http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14291-2001Apr27.html By Vernon Loeb Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, April 28, 2001; Page C01 Seated in the lobby of the National Cryptologic Museum, between a German Enigma machine and a KGB mannequin, James Bamford couldn't have picked a more perfect place to sign copies of his new spy book, "Body of Secrets." But the amazing thing about Bamford's book party yesterday at the National Security Agency's official historic shrine was the fact that he was there at all. Two decades ago, when Bamford was writing his groundbreaking first book on the super-secret NSA, the Reagan administration threatened to prosecute him for espionage if he did not return sensitive documents he had obtained. Bamford refused, the administration backed off, and "The Puzzle Palace" became a huge bestseller at a time most Americans had never even heard of the NSA, jokingly referred to as "No Such Agency" by the spooks who lived by a strict NSA code -- never say anything. Little wonder Bamford was a big-time persona non grata at the NSA. How times have changed. A long line of NSA employees stretched at noontime from the book-signing table to the museum's parking lot at Fort Meade, the agency's sprawling home halfway between Washington and Baltimore. They apparently were unconcerned whether their security-minded bosses inside the agency's black-glass headquarters would find out that they were consorting with a muckraker. Bamford, 54, a lawyer and former Washington-based investigative producer at ABC News, brought 156 copies of "Body of Secrets" with him and sold them in less than an hour. He was still there signing at 4 p.m., three hours after the event was supposed to end. "I'm absolutely amazed," he said, "and a lot of people brought both 'Body of Secrets' and 'The Puzzle Palace,' which was nice." The biggest change by far at NSA, after the end of the Cold War and the advent of the telecommunications revolution, was the arrival two years ago of a new director, Michael V. Hayden, a cerebral three-star Air Force general. Hayden realized early on that he had to begin creating a public persona for the agency if he ever hoped to recruit computing talent and allay growing civil liberties concerns at home and in Europe -- specifically that the agency was abusing a vast network of spy satellites and listening stations, a network capable of intercepting billions of phone calls, faxes and e-mails. Indeed, Hayden knew he had to convince the American people that NSA wasn't violating civil liberties before Hollywood convinced them it was. He'd seen "Enemy of the State," the popular Will Smith thriller that portrayed the agency as a vast and secret empire run by high-tech assassins. So Bamford's book party was but the latest manifestation of Hayden's thaw at Crypto City. "Hayden is the first director in a long time -- maybe the first director ever -- to understand the difference between excessive secrecy and realistic secrecy," Bamford said yesterday in an interview. "He is also the first director to understand that the NSA is not leading the technological revolution or the computer revolution anymore -- it's treading water. There had to be some radical changes, and he's the first to make radical changes, which isn't making everyone happy." One former agency official who isn't the least bit happy about Bamford's officially sanctioned book party is Mike Levin, who retired in 1993 as chief of information security. Even before reading Bamford's new book, Levin considers him a threat to national security. "Bamford really spit in our face with 'The Puzzle Palace,' " Levin complained earlier this week, "and Mike Hayden is turning the other cheek." But Bamford, a nattily dressed, mustachioed man with silver hair and a quiet demeanor, seemed anything but an NSA antagonist as he autographed books and chatted with all comers, undoubtedly searching for new insights into a world -- still highly secretive -- that he has managed to penetrate through years of dogged research. "Ninety percent of the book is very favorable to NSA," Bamford told a packed conference room at the Cryptologic Museum before taking his seat in the lobby and uncapping his pen. "It shows the great things NSA has done over the years." Tales of great success, of course, can be as damaging as tales of woe if they reveal to foreign adversaries how the agency performs its magic. Even with the thaw, Hayden and company remain obsessed with protecting "sources and methods." But with "Body of Secrets" in bookstores over the past two weeks, the agency doesn't seem overly concerned about any damage that may have been done. "Does it look like it's an assault on national security? I haven't read enough of it to determine that, but the parts I've read appear pretty interesting," said Judith A. Emmel, NSA's director of public affairs. With "The Puzzle Palace," published in 1982, Bamford earned a lasting place among contemporary nonfiction authors for his ability to penetrate a world that truly was "super-secret." He hunted down NSA retirees, exploited a loophole in the Freedom of Information Act that enabled him to obtain 6,000 pages of internal NSA newsletters, and refused to relinquish to the Reagan administration top-secret Justice Department reports on illegal domestic spy operations by NSA in the 1970s. "Body of Secrets" builds on that impressive body of work and will surely enhance Bamford's reputation. In the 719-page book, Bamford reveals how U.S. and British officials unearthed a giant German code-breaking machine immediately after World War II and, with the help of German cryptographers they found in prisoner of war camps, used it to break Soviet codes until 1948. He also tells how the United States gathered 700 pieces of sophisticated code-breaking equipment in a warehouse at Ton San Nhut air base at the end of the Vietnam War -- only to abandon them in the chaotic fall of Saigon. All of the machines, Bamford writes, presumably ended up in Soviet hands. But some of his most intriguing material deals with the NSA of today. "Crypto City," Bamford writes, "is home to the largest collection of hyperpowerful computers, advanced mathematicians and language experts on the planet. Within the fence, time is measured by the femtosecond -- one million billionth of a second -- and scientists work in secret to develop computers capable of performing more than one septillion (1,000,000,000000,000,000,000,000) operations every second." ISN is hosted by SecurityFocus.com --- To unsubscribe email LISTSERVat_private with a message body of "SIGNOFF ISN".
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