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The Watchers

Praise for The Watchers:

“It uses smart technical analysis and crisp writing to put the reader inside the room with the watchers and to help better understand the mind-set that gave rise to the modern surveillance state…an insightful glimpse into how Washington works and how ideas are marketed and sold in the back rooms of power, whether the product being peddled is widgets or a radical model for intelligence gathering”–The New York Times

“A vivid, well-reported and intellectually sophisticated account of the surveillance state in the wake of the attacks on September 11th 2001.”–The Economist, Best Books of 2010

“A painstaking account…tells readers more than they could have learned from the mainstream media at the time of the events.”–Associated Press

The Watchers reads like a thriller, and the story is sadly on the mark in describing our limited oversight of the government’s surveillance powers.”–Gregory F. Treverton, Director, Center for Global Risk and Security, Rand Corporation

“This is an astonishingly detailed, well-researched narrative.”–James Mann, Author of Rise of the Vulcans

[Harris] has turned what could have been the driest of policy studies into a riveting yarn of skulduggery and betrayal.”–San Francisco Chronicle

A “timely and admirably balanced account…informative and dramatic narrative…” –Publishers Weekly

“Harris displays an exquisite understanding of the intricacies of his topic and a remarkable sensitivity to the genuine concerns of the watchers and their critics. …A sharply written, wise analysis of the complex mashup of electronic sleuthing, law, policy and culture.”–Kirkus Reviews

“What’s either most reassuring or most unnerving about The Watchers is that the men and women it depicts don’t appear to have hidden agendas. For them, technology and not ideology is the overriding concern, a matter of leveling the playing field and harnessing the Internet into one unlimited search engine.”–Los Angeles Times

“Harris sifts through a confusing array of acronyms, fascinating characters, and chilling operations to offer an absorbing look at modern spying technology and how it impacts average Americans.”–Booklist

Using exclusive access to key government insiders, Shane Harris chronicles the rise of America’s surveillance state over the past 25 years and highlights a dangerous paradox: Our government’s strategy has made it harder to catch terrorists and easier to spy on the rest of us.

In 1983, Admiral John Poindexter, President Reagan’s National Security Advisor, realized that the U.S. might have prevented the terrorist massacre of 241 Marines in Beirut, if intelligence agencies could have analyzed in real time the data they had on the attackers. Poindexter poured technical know-how and government funds into his dream–a system that would sift reams of information for signs of terrorist activity. Decades later, that elusive dream still captivates Washington. After 9/11, Poindexter returned to government with a controversial program, called Total Information Awareness, to detect the next attack. Today it has evolved into a secretly funded operation that can gather a trove of personal information on every American and millions of others worldwide.

Despite billions of dollars spent on this quest since the Reagan era, we still can’t discern future threats in the vast data cloud that surrounds us all. But the government can now spy on its citizens with an ease that was impossible-and illegal-just a few years ago. Drawing on unprecedented access to the people who pioneered this high-tech spycraft, Harris shows how it has moved from the province of right-wing technocrats into the mainstream, becoming a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s war on terror.

Harris puts us behind the scenes where twenty-first-century spycraft was born. We witness Poindexter quietly working from the private sector to get government to buy in to his programs in the early nineties. We see an Army major agonize as he carries out an order to delete the vast database he’s gathered on possible terror cells-and on thousands of innocent Americans-months before 9/11. We follow National Security Agency Director Mike Hayden as he persuades the Bush administration to secretly monitor Americans based on a flawed interpretation of the law. And we see Poindexter return to government with a seemingly implausible idea: that the authorities can collect data about citizens and at the same time protect their privacy. After Congress publicly bans the Total Information Awareness program in 2003, we watch as it secretly becomes a “black program” at the NSA, then engaged in a massive surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails.

When the next crisis comes, our government will inevitably crack down on civil liberties, but it will be no better able to identify new dangers. This is the outcome of a dream first hatched almost three decades ago, and The Watchers is an engrossing, unnerving wake-up call.

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