The New York Times
The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance Stateby Shane Harris
"In 1983, Admiral John Poindexter, President Reagan's national security adviser, realized that the United States might have prevented the terrorist massacre of 241 Marines in Beirut if intelligence agencies could have analyzed in real time the data they had on the attackers. Poindexter poured technical know-how and government funds into his dream - a system that… See more details below
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"In 1983, Admiral John Poindexter, President Reagan's national security adviser, realized that the United States might have prevented the terrorist massacre of 241 Marines in Beirut if intelligence agencies could have analyzed in real time the data they had on the attackers. Poindexter poured technical know-how and government funds into his dream - a system that would sift reams of information for signs of terrorist activity. Decades later, that elusive dream still captivates Washington. After 9/11, Poindexter returned to government with a controversial program, called Total Information Awareness, to detect the next attack. Today it has evolved into a secretly funded operation that can gather a trove of personal information on every American and millions of others worldwide." "Despite the billions of dollars spent on this quest since the Reagan era, we still can't discern future threats in the vast data cloud that surrounds us all. But the government can now spy on its citizens with an ease that was impossible - and illegal - just a few years ago. Drawing on unprecedented access to the people who pioneered this high-tech spy craft, Harris shows how it has moved from the province of right-wing technocrats into the mainstream, becoming a cornerstone of the Obama administration's war on terror." "Harris puts us behind the scenes where twenty-first-century spy craft was born. We witness Poindexter quietly working from the private sector to get government to buy in to his programs in the early nineties. We see an Army major agonize as he carries out an order to delete the vast database he's gathered on possible terror cells - and on thousands of innocent Americans - months before 9/11.We follow National Security Agency director Mike Hayden as he persuades the Bush administration to secretly monitor Americans based on a flawed interpretation of the law. And we see Poindexter return to government with a seemingly implausible idea: that the authorities can collect data about citizens and at the same time protect their privacy. After Congress publicly bans the Total Information Awareness program in 2003, we watch as it secretly becomes a "black program" at the NSA,then engaged in a massive surveillance of Americans' phone calls and e-mails." When the next crisis comes, our government will inevitably crack down on civil liberties, but it will be no better able to identify new dangers. This is the outcome of a dream first hatched almost three decades ago, and The Watchers is an engrossing, unnerving wake-up call.
The New York Times
"Harris displays an exquisite understanding of the intricacies of his topic and a remarkable sensitivity to the genuine concerns of the watchers and their critics.... A sharply written, wise analysis of the complex mashup of electronic sleuthing, law, policy and culture."
"The Watchers reads like a thriller, and the story is sadly on the mark in describing our limited oversight of the government's surveillance powers. The nation needs to do better, and Harris' book is rich background to that task."
-Gregory F. Treverton, Director, Center for Global Risk and Security, RAND Corporation
"This is an astonishingly detailed, well-researched narrative. It tells the story of how, over the past two decades, U.S. officials developed the capability to put together massive amounts of information about any individual they choose to watch."
-James Mann, author of Rise of the Vulcans
Explores the history of attacks against U.S. interests; terrorism and the American response to it; and the debate between freedom and security in the networked era, as well as the lack of provable results from the increase of dragnet web traffic tracking. (LJ 2/15/10)
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.60(w) x 9.68(h) x 1.31(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
This is a mistake, Erik Kleinsmith told himself as he stared at his computer screen. He’d been agonizing over his orders. He considered disobeying them. He could make copies of all the data, send them off in the mail before anyone knew what had happened. He could still delete all the copies on his hard drive, but the backups would be safe. No one could say they hadn’t tried, that they hadn’t warned people.
The earnest thirty-five-year-old army major had drawn attention to himself as the leader of an innovative, some said renegade, band of intelligence analysts. Working under the code name Able Danger, Kleinsmith’s team had compiled an enormous digital dossier on a terrorist outfit called Al Qaeda. By the spring of 2000, it totaled two and a half terabytes, equal to about one tenth of all printed pages in the Library of Congress. This was priceless information, but also an alarm—the intelligence showed that Al Qaeda had established a presence inside the United States, and signs pointed to an imminent attack.
While the graybeards of intelligence at the CIA and in the Pentagon had come up empty handed, the army wanted to find Al Qaeda’s leaders, to capture or kill them. Kleinsmith believed he could show them how. That’s where he ran into his present troubles. Rather than rely on classified intelligence databases, which were often scant on details and hopelessly fragmentary, Kleinsmith created his Al Qaeda map with data drawn from the Internet, home to a bounty of chatter and observations about terrorists and holy war. Few outside Kleinsmith’s chain of command knew what he had discovered about terrorists in America, what secrets he and his analysts had stored in their data banks. They also didn’t know that the team had collected information on thousands of American citizens—including prominent government officials and politicians— during their massive data sweeps. On the Internet, intelligence about enemies mingled with the names of innocents. Good guys and bad were all in the same mix, and there was as yet no good way to sort it all out.
Army lawyers had put him on notice: Under military regulations, Kleinsmith could store his intelligence only for ninety days. It contained references to U.S. persons, and so all of it had to go. Even the inadvertent capture of such information amounted to domestic spying. Kleinsmith could go to jail.
As he stared at his computer terminal, Kleinsmith’s stomach flipflopped at the thought of what he was about to do. This is terrible. He pulled up the relevant files on his hard drive and hit the delete key. The blueprint of global terrorism vanished into the ether.
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Shane Harris writes about electronic surveillance, intelligence, and counterterrorism for National Journal.
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