How do we protect this vast nation from attacks by lunatic terrorists!
by Charlie Leck
Book Review: Body of Secrets by James Bamford
I’ve never had the guts, until now, to read an extensive account of the devastating moments of 9-11. I’ve had James Bamford’s book, Body of Secrets, around here for a long time. I’ve picked it up a few times and flipped the pages around, but I’d always put it back on my reading stack and searched for something else. The first edition of the publication came out in early 2001, months before the 9-11 attack. The book certainly was a warning. Something like 9-11 seemed inevitable as you read along in Body of Secrets.
The edition I had was republished in 2002, months after the most gruesome day in our nation’s history. Bramford added an afterword to the book in the form of a very detailed account of the events of 9-11. He opens you up again to all the feelings of misery and mourning you first felt back then. He makes it very personal by introducing you to people involved in the crisis on that day. You’d have to be made of steel not to feel your emotions tearing at your insides.
Somehow, I had to begin with that afterword. It led me, in curiosity, into the body of the work and the question it raises: Why did all the organizations, responsible for seeing it coming, not have a clue that the attack was imminent? The book is well worth reading, but here’s the answer in a nutshell – minute by minute we pick up more information on the world’s communication systems than we can analyze.
“As tens of millions of communication continue to be vacuumed up by NSA every hour, the system has become overwhelmed as a result of too few analysts. ‘U.S. intelligence operates what is probably the largest information processing environment in the world,’ recalled former NSA director William. O. Studeman. ‘Consider this: Just one intelligence collection system alone can generate a million inputs per half-hour.’ That enormous volume, according to John Millis, the former staff director of [the] House Select Committee on Intelligence and a former CIA officer, is exactly the problem. ‘We don’t come near to processing, analyzing and disseminating the intelligence we collect right now.’ he said. ‘We’re totally out of balance.’”
Talk about “a needle in a haystack.”
Think about it! Since 9-11-2001, the communications industry has grown by about 87 percent. There are wireless and satellite communications systems nearly encircling the globe. America has big ears and listens to and records nearly all of it. Somewhere, terrorists are talking about the next attack – the next attempt to bring America to its knees. Somewhere in all those communications there are clues about where the attack is coming from and where it will take place. Only by a slim chance – by sheer luck – might we pick up that communication and defend ourselves. Realistically, we won’t hear and we won’t know and we won’t be forewarned.
Bamford’s book makes it clear that we have the biggest and the best national security and spy system in the world; yet it is not adequate and cannot sort through the mountains and mountains of information it needs to analyze in order to protect us.
You see, we are too busy funding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and we can’t be bothered about adequately funding the agencies that watch and listen for clues about future attacks.
“Body of Secrets is one fascinating book. It's a secret history of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of signals intelligence, beginning with the Cold War and continuing through the year 2000. And it's chock-full of juicy stuff: secret Cold War missions over the Soviet Union, government coverups of military debacles, eavesdropping on our friends and enemies. Stuff you have trouble imagining a civilian being able to research and publish.”
If you like all that stuff – great spy stories – as I do, you’d enjoy reading Body of Secrets by James Bramford.
It might also scare the hell out of you.
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