Friday, May 06, 2005

New book: Chatter

Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping by Patrick Radden Keefe (Random House, New York, 2005).

Chatter provides an easy-to-read and entertaining overview of the UKUSA SIGINT alliance, the privacy and security issues surrounding SIGINT, and the people who in various ways make it their mission to watch the SIGINT listeners. Be warned, however: the book provides very little new information on the SIGINT world and essentially nothing on Canada's role in that world.

Chatter book coverIn the introduction to the book Keefe advances what he calls the SIGINT Postulate: "there is an inverse proportion between how much a person is willing to talk about signals intelligence and how much he or she actually knows." As one who has frequently talked about it and who even has a blog about it fer cryin' out loud, I'd have to say Keefe is pretty close to the truth on that score. But, hey, he wrote a whole book about it, and occasionally the SIGINT Postulate shows there too. The United States has about 100 spy satellites in orbit? No, no, no. US photoreconnaissance satellites operate in molniya orbits? Gimme a break.

"Gotchas" like these are of very little importance, of course. A more substantive critique is that the book does a better job of raising questions than it does of answering them, or even of pointing towards the glimmer of possible answers. On the whole, however, it's well worth the read.


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