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Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping Hardcover – February 15, 2005
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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
Top customer reviews
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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.
The author's 1st book, Keefe, Yale law student with some reviews to his credit, furnishes the background & general working plan of U.S. international surveillance carried out by CIA & NSA (20,000 & 60,000 employees respectively) with emphasis on ESCHELON, a system that - (USA in conjunction with UK via "UKUSA" agreement & "Second Parties" of Canada, Australia & New Zealand) - has enough satellites & strategically located dish antennae to intercept, decipher & store essentially all electronic communications around the globe (includes land phones, cell phones, radio and satellite communications, etc.). This info is processed through a keyword "dictionary" & linguists to help sort out messages of interest, etc.
The author details, as best known to him, location of primary satellites & major dish antennae & the vigorous efforts used to maintain secrecy of the program, detailing some who inadvertently or purposely divulged information to bring unwanted attention to surveillance activities. The book is current in its focus, noting ESCHELON was first affirmed to exist May 18, 2001 & it discusses the Patriot Act following 9/11, Al Qaeda, & lowering of the bar on obtaining FISA warrants, & notes ongoing congressional debates over excessive intrusions & invasions of privacy.
The author writes modestly well, professes not to have revealed any classified information, & certainly chose a timely subject, a current hotbed for the White House. Some same source material appears in Solove's "The Digital Person" of 2004. "Chatter" is pleonastic & tedious at times, but provides conscientious update & menology of modern-day surveillance methodologies.
Keefe agrees there should be a debate on this matter, but in the end he admits -
"On the tricky issue of line drawing, this book is designed not to be the last word but the first. I'm still not certain I know where that line between security and liberty should be. Do you?"
A good question, certainly. And I'm sure CHATTER will not be the last word on this subject. - Tim Bazzett, author of SOLDIER BOY: AT PLAY IN THE ASA