The Shadow Factory by James Bamford

The Shadow Factory by James BamfordThe Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America by James Bamford
Published by Doubleday Publishing/Random House (NY) on October 14th 2008
Genres: Politics, Technology
Pages: 410
Format: Audiobook

James Bamford has been the preeminent expert on the National Security Agency since his reporting revealed the agency’s existence in the 1980s. Now Bamford describes the transformation of the NSA since 9/11, as the agency increasingly turns its high-tech ears on the American public.
The Shadow Factory reconstructs how the NSA missed a chance to thwart the 9/11 hijackers and details how this mistake has led to a heightening of domestic surveillance. In disturbing detail, Bamford describes exactly how every American’s data is being mined and what is being done with it. Any reader who thinks America’s liberties are being protected by Congress will be shocked and appalled at what is revealed here.
From the Trade Paperback edition.

The Shadow Factory by James Bamford is a history of the National Security Agency – one of the most secrecy-bound American intelligence agencies in history, at least until recent years. In addition to the technical and scientific history, it examines the politics and the pitfalls faced by the agency throughout the year. Written in 2008, it provides factual and interesting information up to that point, but predates the leaks by Edward Snowden in the past few years.

This book is definitely written from a neutral, bordering on sympathetic point of view, and as someone who has an interest in internet privacy, and freedom, I found this rather aggravating. A large portion of the book is devoted to the approval, and conduct of the warrantless wiretapping, and general internet snooping which was first approved under the George W Bush administration.

The reality is that this book should terrify anyone with any kind of interest in privacy, and is concerned about government overreach. It is difficult to come away from reading this book without a sense of the grand scale of the systems which have been built to monitor and spy on everyone… the only apparent difficulty – as the author thoughtfully takes great pains to point out – is the technical limitations on storage and processing power

The book is not limited to the NSA, and explores the relationship between the Five Eyes nations, and how pervasive the spying technology has become. If the author seems offended by anything, it is that much of this technology has been outsourced to private companies, many of which have ties to foreign countries. That would not have been the thing I was most worried about, but that’s why the author’s position felt compromised to me.

This is a very comprehensive look at how government agencies have been set up to surveil its citizens unapologetically in the name of national security, but largely fails to present justification – other than the party line. It also mirrors the largely ambivalent attitude that the world at large has had towards the Snowden leaks, but perhaps people aren’t annoyed about it as I am.

The Shadow Factory is well-researched, and makes excellent use of sources, and very educational and disturbing book that should be read with a grain of salt.

Rating Report
Overall: four-stars

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