The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America
by: James Bamford
Published by: Anchor Books
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Reviewed by Paul Markowitz
The National Security Agency (NSA), once a backwater agency, has become the largest, most expensive, and most technologically advanced spy agency on the planet. The NSA had in fact picked up transmissions in late 1999 that indicated that high-level al-Qaeda operatives close to Osama bin Laden were on the move as a likely part of a significant terrorist mission. But due to a combination of petty jealousies between the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI, and with more than a bit of ineptitude on their part, the mission was never disclosed prior to 9/11.
In telling this frustrating and painfully unsuccessful story, Bamford describes in excruciating detail how the 9/11 terrorists planned and carried out the horrors of that infamous day in September 2001. The ultimate irony in this tragic tale may be that the final preparations by the perpetrators were made in Laurel, Maryland, the NSA’s company town.
Bamford proceeds to describe the history of the NSA from its modest beginnings up to the present day. He covers in significant detail many of the better-known incidents of this period–the proliferation of warrantless eavesdropping, the NSA deciding to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the courts established to implement it, the co-opting of most of the telecommunications companies to illegally share data with the government, etc.
There is one caution in recommending this vital and informative book. Its pages are filled with a slew of governmental acronyms and discussions of complex data systems that will challenge most of us non-techies.
But those that stay with the story as it unfolds in The Shadow Factory, will be rewarded with a tragic and alarming tale that shows the dangers of laws and policies that are unable to keep up with the technological developments in their purview.
Armchair Interviews agrees.
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