Seth Rosenfeld’s Book Bag: State of Surveillance

From James Bamford’s revelations about the NSA to an oral history of J. Edgar Hoover, Seth Rosenfeld, the author of Subversives, picks his favorite books on the surveillance state.

In Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power Seth Rosenfeld traces the FBI’s secret involvement with three iconic figures who clashed at Berkeley in the ’60s: Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio, University of California president Clark Kerr, and Gov. Ronald Reagan. This work of narrative nonfiction, based on FBI records released as a result of five lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals Reagan’s role as an informer, details the bureau’s unlawful spying and harassment at the nation’s leading public university, and provides a timely cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked intelligence agencies. Here he picks five books about surveillance that he found most revealing.

The Puzzle Palace: A Report on America’s Most Secret AgencyBy James Bamford

More than 30 years before government contractor Edward J. Snowden made international headlines with his disclosures about the National Security Agency, Bamford blew the lid of the nation’s most secretive agency with his 1982 book, the first comprehensive study of the NSA and a must-read for anyone concerned about its sweeping operations. As Bamford presciently wrote, “Like an ever-widening sinkhole, NSA’s surveillance technology will continue to expand, quietly pulling in more and more communications and gradually eliminating more and more privacy.”

The DirectorBy Ovid Demaris

Published three years after J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972, The Director presents deftly woven interviews with scores of Hoover’s associates for an extraordinary view of the personal and public life of the man who built the FBI in his own image and sold it to America through his hidden public-relations operations. His friend, filmmaker Mervyn LeRoy (The Wizard of Oz), recalls that Hoover tightly controlled his production of The FBI Story and that he was “never so nervous in my whole life.”

The Church Committee ReportsThe U.S. Senate

In the wake of the Watergate scandal, U.S Sen. Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat, led the most in-depth congressional examination before or since of our nation’s intelligence operations. Known as the Church Committee, the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities released 14 reports in 1975 and 1976 loaded with astonishing revelations about government-intelligence activities: CIA plots to assassinate foreign leaders and test LSD on unwitting Americans; massive military spying on citizens; and the NSA’s electronic eavesdropping. Book III discusses the FBI’s efforts to discredit Martin Luther King Jr. and its warrantless burglaries of homes and offices, IRS audits of government critics, and the CIA’s CHAOS pogram. These highly readable reports resonate with today’s headlines and suggest it is time Congress conducted similarly probing hearings.

J. Edgar Hoover, Sex, and CrimeBy Athan Theoharis

Theoharis, professor of history emeritus at Marquette University, was a consultant to the Church Committee and went on to become the nation’s foremost historian of the FBI. His many books are driven by pioneering research into previously secret bureau records accessed under the Freedom of Information Act. This concise 1995 work is a historical antidote to prurient fascination with Hoover’s sexuality and a reminder that what is crucial to democracy is not the hunt for the smoking tutu, but effective oversight of intelligence operations.

Super Sad True Love StoryBy Gary Shteyngart

This chilling, satirical novel set in a not-too-distant future New York City follows the doomed romance between Lenny Abramov, who works for Post-Human Services selling Indeterminate Life Extension to High Net Worth Individuals, and Eunice Park, the beautiful younger woman who has just graduated with a degree in Images. Smartphones have morphed into “apparats” with RateMe Plus that automatically transmit health, financial, and sexual-interest data to everyone’s else’s device; women wear transparent Onionskin jeans; Credit Poles along sidewalks flash passersby’s credit ratings and declare “America Celebrates Its Spenders”; corporate consolidation (i.e., “AlliedWasteCVSCitigroupCredit”); and the omnipresent American Restoration Authority demands that everyone deny the existence of its blatant security measures and imply their consent. Shteyngart exaggerates aspects of our current lives just enough to reveal our headlong rush to a world in which everyone has blithely accepted consumer technology, constant surveillance, and the loss of privacy.