In This Review

Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency
Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency
By James Bamford
Doubleday, 2001, 721 pp

This book updates Bamford's 1982 work The Puzzle Palace, reflecting his careful cultivation of sources at America's signal-intelligence agency. The National Security Agency has been increasingly opening its doors thanks to a more relaxed attitude toward dated secrets and perhaps the wish for some good publicity. Bamford has benefited from these intentions, but he also deserves credit for assiduous research in materials released under the Freedom of Information Act. The book offers much fascinating material about the signal intelligence game of measure and countermeasure during the Cold War, the use of lie detectors for internal security, and the relationship with friendly intelligence services. But Bamford takes a more paranoid turn when he discusses the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty by Israeli aircraft during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Relying on tenuous evidence and shrugging off the improbability of such a politically insane decision, Bamford insists that the incident was altogether deliberate. And when he writes of Israel's "abominable human rights record," one has to wonder whether something more than conspiracy-mongering is at work. Ultra-secrecy can breed strange psychological phenomena, even among those who make a living by prying it apart.