Body of Secrets, By James Bamford
Anchor Press, April 2002, $14.95
The highest compliment I can pay James Bamford is to say that, after reading his book on the history of the National Security Agency, I trust him.
I never thought I'd say that about any writer specializing in American intelligence. Few fields attract so many qausi-fascist propagandists -- damaged egos desperate to hint at their connections with the spooks. Look for an alternative to these spy-groupies and you end up with their equally depressing counterparts, who have devoted their lives to proving that the CIA is responsible for the fall of the Mayan Empire.
Bamford writes from a very different perspective, rarely seen these days: the view of the intelligent, cultured American patriot. It's very refreshing to read someone who understands that there's a difference between being pro-American and being a religious nut or free-market ideologue. Bamford praises those who help America get good intelligence and act quickly on it. He denounces, sometimes quite fiercely, those who ignore America's interests in favor of their own careers or hick ideologies.
What I found most striking and refreshing about this perspective is that many Americans who play the super-patriot come across in Bamford's account as the most treacherous, selfish and anti-American of all. In this sense, Bamford speaks like a true conservative, a very different animal from the filth who claim that name -- Limbaugh and the weasels presently feasting at the American court. In fact, Bamford's tone actually seems to embody the "Roman" attitude recently advocated (in rather less tempered voice) by the eXile's own Gary Brecher. Bamford describes our Commander-in-Chief's performance on 9/11 in the tone Tacitus would have used with a particularly unworthy emperor:
"...George W. Bush was sitting on a stool in Sarasota, Florida, listening to a small class of second graders read him a story about a girl's pet goat. Just before entering the class, [Bush had been told of] the devastating jet plane crash into Tower One. About 9:06, [an aide] whispered the brief message in the president's right ear. "A second plane has hit the World Trade Center. America is under attack." Almost immediately a look of befuddlement passed across the president's face. Then, having just been told that the country was under attack, the commander-in-chief appeared uninterested in further details. He never asked if there had been any additional threats, where the attacks were coming from, how to best protect the country from further attacks, or what was the current status of NORAD....Instead, in the middle of a modern-day Pearl Harbor, he simply turned back to the matter at hand: the day's photo-op. Precious minutes were ticking by, and many more lives were still at risk. 'Really good readers, whew!' he told the class as the electronic flashes once again began to blink and the video cameras rolled. 'These must be sixth graders!'"
I've read a lot about what Dubya was and wasn't doing on the morning of the attacks, but none of the other versions I've read had the solemnity, the gravitas, of this one. It makes you realize that it shouldn't be the Liberals who are denouncing Dubya -- it should be the patriots, the Right. But except for a few clear-eyed old-school figures like Bamford, the conservatives all love, or pretend to love, the spoiled little draftdodging cokehead. Strange, isn't it?
But then America is a very strange country, as Body of Secrets kept reminding me. Take Israel, our ally, to which we have given more than $100 billion in aid. Bamford devotes an entire chapter of Body of Secrets to the actions of the Israelis in the affair of the U.S.S. Liberty, a navy ship working for the NSA monitoring military communications in the Middle East. Bamford dares to tell what happened to this American vessel at the hands of our Israeli allies -- and why it happened.