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The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State

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An explosive look at the domestic agencies charged with spying on all of us.

Given recent terrorist events in the U.S. and the document leaks by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, The Watchers is more timely than ever, drawing on access to political and operational insiders to create a brilliant exposé of why and how the American government spies on its own citizens. Born in the wake of the 1983 massacre of 241 Marines in Beirut, the domestic surveillance program introduced by Ronald Reagan's national security advisor, John Poindexter, to coordinate intelligence on terrorists has claimed billions of government dollars. Despite the cost, it has failed in its mission to identify new threats. But as Harris shows, it has provided the government with a tool for the electronic surveillance of Americans that has ushered in an age of constitutionally questionable intrusion into the lives of every citizen.

432 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2010

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Shane Harris

7 books22 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 42 reviews
Profile Image for Schnaucl.
880 reviews30 followers
April 23, 2010
I picked up the book because of this discussion with the author.

This is a deeply fascinating book, but it's also very one sided. This is a book about and from the perspective of the people at the top in the intelligence community, particularly John Poindexter and the NSA. For a while it felt almost insidious, everything seemed perfectly logical and reasonable and I had to take a step back and remember all the egregious abuses of power (some of them are mentioned, but not until the last 1/3 - 1/4 of the book which in some ways makes sense since it's a chronological narrative).

I did come away from this with a very different take on John Poindexter. He was the person who introduced e-mail to the White House. He's clearly a man with a great vision and he gets high marks for appearing to actually care about privacy. He did think about it, and was still working on a way to make it happen when TIA was made public and everything went to hell. Not surprisingly, when TIA was folded into the NSA the attempt to keep American's privacy while still collecting data was left behind. I got the impression that Poindexter wasn't just paying lip service to the notion of privacy and it wasn't entirely motivated by trying to stay within the law.

It was also interesting and a bit sad to hear about how Raegan's Alzheimer's disease was affecting him while he was still in office.

I take comfort from the fact that at least some people at the top seem to realize that the problem is not getting more information, it's filtering the information and connecting the dots in a timely manner. That's long been my take on the situation and I'm just a regular person. (I, however, thought at least part of the problem was that the agencies continued to be stingy with information sharing but that's not the impression I got from this book). The book ultimately suggests that there may not be a good technological solution to connecting the dots. On a small scale it seems to work, but on a larger scale every system chokes on the amount of data and becomes useless. No doubt there are bright people still working on that problem.

The book also highlighted how incestuous and hidebound much of the intelligence community is. Contracts go to former people who were formerly in government intelligence and are now at private firms. The same people pop up over and over. Just because a person left in disgrace doesn't mean he can't reappear years later.

I also want to say something about John Ashcroft. I'm not a huge fan of the man, I think he helped the Bush administration do a lot of harm to this country. However, something Liberals seem to forget is that when Ashcroft thought that the warrantless wiretapping was illegal he refused to sign the order, even when the Bush administration sent people to pressure him while he was in his sickbed in the hospital recovering from a major illness. If memory serves, he would go on to resign in protest over the policy. He deserves credit for that.

As I've mentioned, the problem is that the book does feel one sided. Yes, there is mention of the public outrage that eventually forced TIA underground and then its merger with the NSA. But what isn't mentioned is that the government almost immediately after 9/11 handed over private data to private industry, there's no mention of the No-Fly List and how completely screwed up it is (really, a book about surveillance and the No-Fly list isn't covered?), the fact that the FBI has really been pulled from it's former duties to focus on terrorism (there's a few mentions that the FBI wastes a lot of time chasing down terrorism leads from the NSA but no real mention of how all the crimes the FBI used to pursue are falling through the cracks). What really surprised me is that there's no mention of the fact that the privacy advocates were right. Most of the warantless wiretapping has been used for garden variety non-terrorist criminals.

It's a very interesting book and a good read, just remember it's not the whole story.
Profile Image for David Brown.
Author 9 books40 followers
August 16, 2015
The Watchers, by Shane Harris, is both a history of modern surveillance and an account of those tasked with watching us. Rather than presenting these men and women as mustache twirling villains or anonymous ghosts in dark suits with a cigarette permanently clutched between their fingers, Harris, for the most part, presents the watchers for what most of them are, patriots dedicated with keeping us sage.

After reading several non-fiction books recently that were poorly cited, if at all, and contained no notes whatsoever, The Watchers was a welcome respite with its plethora of notes; although, as most of the information in the book came from personal interviews conducted by the author (which are cited in the notes), and only a few secondary sources (also cited in the notes) there is no bibliography page, but this is not to the book's detriment.

Because of the massive amount of time covered and even longer "cast of characters" one encounters in the book, a timeline and list of the people and heir background would have been helpful in keeping track of the events and people one meets in The Watchers. The lack of these two elements often made it difficult to remember who was who, who did what and how people and events were connected.

The book does become slogged down at times by all of the information presented, but it mostly reads like a fast paced spy thriller and is just as exciting. The Watchers is an important book that everyone should read, but, unfortunately, more people will probably watch the next episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians than will ever read this informative tome.
Profile Image for Tom Calvard.
162 reviews3 followers
September 2, 2022
Slick journalistic writing in 'narrative nonfiction' style that tells story of terrorism and US government surveillance through technology and big data between about 1983 and 2009.

It feels like it is trying too hard to hype itself from the book jacket and blurbs. For me, it didn't need to. I think it was interesting enough to read about struggles to detect, predict and prevent terrorist attacks by collecting large amounts of data through surveillance. But Harris has found a way to make government and military bureaucracy more readable, using short chapters and accessible storytelling technique to keep you reading at a decent pace without a headache.

This book predates Snowden and other big data revelations and privacy scandals. But I think its insights still stand - noone in the Internet Age is truly anonymous anymore, the law can't keep up with ensuring privacy, and most sectors of our economy hunger after more data, even if they don't always know what to do with it and can't find signals in the noise.

A lot of big data and Internet books are about the private sector only, so it is a decent counterpart here to look at these issues more across sector and within government. Harris lays out his protagonists and their positions and struggles clearly as they go back and forth with liberty and security, privacy and detection.
Profile Image for Denise.
43 reviews1 follower
May 6, 2022
This is a deep yet fascinating account of tech visionaries, the 9/11 aftermath, big data, technological capabilities and limitations, legal guardrails that help and hinder, the fight against terrorism, telecom, Washington wheeling and dealing, the genesis of cybersecurity protections, personal ethical principles, and the character of otherwise vilified John Poindexter.

As an IT risk professional, I was enthralled by this thoroughly investigated and indexed account by the author, even while it was an enormous volume of governmental dealings to absorb and attempt to understand. Frankly there were so many unfamiliar project and agency names thrown at me, it was hard to keep up. Nevertheless the echoes of this work and the privacy conversations it has prompted and influenced linger loudly today, in 2022.

I have a friend who was on the front lines of the data analysis that hunted terrorists, and his efforts prompted me to read this story. Needless to say, the personal connection to the efforts cited in the book was a juicy carrot, enticing me to read more.
Profile Image for Matthew Griffiths.
241 reviews11 followers
July 22, 2018
For anyone interested in contemporary debates about privacy and surveillance in the networked world this is an engrossing account of a pivotal moment in time in this debate. The book follows several fascinating and perhaps worrying developments in the field of digital surveillance that came to pass in the wake of the attacks on 9/11. Shane Harris paints a vivid picture of the people involved in the battles for and against greater surveillance powers in the USA and also manages to describe in vivid detail the technical capabilities they worked to develop. I would advise anyone coming to this looking for moralising on the potentially harmful applications of the technology that this probably isn't the book for them. However, for anyone more interested in a fairly balanced account of this moment in time it's certainly worth a read as it does explore the political and legal implications as framed by those involved with a fair degree of depth.
63 reviews1 follower
December 6, 2020
An outsider's (Shane Harris) very limited & naive look at the senior level players in national security. Mostly politics here & a semi-lovefest of Admiral John Poindexter. Shows the failure of national intelligence as each agency refuses to buckle under one leader. Agencies protect their own turf & are unwilling to share intelligence, meanwhile congressional princes diddle while American soldiers die.
Profile Image for Martin Miller.
Author 4 books
August 27, 2021
Well researched and written account of the rise of government surveillance over every facet of our lives. Good to know but unsettling to contemplate.
Profile Image for Nate.
2 reviews
October 25, 2014
Shane Harris' book The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State" takes place for the majority in the past and present, stretching from Poindexter's days under the Reagan administration to his particularly freelance work after the failure of his brainchild TIA. To sum it up briefly, the book analyzes, well, the surveillance and spying agencies post and pre 9/11 world. It goes from an era of relatively lax restrictions and minor scrutiny to the world most of us are familiar with now, like the TSA and closed containers on airlines. The main meat of the story follows mainly the two characters John Poindexter and Erik Kleinsmith and their exploits in the creation and utilization of advanced data analyzation algorithms.

I chose to read the book due mainly to the way it hooked me just through the opening sentences and how the author managed to turn what would normally be a bland book detailing the gross slog of American bureaucracy and how it progressed after 9/11 into something truly riveting. Typically non-fiction isn't my cup of tea yet this seemed to be an exception, nearly bridging a gap between the two categories. The tone and subject matter meshed so well, along with the character development of Poindexter from a budding cog in the Reagan administration to a truly independent and quite resourceful pseudo-politician.

The book follows the lifes of several people, primarily John Poindexter and how he integrates into the intelligence society of the US. The particularly riveting parts, are actually seeing the names or references to people who were quite popular in their day, or to events you may not have known about, or read about. The book seems to be quite eye opening in regards to the journalism put forth by Shane Harris. He seems to be quite non-partisan, offering a neutral view of both the Democratic and Republican standpoints in the novel. Overall, the most interesting and entertaining parts of the book are in respect to the politics behind things like the NSA and how legality fits into the machine of a post 9/11 society.

The most infuriating portions of the book involve how much it seems the author jumps around to points in time, or will take half of a chapter merely to give the reader some particularly unnecessary exposition. As much as I praise this book for it's excellent journalism and finely crafted word play, it oftentimes seems more to be a biography of Poindexter himself rather than how the surveillance state has arisen. I have few gripes to share about this novel, yet those are the ones that stand out the most to me, to reflect, this should not deter anyone from reading this book, these are just faults as part of a whole, like a mole on a pretty woman, or the crack in the Liberty Bell.

The entirety of the book seems quiet comprehensive, covering almost every base that a reader could want without having to fly to D.C. and interview their congressman. The author has very clearly done his homework, and offers and almost fly-on-the-wall type of insight through his numerous interviews. I feel both enlightened and interested more in the goings-on of the world around us and how heavily the government plays a role in our daily lives. This novel, even with its faults and how often the other seems to wonder off to other events, is incredibly well researched and put together.

I would highly recommend this book for those who feel strongly skeptical of their established government, or those who would like a deeper understanding of how the US intervenes in our lives. Mostly though, I would recommend this book to everyone who felt so strongly about the NSA 'scandal' that broke a few years ago. In a more broad sense I would recommend this to anyone as not only a reference for how the US government REALLY handles your sensitive data, but also to give them an idea about how many legal hoops agencies have to jump through just to get their idea funded, and how easily one inflammatory remark can send it crashing faster than a plane in a nosedive.

As for offensive material or remarks, this book is more about the politics of war, and less about the gory details. The few parts in this book that may upset some readers are how Congress chooses to handles certain issues, and how much dishonesty and lying really takes place. Along with few vivid descriptions of a bombing at a US Marine base abroad, the book itself is quite tame. The subject matter is quite PG for almost 99% of the book, almost nobody should quite be offended by this novel, unless they are easily spooked by large words.

Profile Image for Todd Martin.
Author 4 books74 followers
April 16, 2012
The Watchers details the rise of the US Government’s domestic spying program in the aftermath of the 911 attacks mainly through the eyes of John Poindexter (who gained notoriety as the individual who green-lighted sales of arms to Iran to fund Contra militants in Honduras). The text documents the shift from wire taps based on probable cause to unimpeded spying of phone, e-mail, web and every other form of digital communication (as well as video surveillance that includes face recognition capabilities and goodness knows what else).

This should make US citizens very uneasy. Do we know that the government is abusing its powers to spy on innocent civilians? We don’t, because the program is shrouded in secrecy and lacks the necessary transparency to prevent such abuses. However, we do know that history points to this inevitability.

The book appears to be meticulously researched but suffers from the fact that it focuses far too much on irrelevant details, resulting in a book that is entirely too long and largely uninteresting. What is more surprising is that Harris misses, what to me, would be the central point of any discussion of surveillance. Given the billions of dollars spent on these surveillance programs and the resulting loss of civil liberties, does it work and is it worth it? First of all, there’s no evidence that such a program is effective. No 911 style attack has yet to be thwarted by the spying program, yet hundreds of innocent Americans are on no-fly lists due to false positives. Maybe they took the wrong book out of the library, maybe their name is similar to that of a known terrorist, we don’t know. But this is exactly what you would expect from an ineffective program looking for events that occur infrequently by attempting to sift through reams of unrelated information. In addition, while tragic, the loss of nearly 3,000 lives over a decade ago as a result of the September 11 attacks hardly seems to justify the program, particularly in light of other activities that result in far more death and destruction (pollution, disease, automobile accidents, handgun deaths, medical mistakes and others). Many more lives could be saved by dedicating resources towards these more significant issues.

The problem isn’t that terrorism represents a grave threat to the country, it does not. Terrorism is used by weak individuals and groups against powerful foes. These weak groups cannot fight on equal footing, do not have access to nuclear weapons, and generally lack the capability to wreak massive destruction (given basic security precautions are taken … like putting locked doors on airplane cockpits). The problem is that surveillance makes sense politically. The government uses fear to incite a pant-wetting public, who then clamors for the government to do more. Politicians are rewarded for pandering to these base emotions (that they created in the first place) and the process feeds on itself to create an Orwellian system of surveillance. But this is the whole point of terrorism … to create a response that is far out of proportion with the actual threat. By setting up program that impedes individual liberties we wind up directly serving the intended purpose of the terrorists. This is the discussion that would have greatly improved this book.

As an aside, I found the book terribly distracting in one very peculiar way. It seems to have been written as an extended love letter to John Poindexter. Harris is so smitten, he swoons over Poindexter on every page with a sycophantic adoration that will make the reader’s face turn red with embarrassment. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that they are now engaged. It’s not that I have a problem with public displays of affection, it’s that the book is supposed to be a journalistic endeavor and as such, requires the author to set aside his biases in favor of impartial reporting.
Profile Image for Cole Stratton.
15 reviews17 followers
June 14, 2012
Shane Harris employs an interesting narrative style, writing prose like a thriller novel in place of the dry construction typical of the traditional academic or journalistic approach that what one would expect for such a topic. The veracity of his story might be harmed by its irreverent treatment of a contentious issue, with fictional dialog and narration based mostly on interviews with John Poindexter. Unfortunately, Harris seems to be a confessor of sorts for Poindexter, embarking on a narrative that seems overly reliant on the former undersecretary's perspective of events in describing the birth and growth of our current surveillance industry. When constitutional issues arise along the way, the story presents them as burdensome barriers to achieving Total Information Awareness – what Poindexter believes will anticipate and prevent terrorism. Shirking legal restraints in the wake of 9/11 starts to seem rather patriotic the way this story is told. Harris is obviously aware of the slant his narrative takes, and is kind enough to say as much in the introduction to the text. But he seems to have traded access for a more critical engagement with the topic. The book rarely touches on the valid concerns of the dissenters and the arguments against the wisdom of giving the federal government access to minute details of its citizen's lives. Harris is too busy contemplating the narrative arc of Poindexter's life, and probing the inner workings of the man's mind. It should be noted that Poindexter was convicted on felony charges of conspiracy, lying to congress, obstruction of justice, and altering and destroying documents related to the Iran-Contra investigation in 1990. That was when he and Oliver North were caught selling weapons to Iran and then using the proceeds to fund a Nicaraguan militia intent on overthrowing its government. So he is a complicated protagonist to say the least. Although I suppose I do appreciate the insider view he offers. It's clear that concern for the safety of Americans was the impetus to create an all-seeing digital eye. I guess I'm just a little surprised there wasn't more of an effort to balance other points of view with that of Poindexter and his colleagues. Still, Harris employs a unique narrative construction that, while not a very academic treatment of such a complex topic, reads like a spy novel and is actually quite fun.
Profile Image for Terry.
692 reviews
September 26, 2013
Harris has titled this history The Watchers, but though it names many in the "intelligence" community, it is primarily about Admiral John Poindexter. That's actually a good thing, because the admiral seems to have been just about everywhere in the landscape of battles and befuddlements over warrantless eavesdropping and such. Had Harris not mentioned it, I would have had to: Poindexter's story amounts to a kind of American tragedy. First in his class at the Naval Academy and with aspirations toward the top job — a seat with the Joint Chiefs — hubris tripped him up again and again. Poindexter told Harris that "he does understand politics; he just chooses not to play it." It doesn't take even a very careful reading of Harris's text to discover that Poindexter played the political game of fighting for money for his empire over those of primarily military but sometimes civilian department heads. He is and was one of those "true believers" who was certain to the core that he had the one answer, or the several answers to "keeping America safe."
Harris does a fine job of balancing his reporting. I disagree with him wholeheartedly, though, that "our leaders should have kept Poindexter right where he was, as the lead visionary and chief proponent of a radical new way of thinking about how to secure people's lives and their rights." Poindexter demonstrated over and over again that he was no more and no less than his many braided, brassed, and starred peers (DOD O7 and above) intent on justifying their existence on the payroll of the nation, one moment battling their opposites in the other services or in other branches of the government to which they were assigned and the next teaming up with them when their assignment changed. At least that's how I read it.
Profile Image for Alex Shrugged.
2,197 reviews21 followers
October 4, 2013
I finished reading "Watchers, The: The Rise of America's Surveillance State". It is a balanced, non-technical book regarding privacy and government surveillance of the Internet. It also covers cyber-warfare briefly.

Given that the Flame Worm was recently found and apparently has been operating for years, it is clear that state-sponsored cyber-warfare is here. (Flame Worm is probably a US government produced worm.)

You may not like this book because it does not demonize the main actors, neither Democrat nor Republican. In many cases it glosses over the actions of some people I think have done bad things but those bad things did not having anything to do with the subject at hand....cyber surveillance.

I found the book helpful in an overall understanding of the issue. But as I said... it is not a technical book and I'm a technical guy. I know what they are doing even though they do not say what it is exactly they are doing.

Surveillance of the Internet is required but privacy of citizens must be maintained. There are ways to do this. Credit Card companies do this in order to protect themselves (and their customers) from credit card fraud. The government wants to use a similar method, but without a warrant it is a problem. There are ways around this that maintain privacy until the last moment when it is reasonably certain something is wrong. Then they can go to a judge.

We are approaching that time when we need such a system.

Update [2013-Oct-3]: With the Edward Snowden revelations of NSA spying on US citizens this book has become more important than ever.
Profile Image for Andrew Tollemache.
332 reviews21 followers
June 1, 2015
While this book is 5 years old at this point, it seemed quite timely that I was completing it while the Rand Paul filibuster on the PATRIOT Act was going on. "The Watchers" documents the US govt's evolving efforts dating back to the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983 and the Achille Lauro hijacking up through 9/11 to monitor electronic communications to try and anticipate future terrorist attacks. Olddy enough it is also the tale of John Poindexter who most people know for his role in the Iran-Contra Affair that nearly bought down the Reagan administration. His main focus on the NSC had been on developing more sophisticated data and intelligence tools for the US intelligence community. The 1990s saw him working as a consultant, but was bought back to head DARPA under W.
The main takeaway is that for all the increasing sophistication of the US signals, communication and data gathering; the big project of using that infinite sea of information to spot the seemingly random pieces that are actually nascent plots is a futile one. There is just no way to make those connections on a preemptive basis and not have a ton of false positives and violate the privacy of countless innocents. Even some of the more brilliant technocrats in the field began to acknowledge this, but feel like the data collection must continue regardless just in case a solution to that dilemma reveals itself years from now
288 reviews4 followers
August 26, 2013
This book should terrify you. Anyone who read this wasn not surprised by recent current events involving the intercepting of domestic phone calls and emails (aaaand I just got put on government watch lists).

This book was fascinating, as it started back during the Beruit bombings of the Marine Corps barracks . I learned a number of new things about the Beruit bombings (none of which made me any less upset), and a whole host of things about the Iran Contra affair. I had never heard of John Poindexter; I had heard quite a bit about Oliver North- and Poindexter was his boss.

This book minutely details the characters and twists that brought the US government to the current state of watching everything we do. In the same vein as Bamford's work, Harris manages to write engagingly and not pass moral judgement, leaving that to the reader, presumably.

The takeaway you get from this book is how we came to the pass we find ourselves in today, how Total Information Awareness got swallowed by the NSA and disappeared inot the black budget, and how the laws have changed over the past decade to bring us to the pass that caused John Oliver to say: "We understand that you didn't break any laws Mr. PResident. What makes uncomforatble is that you didn't have to."
Profile Image for Neil Crocker.
650 reviews1 follower
May 24, 2016
Interesting book. Author Shane Harris takes us behind the scenes of the intelligence machine that was running during the Bush administration, and is still running now. We meet the architects and the lawyers and the analysts. We get to see what works and what doesn't work. Good stuff.

The book is a little like the movie Groundhog Day. The same story keeps repeating itself. Vacuum up tons of information. Try to find useful information in it. Get in trouble with privacy advocates. Close it down. Start it up somewhere else. Repeat. No fault of the author...apparently that's the way it happened.

Like other reviewers have stated. The author has a serious man-crush on John Poindexter, although at the end, he does list and comment on his flaws too.

Warning to liberals, who might read the book. It is a good book and well worth reading. But re-visiting that painful era, will make your blood boil. The author mentions frequently that this new type of spying is an invasion of our privacy and doesn't actually work, but neglects to mention that it is preposterously expensive. A 3-time loser, that just lives on and on!
Profile Image for Curtis Seven.
98 reviews2 followers
January 12, 2012
Starts during Ronald Reagan's first term and details the rise of the modern information structure used by various government agencies in the United States to constitute anti-terrorism intelligence. Early figures include Oliver North and an admiral named Poindexter who many will recall from Iran-Contra fame etc. Also draws a parallel between HW Bush standing on the ruins of the Marine barracks in Beirut and W Bush in New York.

Really one of the most striking things is the level of effort that went into modernizing the intelligence gathering apparatus during the 1980s onwards. It really underscores how bad the failures were to prevent catastrophic terrorist attacks in later years most notably 2001.

I'll finish the review after I finish the book but it seems to be a journalistic and balanced accounting of several years of research by the author. Not an academic tome by any means but still interesting in an un-classified facts sort of way.
Profile Image for Sky.
74 reviews37 followers
August 3, 2013
This was a great book outlining the rise of the Intelligence Community and surveillance technology in the aftermath of 9/11. Despite the ominous title, it isn't a screed against the government or the NSA in particular. On the contrary, I felt like in some cases it seemed to be overly deferential to the gov't position.

However, my biggest critique against this book is that in a number of places it starts to feel like the 'John Poindexter Story.' While he was clearly a key personality in the rise of surveillance technology in USG (Shane Harris actually presents him as *the* key figure), there were times that this telling that it felt like the author did not put enough effort into developing a competing narrative.

Overall, I highly recommend this book if you are interested in this topic. I'm looking forward to Shane's followup which he is planning for late 2014.
Profile Image for Mallory.
496 reviews43 followers
May 29, 2012
This book was an interesting, nuanced look at the surveillance programs that have sprung up since 9/11, and the people who created them. It definitely made me think differently about John Poindexter, the former admiral and national security advisor, who is best known for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. In some ways it was a bit of a tragedy, because of how quixotic the whole quest turned out to be. So many people who thought that they could find a way to uncover the patterns of terrorism, even at the cost of privacy, and all of it ultimately failed. It's one thing to compromise some of your country's most heartfelt principles for security, but to gain nothing from it... that's a tragedy if there ever was one.
32 reviews2 followers
July 21, 2011
The book covers the last 3 decades of events, people, politics, and technolog and how they all have contributed to the current state of surveillance that exists in America today.

My mistake was reading the book as an audio book. There are dozens of people who are mentioned throughout the book as well as an alphabet soup (CIA, FBI, TIA, IAO, NSA, etc.) of government agencies involved. Trying to remember them is rather difficult even with an index, which the hard copy of the book has.

For those interested in the developments and growth of surveillance in America, this book is well researched and well written. With the exception of the caveats mentiened above, it is a good read.
Profile Image for Doyle.
161 reviews6 followers
January 5, 2013
An excellent account of the American government’s electronic surveillance program. Mr. Harris actually gives the story a face and name and starts from the Reagan years to present day. Not as boring as one would think with the style he uses for this. After reading this book I actually feel a lot better concerning our governments programs. However, I am more worried by the fragments of information that illuminate how much our banks, credit card companies, hotels, airlines, and stores we shop keep data bases on us. I think cyber-security for the public needs to be another focus of our government for these entities.
29 reviews
March 28, 2010
This is the true story of how we are becoming a surveillance state. It is creepy and truly frightening. I hope a lot of people read this and remember the Benjamin Franklin quote: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

We will never be 100% safe and allowing the government to spy on us in the name of safety is giving up too much of our cherished rights for no good reason.
Profile Image for Nicole Marble.
1,040 reviews7 followers
June 24, 2010
This is a history of the last 30 or so years and our reaction to Islamic terrorists as seen from the point of view of Adm. John Poindexter who is best known as a pivotal convicted criminal in the Iran-Contra scandal. Poindexter was hired by Bush/Cheney to figure out how to find the bad guys amongst us. Poindexters opinion is that our government could and should do anything it wants.
Fascinating,distubing reading.
Profile Image for Dick Stapleton.
46 reviews8 followers
June 18, 2011
Interesting and thought provoking. I have respect and fear for John Poindexter (yes, Iran-Contra Poindexter) who is doggedly brilliant with no respect what-so-ever for the law when it gets in his way. The large story of course is finding the balance between security and privacy - ironic in a day when we seem so willing to voluntarily toss privacy out the window in the name of beig social. Be a good book club read as there is lots to discuss.(well told, too)
206 reviews1 follower
June 18, 2011
Decent account of the rise of a 'surveillance state' in the U.S. Style is breezy, mildly annoying at times, but easy to read.

Focus on John Poindexter, with emphasis on Erik Kleinsmith (Information Dominance Center), Michael Hayden (NSA and CIA), and Mike McConnell (Booz Allen and DNI).

Might have been stronger had he published a year or two later with the benefit of additional public disclosures of relevant information.
Profile Image for Christina.
475 reviews8 followers
September 25, 2011
A journalist's exploration of the personalities, politics, technology, and approaches to spying and surveillance from the 1980s to present day, focused primarily on the post-9/11 world but framing it with events that started in the 1980s. It seemed thoroughly researched, based on interviews with a lot of the major players. Some of the "dramatization" of actual events seemed a little cheesy, but I get that the purpose was to liven up the material so I can forgive it.
22 reviews
February 5, 2013
This is an eye-opening book of how the government uses technology to passively and actively surveil US citizens with minimal oversight or checks on their power. Harris discusses the historical and political factors that allow this behavior, the technology and techniques used, and the conflict of safety vs liberty. The books is full of citations but is written in a way that draws the reader in and makes for a quick read that is full of information.
Profile Image for Larry.
428 reviews1 follower
May 14, 2013
Well written, interviews with a great cast of frontline pioneers.
The Author means this to be a warning of bad things to come. I agree thoe I can respect the position the Intelligence community was in their actions were and still are just wrong and a infringement on our constitutional rights.
Profile Image for Kira.
228 reviews16 followers
July 17, 2013
Overall, The Watchers is a dense but ideal primer on the American surveillance state, and suggests that as long as we are afraid—as a people, as a country, as a government—our inclination toward knowledge at the expense of liberty will be a potent force in shaping policy.

152 reviews26 followers
February 14, 2010
A chilling insight into how the privatiation of warfare and repression and the shredding of citizenship by the coercive state have proceeded hand in hand. A must read for anyone concerned about the decline of democracy in the USA and Britain. Lucid, informative and very, very readable
Profile Image for Steven Farmer.
161 reviews96 followers
October 24, 2010
I think this book was pretty amazing for a first time author. I think the author should re-purpose his research to produce a biography of John Poindexter.

I generally read more fiction than non-fiction -- but this read like a Tom Clancy thriller.
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