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Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War Through the Dawn of a New Century

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  1,371 Ratings  ·  87 Reviews
The National Security Agency is the world’s most powerful, most far-reaching espionage. Now with a new afterword describing the security lapses that preceded the attacks of September 11, 2001, Body of Secrets takes us to the inner sanctum of America’s spy world. In the follow-up to his bestselling Puzzle Palace, James Banford reveals the NSA’s hidden role in the most volat ...more
Paperback, 784 pages
Published April 30th 2002 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2001)
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James Bray
May 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a very accurately and intensely researched well-written book. It is probably more interesting to me personally as I served in the ASA (Army Security Agency) which manned field listening stations for the NSA. I've read this book twice and learned almost everything about what we were doing and why from reading it; we never discussed anything even between ourselves about work, and even then we only knew the mechanics of the particular equipment we worked with and virtually nothing about wha ...more
Dec 10, 2008 rated it liked it
Took me a while to get through the book. The subject is fascinating but occasionally the details are only tangentially related. I enjoyed reading it and there are a lot of good stories in there, perhaps if some of the fat was trimmed and the stories organized a little better.

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
Sam-Omar Hall
Mar 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
No-nonsense, fact-filled, fascinating history of the NSA.

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.
Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
After reading "The Puzzle Palace," James Bamford's opus about the NSA (National Security Agency), I thought I would never find anything to compare to it...until I came across "Body of Secrets." Not unexpectedly, it is also by James Bamford, who seems to have carved out his own little niche in chronicling the life and times of America's super-secret electronic spy agency.

In examining all the facets, all the nooks and crannies, even the obscure and well-hidden ones, Bamford approached the Agency a
Eugene Miya
Jan 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Possibly the best an outsider could do (if behind the times).

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
Greg Brown
Jun 28, 2009 rated it liked it
This was a frustrating book to read at times! Body of Secrets is a strangely two-tone book: the first 60% or so is historical, covering the National Security Agency's involvement in conflicts past. The last 40%, on the other hand, mostly covers the current-day (~2001) agency.

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
Kirk Lowery
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Be prepared to keep track an incredible array of organization names; the NSA is the archtypical bureaucratic labyrinth. The author relates the history of the NSA from its origins in the 1930s up to 2001 (the book clearly was written and published before 9/11. Now there's a tale I'd like to hear!). Startling revelations: the US communications security during the Vietnam war was completely compromised and made, for example, the bombings by B52s ineffective. The Israeli attack on the NSA intercept ...more
Aug 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: The "almost" real NSA
Now more than ever this book is appropriate. Before you pass any judgement reading about NSA in the papers or watch some crappy CNN expose, you need to read this book first.

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
Aug 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Given the time and political climate during which I read this, it'd be easy to understand why I picked it up. But it wouldn't be accurate. I read this because it had a detailed description of Operation Northwoods. You'll have to look it up. No spoilers here.
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
Jan 17, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: political
I had high hopes for this book, due to the uber-interesting subject matter (the NSA) and my interest in security, crypto, government secrecy, etc.

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
Dec 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
An illuminating look behind the curtain at an agency that was unknown for so long. Bamford's history of the NSA reveals so many AMAZING secrets that were classified until shortly before his book was published:
- 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
Mar 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: most-memorable

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

Dec 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
It starts off well, investigating the need for an intel agency prior to WWII, and tracking the NSA in its development up until the Kennedy years. That was when I stopped, because it was evident that the writer was, and apparently still is, a Castro sympathizer. You might as how he could critique the fervor for deposing Castro yet never mention the horrors unleashed by Castro, yet he does. You could ask how he turned a blind eye to Stalin's show trials, Lenin's massacres and starvation of the Rus ...more
Frederick Bingham
Jan 01, 2012 rated it liked it
This book is about the National Security Agency, the super secret spy agency. The agency's job is to monitor and eavesdrop on electronic communications and break foreign codes. It has been involved in every major foreign policy situation since its founding in the 1930's. The book talks about the history of the agency and some of the most important events it has been involved in. The most interesting parts are the descriptions of the USS Pueblo capture (by the North Koreans in 1968), the USS Libe ...more
Oct 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
This was a grueling read, but I'm glad I made the effort. In fairness, the first half or so was great: an excellent blend of facts and action that gave shape to several significant historical incidents--many of which I was not aware of. However, the second half seemed to drag on...and on and on. I would recommend the latter half to any potential NSA employee or a public administration student (a healthy dose of NSA budgeting, leadership analysis, organizational culture/change), but I felt I coul ...more
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
I started off enjoying this book as it went through the early activities of spying that occurred during the 50's and 60's, mostly starting during the Eisenhower administration. The book held my interest til about a third of the way through it when Bamford started spewing out names and dates of minor events and happenings. I picked up the book to read about spy games and technology, not the interpersonal lives of a deputy director in 1978 and his subordinates. If you're looking for gripping secre ...more
Mar 05, 2010 rated it it was ok
This account of the NSA had a great start, covering the historical construction of a formerly non-existent agency to a global powerhouse of intelligence collection, but the ending of this book was very disappointing. The historical coverage was in-depth, and unearthed a lot of information previously unknown about an ultra-secret intelligence gathering entity, but maybe due to the sensitivity of more current classified material, Bamford ran out of topics to cover. There was a lot that went on aft ...more
Nov 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is not a light read by any means, or should it be considered one. The amount of information in this book was barely enough for me to handle. I recommend this plethora of information about one of the most under-estimated government agencies to teenagers and above. This book is definitely not for children. Body of Secret is also not your classic old list of facts non-fiction books get the reputation of. James Bamford does a clever job combining action and facts, but still keeping the tru ...more
Sep 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
A good overlap from The Puzzle Palace to 9/11. More than adequate primary and secondary sources cited. Definitely an eye opener and cannot wait to see what the future holds for SIGINT via NSA. Very enlightening concerning the Pueblo and Liberty incidents. I was always under the impression the USSR orchestrated the North Koreans to take the Pueblo to obtain the crypto-machines in order to use the keys Walker provided. Also was not aware of the war crimes that may have instigated the attack on the ...more
Feb 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: govt-political
A very interesting view into the inner working of one of the most secret (and potentially scary/dangerous) gov't agencies. James Bradford give background and insight into the NSA, from the humble beginning down to almost present day. You get a look into how knowledge and information has been transformed into power (and then wielded). Sometimes the agency has done fantastic things...other times not so much. It behooves everyone to know and understand how the NSA works, even if you are OK with the ...more
Nov 21, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bastan tarihsel gelisimi, degisik politik olaylarda paylari ve rolleri ile cok ilginc ayrintilar sunarak hizla okunan kitap, sonlarda biraz fazla teknik detaya girerek (ve nerdeyse bu kurulusun reklam aracina donuserek) biraz okuyucuyu boguyor (tabii belgesel 'tarihsel' perspektifin son 10-20 seneye gelince durulmasi, gizlilik nedeniyle belge yoklugundan kaynaklaniyor herkese malum olacagi gibi, ama belki de yazar biraz fazla uzatmis gibi geldi bana, 700 sayfa yerine 500 sayfada da bitirebilirdi ...more
Gregory Schultz
Oct 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alex Reinhart
Mar 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
Interesting topic, disappointing book. There's a lot of interesting information and fascinating stories in this book; unfortunately, Bamford seems to have taken the information, put it in a blender, and spewed out the jumbled results into the book.

Chapters frequently jump back and forward decades, and divert into stories about individual characters in minor roles in events. It's difficult to keep dates and events straight in your head as you read.

Fortunately, Bamford breaks up the long and wande
Jul 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Really good read. Not what I thought; I was picturing more emphasis on code breaking, but the history of the NSA was pretty fascinating. At times I felt like the chapters were way toooooo long, and his writing choppy, but it made for a good read by the end. The sections about Bay of Pigs, people in remote outposts listening for signals, and the last chapter about quantum computing were the highlights for me. I would not read this again because of the length (nearly 700p), but I could see re-read ...more
Terry Quirke
May 02, 2013 rated it liked it
An interesting book if already behind the times (what, you think the NSA is going to tell us exactly what their latest tricks are???) and quiet relevant considering the present furor at the moment of their data mining.

The book is practically in two halves; first half explores the history of the NSA up to the 80s, the second half focuses on the organisation itself and how it has changed since its founding, who was who, equipment etc.

An intersting insight into some of the goings on and why, it sti
Aug 07, 2011 rated it liked it
An interesting book - not the tell-all it claims to be, but still quite interesting.

The author does tell a great deal about the NSA, but also about the CIA, and seems to spend a lot of time going off topic. The Liberty incident, which is covered in great detail in the book, relies a great deal on speculation - a bit too much?

Not a bad book - if only the author would stop relying on awful cliched metaphors.
Oct 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
In this day and age of secret wiretapping and secret courts issuing secret warrants, it is important to know about America's past struggles with the balance between civil liberties and safety. James Bamford in this book and his earlier one on the NSA, the Puzzle Palace, shines a flashlight on the murky world of the NSA and other shadowy organizations. This books gives one an idea of how pervasive and invasive past American efforts to track it's "enemies" have been.
Mike Barretta
Feb 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, nonfiction
Read this while on vacation in Cancun, Mexico. I remember feeling more than a little naive after reading about the various covert exploits of our government. I know there was no previously top secret bombshells in there, but the idea of 'if they did this stuff and kept it quiet, imagine what else they did!'
Jan 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
A real slog of a read! Interesting topics and fascinating claims. If you thought you were informed about American security issues ( Gary Powers, Bay of Pigs, etc.) be prepared for a whole new set of information.
Sadly, it's often hard to stick with the story line as it's deeply buried in too much information. Descriptions to the "nth detail" aren't always the best way to convey your story.
Jan 10, 2008 rated it liked it
Whew. This 600 pager took me awhile, but it was a worthwhile venture into learning the NSA's history. Very thorough and very comprehensive, it does drag on certain chapters: the author obviously favors certain topics because of his access to sources, especially former NSA employees. My favorite chapter were at the end, where he covers 1980-2001, because some of these topics extend to today.
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“Roosevelt fought hard for the United States to host the opening session [of the United Nations]; it seemed a magnanimous gesture to most of the delegates. But the real reason was to better enable the United States to eavesdrop on its guests. Coded messages between the foreign delegations and their distant capitals passed through U.S. telegraph lines in San Francisco. With wartime censorship laws still in effect, Western Union and the other commercial telegraph companies were required to pass on both coded and uncoded telegrams to U.S. Army codebreakers. Once the signals were captured, a specially designed time-delay device activated to allow recorders to be switched on. Devices were also developed to divert a single signal to several receivers. The intercepts were then forwarded to Arlington Hall, headquarters of the Army codebreakers, over forty-six special secure teletype lines. By the summer of 1945 the average number of daily messages had grown to 289,802, from only 46,865 in February 1943. The same soldiers who only a few weeks earlier had been deciphering German battle plans were now unraveling the codes and ciphers wound tightly around Argentine negotiating points.

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.”
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