three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
user_rating: 
0

Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping

A-Chatter"Secrecy is a maverick element," writes Yale Law School student Keefe in this analysis of American intelligence-gathering. Focusing on "Echelon," the umbrella name for the secret global electronic information network operated by the United States and its allies, Keefe examines governments’ obsession with secrecy. He runs through the history of America’s spy programs, reviews the technology of global eavesdropping, and asks important questions about the National Security Agency (which boasts 30,000 eavesdroppers and 100 satellites). Above all, he scrutinizes the relationship of this secret world to successful spy missions, the abuse of power, and privacy rights issues. If "we ignore this issue," he writes, "… we do so at our own peril."
Random House. 284 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1400060346

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Keefe writes that he is not certain he knows ‘where that line between security and liberty should be’ and asks, ‘Do you?’ With that provocative and challenging question he closes a most useful, challenging, and provocative book." Anthony Day

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s part detective story and part travelogue, but most importantly, Keefe addresses secrecy and the potential for paranoia in the digital age. … With the ever-present danger that the power of intelligence will be abused, Keefe asks just how much privacy Americans unknowingly sacrifice in the name of greater security and draws on history to provide a riveting assessment worth reading by all generations."
Jeanne Nicholson

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Keefe writes, crisply and entertainingly, as an interested private citizen rather than an expert. … [But he] does not know quite where to draw the line between legitimate national security concerns and the privacy rights of citizens." William Grimes

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As the author of two books on the agency, I have found that silence is a reception common to most who dare knock on its door. … Nevertheless, Keefe … does a wonderful job of exploring the surrounding territory … [including] the age-old question of human versus technical intelligence collection..."
James Bamford

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Keefe does what a brilliant, persevering law student with no inside sources or a prestigious press pass should do: he surveys much of what has been written about [Signals Intelligence] and pores over the public hearing transcripts. … Chatter focuses on government, not commercial, surveillance, and thereby misses the danger inherent in the sinister synergism of the two."
William Safire

Critical Summary

Because Keefe wrote Chatter as a private citizen rather than as an insider expert, he had trouble finding cooperative agencies (let’s start with the NSA). The lack of insider information makes the book naïve at times, but nonetheless important in this post-Cold War, terrorist-ridden era. While critics praised the wealth of statistics (the NSA employs more mathematicians than any other organization in the world), they also embraced Keefe’s provocative questions. His big issue: privacy rights versus global security, and the appropriate caretaker of what he calls this "liberty-security matrix." Although Keefe never takes a definitive stand, his layperson’s book calls for important debate on the subject. After all, as he writes, we live in "a world awash in signals."