The Puzzle Palace: A Report on America's Most Secret Agency

The Puzzle Palace: A Report on America's Most Secret Agency

by James Bamford


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140067484
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/29/1983
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 656
Sales rank: 468,118
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

James Bamford's The Puzzle Palace was a national bestseller when it was first published and now regarded as a classic. He was until recently Washington Investigative Producer for ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and has written investigative cover stories for the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine.

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"There have been glimpses inside the NSA before, but until now no one has published a comprehensive and detailed report on the agency. . . Mr. Bamford has emerged with everything except the combination to the director's safe." —The New York Times Book Review

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The Puzzle Palace: A Report on America's Most Secret Agency 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
RandyStafford on LibraryThing 1 days ago
A critical, detailed -- and the first major -- look at the National Security Agency. A classic of espionage history.
kevinashley on LibraryThing 1 days ago
This book, dating from 1982, is a description of the current and past activities of the US National Security Agency (NSA), the largest and most expensive of the intelligence organisations in the US but, for many, the least visible - and most protected by statute and by government. The edition I have was updated in 1983, but the changes mainly seem to concern an appendix about the case of Geoffrey Prime, a UK worker at GCHQ who was found to be a Soviet agent. It is, therefore, a somewhat dated book, and it is also written in the style one would expect of an investigative journalist. The end result is very uneven - the book is very good in parts, extremely frustrating in other ways, and incomplete in ways that may or may not have been obvious to the author at the time.The core of the book was likely to have been the information about the current (in the early 1980s) and immediate past of the NSA that the author gleaned from existing sources, many interviews and persistent use of the US Freedom of Information Act. Much of the information he gained is well-presented and well-referenced in the notes at the end of the book; we're always clear who his sources are. He has chosen to expand on this by going back to the earliest days of signals intelligence in World War I and tracing the genesis of the organisations, laws and politics that underpin these activities in the US and elsewhere (and in the case of the UK, takes the history of espionage back to Elizabethan times.) Much of this is interesting, but much seems patchy - to this reader, the portrayal of the breaking of codes in World War II is surprisingly silent on British contributions, although many of these were still classified in 1980. Some of these sections also seem somewhat slapdash - of which more later.There's also a fair amount of anecdotal tales of adventurous episodes in the book, which probably make good journalism but make this less of a decent history or description of the agency. Sometimes these episodes are useful in showing how intelligence is gathered and why and how one's opponents can frustrate this, such as the description of the fate of those gathering information in the Mediterranean at the time of the six day war. But others just feel out of place, more military reminiscence than anything else.For a book that's so meticulous about some of its facts, there are frustrating inconsistencies in the narrative, some of which show signs that the book was written in pieces over a period of time, hurriedly re-edited and re-ordered and then not checked. One example: on p121 we read of the National Security Medal awarded to Tordella , the 'highest intelligence decoration of all'. On p122 Oliver Kirby gets the 'highest civilian award of all;, the distinguished civilian service awrd. On p129, Sears receives the exceptional civilian service award, and doubts begin to creep in - surely 'exceptional' is better than 'distinguished' ? On p133 our doubts are confirmed: Mit Matthews first receives the distinguished award and, a year later, the exceptional award. The latter is clearly higher, and the statement on p122 incorrect. It may or may not be relevant that the index entries for these awards only list the appearance on p133.In the prelude, dates jump back and forth without it being apparent why. On pp32/33 we learn that intercept traffic was dropping after the war ended, being close to zero in fall 1924 and only 11 messages in all of 1926. This 'eventually' leads to a reduction in staff - in May 1923, some years before the reported drops (although there's no doubt that traffic began to fall very soon after 1918.)These shortcomings aside, the book is good, if not comprehensive, introduction to the activities of NSA, and the author clearly understood the risks the country faced in not knowing what NSA was up to and having very little legal means of controlling it. As technology advanced, many of his fears (and those of others interviewed for the book) became reality. This b
keylawk on LibraryThing 3 months ago
James Bamford,JD, lives in Natick, Massachusetts. A Private attorney specializing in investigative reporting, when Bamford was 35 he wrote The Puzzle Palace (1982). This report on the National Security Agency (NSA), America¿s ¿most secret agency¿ scooped virtually all the professional journalists who were satisfied to quietly ignore the agency with a larger budget and more personnel than all other security agencies combined.Back in the 1980's the electric bill alone at the headquarters was $31 million per year. 40 tons of shredded paper per day were trucked out of the headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland, where 68,000 persons in various stages of cryptology worked.In 12/16/2005 Senator Arlen Spector, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, gave notice to Condoleeza Rice, former National Security Advisor for President Bush, and now Secretary of State, that his panel would hold hearings on NSA eavesdropping on people in the continental United States without warrants. It has become clear that Bamford¿s dire predictions came true.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
When you read a book like this you are looking for exciting tidbits of security & espionage operations ( well, I am ) In this book those stories are there but they are few and far between. Most of the book reads like a Corporation Directory listing of personnel. That said, there is one great chapter about the relationship between govt & Academia; as well as an illuminating surmise of what is going on with commercial cryptography.( Public & Private key technology) If you are a web master or system guru, it will leave you nonplussed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At one time, NSA had employees sign an agreement that they would not break any laws in their community in their personal life.This is significant because does this mean it is o.k. to break the law while performing a job in NSA? Also this book seems to downplay the role of NSA in the private sector and how much pull it has in affecting the personnel makeup of private companies through its financial clout in awarding contracts or its ability to secure obedience through security requirements.One of the most disturbing aspects in this book is how NSA recruits new employees but also how this employment might affect thse employees later on. Once someone has joined NSA, is it impossible to leave without being destroyed personally or professionally? 60 Minutes recently did a story on how NSA and other govt agencies outsource surveillance services on US citizens to skirt provisions banning domestic surveillance,often times at the behest of the President or other high ranking govt officials. Despite these concerns, NSA must do a lot of good work that basically goes unrecognized because of the inherent secrecy of the agency.It must be very frustrating for this agency and other agencies that depend on veil of secrecy to be protecting while distrusted simultaneously.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book does a good job of mentioning the positives but not the negatives. For example: 1) preoccupation by the agency towards a prospective recruit's sexual preferences and tendencies to an extreme degree, 2) the capacity for domestic surveillance of US citizens unchecked and for hidden agendas, 3) extralegal, or above the law status by individuals with little or no oversight even by Congress-- the possibility that NSA sets agendas irrespective of public consensus? 4) the effect employ with such an agency has on those who work for it and the deceptive tactics used to recruit people to work for them, and 5) Does NSA help shape political and other outcomes through its controls over its employees and associates and through its economic and protective clout with the private sector?