The full history of an ultra-secretive government agency.
The National Security Agency was most recently in the news in 2005 when it was revealed that the agency had been eavesdropping on citizens without warrants, an episode that highlighted the NSA’s mysterious role as the linchpin of the American intelligence apparatus. Intelligence historian Aid shows how the NSA’s briefings to the president have played a part in every major American conflict since World War II. In 1949, the agency began as the Armed Forces Security Agency and was primarily involved in codebreaking and communication interception. During the Korean War, its analysts were able to break virtually all of the codes of the North Korean military in just 30 days. Not long after the NSA became its own agency in 1952, it suffered some major failures. Eisenhower first heard of the death of Stalin in 1953 not from U.S. intelligence but from news-wire services. “Like the rest of the U.S. intelligence community,” writes Aid, “NSA had provided no indication whatsoever that Stalin was ill.” Most significantly, the NSA did not receive intelligence about Soviet missiles in Cuba in time to help avert the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The intelligence improved, but Aid emphasizes the important point that intelligence is only as good as the interpretation it receives. He cites as examples Lyndon Johnson’s administration, who leaned on sketchy NSA information to push the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964, and George W. Bush’s administration, which not only instituted wiretapping programs in an attempt to find al-Qaeda operatives, but twisted NSA intelligence to bolster its reasoning to invade Iraq in 2003. NSA analysis now comprises as much as 60 percent of the president’s daily intelligence briefing, and Aid provides a critical history of the agency that has the ear of the leader of the free world.
A sprawling but revealing look at a powerful, shadowy agency of the American government.