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Louis Untermeyer

The Puzzle Palace
Inside the National Security Agency, America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization

By James Bamford
Penguin Books, 655 pp, 1983

This book probably created quite a stir when it was released in the early 1983s. It chronicled blatantly illegal government activities dating back to the World War I, like intercepting private correspondence and domestic phone calls. All done in the name of national security, of course.

Such revelations seem rather tame today. In fact, anyone who reads Tom Clancy's books already know much of what's in this book, and wouldn't be too surprised by anything they didn't know.

The National Security Agency (NSA) is indeed America's largest intelligence organization. It has the technology to eavesdrop on virtually all domestic and foreign communications, using various high-tech methods I won't and can't explain right now. Author James Bamford describes all this in sometimes mind-numbing detail, which is the main fault of the book. Often, the detail is boring and, twenty years later, undoubtedly out of date.

If you want to know how the NSA got its start, how it was organized as of the late 1970s, how it does the things it does, who all the directors were, what were some of the major issues and crises the agency has faced, how it has interacted with Congress, why Israel attacked one of its ships during the Six Days' War, who some of its traitors were, how it relates and cooperates with friendly foreign governments, and the role it played in America's wars, then read this book. For the most part, it's interesting and informative. Just treat it as a history book, because I am sure the NSA no longer uses cutting-edge, 1970s technology, and probably changed its structure, as well.

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