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Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping Hardcover – February 15, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The secret global information network that has come together under the umbrella name "Echelon" is detailed here by Yale Law student Keefe. While Great Britain led the way in the mid-'70s, Keefe marks the U.S., Kenya, Pakistan, Singapore and many others as current participants, taking satellite pictures from 10 miles up, sending submarines to hover silently and aiming portable laser devices to pick up conversations inside rooms. All the technologies are impressive, but the burgeoning mountain of data they produce, Keefe argues, does not always prove useful. Likewise, he illustrates how compact electronics can give the opposition a large ability to deceive the Echelon network, and/or to modify their behavior when they detect that they are under surveillance. Ultimately, Keefe makes a case that electronics have not solved the ancient dilemma of deciphering the enemy's intentions (what he is actually planning) from his capabilities (all the things he could choose to do). To prove his point, Keefe cites the mass of rumor and innuendo that failed to give specific warning of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole as well as Colin Powell's U.N. proclamation that Iraq possessed nerve gas. And, Keefe says, ordinary citizens pay a substantial cost in presumed privacy, as well as in potential for abuses of confidential data. Intelligent and polemical, Keefe's study is sure to spark some political chatter of its own. Agent, Tina Bennett at Janklow & Nesbitt. (On sale Feb. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

"Secrecy is a maverick element," Keefe writes, in this critical analysis of American intelligence-gathering. His book examines the history of America's spy programs and those of its allies and—using little investigation and no classified sources—unveils much of the inner workings of the National Security Agency (a hundred satellites, thirty thousand eavesdroppers, a six-billion-dollar budget). Keefe also worries about the self-defeating effects of keeping so much from the public: secrecy might be essential to the success of spy missions, but it can also conceal privacy violations, abuses of power, and, perhaps worst of all, operational failure. Keefe writes with frustration that, facing allegations of malfeasance or incompetence, the N.S.A. or the C.I.A. will simply stonewall. "Trust us," the agency will say. "We can't tell you why you should trust us. But trust us."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First American Edition edition (February 15, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400060346
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400060344
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,362,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Patrick Radden Keefe is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine, where he has been a contributor since 2006. He is the author of THE SNAKEHEAD: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream, which was selected by numerous publications as one of the Best Books of 2009 and is currently being developed into a motion picture for director Stephen Gaghan ("Syriana"). Patrick also wrote CHATTER: Uncovering the Echelon Surveillance Network and the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping, which was a Foreign Affairs best-seller and a Boston Globe editorial pick for one of the Best Books of 2005.

A graduate of Yale Law School, Patrick is a non-practicing lawyer and a fellow at The Century Foundation, a policy think tank in Washington, DC. A former Marshall Scholar, he is also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Visit Patrick's website at:

Follow him on Twitter @praddenkeefe

And check out The Snakehead at:

And on Facebook at:

Customer Reviews

Very interesting book.
S. Skinner
The back-cover implied that this book would provide an investigation into the NSA and the intelligence community.
D. Rahmel
Once in the book however, I found that the author did not provide much of either.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By jddavis on March 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The author takes pretty complex issues,like how U.S. intelligence eavesdrops on phone calls and emails, and presents them in a fast-paced and easy to understand way. Reading the book you realize that anyone can listen to anyone these days and privacy is disappearing very quickly. Most of the book is actually about how you go about writing about somethnig that is so secret that there is no accountability to congress, not to mention the press. But what makes it a good read is that you experience that process along with the author, the frustration of trying to figure out just how much surveillance our government does and how good at it they are. For those who don't know a lot about how the U.S. listens in, this book will probably freak you out, and it might make you angry as well. Either way, you won't put it down.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By William J. Vidal on March 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Its written more like spy novel, yet it still deals honestly with the very important issues of our intelligence network. I think the author is dead on when he talks about our need for more human intelligence. He does this with numerous anecdotes, which are both interesting and very entertaining. Overall, the presentation is very well balanced without the polemic we so often hear coming out of most contemporary writers. Entertaining and a must read for anyone interested in our national defense
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Julie Stewart on March 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I was given this book by a friend and finished it in two sittings. Not only did I learn a great deal about how countries spy on other countries and even their own citizens, this book also made me think for the first time about privacy issues. To what extent should I worry about how much the government knows about me and my life?

I would recommend this book to anyone. It is a great read.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By P. Willson on February 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Good place to get started on communications intelligence -- especially in light of the Bush Admin domestic eavesdropping flap -- that makes Keefe look prescient.

The book is written in entertaining, digestible yet intelligent style, only infrequently forced or self-indulgent. His discussion of the TIA program is hysterical -- and chilling. I didn't mind the self-report/travelogue aspect since part of his purpose is to characterize various sources and 'names' in the field and show how geographically broad it is. That in turn is part of his larger goal: "Just how much of this is paranoid, and how much is reality?" He illustrates that issue and the trouble finding balance by his variably successful efforts to meet people or get information from them. (He comes off sounding like a bemused boy scout at times as he careens among disaffected spies, muck-raking journalists, conspiracy theorists, and the occasional helpful 'grown-up.')

I would have liked more on the emerging technical aspects of Comint, but as Keefe repeatedly cautions, whatever 'they' (officialdom) will let you know about their real capabilities is already ten years out of date; what you can dig up on your own is probably wildly exaggerated -- but you can't be sure. Whenever he gets close to 'state of the art' reporting, his sources worry about exposing their potential profit-margin as much as breaching security. But that's his next book, perhaps. (He also gives the impression he worried about being responsible with what he revealed.)

Recommended -- a readable book that will make you say, 'Yikes!' a couple times a chapter.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Newton Ooi on August 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is a personalized account of the author's research into government sponsored eavesdropping over the last 50 years, with an emphasis on the Echelon project run by the USA, UK, and several other allies such as Canada, Australia, etc... The sources for this book includes other books on the subject, and primary sources such as government documents, interviews with current and ex-government officials, leaks to the press, etc...

As described by the author, the Echelon project is a top-secret intelligence program composed of satellites, fiber optic cables, eavesdropping equipment, numerous supercomputers and data mining software. The supposed purpose of Echelon is to continuously scan the airwaves, phone lines, and cable lines to look for threats to the security of the nations involved, whether they be real or perceived. That means every time you talk on a cell phone or email someone, some computer in a government lab somewhere is keeping track of your conversation.

The author goes into the history of Echelon, describing those who created it, both individuals and organizations, and shows how different nations take part in it. The book also provides examples of how this system is sometimes abused, such as the government of one country obtaining information thru Echelon, and passing it to corporations based in that country to help them secure deals, contracts, and bids when competing against the corporations of other countries.

The focus of the book is one the politics, ethics, and history behind Echelon. There is very little on the science and technology. There is also minimal discussion on the laws and legal framework governing such organizations, though this might be due to the lack of laws and a legal framework. In all, this is a good book to read, especially if you are a fan of X-files, James Bond, and other government conspiracy kind of stuff.
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