A sweeping, in-depth history of NSA, whose famous "cult of silence" has left the agency shrouded in mystery for decades.
The National Security Agency was born out of the legendary codebreaking programs of World War II that cracked the famed Enigma machine and other German and Japanese codes, thereby turning the tide of Allied victory. In the postwar years, as the United States developed a new enemy in the Soviet Union, our intelligence community found itself targeting not soldiers on the battlefield, but suspected spies, foreign leaders, and even American citizens. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, NSA played a vital, often fraught and controversial role in the major events of the Cold War, from the Korean War to the Cuban Missile Crisis to Vietnam and beyond.
In Code Warriors, Stephen Budiansky - a longtime expert in cryptology - tells the fascinating story of how NSA came to be, from its roots in World War II through the fall of the Berlin Wall. Along the way, he guides us through the fascinating challenges faced by cryptanalysts, and how they broke some of the most complicated codes of the 20th century. With access to new documents, Budiansky shows where the agency succeeded and failed during the Cold War, but his account also offers crucial perspective for assessing NSA today in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations. Budiansky shows how NSA's obsession with recording every bit of data and decoding every signal is far from a new development; throughout its history the depth and breadth of the agency's reach has resulted in both remarkable successes and destructive failures.
Featuring a series of appendixes that explain the technical details of Soviet codes and how they were broken, this is a rich and riveting history of the underbelly of the Cold War, and an essential and timely read for all who seek to understand the origins of the modern NSA.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.
©2016 Stephen Budiansky (P)2016 Random House Audio
"The dysfunctions and overreach of the total surveillance state were present at its birth, according to this engrossing history of the National Security Administration. Journalist Budiansky traces the development of American signals intelligence...[and] is lucid in describing the science and art of breaking complex ciphers, which helped drive advances in electronics and computing.... Budiansky leavens the history and technology with colorful profiles of crytographers and spies; the results is a lively account of how today's information controversies emerged." (Publishers Weekly)
Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always."
The Cold War started at the end of World War II and nominally ended on December 26, 1991, when the Soviet Union officially dissolved. I was Army enlisted from 1982-1986, during Ronald Reagan's first term, when he was getting ready to tell Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." Basic training was a mix of chain of command and military protocol reinforced by push-ups; pride in learning how to fire an M-16A1 really well and delight at being able to use a Light Anti-Tank Weapon and Claymore mine, even just once; physical training followed by utter physical exhaustion; and training film after film about the evils of the Soviet Bloc. Basic training indoctrinated us to think that the Russians were using their considerable resources and talents just to ensnare guileless and gullible GIs and destroy America.
"Code Warriors: NSA's Code Beakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union" (June 14, 2016) affirms that what seemed like post-Vietnam over caution by a military looking for a new enemy wasn't paranoia at all. Author Stephen Budiansky talks about spying and decryption from Allan Turing's brilliant mechanical decryption of the German Army's Enigma traffic through code breaking into the late 1970's and early 1980's. The discussion of the development and use of computers at the National Security Agency, from recognizing the potential with ENIAC to purchasing Cray Supercomputers decades later was fascinating. NSA's use of punch cards on an IBM for code breaking was tedious, repetitive and resourceful.
I thought the description of signals intelligence analysis as contrasted with traffic analysis was informative. It's a nuanced discussion of the differences.
Budiansky's discussion of the personalities involved in the whole operation made the book lively. There was President Lyndon Johnson, who thought he could analyze raw data better than a cryptanalyst. Various heads of NSA ranged from renegade to inspired to hopelessly unqualified. Section chiefs jealously guarded turf and followed rules, sometimes at the cost of lives. Apparently low level analysts like John Walker managed to spy for the Soviet Union for a quarter century, delivering monthly encryption keys, until he was undone not by the obvious "he's got way too much money" flags but by a vengeful ex-wife.
Budiansky also discusses electronic warfare, like deliberately provoking an opposing force to activate a missile communication system, just so spy collection planes can gather intelligence about those units. That's a special kind of daring. There's also some discussion of what has developed into cyber warfare. "Code Breakers" covers a pre-internet, pre-personal computer era, so the book seems to be presaging how it's developed. I would love to hear Budiansky's take on former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden's disclosures in "Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror" (2016).
As I write this, the question so much on the minds of the country (because there's going to be at least a partial vote recount of the presidential vote): did Russia interfere with the presidential campaign, and did they interfere with the vote? After listening to "Code Warriors", I'm convinced that the Russian FSB and SVR, successors to the KGB, should have people and intelligence operations with the talent. Did they? Army basic training during the Cold War and a few books on Russian Military History and Espionage have thoroughly convinced me that I am not remotely qualified to even offer an opinion.
The last chapter of the Audible is the appendix. I recommend listening to it as Budiansky references it, rather than waiting until the end. There's also a 19 page .pdf that's got, among other things, a schematic of Enigma. Is that cool or what?
Mark Deakins was a good narrator, but sounded a little robotic in places - and to be fair, some of the stuff on computers and codes was pretty dense.
This book passes my highest author test: I'll find other books by Budiansky and read/listen to them.
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Good complement to the WWII spy books I've been reading. However it goes to present day ... as much as could be told. It doesn't paint a pretty face of NSA ... just tells it like it was.
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