of a New Century
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As any decent history of World War 2 notes, codebreaking played a key role in winning that war. As the battlelines of the Cold War firmed up along the Iron Curtain, the frontiers of space and science, and brushfire wars across the third world, the National Security Agency formed to manage a secret army of crypt ...more
One especially interesting/disturbing section of the book described how the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted an excuse to invade Cuba. So they presented a plan to President Kennedy to stage terrorist attacks in the US and blame ...more
I can remember when the NSA was a mere rumour— and jokingly referred to as No Such Agency.
Now it is well known to exist, although perhaps most of us really have no idea what they do.
This book provides a wealth of detail and background, although 2002 already seems like a very long time ago (especially in terms of technology).
What is the NSA? The agency that's been reading the world's mail, so to speak, for decades.
Bamford got amazing access. This book is now a decade or more old, but still an amazing and important read.
Along with Weiner's history of the CIA and Scahill's Dirty Wars, this is essential reading on the U.S.A.'s secret infrastructure - much of which faces little or no oversight while spending billions and billions of dollars. ...more
This is a highly technical, dense history of the NSA through the end of 2001. However, Bamford spends too much time getting in digs against people and policies he disagrees with. For instance, the postscript after 9/11 talks about how NSA wastes too much money and effort in eavesdropping on China. However, China's been a hostile power engaging in trade espionage against the US for decades. ...more
The problem in reviewing this book is that it really is two separate books. The first, written by James Bamford, consummate investigative reporter tells a wonderful tale of technological daring as he colorfully recounts the history of the NSA with wit, verve and dispassion. Having worked in the black world it's great to see even 1000th of what we did make it into print, however garbled the telling might be.
The second book, written by James Bamford, author with an axe to g ...more
The book started well and sounded good until more and more speculation and opinion started working its way into the history. When the author started reporting as fact things that I know from my own research are purely fictional.
It's a good story and I'm sure there are some great facts and real research, but too much opinion in the guise of information makes it eye-roll worthy. If you're looking for a straight and narrow story about the history of the NSA, you ...more
The author does write well, does his best to make the vignettes com ...more
Its interesting to note that NSA hires more mathematicians and linguists than other organizations, probably in the world, surely in the USA.
In examining all the facets, all the nooks and crannies, even the obscure and well-hidden ones, Bamford approached the Agency a ...more
Ages ago, when I was a kid, I read David Kahn's Codebreakers. And there was this photo of an elongated A-shaped building and one chapter. Haven't been inside, but have visited the bldgs next to it. Then Jim Bamford writes The Puzzle Palace which is set before 1980 (I can easily tell), and he tries to describes an organization he can't get inside. I was able to take a photo of both just a couple years ago at an NSA history meeting.
Of th ...more
This is partially a practical melding—Bamford wanted to update his picture of the agency due to the long time since he published The Puzzle Palace, the first significant look at the NSA published in 1982—but it means the boo ...more
I gave a review on "The Puzzle Palace." If you liked that book a lot, then it is doubtful you will like this one. But if you that "Palace" was far to tabloid-ish in its reporting of NSA and the facts just a bit too slippery then you will probably enjoy "Body of Secrets."
I am more of a history buff. And I like reading about ...more
Too damn bad for me. This is one of the most poorly written, poorly edited books I've ever read. Bamford writes comically bad prose; he seems to think wandering off topic is a literary device because he does it chronically and deliberately. His analogies are off the mark almost without exception. A mild example (paraphrasing): "The Internet wraps the ...more
The first two thirds of the book are really good. There's a lot of great detail concerning the birth and evolution of the NSA, with plenty of entertaining and troubling stories. I came away having learned a lot of new things, and that's alwa ...more
- Eisenhower frequently sent fighter/bomber formations into Soviet airspace to see how far they could get before being detected, and how quickly the Soviet air defenses could react. This provocative action led to aircraft being shot down on several occasions before they could get out of So ...more
I picked up this book from my bookshelf after having left it aside for ten years. The result for me was that the first three quarters of the book -- the history of the NSA until the early 2000s -- were still fascinating. But the last quarter or so, describing the technology and the buildings contemporary to the writing of the book, was instantly less exciting because of how dated the information already is.
One writing tick annoyed me slightly: describing people in a few words that don't really c...more
During the San Francisco Conference, for example, American codebreakers were reading messages sent to and from the French delegation, which was using the Hagelin M-209, a complex six-wheel cipher machine broken by the Army Security Agency during the war. The decrypts revealed how desperate France had become to maintain its image as a major world power after the war. On April 29, for example, Fouques Duparc, the secretary general of the French delegation, complained in an encrypted note to General Charles de Gaulle in Paris that France was not chosen to be one of the "inviting powers" to the conference. "Our inclusion among the sponsoring powers," he wrote, "would have signified, in the eyes of all, our return to our traditional place in the world." In charge of the San Francisco eavesdropping and codebreaking operation was Lieutenant Colonel Frank B. Rowlett, the protégé of William F. Friedman. Rowlett was relieved when the conference finally ended, and he considered it a great success. "Pressure of work due to the San Francisco Conference has at last abated," he wrote, "and the 24-hour day has been shortened. The feeling in the Branch is that the success of the Conference may owe a great deal to its contribution."
The San Francisco Conference served as an important demonstration of the usefulness of peacetime signals intelligence. Impressive was not just the volume of messages intercepted but also the wide range of countries whose secrets could be read. Messages from Colombia provided details on quiet disagreements between Russia and its satellite nations as well as on "Russia's prejudice toward the Latin American countries." Spanish decrypts indicated that their diplomats in San Francisco were warned to oppose a number of Russian moves: "Red maneuver . . . must be stopped at once," said one. A Czechoslovakian message indicated that nation's opposition to the admission of Argentina to the UN.
From the very moment of its birth, the United Nations was a microcosm of East-West spying. Just as with the founding conference, the United States pushed hard to locate the organization on American soil, largely to accommodate the eavesdroppers and codebreakers of NSA and its predecessors.”