Nova: Season 36, Episode 11

The Spy Factory (3 Feb. 2009)

TV Episode  -  Documentary | Biography
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Nova examines the clandestine practices of the National Security Agency and investigates changes in the Agency that are the result of 9/11.



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Title: The Spy Factory (03 Feb 2009)

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Episode credited cast:
James Bamford ...
Himself - Author, 'The Shadow Factory'
Frank Blanco ...
Himself - NSA Executive Director, 1999-2001
David Murfee Faulk ...
Himself - Former NSA Voice Interceptor
Eric Haseltine ...
Himself - NSA Director of Research, 2002-2005
Michael Hayden ...
Himself - Nsa Director, 1999-2005 (archive footage)
Eleanor Hill ...
Herself - Staff Director, Congressional 9 / 11 Committee
Adrienne Kinne ...
Herself - Former NSA Voice Interceptor
Mark Klein ...
Himself - Former AT&T Technician
Robert L. Popp ...
Brian Reid ...
Himself - Internet Systems Consortium
Mark Rossini ...
Himself - Former FBI Supervisory Agent
Tim Sample ...
Himself - Former Staff Director, House Intelligence Committee
Himself - Narrator
Michael Scheuer ...
Himself - Former CIA Analyst


Nova examines the clandestine practices of the National Security Agency and investigates changes in the Agency that are the result of 9/11.

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Spooky Plasma
9 September 2009 | by (Virginia Beach) – See all my reviews

The lens is not everything, but it can be nearly so.

The reporter can transform the news, she must. The world is not composed of narratives; we impose them. I tend to be more interested in the structural limits of this behavior than the case where the reporter's bias dominates. In other words, there is an unrealistic transformation that inevitably occurs when you observe the world and build a story.

As it happens, this is the chief problem that the NSA has. It has a great many facts, orders of magnitude more than August 2001. But it has no way to pull meaningful stories from them, and "stories" where intent and projected futures are apparent are what intelligence analysts are all about. Getting stories of any kind is difficult for interesting reasons not relevant here.

But when you do pull narrative out of facts, you have that distorted lensing that you have to account for. It isn't reality, but a linearized model with observational, situated inadequacies. This is something I work on professionally.

So it is a strange fold of sorts to see this TeeVee movie about the NSA. It is produced, and I suppose largely written by James Bamford, who also appears as witness, investigator and narrator. Bamford has been writing about the NSA since long before it was officially acknowledged, and his writings were very much that sort of distorted lens. How do physicists talk about quarks, being denied the ability to experience them as worldly objects? The same way that Bamford indirectly observed what is surely that largest, most complex and advanced technical/mathematical enterprise ever.

NSA exists now. It appears on maps, has a website and a more or less known budget. But it is still occluded from view. Most people who work there know little more than J Q public. But we have a detailed picture of what the place is and does. It all came from Bamford, all of it, until about 8 years ago. His lens, his story.

Early physicists thought of atoms and its constituents as tiny planetary systems. Its absurdly wrong in nearly every way, but we still teach and use that story, well because it was first.

Bamford's lens was the first with NSA. You will get a chance, if you watch this, to see him in action. He has many more facts than he did 25 years ago, and we can assume that they are correct, true in the ordinary sense. But he is using the same narrative. That is — if you are keeping track — about 9 generations in the computing theory and technology, and 3 in the key mathematical disciplines involved.

The NSA is profoundly broken, because of this lensing problem. If you watch this, you can see how that very lensing problem is presented in a similarly, profoundly broken way for the same reason.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.

3 of 7 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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