James Bamford

A - L

Bamford, James. "America's Supersecret Eyes in Space." New York Times Magazine, 13 Jan. 1985, 39 ff. [Petersen]


Bamford, James. "Big Brother Is Listening." Washington Post Magazine, 4 Dec. 1983, 34-35. [Petersen]


Bamford, James. Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency from the Cold War through the Dawn of a New Century. New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Clark comment: Bamford's second major work on NSA has brought forth the same kind of strong feelings as accompanied his earlier The Puzzle Palace (1982). Although the book is much more than a new interpretation of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, Bamford's handling of that incident has dominated much of the discussion.

Steven Aftergood, "Bamford 'Liberty' Account Repudiated," Secrecy News, 17 Jul. 2001, reports that "[k]ey aspects of ... Bamford's recent account of the 1967 Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty are being disavowed by some of his own sources." This report elicited a spirited response from the author: "Aftergood's piece was a model of poor reporting.... [He] never bothered to call me ... for any comment prior to publication. This despite the fact that we are both located in Washington and have spoken many times both in person and on the phone." Bamford's letter, dated 25 July 2001, is available at http://www.fas.org/sgp/eprint/bamford.html.

Powers, NYRB, 21 Jun. 2001, and Intelligence Wars (2004), 243-255, says that Bamford provides "a wealth of human and technical detail" in this new history of NSA. The "strengths of the book are to be found in its portrait of the NSA as an institution of staggering size and capacity....

"Bamford is a writer of stern and bracing moral judgment, generally as willing to praise as censure, but something about the Liberty incident unhinges him a little, and his account is muddied at the end by a story of the killing of a journalist on the Lebanese-Israeli border last year. The two incidents are neither related nor comparable.... Bamford should have summed up what happened to the Liberty, so troubling in so many ways, in a calmer mood....

"Bamford is particularly good on the SIGINT war in Vietnam.... But [his] stories are not confined to ancient history; he has much to say about recent events like the Gulf War of 1990-1991, which also had a SIGINT side, as do just about all episodes of international rivalry or strife."

For DeFalco, Proceedings 127.12 (Dec. 2001), Bamford's is "a truly revealing and engaging work." It is "highly readable and often engrossing" as it "recounts secret episodes that reveal much of the inner workings" of NSA. Cohen, FA 80.5 (Sep.-Oct. 2001), also views Body of Secrets as offering "much fascinating material," but adds that the author "takes a more paranoid turn when he discusses the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty." Bath, NIPQ 17.4, calls Body of Secrets "a significant addition to our knowledge" of NSA "and of cryptographic activities during the Cold War. Most assuredly it should be a key volume in any serious library of intelligence history."

To Anderson, I&NS 17.1, "this is unquestionably an important work." Bamford "expands our knowledge of NSA's present-day workings and provides extensive detail about its history and operations." On the USS Liberty controversy, his explanation "is neither satisfying nor well documented"; and his "theory is written in an emotive style that does not serve his cause." The footnotes in Body of Secrets are "cumbersome and frequently uninformative.... For a complete and annotated bibliography, readers must use <http://www.randomhouse.com/features/bamford/bib.html>."

Peake, Intelligencer 12.1, finds that this "important work" is "well-documented." It "describes what NSA does and how they do it in non technical terms," producing a "clear and comprehensive picture of the organization." An exception to the latter description "is the table of contents with its enigmatic even inscrutable chapter titles" that "are not helpful in communicating what topics the book covers."

See also, Thomas Blanton, "UMBRA GAMMA ZARF," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 58, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 2002): 62ff; Michael Oren, "Unfriendly Fire," The New Republic, 23 July 2001; and Steve Weinberg, "NSA Revisited," IRE Journal 24, no. 4 (Jul.-Aug. 2001): 29.

[GenPostwar/60s/Liberty; NSA/Overviews]

Bamford, James. "The Dangers of Spy Planes." New York Times, 5 Apr. 2001. [http:// www.nytimes.com]

The author uses the latest U.S.-China spy plane incident to consider whether the use of spy planes for electronic monitoring "is still useful or if, with the end of the cold war, the risks now outweigh any advantage.... The United States now has intelligence satellites that can eavesdrop on conversations almost anywhere in the world.... And land-based listening posts in Japan, South Korea and elsewhere are equipped with giant antenna farms focused on Chinese military, naval and diplomatic communications. There are good reasons to consider ending our frequent, provocative, costly and often redundant close-in air patrols."

[GenPostwar/00s/00/China; Recon/Planes/00s]

Bamford, James. "The Last Flight of KAL 007: How the U.S. Knew So Much About What Happened." Washington Post Magazine, 8 Jan. 1984, 4-7.


Bamford, James. "Loud and Clear: The Most Secret of Secret Agencies Operates under Outdated Laws." Washington Post, 14 Nov. 1999, B1. "The NSA's Limitless Reach: The Super-Secret Agency Operates Under Laws Out of Date in the Electronic Age." Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 22 Nov. 1999, 21-22.

Menwith Hill on the Yorkshire moors in northern England "is the NSA's largest listening post anywhere in the world.... [R]ather than shrinking in the decade since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Menwith Hill has grown. People in Europe and the United States are beginning to ask why. Has the NSA turned from eavesdropping on the communists to eavesdropping on businesses and private citizens in Europe and the United States?"


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