The Shadow Factory

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 7/14/2009
  • Publisher: Anchor

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER AWashington PostBest Book of the Year James Bamford has been the preeminent expert on the National Security Agency since his reporting revealed the agency's existence in the 1980s. Now, Bamford describes the transformation of the NSA since 9/11, as the agency increasingly turns its high-tech gaze within America's borders. The Shadow Factoryreconstructs how the NSA missed a chance to thwart two of the 9/11 hijackers and details how this mistake has led to a heightening of surveillance to insure that it never happens again. In disturbing detail, Bamford describes exactly how every American's data is being mined and by whom, and what is being done with it. Any reader who thinks America's liberties are being protected by Congress will be shocked and appalled at what is revealed here. From the Trade Paperback edition.

Author Biography

James Bamford is the author of Body of Secrets, The Puzzle Palace, and A Pretext for War, and has written on national security for The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. His Rolling Stone article “The Man Who Sold the War” won the 2006 National Magazine Award for reporting. Formerly the Washington investigative producer for ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and a distinguished visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Bamford lives in Washington, D.C.



It was late December and Yemen's capital of Sanaa lay cool beneath the afternoon sun. A fine powder of reddish sand, blown southward from the vast Arabian Desert, coated the labyrinth of narrow alleyways that snake throughout the city. On crowded sidewalks, beneath high walls topped with shards of broken glass, women in black chadors paraded with men in drab suit coats and red-and-white checkered scarves that hung loose like long shawls. It is a city of -well--oiled Kalashnikovs and jewel-encrusted daggers known as jambiyahs; a place where former comrades from the once Marxist south sit on battered sidewalk chairs chewing qat and puffing from hookahs with wrinkled imams from the tribal north.

At the northwest edge of the city in Madbah, a cluttered neighborhood of cinder-block homes and yapping dogs, was a boxy, sand-swept house. Across the street sat a vacant lot littered with stones, bits of concrete, and tufts of greenish weeds. Made of cement and surrounded by a black iron fence, the house had a solid, fortresslike appearance. On the flat roof were three chimneys, one for each floor, and open balconies that were wide and square, like bull pens at a rodeo; glass arches topped the windows and doors.

It was the home of Ahmed -al-Hada, a middle-aged Yemeni who had become friends with Osama bin Laden while fighting alongside him against the Russians in Afghanistan. Hada came from a violent family tribe based for generations in Dhamar Province, about sixty miles south of Sanaa. In a valley of squat, mud-brick houses and green terraced farms, the region was sandwiched between two volcanic peaks in the Yemen Highlands. The area had achieved some fame as a center for the breeding of thoroughbred horses. It also gained fame for kidnappings.

A devoted follower of bin Laden, Hada offered to turn his house into a secret operations center for his friend in Afghanistan. While the rugged Afghan landscape provided bin Laden with security, it was too isolated and remote to manage the day-to-day logistics for his growing worldwide terrorist organization. His sole tool of communication was a gray, battery-powered $7,500 Compact-M satellite phone. About the size of a laptop computer, it could transmit and receive both voice phone calls and fax messages from virtually anywhere in the world over the Inmarsat satellite network. His phone number was 00-873-682505331; the 00 meant it was a satellite call, 873 indicated the phone was in the Indian Ocean area, and 682505331 was his personal number.

Bin Laden needed to set up a separate operations center somewhere outside Afghanistan, somewhere with access to regular telephone service and close to major air links. He took Hada up on his offer, and the house in Yemen quickly became the epicenter of bin Laden's war against America, a logistics base to coordinate his attacks, a switchboard to pass on orders, and a safe house where his field commanders could meet to discuss and carry out operations. Between 1996 and 1998, bin Laden and his top aides made a total of 221 calls to the ops center's phone number, 011-967-1-200-578, using the house to coordinate the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in East Africa and to plan the attack of the USS Cole in the port of Aden in 2000.

Also living in the house was Hada's daughter, Hoda, along with her husband, Khalid al-Mihdhar. Standing 5'6" and weighing 142 pounds, Mihdhar had an intelligent face, with a soft, unblemished complexion and a neatly trimmed mustache. Wearing glasses, he had the appearance of a young university instructor. But it was war, not tenure, that interested Mihdhar. He had been training in secret for months to lead a massive airborne terrorist attack against the U.S. Now he was just waiting for the phone call to begin the operation.

Khalid al-Mihdhar began life atop Yemen's searing sandscape on May 16, 1975. Shortly thereafter, he and his family moved to the Kingdom of Saudi

Excerpted from The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America by James Bamford
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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