brothke writes "The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America is the third of James Bamford's trilogy. Bamford started this with The Puzzle Palace in 1982 and Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency in 2001. The Shadow Factory is likely the last book Bamford will find the NSA cooperative to, given his often harsh treatment of the agency and its directors. It is also doubtful that former NSA Director Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden will grant Bamford additional dinner invitations, given his portrayal of Hayden as a weakling who could not stand up to Dick Cheney and other in the Bush administration." Read below for the rest of Ben's review.The book can be summed up with two basic themes: The top management of the NSA and CIA has not made the fundamental changes needed post 9/11, as the politicking and inter-agency squabbles are seemingly alive and well. Bamford's other premise continues to be his contempt towards Israel.
|The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America|
|rating||When sticking to facts: 9. When digressing: 2|
|summary||Good overview of the NSA post-9/11, but some of the author's biases get in the way|
Often bands produce abysmal releases in order to fulfill contractual requirements. In some ways, The Shadow Factory is reminiscent of that; at almost half the size of Body of Secrets, and 2/3 the size of The Puzzle Palace. When the book sticks to the facts and avoids conspiracy theories, it is a fascinating read.
If nothing else, Bamford knows how to turn often mundane aspects of wiretapping and supercomputers into a gripping read. Divided into five interwoven sections, the book starts out with a fascinating account of how two of the 9/11 hijackers lived the American dream, all the while planning their devious acts. Had there been some semblance of interagency cooperation and shared databases, Khalid Al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi would have been identified in seconds.
Not only that, in the book, Bamford writes that many of the 9/11 terrorists set-up shop within miles of the NSA headquarters in Maryland, communicated with their counterparts in the Middle East, at the same time the NSA was searching the world over for them. Bamford makes the NSA seem like the keystone cops searching for these terrorists, while they were literally a par 5 away.
A number of the chapters details the Bush administration forays into its illegal wiretapping adventures and how Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card manipulated a sick and barely lucid Attorney General John Ashcroft into signing on to the program.
It has long been known that Bamford has no love lost for Israel. His previous books have incorrectly written of the details around Israel's attack of the Liberty, a US Navy technical research ship, which was sailing in the Mediterranean Sea during the Six-Day War.
The book details how Israeli high-tech data mining and surveillance companies such as Comverse, Verint, NICE and more have become indispensable to the US intelligence community. Bamford asserts that the vast majority of surveillance of telephone transmissions are done via technology from Israeli companies. He then makes the jump that the American intelligence community is placing itself as risk and that the Israeli companies will access this same information.
Such conspiracy theories are tired and old. For the longest time, there were claims that every Check Point FireWall-1 had a backdoor which the Mosad could tap into. Some years ago, the NSA even sent out a memo denying that fact, as it was getting in the way of firewall deployments at the agency.
As to Bamford's assertion of Israeli control of American intelligence, it makes great fodder for the conspiracy theory community, but lacks any sort of real evidence. What Bamford does is show that many of the founders of these companies are graduates of programs from the Israeli military, served in the same intelligence corps unit and therefore, guilty by some sort of association.
Irrespective of Bamford's deep hostility towards Israel, there is not the slightest indication that the American intelligence community was forced to purchase these Israeli products. They purchased these due to their superior capabilities produced by one of its closest allies. What Bamford fails to mention, is that Israeli and US intelligence groups have a long history of mutual cooperation. Much of the US success in its war against terror and monitoring of Iran are only due to help from Israel.
If the Shadow Factory is meant to be a critique of the NSA, then Bamford's unsubstantiated allegations about Israel and the Mosad show the agency to be a bastion of utter incompetency. Irrespective of problems with management at the NSA, it is utterly incredulous that the Mosad could single-handedly undermine the entire US intelligence effort, filling it with back doors and secret agents.
Bamford seems to be confused on his approach to the NSA. On one side, the NSA are the smartest guys in the room, successfully, surreptitiously and often illegally monitoring nearly every telephone call on the planet. They push supercomputers to the envelope and optimize ever CPU cycle. Yet simultaneously, these smart guys are simply pawns of a small group of Israeli intelligence agents who have managed to develop and get their software on various NSA projects.
In his review of the book in the New York Times, Christopher Dickey sums it up best when he writes of Bamford's habit of such conspiracy theories that "it's a fair bet that Bamford will find a way to work the bloodbath at the Taj Mahal hotel into the long NSA narrative that he began with "The Puzzle Palace" in 1982, followed up with "Body of Secrets" in 2001, and may well continue with paperback updates and further sequels after the present book. These are the kinds of details, or coincidences, that Bamford loves. In "The Shadow Factory" he piles one on top of another — events, addresses, room numbers — in a slapped-together text that often blends facts with speculation to evoke a pervasive atmosphere of conspiracy".
When Bamford is able to stick to the facts, which is about 2/3 of the book, he paints a frightening picture of the threats that the US is facing. Equally frightening was the response of the Bush administrations to the threats and attacks, which in some cases turned mince meat out of the Constitution. Bamford writes of Dick Cheney's attempt to give the President significant more control, while ignoring the need for separation of powers. There are many other such instances in the book. Yet when Bamford takes off his hat of reason and attempts to connect invisible dots, Christopher Dickey's observation should be kept in mind.
Seemingly on the brink of failure, the events of 9/11 recycled the NSA. For the astute reader who is able to discern between fact and fiction, The Shadow Factory is a fascinating read into an agency that still exists in the shadows. With a budget larger than the GDP of some countries, and a workforce that spans the globe, the NSA has long existed and thrived in the shadows that Bamford often describes so well.
Ben Rothke is the author of Computer Security: 20 Things Every Employee Should Know.
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