Years before 9/11 occurred, the terrorists responsible for that fateful day were identified as threats to our country and marked as high-level associates of Osama Bin Laden. In its role as originally established during the cold war era, the NSA was able to listen to and track the communications of these terrorists as they traveled about the world and eventually ended up within the United States. But, with the tremendously volatile reactions to past NSA exposure when admitting to eavesdropping within American territory, the information gathered on and about these terrorists as they moved about our country for several years prior to 9/11 went unvoiced to any of the other top agencies responsible for bringing them in.
In the aftermath of 9/11, countless individuals, companies, officials, and agencies were not only ruthlessly interrogated and examined for their faults leading up to 9/11; they were
also held accountable. However, through all the finger-pointing, ball-dropping, accusatory blame-throwing game, the NSA was never once brought to the fore and investigated for its part in the 9/11 catastrophe. Having been perhaps the most likely and capable of all the nation’s agencies to prevent the terrorist disaster that quaked our souls, the NSA walked out of the situation scot-free. How was it, then, that we could not prevent such a horrible assault on the American way of life and the freedom of movement of so many known terrorists within our borders? Bamford identifies the key issue at the heart of America’s avoidable 9/11 trauma: the nation’s agencies display such competitive rivalries and detached functioning that they
put up virtual blinders among themselves regarding the terrorists.
Recovery after the fact meant that the NSA and all the other agencies needed to begin to progress into a new era, and
the White House and Congress stepped up to fight their war on terror. The NSA was a given a broader power and scope
in spying both within and outside the U.S. At this point, the author’s arguments about the real eavesdropping within America
begin. After President Bush and Congress gave the NSA tremendous freedoms, there was no hesitation in utilizing private communication companies and fiber-optic lines (to give a few examples) to not only listen in on average American conversations, but also
to record and store those American and non-American voices.
Bamford did meticulous research to bring forth The Shadow Factory. While presenting the unfolding saga of the terrorists, Bamford was remarkably well-informed on their personal lives as well as the technical details applicable to the attack. In a way, his representation of them
is a little disconcerting - they are presented with familial emotions, building courage, and determination to see justice served to those who aided the unjust. While all terrorist are people, have emotions and causes that lead them to their final act, it seems
that these terrorists are given a little too much “martyrdom” in the several chapters dedicated to their roles on 9/11. Ultimately,
this is an eye-opener on the protective security blanket over us. With the NSA responsible
watching over and protecting us, and with the likes of Osama Bin Laden and others still out there,
national security may now and forever be stuck in shades of gray.