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The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency Paperback – June 8, 2010
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“This, very simply, is the most informative book ever written on the inside bureaucratic struggles and the outside operations of the National Security Agency. Matthew Aid is our reigning expert on the NSA.” ―Seymour M. Hersh, author of Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib
“NSA analysis now comprises as much as 60 percent of the president's daily intelligence briefing, and Aid provides a critical history of the agency that has the ear of the leader of the free world. A sprawling but revealing look at a powerful, shadowy agency of the American government.” ―Kirkus--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Matthew Aid is a leading intelligence historian and expert on the NSA, and a regular commentator on intelligence matters for the New York Times, the Financial Times, the National Journal, the Associated Press, CBS News, National Public Radio (NPR) and many others.
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The author cited many sources, both written and oral, which lends academic weight to what he says. However, the use of sources does not create a ponderous reading style; on the contrary, the writing was engaging and fairly easy to read.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes reading about history or espionage. Especially in light of how much the NSA is in the news today, I hope more people will read this book and get at least a small glimpse of the work done behind the scenes for the USA.
That being said this book by necessity is very much a surface treatment of a very complex institution. For example it is focused entirely on the Signals Intelligence Directorate (SID) to the exclusion of NSA's equally important Information Assurance Directorate (IAD).
Also Aid is much too kind in his discussion of NSA management over the years. For example although he mentions the NSA unplanned three day outage, but fails to mention that NSA management had been repeatedly warned that this was exactly going to happen by folks both within the agency and by outside consultants for at least two years before the event (which was a lot more the "main processing computer"). As for General Hayden's fabled "100 Days of Change", it did not hit NSA "like a tidal wave", but more like another round of meaningless rhetoric. The only tangible result was the implementation of the disastrous `Trailblazer' initiative which succeeded in squandering millions of dollars and whatever goodwill NSA had left with the congress.
So a good book within limitations that provides probably the most solid unclassified history of NSA that has yet been written.
be a little dry, but then again, how can you spice up a description of RSA encoding? But I liked it, because I like spies (REAL spies, not James Bond etc.), and I like technology (I'm a retired engineer), and the NSA is the embodiment of these two preoccupations.