NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY

2000s

Generally

Aid, Matthew M. "Prometheus Embattled: A Post-9/11 Report Card on the National Security Agency." Intelligence and National Security 21, no. 6 (Dec. 2006): 980-998. And in Strategic Intelligence, Vol. 2, The Intelligence Cycle: The Flow of Secret Information from Overseas to the Highest Councils of Government, ed. Loch K. Johnson, 41-60. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International, 2007.

Although NSA as "by far the the largest and most powerful intelligence agency within the US intelligence community..., it remains deeply troubled by a host of problems, many of its own making."

Aid, Matthew M. The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009.

Aftergood, Secrecy News, 10 Jun. 2009, finds that the author "has synthesized a tremendous amount of research into a narrative that is highly readable and sometimes gripping." The book "includes quite a bit of unfamiliar historical material, and almost any reader is likely to discover something new and interesting." The "nearly one hundred pages of endnotes, which constitute a unique finding aid to the most current archival releases, internal agency histories, and other valuable records," will make it "indispensable to researchers." However, the absence of any reference to James Bamford, who blazed the trail on research on NSA, is "strange and disconcerting."

On the other hand, Goulden, Washington Times (19 Jul. 2009) and Intelligencer 17.2 (Fall 2009), notes that much of what Aid cites in his chapter notes "are bureaucratic histories and thumbnail profiles of the persons who have run NSA over the years." The reviewer concludes that "[a] credible 'inside story' of NSA remains to be written." However, Pearlman, Military Review (Mar.-Apr. 2010), believes that "Aid's book ... should be on the reading list of every serious student of national security."

Burke, Cryptologia 34.2 (Apr. 2010), sees this book as "strongest for the years between 1945 and the 1980s," while the volume's evidence for the major intelligence events over the the past 20 years "is less compelling." Nevertheless, this "is the most complete and scholarly commercially published comprehensive history" of the NSA and "its allies' achievements and failings since the end of World War II."

For Treverton, I&NS 25.2 (Apr. 2010), this work "is the richest treatment of post-World War II SIGINT out there. It is careful and carefully documented" and "an enormous storehouse of information." However, "some description of the various forms of communication that are now available, and the challenges they pose to NSA, would have helped ... readers appreciate the Agency's successes and failures."

Aid, Matthew M. "The Time of Troubles: The US National Security Agency in the Twenty-First Century." Intelligence and National Security 15, no. 3 (Autumn 2000): 1-32. In Intelligence and National Security: The Secret World of Spies -- An Anthology, 2d ed., eds. Loch K. Johnson and James J. Wirtz, 88-105. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. In Intelligence and the National Security Strategist: Enduring Issues and Challenges, eds. Roger Z. George and Robert D. Kline, 181-206. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.

"Some of the reports concerning NSA's purported problems would appear to have missed their mark.... NSA's Sigint collection capabilities have actually improved considerably during the last decade.... NSA's most pressing problem is ... the deterioration of the Agency's Sigint processing, analysis and reporting capabilities."

Bamford, James. The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA From 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. New York: Doubleday, 2008.

Bob Kerrey, Washington Post, 12 Oct. 2008, finds this an "important and disturbing" book that is "revealing and provocative." The author's "is the sobering story of how America's Cold War national security apparatus has struggled to respond" to the "storm of changes" that occurred in the 1990s. Bamford "convincingly makes the case that our intelligence problems had little to do with the limitations imposed on the NSA or other agencies"; rather, "deep-seated divisions and rivalries among U.S. intelligence agencies helped the hijackers go undetected." Bamford's "apparent negativity toward Israel is a significant distraction," and he "is entirely too sympathetic" to the 9/11 terrorists.

For Christensen, Cryptologia 33.4 (Oct. 2009), "[b]ias is ok, but it's a bit overwhelming in this book.... [DIRNSA] Michael Hayden ... seems to be portrayed as never, never doing anything right.... The Shadow Factory raises important issues but in a way that presents no balance."

Richelson, I&NS 25.2 (Apr. 2010), also sees Hayden as "a Bamford target, sometimes quite unfairly." The author often seems to be wearing two hats -- "journalist and polemicist. As a result, in some areas his account is biased (at times exceedingly so), or incomplete, or both." The reviewer notes in particular Bamford's "distaste for the actions of the Israeli government." At times, the author's "unbalanced view is simply annoying; in other cases, it undermines his description of events." The reviewer also comments on "Bamford's intermittant sourcing."

Budiansky, Stephen. "Losing the Code War." Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 2002, 33 ff.

"[T]here is no one to blame for what is probably by far the greatest setback in recent years to American capabilities for keeping tabs on terrorists: the fact that it is now virtually impossible to break the encrypted communication systems that PCs and the Internet have made available to everyone -- including, apparently, al Qaeda.... Signals intelligence is not completely dead, of course: bad guys make mistakes; they sometimes still use the phone or radio when they need to communicate in a hurry; and a surprising amount of useful intelligence can be gleaned from analyzing communication patterns even if the content of the communications is unreadable."

Risen, James. State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. New York: Free Press, 2006.

Clark comment: This is the author's version of the war on terrorism. In part because it was preceded by the articles in the New York Times on NSA's domestic surveillance activities, the book has been causing ripples since day one of its publication.

Ensor, CNN, 4 Jan. 2006, reports that according to State of War "[s]everal U.S. agents in Iran were rounded up after the CIA mistakenly revealed clues to their identities to a covert source who turned out to be a double agent.... [W]hile confirming the mistake, knowledgeable current and former officials told CNN that the allegations that agents were lost as a result are not true.... CIA Director of Public Affairs Jennifer Millerwise Dyke issued this statement [on 3 January 2006] about Risen's book: [Excerpt] 'Readers deserve to know that every chapter of "State of War" contains serious inaccuracies. The author's reliance on anonymous sources begs the reader to trust that these are knowledgeable people. As this book demonstrates, anonymous sources are often unreliable.'"

Peake, Studies 50.3 (Sep. 2006) and Intelligencer 15.2 (Fall-Winter 2006-2007), concludes that "[w]hat we have ... is a collection of newspaper columns in book form that leaves the readers either wondering how much is true or rather satisfied that it proves the preconceived notions they have long held.... On the continuum of journalistic and societal value, State of War is less typical of the contributions of former New York Times reporter James (Scotty) Reston and more like those of author Kitty Kelly."

For Freedman, FA 85.3 (May-Jun. 2006), the author has produced "a short and at times disjointed book, packed with startling stories, a number of which appear to be true." [Clark comment: What about the others?] Risen "focuses on the 'secret history" without bothering to explain the known history that would provide context."

Shafer, Slate, 3 Jan. 2006, argues that the newspaper version of Risen's NSA surveillance story is "more accurate and disciplined" than the book version. "The fundamental difference between good book chapters and good newspaper articles boils down to this: The highest journalistic standard in New York book publishing is one of liability. 'Did we libel anybody?' At newspapers like the Times it is, 'Is it true?'"

To Prados, I&NS 23.5 (Oct. 2008), this book proved to be a "disappointment.... [It] contains nuggets of interest but does not rise to the level of a 'history,' secret or otherwise." Byman, Washington Post, 15 Jan. 2006, finds this work "fascinating and frustrating." The author "delivers a series of anecdotes that, while entertaining, often lack sufficient nuance, sourcing or context." And Risen "doesn't help readers understand the tradeoffs and constraints that policymakers and intelligence professionals face.... Good war stories, however colorful, do not make a great book."

Ratnesar, Time, 9 Jan. 2006, comments that while the book "covers ground that is broadly familiar," it also "is punctuated with a wealth of previously unreported tid bits about covert meetings, aborted CIA operations and Oval Office outbursts." The author's "reporting isn't bulletproof.... [H]e relies heavily on anonymous sources, and several anecdotes ... are attributed to a lone leaker."

Sorrells, Niels C. "Taps and Terrorism: A German Approach?" Intelligence and National Security 23, no. 2 (Apr. 2008):176-197.

"Germany's history with terrorism and domestic surveillance ... provide[s] some valuable clues about the value of widespread wiretaps. The fact that the authorities can only point to a handful of terror cases where taps have been useful, but not definitive, in breaking up terrorist schemes, makes it hard to argue that boosting the number of taps in the United States will help control terrorism."

Return to NSA 2000s Table of Contents