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

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

Written by James Bamford

Narrated by Paul Boehmer


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

Written by James Bamford

Narrated by Paul Boehmer

ratings:
4/5 (7 ratings)
Length:
20 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jul 18, 2018
ISBN:
9781977383198
Format:
Audiobook

Description

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. So sensitive was the information uncovered that the agency twice attempted to suppress the book, threatened the author with prosecution, and even raided one of the libraries he used. This is a brilliant account of the use and abuse of technological espionage.

Publisher:
Released:
Jul 18, 2018
ISBN:
9781977383198
Format:
Audiobook

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4.1
7 ratings / 5 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (3/5)
    The first book of three on the NSA, written over the years. I'm reading all three in honor of the current PRISM brouhaha. Main takeaway: the NSA is the largest, most expensive agency in government. It also has no basis in law for its existence, just a 1952 presidential executive order. And PRISM is hardly the first illegal project for the NSA. It most does illegal intercepts...
  • (4/5)
    A critical, detailed -- and the first major -- look at the National Security Agency. A classic of espionage history.
  • (3/5)
    This book, dating from 1982, is a description of the current and past activities of the US National Security Agency (NSA), the largest and most expensive of the intelligence organisations in the US but, for many, the least visible - and most protected by statute and by government. The edition I have was updated in 1983, but the changes mainly seem to concern an appendix about the case of Geoffrey Prime, a UK worker at GCHQ who was found to be a Soviet agent. It is, therefore, a somewhat dated book, and it is also written in the style one would expect of an investigative journalist. The end result is very uneven - the book is very good in parts, extremely frustrating in other ways, and incomplete in ways that may or may not have been obvious to the author at the time.The core of the book was likely to have been the information about the current (in the early 1980s) and immediate past of the NSA that the author gleaned from existing sources, many interviews and persistent use of the US Freedom of Information Act. Much of the information he gained is well-presented and well-referenced in the notes at the end of the book; we're always clear who his sources are. He has chosen to expand on this by going back to the earliest days of signals intelligence in World War I and tracing the genesis of the organisations, laws and politics that underpin these activities in the US and elsewhere (and in the case of the UK, takes the history of espionage back to Elizabethan times.) Much of this is interesting, but much seems patchy - to this reader, the portrayal of the breaking of codes in World War II is surprisingly silent on British contributions, although many of these were still classified in 1980. Some of these sections also seem somewhat slapdash - of which more later.There's also a fair amount of anecdotal tales of adventurous episodes in the book, which probably make good journalism but make this less of a decent history or description of the agency. Sometimes these episodes are useful in showing how intelligence is gathered and why and how one's opponents can frustrate this, such as the description of the fate of those gathering information in the Mediterranean at the time of the six day war. But others just feel out of place, more military reminiscence than anything else.For a book that's so meticulous about some of its facts, there are frustrating inconsistencies in the narrative, some of which show signs that the book was written in pieces over a period of time, hurriedly re-edited and re-ordered and then not checked. One example: on p121 we read of the National Security Medal awarded to Tordella , the 'highest intelligence decoration of all'. On p122 Oliver Kirby gets the 'highest civilian award of all;, the distinguished civilian service awrd. On p129, Sears receives the exceptional civilian service award, and doubts begin to creep in - surely 'exceptional' is better than 'distinguished' ? On p133 our doubts are confirmed: Mit Matthews first receives the distinguished award and, a year later, the exceptional award. The latter is clearly higher, and the statement on p122 incorrect. It may or may not be relevant that the index entries for these awards only list the appearance on p133.In the prelude, dates jump back and forth without it being apparent why. On pp32/33 we learn that intercept traffic was dropping after the war ended, being close to zero in fall 1924 and only 11 messages in all of 1926. This 'eventually' leads to a reduction in staff - in May 1923, some years before the reported drops (although there's no doubt that traffic began to fall very soon after 1918.)These shortcomings aside, the book is good, if not comprehensive, introduction to the activities of NSA, and the author clearly understood the risks the country faced in not knowing what NSA was up to and having very little legal means of controlling it. As technology advanced, many of his fears (and those of others interviewed for the book) became reality. This book gives a very clear explanation of the how the USA, a country which otherwise has effective cross-checks on all other aspects of its government and legislature, ended up in such a position.
  • (4/5)
    Amazing detail, frightening facts, difficult chronology, enlightening, is this really the world we live in, excellent narration.
  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    James Bamford,JD, lives in Natick, Massachusetts. A Private attorney specializing in investigative reporting, when Bamford was 35 he wrote The Puzzle Palace (1982). This report on the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s “most secret agency” scooped virtually all the professional journalists who were satisfied to quietly ignore the agency with a larger budget and more personnel than all other security agencies combined.Back in the 1980's the electric bill alone at the headquarters was $31 million per year. 40 tons of shredded paper per day were trucked out of the headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland, where 68,000 persons in various stages of cryptology worked.In 12/16/2005 Senator Arlen Spector, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, gave notice to Condoleeza Rice, former National Security Advisor for President Bush, and now Secretary of State, that his panel would hold hearings on NSA eavesdropping on people in the continental United States without warrants. It has become clear that Bamford’s dire predictions came true.

    1 person found this helpful