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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Authors I like: Patrick O'Brian, Frederick Forsyth, Jane Austen, John Le Carre, Alan Furst, Jon Krakauer, Ernest Hemingway.
I arrived at "The Shadow Factory" by way of listening to Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon," a fictional work whose themes include cryptanalysis and the origins of the NSA. I was hoping to learn more about the NSA overall with "The Shadow Factory." The focus of Bamford's book is the post-9/11 era and it's primarily penned as an expose' of the NSA warrantless wiretapping rather than simply an informative work of nonfiction. The tone throughout is darkly conspiratorial and I suppose as readers/listeners we are expected to be totally outraged by what is revealed in the book, namely that the NSA is sweeping up vast oceans of bits and bytes for either immediate, real-time snooping with the aid of astoundingly fast computers, or for storage for future analysis. While this does raise some sticky points of a constitutional nature, I couldn't help but think that such massive intel gathering was vulnerable to equally massive intel spamming by our enemies. i.e. What is to prevent China, Iran, Russia et al from generating relentless streams of encrypted chaff to clog the NSA's vast but ultimately finite storage capacity? But I digress.
In short, if you're the sort of guy who likes espionage fiction, mathematics, computer science, cryptology and/or history you will probably find "The Shadow Factory" an interesting glimpse into the real deal, albeit filtered through the lens of a single author whose stance toward his subject is adversarial.
I bit of a rambling history of the NSA with an obvious bias. Too often the author deviates from a "just the facts ma'am" approach to provide his own editorial. It was informative, but could have been an hour shorter easy.
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.
eveyone in america need to read this book.
how the government can bend the constutition / laws and still screw everything up. if this book is 1/2 true we the people are the ones screwed. gun conrol will never work if these people are in control.
how tax payer dollars are used to do nothing.
after read this where do we hide? after also reading "Below Eagles" by Vick Fallon I have little to expect from any government.
A very good read/listen! The only problem I have with it is; the author completely buys into the 911 story. The author does such a great job investigating other subjects; he seemed to repeat what everyone heard on Fox/CNN.
This book doesn't waste any time, nor pull any punches when it comes to getting its digs in on Bush. Enough already. We hear that in the news and from the current administration enough (it's Bush's fault).
If the author could have stuck more to factual information, instead of his political leanings, it would have been worth the credit.
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