It's hard to take a fresh look at a book that has already been so well reviewed, but I feel that I do have a few more worthwhile comments, hence another review.
Even though PUZZLE PALACE has been around for eighteen years, it still seems to be the best researched book on NSA that's available. It would be nice if Bamford could update us on what has happened in those intervening years.
None of the following is classified information. I was an enlisted man in the Army Security Agency, stationed in the Philippines, from 1955 to 1957. I had been trained as a French Linguist at the Army Language School. It wasn't until I got to the Philippines that I even knew that there was an organization known as the National Security Agency (NSA). Even more amazing is the fact that, until I read Bamford's book, I had no idea how what I was doing fit into the scheme of things. Thanks, James Bamford, for clearing that up for me some forty five years later. Better late than never, they say.
What I think that Bamford has done so well is to tell the true story of the creation of a modern "Frankenstein's Monster." He presents a cogent case for the very real need for communication interception and code breaking in the early days of NSA's existence. He proceeds to take us through, step by step, the process whereby a protector of our freedoms seems to have evolved into a threat to those very freedoms.
According to Bamford, the communications security community seems almost paranoid in their fears that "unless we absolutely control it, it's dangerous." They are devious enough to get around any and every safeguard to the privacy of the individuual that might be established. To wit: Jimmy Carter, when he was President, put a few safeguards in place. With time on their side, the NSA waited until Ronald Reagan was President and got him to remove those safeguards. (See page 374 of the 1982 hardback edition.)
It makes one wonder: In today's world of e-mail, high speed faxes, cel phones, etc., all using the air waves, is anything sacred or has Orwell's prediction come true. As I mentioned above, I'd really like for Bamford to bring us up to date.
A few reviewers have complained about problems keeping up with all the initials used in PUZZLE PALACE. One has to understand that no discussion of the magnitude of the situation can be held without mentioning all of the organizations and committees involved.
It is true that a bit of hard work on the part of the reader is necessary to get all, or most, of the impact of the information contained in PUZZLE PALACE, but I think that the knowledge gained is definitely worth the effort.