NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY

Overviews

A - G

Aid, Matthew M.

1. "The National Security Agency and the Cold War." Intelligence and National Security 16, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 27-66.

The focus of this article is NSA's work against its most important target -- the Soviet Union. "NSA['s] accomplishments ... were arguably the most impressive of any American intelligence organization during the Cold War."

2. "'Not So Anonymous': Parting the Veil of Secrecy About the National Security Agency." In A Culture of Secrecy: The Government Versus the People's Right to Know, ed. Athan G. Theoharis, 60-82. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998.

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."

Alvarez, David. "Trying to Make the MAGIC Last: American Diplomatic Codebreaking in the Early Cold War." Diplomatic History 31, no. 5 (Nov. 2005): 865-882.

Bamford, James. Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War through the Dawn of a New Century. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Clark comment: Bamford's second major work on NSA has brought forth the same kind of strong feelings as accompanied his earlier The Puzzle Palace (1982). Although the book is much more than a new interpretation of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, Bamford's handling of that incident has dominated much of the discussion.

Steven Aftergood, "Bamford 'Liberty' Account Repudiated," Secrecy News, 17 Jul. 2001, reports that "[k]ey aspects of ... Bamford's recent account of the 1967 Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty are being disavowed by some of his own sources." This report elicited a spirited response from the author: "Aftergood's piece was a model of poor reporting.... [He] never bothered to call me ... for any comment prior to publication. This despite the fact that we are both located in Washington and have spoken many times both in person and on the phone." Bamford's letter, dated 25 July 2001, is available at http://www.fas.org/sgp/eprint/bamford.html.

Powers, NYRB, 21 Jun. 2001, and Intelligence Wars (2004), 243-255, says that Bamford provides "a wealth of human and technical detail" in this new history of NSA. The "strengths of the book are to be found in its portrait of the NSA as an institution of staggering size and capacity....

"Bamford is a writer of stern and bracing moral judgment, generally as willing to praise as censure, but something about the Liberty incident unhinges him a little, and his account is muddied at the end by a story of the killing of a journalist on the Lebanese-Israeli border last year. The two incidents are neither related nor comparable.... Bamford should have summed up what happened to the Liberty, so troubling in so many ways, in a calmer mood....

"Bamford is particularly good on the SIGINT war in Vietnam.... But [his] stories are not confined to ancient history; he has much to say about recent events like the Gulf War of 1990-1991, which also had a SIGINT side, as do just about all episodes of international rivalry or strife."

For DeFalco, Proceedings 127.12 (Dec. 2001), Bamford's is "a truly revealing and engaging work." It is "highly readable and often engrossing" as it "recounts secret episodes that reveal much of the inner workings" of NSA. Cohen, FA 80.5 (Sep.-Oct. 2001), also views Body of Secrets as offering "much fascinating material," but adds that the author "takes a more paranoid turn when he discusses the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty." Bath, NIPQ 17.4, calls Body of Secrets "a significant addition to our knowledge" of NSA "and of cryptographic activities during the Cold War. Most assuredly it should be a key volume in any serious library of intelligence history."

To Anderson, I&NS 17.1, "this is unquestionably an important work." Bamford "expands our knowledge of NSA's present-day workings and provides extensive detail about its history and operations." On the USS Liberty controversy, his explanation "is neither satisfying nor well documented"; and his "theory is written in an emotive style that does not serve his cause." The footnotes in Body of Secrets are "cumbersome and frequently uninformative.... For a complete and annotated bibliography, readers must use <http://www.randomhouse.com/features/bamford/bib.html>."

Peake, Intelligencer 12.1, finds that this "important work" is "well-documented." It "describes what NSA does and how they do it in non technical terms," producing a "clear and comprehensive picture of the organization." An exception to the latter description "is the table of contents with its enigmatic even inscrutable chapter titles" that "are not helpful in communicating what topics the book covers."

See also, Thomas Blanton, "UMBRA GAMMA ZARF," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 58, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 2002): 62ff; Michael Oren, "Unfriendly Fire," The New Republic, 23 July 2001; and Steve Weinberg, "NSA Revisited," IRE Journal 24, no. 4 (Jul.-Aug. 2001): 29.

Bamford, James. The Puzzle Palace: A Report on America's Most Secret Agency. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982. With New Afterword. New York: Penguin, 1983. [pb] UB251U5B35

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"; but, 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 from the content of his book," 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."

Clive, Keith P. "The Battle of the Seals." Cryptologia 26, no. 2 (Apr. 2002): 103-112.

The author discusses the histories of the seals of NSA and the Central Security Service (CSS). A brief description of CSS and its Deputy Chief (the Chief is DIRNSA) is also provided.

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