Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War through the Dawn of a New Century

( 37 )


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 ...

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Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War through the Dawn of a New Century

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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.

2002 Finalist for The New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The National Security Agency is the biggest -- and most secretive -- intelligence agency in the world. It makes the CIA look tiny in comparison. What is it up to, and what has it already done that we don't know about? James Bamford, who first alerted us to the machinations of the NSA in his bestselling The Puzzle Palace, now offers new details about the agency's behind-the-scenes doings, including its undercover involvement in Vietnam, European economic espionage, and the chilling possibility of eavesdropping on private and personal communication here at home.
From the Publisher
“A magnificent achievement and a compelling read for anyone interested in espionage.” —The Baltimore Sun

“Extraordinary. . . . A galvanizing narrative brimming with heretofore undisclosed details.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Crisply written and prodigiously researched, Body of Secrets . . . is the most detailed picture yet of the activities of the world’s largest intelligence-gathering operation.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Part history, part expose, the book offers an ‘anatomy’ of the NSA, seeking to strip away the myth surrounding it. . . . [An] authoritative and engaging book.” –The Wall Street Journal

Body of Secrets is one fascinating book…chock-full of juicy stuff…. Interesting to read, well-written and scrupulously documented.”–Salon

“An engaging and informed history…. Bamford weaves a narrative about the NSA that includes…many heretofore undisclosed tidbits of information.”–The Nation

“James Bamford, who wrote one of the really good books about American intelligence twenty years ago…has now done it again…. Body of Secrets has something interesting and important to add to many episodes of cold war history…[and] has much to say about recent events.”–The New York Review of Books

“At times surprising, often quite troubling but always fascinating…. Writing with a flair and clarity that rivals those of the best spy novelists, Bamford has created a masterpiece of investigative reporting.”–Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Body of Secrets adds fresh material about the world’s nosiest and most secret body…. Will fascinate anyone interested in the shadow war.”–The Economist

Joseph Finder
Not only is this the definitive book on America's most secret agency, but it is also an extraordinary work of investigative journalism, a galvanizing narrative brimming with heretofore undisclosed details.
New York Times Book Review
Wall Street Journal
Part history and part expose, the book offers an anatomy of NSA, seeking to strip away the myth surrounding it...authoritative and engaging.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385499088
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/30/2002
  • Edition description: First Anchor Books Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 784
  • Sales rank: 515,215
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.33 (d)

Meet the Author

James Bamford is the author of The Puzzle Palace. Until recently, he was Washington Investigative Producer for ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Read an Excerpt


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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.

It was a troubling prospect. If a new war were to break out, the United States would once again have to start from scratch. The advances achieved against Japan's codes would be lost forever. Foreign nations would gain great advantage while the United States clung to diplomatic niceties. Standing in the vault containing the salvaged records of the old Black Chamber, Friedman told his three assistants, fresh out of college, that they were now the new Black Chamber. The Army, he said, had given its cautious approval to secretly raise the organization from the ashes, hide it deep within the bureaucracy, and rename it the Signal Intelligence Service. The State Department, they were sternly warned, was never to know of its existence.

In late June 1930, America's entire cryptologic body of secrets—personnel, equipment and records—fit comfortably in a vault twenty-five feet square.

On the southbound lane of the Baltimore—Washington Parkway, near the sleepy Maryland hamlet of Annapolis Junction, a restricted, specially constructed exit ramp disappears quickly from view. Hidden by tall earthen berms and thick trees, the ramp leads to a labyrinth of barbed-wire fences, massive boulders placed close together, motion detectors, hydraulic antitruck devices, and thick cement barriers. During alerts, commandos dressed in black paramilitary uniforms, wearing special headgear, and brandishing an assortment of weapons including Colt 9mm submachine guns, quickly respond. They are known as the "Men in Black." Telephoto surveillance cameras peer down, armed police patrol the boundaries, and bright yellow signs warn against taking any photographs or making so much as a note or a simple sketch, under the penalties of the Internal Security Act. What lies beyond is a strange and invisible city unlike any other on earth. It contains what is probably the largest body of secrets ever created.

Seventy-one years after Friedman and his three new employees gathered for the first time in their vault, with room to spare, the lineal descendant of the Black Chamber now requires an entire city to contain it. The land beyond the steel-and-cement no-man's-land is a dark and mysterious place, virtually unknown to the outside world. It is made up of more than sixty buildings: offices, warehouses, factories, laboratories, and living quarters. It is a place where tens of thousands of people work in absolute secrecy. Most will live and die without ever having told their spouses exactly what they do. By the dawn of the year 2001, the Black Chamber had become a black empire and the home to the National Security Agency, the largest, most secret, and most advanced spy organization on the planet.

Known to some as Crypto City, it is an odd and mysterious place, where even the priests and ministers have security clearances far above Top Secret, and religious services are held in an unbuggable room. "The NSA Christmas party was a big secret," recalled one former deputy director of the agency. "They held it at Cole field house but they called it something else." Officials hold such titles as Chief of Anonymity, and even the local newsletter, with its softball scores and schedules for the Ceramic Crafters Club, warns that copies "should be destroyed as soon as they have been read." Crypto City is home to the largest collection of hyperpowerful computers, advanced mathematicians, and language experts on the planet. Within the fence, time is measured by the femtosecond—one million billionth of a second—and scientists work in secret to develop computers capable of performing more than one septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) operations every second.

Nearby residents can only guess what lies beyond the forbidden exit ramp. County officials say they have no idea how many people work there, and no one will tell them. Traffic planners from the county planning department, it is said, once put a rubber traffic-counting cord across a road leading to the city, but armed guards came out and quickly sliced it. "For a long time we didn't tell anybody who we were," admitted one agency official. "The focus was not on community activity. [It was] like everyone outside the agency was the enemy."

In an effort to ease relations with its neighbors, officials from the city gave Maryland's transportation secretary, James Lighthizer, a rare tour. But the state official was less than overwhelmed. "I didn't get to see a darn thing," he said.

At a nearby gas station, owner Clifford Roop says the people traveling into and out of the city keep to themselves. "They say they work for the DoD [Department of Defense]. They don't talk about their work at all." Once, when a reporter happened into the station and began taking a few notes, two police cruisers from the secret city rushed up to the office and demanded an ID from the journalist. This was not an unusual response. When a photographer hired by real estate developers started up a hill near Crypto City to snap some shots of a future construction site, he was soon surrounded by NSA security vehicles. "They picked him up and hauled him in and asked what he was doing," said Robert R. Strott, a senior vice president at Constellation Real Estate, which was a partner in the project. During interrogation the photographer not only denied attempting to take a shot of Crypto City, he said he had never even heard of NSA. Worried that occupants of an eleven-story office building might be able to look into the city, NSA leased the entire building before it was completed.

To dampen curiosity and keep peace with the neighbors, NSA director William O. Studeman, a three-star admiral, once gave a quiet briefing to a small group of community leaders in the area. "I do this with some trepidation," he warned, "because it is the ethic of the agency—sometimes called in the vernacular the supersecret NSA—to keep a low profile." Nevertheless, he gave his listeners a brief idea of NSA's tremendous size. "We're the largest and most technical of all the [U.S. intelligence] agencies. We're the largest in terms of people and we're the largest in terms of budget....We have people not only here at NSA but there are actually more people out in the field that we have operational control over—principally military—than exist here in Maryland....The people number in the tens of thousands and the budget to operate that system is measured in the billions of dollars annually.

A decade ago, on the third floor of Operations Building 1 at the heart of the sprawling city, a standing-room-only crowd packed a hall. On stage was Frank Rowlett, in whose honor an annual award was being established. As he looked out toward the audience in the Friedman Auditorium, named after his former boss, his mind no doubt skipped back in time, back to that hot, sticky, June afternoon in 1930 when he walked into the dim vault, dressed in his white suede shoes and blue serge jacket, and first learned the secrets of the Black Chamber. How big that vault had grown, he must have marveled.

For most of the last half of the twentieth century, that burgeoning growth had one singular objective: to break the stubborn Russian cipher system and eavesdrop on that nation's most secret communications. But long before the codebreakers moved into the sterile supercomputer laboratories, clean rooms, and anechoic chambers, their hunt for the solution to that ultimate puzzle took them to dark lakebeds and through muddy swamps in the early light of the new Cold War.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
1 Memory 1
2 Sweat 7
3 Nerves 32
4 Fists 64
5 Eyes 92
6 Ears 139
7 Blood 185
8 Spine 240
9 Adrenaline 283
10 Fat 354
11 Muscle 406
12 Heart 481
13 Soul 528
14 Brain 578
Appendixes 614
Notes 622
Index 704
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 37 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 37 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2004

    Truly Pleasant Surprise

    This book was assigned for my US defense policy class, and I was expecting the typical dry defense text. I was completely surprised to find that Bamford has written a gripping spy-thriller. This book is a collection of true stories as told by former NSA operatives in personal interviews. It covers the vast span of time from the eve of World War Two to 9/11, as rudimentary military intelligence coalesced into the National Security Agency, the world's most advanced Signals Intelligence clearinghouse. Not only is the book chock-full of information on the workings of the NSA, but there are truly thrilling moments that place you at key moments in Cold War history. You can feel the decks rock during the sneak attack of the USS Liberty by Israeli warplanes in the Six Day War. The tension is palpable as the USS Pueblo is captured and boarded by North Korean forces. And the panic is intense as NSA operatives listen in on the death throes of the US embassy in Saigon. I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone with an interest in espionage or the Cold War.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2011

    Excellent for those who are intelligent.

    This book is is a very good book for those who want the unabridged truth about the capabilities and previous action of our most technologically advanced spook agency. Great history, present and future capabilities are explained in a very entertaining method.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 10, 2010

    What you didn't know

    This book covers the NSA from the beginning and gives a thorough account of the operations and methods they used. I was very interested in the content and the writing style is easy to read. The timing jumps around a little but that actually makes sense as you read it. You will learn things that you didn't know unless you are part of the intelligence community. A very secret world, sometimes not for the better.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2013

    Excellent reading

    Great book describing some of the history of NSA and containing quite detailed information of its operation, including during WWII and dark times of Cold War. I never realized there was so much to it before reading the book.

    If you ever wondered what was going on during that time, this book would be an excellent mean of going back in time and following many bright and dark moments in the life of our and other countries.

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  • Posted December 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    An eye opener for the novice and veteran, worth the time to read.

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  • Posted July 26, 2011


    Lot of research and very biased.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2010

    A thought provoking read!

    Body of Secrets prosimes (and delivers) an inside look into the history and workings of the National Security Agency (NSA or No Such Agency) In these pages the reader will have reason to applaud and cheer the NSA and question or even fear the NSA. Well documented and annotated this book is sure to be the topic of discussion wherever world politics and conspiracy theories are tossed about.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2007

    Should be manatory reading in college.

    A wonderful history of what it takes to keep this county free. This is a important book for every American citizen!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2004

    Great expose but do yourself a big favor...

    ...The print size in this paperback edition is so small that you'll need at least 15-15 vision to read it. Lesson learned: go to the bookstore and check out a book before you buy it! B&N has hardcover editions. Go for that instead.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2001


    I share the other reader's outrage at Israel's apparent murderous conduct on the crew of the USS Liberty and join others in the call for immediate, extensive and open Congressional Investigations into this 'covered up' incident. Body of Secrets is useful to anyone interested in becoming informed about, rather than intimidated by, the NSA. It is apparent from the book that both the NSA and the public have suffered from NSA's hyper secrecy, lack of oversight, lack of restraints, and in some cases lack of support (of course it is hard to support what you haven't been informed about:).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2001

    Good but not as comprehensive

    This is a broader overview of NSA but not as comprehensive as Bamford's 'The Puzzle Palace'. Perhaps the one thing more troubling than abuses documented in this book is abuses becoming more possible among the private sector with the advent of consumer-oriented 'spy gear'. One of the more disturbing elements in this book is the preoccupation of NSA with the sex lives of potential or existing employees, even down to whether a candidate has 'too much' or 'too little' sex and specifically what their preferences are. This suggests a subtle but devious intent to manipulate employees at the most base level. Another area overlooked is the role of NSA in having established contacts with Education Testing Service for exams for candidates. The implications of this are far reaching and might make one wonder how much impact NSA has on other testing mechanisms, like the SATs or computer certifications prevalent through CompTia or Sylvan prometric. Or does NSA also work through professional organizations, like NAPM ,IEEE and so on? And what is the linkage between NSA and economy, as NSA can introduce technology into the market and almost overnight render whole product types obsolete. Not enough consideration is given on how integrated NSA objectives and the telecommunications and high tech industries are or if individuals may be barred from entry into the best of these companies or industries unknowingly because of NSA ties to them. Another aspect is how NSA can be persuaded to use its tremendous powers to conduct surveillance by politicians or other agencies, such as the FBI, etc. 60 Minutes did a piece where it was discussed how NSA can skirt domestic surveillance prohibitions through reciprocal agreements with sister agencies in friendly foreign governments like Britain, Canada, Australia and more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2001

    The Price for Liberty is paid with blood.

    John Bamford's book is just another revealing story of the power of money in politics. You can expect attacks from the Pro Israeli groups. Pro Americans should begin to stand up. Enought is enought .The price in blood that was paid by the members of the crew of the USS Liberty , 8 June 1967 was too high for politicial reasons and is a stain on our country's honor. It is past time for the U.S.Congress and the President to review the truth, tell it to all Americans and review all commitments .

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2001

    Excellent research done for the book

    The book is a great work by a author that know the NSA and how operations work there. His book is an honest look at some events in history that are still in question.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2001

    Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War through the Dawn of a New Century

    This new book by James Bamford is dynamite. He does a great job at telling how the Intelligence Community works and operates. Much of this material you will not find anywhere else. This is a must read for everyone considering in being in the Intel-community.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2001

    Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War through the Dawn of a New Century

    This book is a must for those in the Intelligence Community. It describes how the NSA operates from inside the headquarters to the satellites to the listening posts all around the world. You will be amazed if at the technology at the NSA's fingertips. 'Enemy of the State' does not compare to the capability in that our government has which is mentioned in the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2001

    Bones will Surface

    You can only keep bones buried so long. Mr. Bamford quoted excerpts from my recent article in Troika on-line magazine, titled: Thirteen Days: The Real Story, which is an excerpt from a book that I wrote with my son, W. Craig Reed titled: Crazy Ivan: A True Story of Submarine Espionage. We are saying the same thing. It is time that the NSA and the CIA stop falsifying history in the name of specious national security. I worked 11 of my 20 years in the military for the NSG and the NSA. I've been down that road, and James Bamford has it right. Five Stars any day.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2001

    A real eye-opener

    This book is an astonishing volume. Particularly fascinating is the account of the attack on the USS Liberty by Israeli forces during the Six-Day War, an appalling slaughter of American servicemen. Bamford's detailed and well-documented account sheds new light on this incident, making it abundantly clear that the attack could not have been an accident. This is an excellent and eye-opening book, and I join the author in calling for a fair, non-partisan Congressional investigation of this appalling and still-unexplained American tragedy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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