Book Review: Spies, Lies, and Algorithms: The History and Future of American Intelligence

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Amy B. Zegart

Spies, Lies, and Algorithms: The History of American Intelligence, Amy B. Zagart.  ISBN: 978-0691147130 (Hardcover, also available on Kindle and audiobook. Princeton University Press.

Spying has never been more ubiquitous—or less understood. The world is drowning in spy movies, TV shows, and novels, but universities offer more courses on rock and roll than on the CIA and there are more congressional experts on powdered milk than espionage. This crisis in intelligence education is distorting public opinion, fueling conspiracy theories, and hurting intelligence policy.

In Spies, Lies, and Algorithms, Amy Zegart separates fact from fiction as she offers an engaging and enlightening account of the past, present, and future of American espionage as it faces a revolution driven by digital technology.

Drawing on decades of research and hundreds of interviews with intelligence officials, Zegart provides a history of U.S. espionage, from George Washington’s Revolutionary War spies to today’s spy satellites; examines how fictional spies are influencing real officials; gives an overview of intelligence basics and life inside America’s intelligence agencies; explains the deadly cognitive biases that can mislead analysts; and explores the vexed issues of traitors, covert action, and congressional oversight.

Most of all, Zegart describes how technology is empowering new enemies and opportunities, and creating powerful new players, such as private citizens who are successfully tracking nuclear threats using little more than Google Earth. And she shows why cyberspace is, in many ways, the ultimate cloak-and-dagger battleground, where nefarious actors employ deception, subterfuge, and advanced technology for theft, espionage, and information warfare.

To help us to better understand these looming threats, Zegart has written this book. It is the first comprehensive book on the past, present, and future of American Intelligence—and outlines what’s urgently needed to protect our nation today. The book draws on over thirty years of research (including new research just for this book) and hundreds of interviews with current and former intelligence officials.

Weak intelligence makes us more vulnerable to attacks on our power grids, water supply, elections, corporate network servers, and nuclear weapons. Helping the American public better understand these evolving threats is crucial.

Some of the important information that Dr. Zegart covers are:

  • How artificial intelligence, quantum computing, social media, and the Internet are reshaping politics, societies, and economics.
  • The crisis in intelligence education and its costs.
  • The contentious world of congressional oversight.
  • Tracking secret nuclear activities isn’t just for the government anymore.
  • Cyber threats.A fascinating and revealing account of espionage for the digital age, Spies, Lies, and Algorithms essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the reality of spying today. The book also includes an intelligence basics primer, a history of American espionage from the 18th century to today, an explainer on why intelligence analysis is so challenging, a discussion about turncoats and double agents, and many revealing: day in the life” stories from intelligence officials.

About the Author: Amy Zegart is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University and a contributing writer at The Atlantic. Her books include Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11 (Princeton) and (with Condoleezza Rice) Political Risk: How Businesses and Organizations Can Anticipate Global Insecurity. She lives in Stanford, California. Twitter @AmyZegart

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