How James Bamford Came to Write The Puzzle Palace

Interesting essay about James Bamford and his efforts to publish The Puzzle Palace over the NSA's objections. Required reading for those who think the NSA's excesses are somehow new.

Posted on October 13, 2014 at 6:55 AM • 14 Comments

Comments

RGP SecurityOctober 13, 2014 7:33 AM

Very good point. The US has been reluctant to empower an intelligence elite that moves outside of the checks and balances that apply to the three branches of our government. That is why we have the President's Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB), with its Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB), and the Senate Intelligence Committee. No one wants a rogue organization that sits above the three branches of our successful system. No one wants a man-in-the-middle who sits between every branch and between every person talking to another person in the whole nation.

No one wants such an organization making foolish decisions that undermine the country. One such example is giving raw SIGINT to a foreign country. So it looks like the NSA gives raw info about Americans to foreign governments. Now foreign governments have immense power to effect elections. Can you imagine what kind of leverage a foreign government could have if it knew about the personal lives of Senators, Representatives, Congressional candidates, and even Presidential candidates? This is a clear example of excess that undermines the country while serving the self-interest of personnel in the NSA. That circus needs to come to an end.

AlanSOctober 13, 2014 7:55 AM

Tangential.

"It was July 8, 1981, a broiling Wednesday in Harvard Square, and I was in a quiet corner of the Algiers Coffee House on Brattle Street. A cool, souk-like basement room, with the piney aroma of frankincense, it made for a perfect hideout to sort through documents, jot down notes, and pore over stacks of newspapers while sipping bottomless cups of Arabic coffee and espresso the color of dark chocolate."

I used to go to Algiers towards the end of the 1980s. It was just as he describes it, "A cool, souk-like basement room, with the piney aroma of frankincense". It was never very busy and many of the people down there did seem like shady characters who were hiding out. Then the building was renovated and the shop moved upstairs and it just wasn't the same. The atmosphere was gone.

Bob S.October 13, 2014 8:15 AM

Scary stuff:

"More than three decades later, the NSA, like a mom-and-pop operation that has exploded into a global industry, now employs sweeping powers of surveillance that Frank Church could scarcely have imagined in the days of wired phones and clunky typewriters.

At the same time, the Senate intelligence committee he once chaired has done an about face, protecting the agencies from the public rather than the public from the agencies.~J. Bamford

Yet, predictable.

No?

AlanSOctober 13, 2014 8:23 AM

More Déjà vu. This from a staffer on the Church Committee writing in the CIA's Studies in Intelligence - Winter 1999-2000: Unlucky SHAMROCK: Recollections from the Church Committee's Investigation of NSA.

Towards the end the author wonders whether he'd: ""poisoned the well" in terms of future cooperation with the private sector" but then concludes with the following:

"I also came to think that the investigation, in the long term, had a beneficial effect on NSA. With no desire to undergo another such experience, NSA adopted very stringent rules in the wake of the Church Committee to ensure that its operations were carried out in accordance with applicable law. Where the communications of US citizens were concerned, I can attest from my personal experience that NSA has been especially scrupulous. As upsetting and demoralizing as the Church Committee's investigation undoubtedly was, it caused NSA to institute a system which keeps it within the bounds of US law and focused on its essential mission. Twenty-three years later, I still take some satisfaction from that."

AdjuvantOctober 13, 2014 10:43 AM

@AlanS
I never experienced the old Algiers, but when tempted to visit the new one after evening showings at the Brattle Theater, I found it chiefly notable for its obscenely inflated prices and indifferent service. To be fair, it's been a while...

zandy_flange_hangarOctober 13, 2014 12:33 PM

RGP Security,

What are you on about now?

The NSA has the blessing of every one of the "checks and balances" to go outside the law. There is no law.

AlanSOctober 13, 2014 3:18 PM

@Adjuvant

I have no idea what it is like now. I only visited it once after it reopened in its new location. It was one of many changes in what amounted to the mallification of the Square.

albertOctober 13, 2014 3:38 PM

@AlanS, others
.
1975, almost 40 years ago. Different times, different generation. Perhaps there was still a thread of morality left in the public service sector. Folks who actually believed in 'doing the right thing', and that accountability and oversight were not only necessary, but absolute requirements for a functional government.
.
1. "We have met the enemy, and he is us." - Pogo
.
2. "We're in the same boat, brother, we're in the same boat, brother, and if ya' shake one end, you gonna rock the other, it's the same boat brother..." - Lead Belly
.
I gotta go...

Bob TOctober 13, 2014 4:12 PM

@albert

The problem is that there is no shame anymore. Not just in public service, but anywhere. We have a very immature society now that is run by selfish children. Children choosing sides by who's popular to their group rather than who has honor and character about them. No adults minding the shop.

SmokingHotOctober 14, 2014 10:46 AM

Good article.

I was unaware of Bamford's story, it was interesting to hear. (I find the NSA appallingly dull, these recent revelations not withstanding.)

This spiced it up a bit, gives the reader some insight into who that guy is, and what information he used to put into his books.

anonOctober 14, 2014 12:48 PM

I heard a rumor that shortly after the book came out (and maybe still today?), that the TLAs were asking libraries for the names of patrons who borrowed it.

Puzzled?October 14, 2014 2:42 PM

For the second time, when I clicked on the essay link, my security software popped up dialog indicating it detected an attempt to reach an unsafe site, this time at 176.32.101.82.

I have only gotten such warnings less than a half-dozen times in the past year.

The essay link is for

https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/10/02/the-nsa-and-me/

which I have viewed without problems, before this web log posting.

The IP is for amazon-EU-IAD-PROD in Dublin Ireland.

Hmmm...

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