From Publishers Weekly
Harris, a reporter for National Journal
, details the rise of a band of mavericks in national security and intelligence organizations that has erected an American surveillance state. In this timely and admirably balanced account, Harris focuses on the role of a handful of key figures, including Reagan-era National Security Adviser John Poindexter, as they campaigned for information technology to identify terrorists. The controversial Poindexter started the campaign after the 1983 bombing of Marine barracks in Lebanon; the mission was imbued with greater urgency after September 11; with the support of the Bush administration, the National Security Agency (NSA) acquired a research project that Poindexter had developed called Total Information Awareness that uses advanced data-mining techniques to collect mountains of data—and has trapped countless innocent citizens in the NSA's electronic nets. After the NSA's warrantless surveillance was exposed in 2005, Congress passed largely cosmetic reforms that left the surveillance state intact. Harris carefully examines how the nexus between terrorism and technology has complicated the age-old conflict between security and liberty and calls for a national debate on the issue. This informative and dramatic narrative is an excellent place to start. (Feb.)
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*Starred Review* In 1983, following a terrorist attack on U.S. Marines in Beirut, John Poindexter, a national security advisor, lamented that better surveillance and analysis could have prevented the attack. That lament resounded again on 9/11 when the “watchers”—information technologists working for the nation’s intelligence and national security services—fretted that ongoing debates about privacy versus national security continued to hamper their incredible capabilities. Between those attacks and even since then, Poindexter has worked tirelessly, in and out of government, with a band of “warrior geeks” to develop a Total Information Awareness system that can track potential terrorists. The problem is that the system also sweeps innocent U.S. citizens into its net, collecting data from phone calls and e-mails. Harris chronicles the rise and fall and revival of Poindexter (made infamous by his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal) and others, and the inherent contradictions of protecting American liberty by spying on U.S. citizens. He details the electronic tracking systems, the internecine conflicts between spy agencies, the complex of laws and regulations, and the political machinations that have resulted in the secret funding of this controversial operation. Harris sifts through a confusing array of acronyms, fascinating characters, and chilling operations to offer an absorbing look at modern spying technology and how it impacts average Americans. --Vanessa Bush