The National Security Agency is the world's most powerful, most far-reaching espionage. Now with a new afterword describing the security lapses that preceded the attacks of September 11, 2001, Body of Secrets takes us to the inner sanctum of America's spy world. In the follow-up to his bestselling Puzzle Palace, James Banford reveals the NSA's hidden role in the most volatile world events of the past, and its desperate scramble to meet the frightening challenges of today and tomorrow.
Here is a scrupulously documented account-much of which is based on unprecedented access to previously undisclosed documents-of the agency's tireless hunt for intelligence on enemies and allies alike. Body of secrets is a riveting analysis of this most clandestine of agencies, a major work of history and investigative journalism.
The National Security Agency (NSA), writes Bamford, has made the United States an "eavesdropping superpower," capable of capturing, deciphering and analyzing "signal intelligence"communicationsin whatever form it may exist and from whatever nation it may be transmitted. Yet with a budget ($4 billion a year) and staff (numbering in the tens of thousands) that dwarf its more famous cousin, the CIA, and with a headquarters, known as "Crypto City," that is its own self-contained community, little is known of NSA among the public and, more troublingly, even within other parts of government. Uncovering the secrets of NSA, its history and operations, has become Bamford's life's work, first begun in his now classic The Puzzle Palace (1982) and continued in this significantly revised and expanded present volume. With remarkable access to highly sensitive documents and information, Bamford takes the reader from the beginnings of NSA during the early cold war, through its roles in such watershed events as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, to the amazingly sophisticated developments in information technology taking place within NSA today. What Bamford discovers is at times surprising, often quite troubling but always fascinating. In his conclusion, he is at once awed and deeply disturbed by what NSA can now do: ever more sophisticated surveillance techniques can mean ever greater assaults on the basic right of individual privacy. In a computer system that can store five trillion pages of text, anyone and everyone can be monitored. Writing with a flair and clarity that rivals those of the best spy novelists, Bamford has created a masterpiece of investigative reporting. (On-sale date: Apr. 24)Forecast: Bamford will be doing national media, including NBC's Today show and NPR's Fresh Air. This is the stuff spy thrillers are made from: The Puzzle Palace was a bestseller, and this will be, too.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 29, 2002
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Excerpt from Body of Secrets by James Bamford
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His step had an unusual urgency to it. Not fast, but anxious, like a child heading out to recess who had been warned not to run. It was late morning and the warm, still air had turned heavy with moisture, causing others on the long hallway to walk with a slow shuffle, a sort of somber march. In June 1930, the boxy, sprawling Munitions Building, near the Washington Monument, was a study in monotony. Endless corridors connecting to endless corridors. Walls a shade of green common to bad cheese and fruit. Forests of oak desks separated down the middle by rows of tall columns, like concrete redwoods, each with a number designating a particular workspace.
Oddly, he made a sudden left turn into a nearly deserted wing. It was lined with closed doors containing dim, opaque windows and empty name holders. Where was he going, they wondered, attempting to keep up with him as beads of perspiration wetted their brows. At thirty-eight years old, the Russian-born William Frederick Friedman had spent most of his adult life studying, practicing, defining the black art of codebreaking. The year before, he had been appointed the chief and sole employee of a secret new Army organization responsible for analyzing and cracking foreign codes and ciphers. Now, at last, his one-man Signal Intelligence Service actually had employees, three of them, who were attempting to keep pace close behind.
Halfway down the hall Friedman turned right into Room 3416, a small office containing a massive black vault, the kind found in large banks. Reaching into his inside coat pocket, he removed a small card. Then, standing in front of the thick round combination dial to block the view, he began twisting the dial back and forth. Seconds later he yanked up the silver bolt and slowly pulled open the heavy door, only to reveal another wall of steel behind it. This time he removed a key from his trouser pocket and turned it in the lock, swinging aside the second door to reveal an interior as dark as a midnight lunar eclipse.
Disappearing into the void, he drew out a small box of matches and lit one. The gentle flame seemed to soften the hard lines of his face: the bony cheeks; the pursed, pencil-thin lips; the narrow mustache, as straight as a ruler; and the wisps of receding hair combed back tight against his scalp. Standing outside the vault were his three young hires. Now it was time to tell them the secret. Friedman yanked on the dangling cord attached to an overhead lightbulb, switched on a nearby fan to circulate the hot, stale air, and invited them in. "Welcome, gentlemen," he said solemnly, "to the secret archives of the American Black Chamber."
Until a few weeks before, none of the new recruits had had even the slightest idea what codebreaking was. Frank B. Rowlett stood next to a filing cabinet in full plumage: blue serge jacket, white pinstriped trousers, and a virgin pair of white suede shoes. Beefy and round-faced, with rimless glasses, he felt proud that he had luckily decided to wear his new wardrobe on this day. A high school teacher from rural southern Virginia, he received a degree in math the year earlier from Emory and Henry College, a small Virginia school.
The two men standing near Rowlett were a vision of contrasts. Short, bespectacled Abraham Sinkov; Brooklynite Solomon Kullback, tall and husky. Both were high school teachers from New York, both were graduates of City College in New York, and both had received master's degrees from Columbia.
Like a sorcerer instructing his disciples on the mystic path to eternal life, Friedman began his introduction into the shadowy history of American cryptology. In hushed tones he told his young employees about the Black Chamber, America's first civilian codebreaking organization. How for a decade it operated in utmost secrecy from a brownstone in New York City. How it skillfully decoded more than 10,000 messages from nearly two dozen nations, including those in difficult Japanese diplomatic code. How it played the key role in deciphering messages to and from the delegates to the post?"World War I disarmament talks, thus giving the American delegation the inside track. He told of Herbert Osborne Yardley, the Black Chamber's hard-drinking, poker-playing chief, who had directed the Army's cryptanalytic activities during the war.
Then he related the story of the Chamber's demise eight months earlier. How the newly appointed secretary of state, Henry Stimson, had become outraged and ordered its immediate closing when he discovered that America was eavesdropping on friends as well as foes. Friedman told of the firing of Yardley and the rest of the Chamber's employees and of how the government had naively taken itself out of the codebreaking business.