Today's National Security Agency is the largest, most costly, and most technologically advanced spy organization the world has ever known. It is also the most intrusive, secretly filtering millions of phone calls and e-mails an hour in the United States and around the world. Half a million people live on its watch list, and the number grows by the thousands every month. Has America become a surveillance state?
In The Shadow Factory, James Bamford, the foremost expert on National Security Agency, charts its transformation since 9/11, as the legendary code breakers turned their ears away from outside enemies, such as the Soviet Union, and inward to enemies whose communications increasingly crisscross America.
Fast-paced and riveting, The Shadow Factory is about a world unseen by Americans without the highest security clearances. But it is a world in which even their most intimate whispers may no longer be private.
©2008 James Bamford; (P)2008 Books on Tape
By chance, I read this book and In the Plex (a Google biography) one after the other. It made for an interesting side-by-side. Both have massive data storage facilities and, in their different ways, brilliantly make sense of mountains of data. Both kinda creep us out. When I type “what sound does a g…,” google auto fills “giraffe make” – nailing what I was going to query. And when the NSA snags a 6 second audio clip of a most wanted terrorist in a jeep in a remote part of the desert thousands of miles away, Bamford tells us how the NSA/CIA not only IDs him, but destroys his jeep with a hellfire missile within 40 minutes.
The first quarter of the book pre-dates NSA’s big data days. It details the 9/11 hijacker’s movements within the United States just prior to the attack, while telling the parallel story of NSA’s intelligence gathering and communication failures with the FBI/CIA.
The second part of the book deals with NSA’s growth post-9/11 and its gathering of massive amounts of data on citizens and non-citizens. Politics aside, I was interested in the nuts and bolts of how the NSA captures the data.
The third part explores NSA’s growing reliance on government contractors, including several Israeli ex-military types that apparently concern James Bamford.
I’m trying to make sense of the big data world we find ourselves in and the commercial and government titans who are figuring out how to wield it. This book was a helpful piece of the puzzle.
The IRS lost Lerner's emails? Why doesn't congress just get them from the NSA? They have stored every email sent in modern history - and they'll record and save this review.
America needs to wake up and realize that our elections mean nothing if all these bureaucratic entities, that report only to the president, can control us, while congress sits idly by and does nothing.
We The People need to decide if we're to be subjects, or citizens whose elected politicians report to us, and whose unelected bureaucrats report to us via congress.
This is a great book for those interested in information security and cyber-warfare. The narrator is easy on the ears but does pronounce some of tech jargon wrong at times. I did find the section about the hearings boring but relevant to the story. Some of the topics seem to meander off but are quickly tied back in later to how the NSA works and deals with issues. Great insight on the hiring practices.
mostly nonfiction listener
The Shadow Factory takes us on a behind the scenes tour of the NSA and the development of what Bamford calls "The Surveillance Industrial Complex" following 9/11.
I read this book less from a perspective of worry about government intrusion or even national security - but more from a desire to understand the technology that the NSA utilizes to manage such large volumes of data.
What the NSA does in terms of data storage, analysis, capture etc. is truly next generation. After 9/11 - the NSA became an IT organization with a blank check to throw as much hardware, software and folks at a technical problem as it needed. Can you imagine if we had those resources to throw technology at education.
Sure...the story of the Bush's administrations warrant-less wiretapping is scary. I'm grateful that he tells this story and exposes this dirty side of our history.
Tis me... that's all...
Story is very interesting. Bamford has access to info / insights that are rare for an outsider of the Intel community (hmmm) and this book is put together fairly well.
The reader constantly mispronounces company names (like pronouncing Booz in Booz Allen like Bozo vs. Booze) also says some technical acronyms/terms in ways that are just off. Those things happened more than a handful of times and takes away from his overall decent performance.
The amount of information in this book and the way it was woven together gave excellent context to the operations, methods and tactics of the NSA. I am a bit concerned this book may be TOO open about this content, not sure someone from the government cleared the content for release.
How the NSA collects, analyzes, and uses everyone's information
Covered quite a bit of ground on NSA policy and methods, only thing that would have improved it would be a stronger central narrative. The book seemed more like several disjointed encyclopedia entries.
Total information awareness.
Any time they talked about how much data the NSA collects and stores.
He has a great voice with a consistent tone, easy reading style, and clear narration. He definitely mispronounces some technical terms a few times and spells out organization names that should just be said (DARPA for instance), but that didn't bug me much.
How hard wired the NSA is in to the world's communication networks. They're drilled down to the marrow of the systems, and I don't think they'd ever be removed.
"complex and thorough"
This book discusses the NSAs eavesdropping programs in great detail across a wide time range in recent American history. There is a lot of detail, though I myself struggled a little with the large volume of names and locations, especially given that I am not based in America, and am not familiar with American politics.
For anyone with some basic understanding of this topic but interested in learning more, I think this would be a great resource. Others however may at times find it a little difficult to follow.
Overall i would however recommend this title.
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