Warriors: NSA’s Code Breakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union

Stephen Budiansky. Knopf, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-385-35266-6
The dysfunctions and overreach of the total surveillance state were present at its birth, according to this engrossing history of the National Security Administration. Journalist Budiansky (Blackett’s War) traces the development of American signals intelligence—the collecting and deciphering of radio messages and other electromagnetic communications—from wartime triumphs against German and Japanese codes through the Cold War standoff with the Soviets, whose high-level codes mainly resisted cryptanalysts’ efforts. Budiansky is lucid in describing the science and art of breaking complex ciphers, which helped drive advances in electronics and computing. He also analyzes the flaws in the NSA’s mission of collecting everything it can: paralyzing bureaucratic turf battles among military and intelligence agencies over access to intelligence; self-defeating secrecy obsessions; floods of data too massive to be analyzed coherently; outright malfeasance (Budiansky argues that the agency covered up intelligence disproving the government’s account of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident during the Vietnam War); and encroachments on privacy and civil liberties (for decades the NSA read all international telegrams from America, and it spied on dissidents for the Nixon Administration). Budiansky leavens the history and technology with colorful profiles of cryptographers and spies; the result is a lively account of how today’s information controversies emerged. Photos. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/07/2016
Release date: 06/14/2016
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