In This Review

Spies, Lies, and Algorithms: The History and Future of American Intelligence
Spies, Lies, and Algorithms: The History and Future of American Intelligence
By Amy B. Zegart
Princeton University Press, 2022, 416 pp
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The inspiration for Zegart’s guide to the U.S. intelligence community and the challenges it faces appears to have been her discovery that Americans are poorly informed about how the community works—and what they think they know has been heavily influenced by intelligence-themed pop culture (“spytainment”). To correct the misperceptions this has produced, she uses a wealth of examples from the annals of spycraft, from Washington’s failure to anticipate China’s entry into the Korean War to its successful search for Osama bin Laden. The digital revolution is changing the practice of intelligence as information becomes more plentiful and accessible but also more manipulable. This raises for Zegart a number of interesting questions, such as whether artificial intelligence can correct some of the cognitive biases that lead to analytic failures and how analysts can verify the authenticity of information when the Internet makes fakery so easy. She also discusses the importance of nonstate actors, including technology giants such as Google and even private individuals tracking illicit nuclear activities.