Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pg. 69: "Chatter"

Patrick Radden Keefe is a writer who focuses on intelligence, international security, technology, and the globalization of crime. His first book is Chatter.

I asked Patrick to apply the "page 69 test" to his book. Here is what he reported:

The bulk of p. 69 unfolds inside what is known as a radome: a giant, white golfball-like structure that tends to sprout on American spy bases around the planet. In some ways, Chatter is a book about the impossibility of writing a book about eavesdropping. Even though the National Security Agency is bigger than the CIA and the FBI combined, and America's eavesdroppers far outnumber its spies, the high-tech interception of communications and other forms of private data by the American government is so intensely secret that it represents a sort of terra incognita. Or incognita to you and me, at any rate.

In this respect, p. 69 is pretty characteristic of the tone and style of the book: it's a first-person account of my exploration of this bizarre and secret universe. Having been turned away from various secret eavesdropping facilities by gun-toting military personnel, I located a base that had been abandoned by the NSA, deep in the mountains of North Carolina. What once was a humming spy facility that monitored the Soviets is now home to a handful of astronomers, who inherited all the gear the spooks left behind: massive satellite dishes, endless computer rooms and underground tunnels, and a solitary, vestigial radome.

Radomes make a good visual shorthand for the secrecy of this kind of spying: they house satellite dishes, masking their orientation from outsiders. Because a close study of the inclination of a dish antenna might reveal which satellite it is trained on (and intercepting) above. P. 69 conveys the B-movie sci-fi aesthetics of the spot—the radome nestled in a clearing in the woods, the original entrance a curious waist-high door I had to crawl through. But it also captures the inherent frustrations of researching American espionage: the radome houses a colossal dish that no one uses anymore; the gore-tex enclosure leaks in the rain; anything the spies left behind when they vacated the premises is long since obsolete.

Thanks to Patrick for the input.

Read an excerpt from Chatter and listen to Patrick's interview with Terry Gross on "Fresh Air."

Among the praise for Chatter:

“A kind of naturalist’s ramble around the fenced perimeter of the whole vast establishment of technical gear used for intercepting communications…written with fluid grace.”
--Thomas Powers, New York Review of Books

“It is absolutely thrilling to see someone as young, as competent, and as gifted as Patrick Radden Keefe taking on the secret world in Washington. We need much more of this kind of work, and Keefe has made a brilliant start.”
--Seymour M. Hersh

“Keefe does a wonderful job of exploring the role of SIGINT, or signals intelligence (NSA's $5 word for eavesdropping), in the post-Cold War world; the mysterious Echelon system that links the many listening posts belonging to America's English-speaking allies; the agency's obsession with secrecy; the age-old question of human versus technical intelligence collection.”
--James Bamford, Washington Post Book World

“A useful research primer on today’s surveillance society…Keefe does what a brilliant, persevering law student with no inside sources or a prestigious press pass should do: he surveys much of what has been written about sigint and pores over the public hearing transcripts. He visits worried scientists and some former spooks…[He] is a researcher adept at compiling intriguing bits and pieces.”
--William Safire, New York Times Book Review

“Keefe writes crisply and entertainingly…filled with anecdotes, colorful quotes and arresting statistics.”
--William Grimes, New York Times

Many of Patrick's articles are available online, including "The Snakehead," The New Yorker, "Gonzales' Trojan Horse," Slate, and "Presidential Power on Steroids," Slate.

Read his recent take on "The Best and Worst in Intelligence and Security, 2006."

Patrick currently works as a program officer and fellow at the Century Foundation, and as a project leader at the World Policy Institute. He is the recipient of a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship.

Visit his official website.

Previous "page 69 tests:"
Dana Stabenow, A Deeper Sleep
Siobhan Roberts, King of Infinite Space
Erin McKean, That's Amore!
Michael Lowenthal, Charity Girl
Niraj Kapur, Heaven's Delight
Keith Dixon, The Art of Losing
David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old
Mary Sharratt, The Vanishing Point
David Fulmer, The Dying Crapshooter's Blues
Anya Ulinich, Petropolis
Jagdish Bhagwati, In Defense of Globalization
Olen Steinhauer, Liberation Movements
Andrei Markovits, Uncouth Nation
Julie Kistler, Scandal
Robert Ward, Four Kinds of Rain
Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist
William Landay, The Strangler
Kate Holden, In My Skin
Brian Wansick, Mindless Eating
Noria Jablonski, Human Oddities
Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity
Neal Pollack, Alternadad
Bella DePaulo, Singled Out
Steve Hamilton, A Stolen Season
Eric Klinenberg, Fighting for Air
Donna Moore, ...Go to Helena Handbasket
Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye
Neal Thompson, Riding with the Devil
Sherry Argov, Why Men Marry Bitches
P.J. Parrish, An Unquiet Grave
Tyler Knox, Kockroach
Andrew Rehfeld, The Concept of Constituency
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue