In 1982, James Bamford published The Puzzle Palace, an unprecedented journalistic look at the National Security Agency. This is an opportune moment to revisit it. Current readers can't help but be struck by its portents of things to come. As well, the sudden interest in the NSA following the Edward Snowden leaks has exposed a huge gulf between what surveillance state nerds know to be public information and what the general public actually knows about the secretive agency.
Perhaps an impromptu book club would narrow the gap. I'll offer brief reflections as I go, and anyone who wants to read along and comment can get the book here.
Chapter One cover's the agency's birth. It was maximally secretive from the start: President Truman created the NSA with the stroke of a pen at the bottom of a classified 7-page memorandum. Even the name was initially classified. Decades later, the memorandum that acted as the agency's charter remained secret. Reflect on that for a moment. In a representative democracy, the executive branch secretly created a new federal agency and vested it with extraordinary powers. Even the document setting forth those powers was suppressed.