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The Shadow Factory by James Bamford
Read in 2014



I have previously read both Body of Secrets (in 2011) and Puzzle Palace (in 2007) by the author of this book. In purchasing this book, written in 2008, I expected Bamford to provide me with an insight into the more recent events of 9/11 (as the subtitle suggests), whereas the previous two titles were more about World War II and the Cold War (which I found very interesting).

While what happened in America on '9/11' has been widely documented and discussed by anyone and everyone, Bamford's breakdown of the sequence of events leading up to the event is highly detailed (right down to phone numbers and e-mail addresses used by the attackers), Bamford also outlines the facts as he is experienced to do so. He also analyses the NSA leading up to the attack. In doing this, the mindset of both the attackers and the NSA are revealed. Bamford shows that the attackers didn't come across to the people that met them as all that religious, which was a surprise to me because I had been lead to believe they were devout (if extreme) Muslims and carried out their attacks for largely religious reasons. That isn't to say there weren't religious motives, indeed Osama bin Laden, who they were working for, made it a religious war (as much as I think Bush did) in the way he came across in the videos he released.

The conclusion I gleaned from the first chapter, which leads readers right up to the moments the planes hit, was that in the mindset of some groups, religious or otherwise, there is a 'need' for war. Bamford pointed out that there is a history of war, at least dating back to the Russian influences in the Arab world/Afghanistan region, and once that war disappeared America became the new target. That isn't to say motives were imaginary - I think there were and are people in those regions that believe their lives have been meddled with by the United States. The attacks on 9/11 were therefore retaliatory and I do think the American mindset was wrong to then seek revenge (where does it end if one seeks revenge for a retaliatory attack), rather than (the public at least) take the opportunity to question why, really why, do some people dislike America this much?

Instead, the attackers have been painted as extremists. Sure, flying planes into buildings is extreme, but their motives didn't come across as such. I do find it sad that those men developed a plan that, from the perspective of their own individual lives, would simply cease to exist upon the moment of impact. It even seems like their mindset would only allow them to think as far ahead as "flying planes into buildings". I suppose I simply fail to comprehend suicide where there seems no intention to end ones life - that didn't come across in what I read. Those men were bright, intelligent young men who were obviously capable of so much - it's just a shame, in many ways, that that was what they planned for.

Next up is the NSA's mindset. In the lead-up to the attacks the NSA had backed away from (the idea of) monitoring anyone and everyone. It seemed that their own citizens were off-limits (at least without a warrant), but anyone else in the world didn't have the rights of the same 'freedoms' as Americans, and were therefore fair game when it came to eavesdropping. The NSA was fearful that if it blatantly listened in on all local communications, and that became known by the American people, that there would be hell to pay.

Once 9/11 happened, it seems the gloves came off. Indeed the case of Edward Snowdon reveals a lot of what Bamford has already shared - in particular the NSA and their 'data mining' interests. To be honest I haven't found the Snowdon leaks as shocking as the media portray them, I've hardly read anything about it, I guess I've always had at the back of my mind what intelligence agencies are capable of, so when it got revealed what was actually going on I wasn't surprised - more amused that the media make a big deal about it, and that their voice (as they seem to proclaim) is that of the general public. (I think the public reaction mimic the media rather than the other way round, as if, as a whole, we're shown how to behave/react).

Bamford reveals that there were objections within both the NSA and government to this eavesdropping behaviour. On page 118 he mentioned that democratic congresswoman Nancy Pelosi expressed her concerns in classified letters to the NSA Director Michael Hayden.

On page 117, Royce Lamberth, the presiding judge of the FISA court at the time, and "probably the most experienced person in the country on the topic" years later harshly criticised the program and said "We have to understand you can fight the war [on terrorism] and lose everything if you have no civil liberties left when you get through fighting the war."

I strongly agree with this attitude. "Fighting a war against" terror is illogical. It might not be so from an attacker's perspective, but war is terrifying. I know this, and as far as I'm aware I'm not even in a war (although it is often claimed that the country I reside in, is).

The justification for the NSA taking its gloves off and going hell-for-leather and eavesdropping on its own citizens is that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented if the NSA had been allowed to listen in on its own citizens. Bamford points out, however, that if "Hayden had simply done as his job allowed and traced ... calls and e-mails back from the Yemen ops center and obtained a FISA warrant for the California phone numbers and e-mail address ... And then by [legally] monitoring their domestic communications, the FBI could have discovered the other members of the group." and thus prevented the attacks.

Because the attacks had been "allowed" to happen, America had been embarrassed and thus the only course of action was to seek revenge. The NSA's attitude changed overnight and took advantage of the situation. Eavesdropping gained "speed and freedom", but the approach "sacrificed order and understanding". Just like how computers were used to crack codes in the Second World War, more and more computing power would be used in this new war to support a "shotgun approach" - "flooding the FBI with useless intercept reports, slowing down legitimate investigations, and placing thousands of innocent names on secret blacklists." The program "zoomed from dangerously underreacting prior to 9/11 to dangerously overreacting afterward."

This happened within a month, and this rapid change illustrates what the NSA was capable of all along (you don't just develop these systems and put them into action overnight). It was only America's inhibitions that had kept the gloves on. The financial costs (on top of actually fighting two wars overseas) also shot through the roof on an organisation that was already costing the economy billions of dollars. One has to wonder where all the money and new recruits come from.

While the NSA and government as a whole lowered its moral standards, there were still many that felt uncomfortable by the changes within the system. Bamford quotes the views of some linguists working within the NSA, highlighting just what kinds of personal conversations were being recorded and listened in on, not only conversations between foreign targets, foreign targets and Americans, but also between Americans. Again, I think this shows that Bamford's book had already revealed the attitude the intelligence system had already taken before Edward Snowdon made them general knowledge. The objections and concerns in those quotes are what Snowdon's "revelations" echo.

While I don't agree with the system and how it developed as Bamford documents, views which Snowdon obviously shares, operatives would have effectively signed their life away by signing up and participating - therefore I think Snowdon was in the wrong and the U.S. Department of Justice rightly charged him with "violating the espionage act" []. Snowdon has been branded a hero [] for his whistle blowing actions, personally my feelings are divided. Had all the people that think he is a hero read The Shadow Factory, that was written five years prior to Snowdon's tales, they would have already had their eyes open to what was being done.

Following the course of history, the book then moves on to the Iraq War, which begins with the so-called weapons of mass destruction. As we know, these WMDs never materialised, we were told that the 'intelligence' was clear. I remember the news at the time and how as time passed and no WMDs were found, British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, looked more and more like a puppet, as perhaps did official spokes people in the United States (other than Bush himself). and because Saddam Hussein didn't comply (and the inspectors found nothing) the Americans decided to bomb the place and hunt down Saddam - liberating the people of that region was just a reason to gain support. Bamford's chapter 'War' (pages 143-158) documents this part of history from the intelligence agencies' perspective. He reveals both the tactics used, and how even intelligence staff suspected things weren't right and that they were being manipulated, just like the rest of us.

One quotation (Adrienne J. Kinne p.149) is as follows: "I am greatly fearful of what has been happening with our country, and our Constitution... and I just kind of saw in those two years of service how things drastically changed for the worse. Part of me will always regret not having upheld my oath of military service to the fullest extent that I should have. You know as a soldier we take an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic." Kinne later became part of Iraq Veterans Against the War [] Although at the same time Bamfords notes have the contradictory quote from Kinne: "We're going to bomb those barbarians", from an interview March 13, 2008.

Another interviewee, [David Murfee] Faulk [who allegedly monitored the phone calls of countless Americans overseas, from a Georgia listening post] [] when talking about IEDs said on p.150-1: "...we killed a lot of innocent people, but I have no way of knowing ... A lot of people don't really care about that ... And that was one of the reasons I got out - to actually have to do that and know that people are going to live or die based on that is something I just can't live with. It's not the kind of mistake I want to make." The reality of the use of IEDs is that, as Bamford points out: "few senior NSA officials [those who are gathering the intelligence for targets] ever left the comfort of their eighth-floor suite of offices and visited the [Iraq] war zone." I think this is a serious question we need to pursue with the use of armed drones - devices which remove all but the slightest hint of human decision making, and the morals that every human being should live with - I don't think people should command others (or devices) to end the lives of others if they wouldn't be prepared to put their own hand's around that person's neck and end their life while that person's family stood by and watched.

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