James Bamford’s book, Body of Secrets, is marketed as an inside look inside at of the nation’s most secretive intelligence gathering bodies, the National Security Agency.
And, while the NSA does play a key role in the book, it is far from the only character in the book. In fact, most of Bamford’s most potent dirt has little to nothing to do with the NSA. His revelations about Eisenhower’s duplicity, and the treasonable actions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at various times in the fifties and sixties have essentially nothing to do with the NSA. In many other instances, some of the most compelling stories in the book have little to no NSA involvement.
That’s not to say that the NSA is a very small character in this book. There are hundreds and hundreds of pages devoted to covering the NSA. However, some of those pages are also among the book’s dullest.
The stories of “moon bounce” communication networks, code-breaking, “black bag” operations, and the like make for interesting and compelling reading. Long lists of amenities available to NSA workers inside Crypto City are nothing more than that, long lists. Most people just don’t get excited reading long lists of mundane items.
While I learned plenty about decisions the government made, or didn’t make, with regards to a variety of geopolitical situations in the middle part of the Twentieth Century, I don’t feel much more knowledgeable about the NSA itself. Much of the “inside” information presented by the book felt like the kinds of information one could get simply by talking to NSA employees about generally non-classified, daily activities inside Crypto City. One good way to summarize that feeling is that I felt like I had a better chance of predicting the NSA’s cafeteria menu than I did the motives and goals of the agency and its employees.
So, while I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the USA’s covert intelligence agencies and/or the history of government actions during the fifties, sixties, and seventies, those seeking a truly inside look at the NSA should simply apply to work there.