Top critical review
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A tough topic, but a poor effort
on May 19, 2013
The NSA isn't an easy topic to write about. It is not an agency that normally seeks attention, and works hard to avoid publicity or disclosure of its activities. So in some sense I admire Matthew Aid for even taking a shot at a history of the NSA.
=== The Good Stuff ===
* The book is well-researched and has plenty of supporting material included. It may actually go too far, roughly a quarter of the book is notes and references.
* There are some indications of the NSA's successes. There is brief mention of Operation Ivy Bells, where an undersea cable carrying Soviet intelligence was tapped and monitored. There were also some information on the NSA's successes in cracking the encoded transmissions of other countries.
=== The Not-So-Good Stuff ===
* The author seems to have a bias against the NSA. As an example, in one case the author describes how a certain operation only "served to 'tick' off the North Vietnamese off". Well maybe so, but wasn't that the idea?
* The book doesn't discuss the lower level details of the NSA operations. There is no mention of how any of the code-breaking was done, how satellites captured radio transmissions, or any other technical details. Neither was there any high-level details of the political, strategic or tactical consequences of any NSA operations.
In fact there was nothing in the book other than a series of brief overview of NSA activities. Msjor events in the world, such as the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon receive nothing more than a few paragraphs describing that the NSA received some inkling of the attack, but were unable to convince anyone of the seriousness of the threat.
* The was little or no organization of material, other than a roughly chronological order. Successive paragraphs might discuss Bosnia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The end result was a choppy series of short narratives, with no analysis, overall discussion of successes, failures, techniques, technologies or capabilities.
=== Summary ===
There was not a whole lot of reward for reading this book. It became a tedious collection of short snippets of information about things the NSA was involved in, but no real analysis or overall look at how the NSA functions, how successful it was, or the consequences of any of its actions.
Unless you are somehow determined to read every book ever written about the NSA, I'd say this book is well worth skipping.