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The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  1,132 ratings  ·  78 reviews
In this remarkable tour de force of investigative reporting, James Bamford exposes the inner workings of America's largest, most secretive, and arguably most intrusive intelligence agency. The NSA has long eluded public scrutiny, but The Puzzle Palace penetrates its vast network of power and unmasks the people who control it, often with shocking disregard for the law. With ...more
Paperback, 656 pages
Published September 29th 1983 by Penguin Books (first published September 23rd 1982)
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Jan 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: high-tech
The puzzle palace is getting a little old, but it still applies. The NSA is one of those government agencies that everybody knows about, except if you ask them what they know they scratch their head and say "not much." Much of the computer things we take for granted today from encryption to managing large data streams, to cloud computing and managing large networks to modern telecom routers was invented at or encouraged by NSA if the truth be known. Puzzle Palace was one of the first books about ...more
Omar Manejwala
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Truly mind-boggling. I was blown away when I learned how much the NSA has done over the last few decades...really a page turner. Plus I grew up near there and never quite knew what it was. This is as thrilling as a spy novel with the added shock factor of being true.
Ericka Clouther
This book is sometimes surprising, often boring, and extremely quaint. The entire idea is how secretive the NSA is, and how few people even know that there is an NSA or what it has done. Oh, remember before Russia hacked our election in multiple different ways and NSA officials and ex-officials testified before Congress on television several times? Those were the good old days!
John Jr.
Jul 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
In the beginning, the NSA did not exist: though President Eisenhower created it in 1952, its very existence, not to mention what it did, was kept secret. Now, secrecy isn't necessarily a bad thing, but on the face of it you have to suspect something is amiss in such cases. As my parents would've said to me (and maybe did at some point), if you have nothing to worry about, why hide?

This was a provocative, informative, and valuable book when I read it, which I believe was during the late 1980s, an
Dec 27, 2010 rated it liked it
The National Security Agency is a U.S. government agency responsible for gathering and analyzing signals intelligence. In 1982, the NSA was far less known than the CIA and other alphabet agencies, but it had no less lurid a history. In 1958, a US Air Force-NSA surveillance plane invaded the airspace of Soviet Armenia, and was shot down by MiGs; all 17 crew were killed; neither government admitted to the incident publicly. In 1967, a US Navy-NSA surveillance ship observing the Six-Day War was att ...more
Jun 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery-thriller
Recent revelations regarding massive data mining of phone and Internet activity (hello Uncle) reminded me of this read. Published in 1988 and read by me in perhaps early 2000's, the book lay out NSA's Hugh accumulation of computing power. Before even Bush era legal authorization this data was being collected and all foreign contacts swept for key words, slang, repeated unknown phrases - names, dates, locations.

I recall numerous newspaper references to criminals and suspected terrorists contacts
Dr. Barrett  Dylan Brown, Phd
Too much data to be light reading. Very well researched. Amazing how much information is available that the Media ignores.
Jeff Hedberg
Jul 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's an interesting time (Snowden leaking NSA's PRISM program) to read about the history of the NSA. Even though this book was written back in the 80's - so much of it smacks of being exactly the same today... you sure get the feeling that not a lot has changed since the NSA's founding in the 50's. (convincing telegram companies to turn over all correspondence to them... etc.)
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Long before the current scandals, The Puzzle Palace presented an insider's view of electronic eavesdropping capability. One can only imagine how far technology has developed since then. More ...more
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned, 2019
Well, didn't realize this book was written in the early 1980s so had nothing recent in it. I guess you can't judge a book by the cover. Interesting for a while, but honestly, way too dense and detailed with dates ranges of all administrators and key leaders, then not interesting.
Nov 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Very informative......but boring as hell.
Aug 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
Global communications have been monitored throughout the history of the world as civilizations try to gain information from neighboring peoples then share it in turn with other people they encounter. With the advancement of technology, the ways to obtain information have become more advanced and easy to get. The ideas acquired from others can help advance the civilization or ultimately to keep the threat of competition at a minimal. The Puzzle Palace by James Bamford is basically a novel about t ...more
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was written when the NSA was nicknamed "No Such Agency"..., and therefore was quite a shocker to folks far and wide when one of it's own wrote a try-to-tell-all book. In fact, when I was going through my Navy cryptologic maintenance technician training at Corry Station (Pensacola FL) in the very early `90s, all of the students were ordered to not read this book, lest it contain potentially classified or damaging material that could jeopardize our security clearances. Making something forbid ...more
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is the original edition (1982 plus Afterword from 1983) of the definitive story of the National Security Agency. The author released a revised edition in 2001 which I haven't read. Considering how deeply the NSA had its hooks into everything in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s -- the reforms of the Church Committee notwithstanding -- it pretty much goes without saying that today the situation could only be much, much worse than as described in 1982. Now, EVERYTHING goes into the NSA's huge facil ...more
Colby-Tait Africa
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This came to me one evening under the radar. I couldn't sleep and needed something to read so I picked this up and read it in one sitting. So much for sleeping. It's a fascinating piece of work. Surprising in its reach and depth, and well written. I visited NSA (Columbia Annex) once for work and was immediately attracted to the environment. Truly a Puzzle Palace, both in my own experience and as told through the book. I have a funny story about the visit that I had forgotten. Perhaps I will writ ...more
Mar 17, 2019 rated it liked it
It is amazing this book was published at all, during the Cold War. Unfortunately it's very dry with lots of detailed information on the "anatomy" of the organization, but the second half returns into storytelling mode giving an impressive account of history about some international and domestic incidents. Bamford's book has been a reference material on many later books dealing with crypto. Like, well, Steven Levy's "Crypto".
Tim Dodd
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thoroughly researched and sourced, this is an authoritative treatment of the NSA. I used to think this agency was a class act. Now I understand that it’s always been a criminal organization with no regard for the rule of law. The behavior revealed in the Snowden leaks is not new. I am glad I turned down their offer when I was finishing school.
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Somewhat scary history up until the late 1980's.
Henry James
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
If nothing else, it answered a lot of questions about the agency - in God we trust; all others we monitor...
Thaddeus A. Opiola
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book! James Bamford is one of the best authors on intelligence.
John Autero
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
The book is quite remarkable for the detail it provides. I wish I would have read it 30 years ago, because it is outdated (in 2019). But, it does provide a nice history of the NSA before the 80s.
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Some interesting historical information, but deathly boring. The book is nearing middle age and becomes less relevant yearly. Maybe I'd have felt different had I read this in the late 1980s.
Tom Nixon
Dec 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
I take books like this with a large grain of salt. Don't get me wrong: the author, James Bamford speaks with authority and certainly has the footnotes and bibliography to back himself up but there's always something that makes me wonder. I mean, let's consider the subject matter. It's the National Security Agency- one of America's most secret intelligence agencies so while Bamford presents an engaging and well-researched story over the course of the book, you have to wonder what he doesn't know ...more
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Considered the book on the NSA. Should be read.
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For a book written in 1982, this is surprisingly still very relevant for today. No matter how primative or advanced the technology, the underlying debates, concerns, and scandals regarding surveillance remain unchanged since the foundation of the NSA.
Aug 14, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People looking for sensationalist depictions of NSA
This is an author who approached the subject of the most secretive and least understood organization in our Defense Dept and government with a sensationalist journalist perspective.

So of course the book sold like hot cakes and the author was investigated for exposing "secrets." The employees at NSA hated him and he was labeled a traitor by some. Bottom line is people would much rather have a controversial story than a real story of a the most interesting organization in government.

Almost 20 ye
Jun 30, 2013 rated it liked it
I would rather rate this book 3 1/2 stars but I can't so I'll go with 3. I had to keep putting this book down so that I could focus on school which is why it took me so long to finish. This book wasn't the easiest to read however, several chapters I ended up "speed reading" through as they seemed clogged with way too much uninteresting detail. Yet other parts of this book were fascinating, particularly the early days of US SIGINT. Also it's amazing to read this book that was written in 80's at t ...more
Jun 22, 2015 rated it liked it
The story Bamford tells us really quite amazing. And despite the fact that the book came out in the early 80's, everything sounds all too familiar and is relevant to current events.

The book's weakness is that it has some painfully boring passages that, for example, bother to briefly touch on where hundreds of different men went to college, and the color of their hair.

And, of course, plenty of "windowless rooms."

I really want to read Bamford's later book, Body of Secrets.

The Puzzle Palace is ve
Sep 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people interested in spying
I worked as a linguist/cryptographer at the Puzzle Palace in the early 1960'sl Bamford interviewed a guy from my old unit, a bit like saying a sports writer talked to one guy at the local bar about pro football. Pity Bamford didn't interview a hundred vets, there might have been a bit more meat on the bone. Still, if it's the only book in town, I guess you read it. If you want more substantial, try TANS, Vol I and II, true stories from military intelligence professionals who not only served at t ...more
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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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