Scrolling Twitter at a nuclear compound: A review of “Spies, Lies, and Algorithms” by Amy Zegart

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Scrolling Twitter at a nuclear compound: A review of “Spies, Lies, and Algorithms” by Amy Zegart

March 17, 2022 - Steve Yount

© littlewolf1989/stock.adobe.com

© littlewolf1989/stock.adobe.com

New technologies and sources of information have forced US intelligence to change the way it operates.

That’s one of the lessons of the war in Ukraine and a key theme of a new book, Spies, Lies, and Algorithms: The History and Future of American Intelligence, by Stanford political scientist Amy Zegart.

For months before Russia invaded, US intelligence warned of the dangers, sharing information it would have kept secret a decade ago. One of the reasons: Russia’s skill at spreading disinformation in the digital age.

“We’ve been transparent with the world,” President Joe Biden said. “We’ve shared declassified evidence about Russia’s plans and cyberattacks and false pretexts so that there can be no confusion or cover-up about what Putin was doing.”

Technologies like cellphones, the internet, artificial intelligence, and commercial satellites have led to a new type of information called “open-source intelligence.”

“When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, the best evidence did not come from spies or secretly intercepted communications,” Zegart wrote. “It came from selfies: time-stamped photos taken by Russian soldiers and posted on social media with Ukrainian highway signs in the background. Social media has become so important, even the consoles at America’s underground nuclear command center display Twitter feeds alongside classified information feeds.”

Anyone with a cellphone and an internet connection can collect important data, like Jacob Bogle, who bills himself as a political consultant and expert on coins and North Korea. His work has been cited by outlets like The Washington Post and BuzzFeed.

Groups like the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the Institute for Science and International Security also belong to the open-source intelligence community. Experts at those organizations discovered that Iran was lying about a fire at a nuclear facility in July 2020. 

Why Christians should read this book

It will give them a greater understanding of geopolitics at a time when the US seems increasingly at odds with other great powers.

The big takeaway

The US intelligence community faces more competitors and threats than ever before. At the same time, it has to sift through more data with greater speed.

Trivia

  • George Washington may have had a reputation for never telling a lie, but he was a master of deception in warfare. He frequently used ciphers and invisible ink. In one pivotal gambit, he ordered large ovens built for baking bread in New Jersey and began producing thousands of loaves in an attempt to convince British forces in New York that the Continental Army remained in the area. The ruse worked while Washington moved his forces to Yorktown for the war’s decisive battle.
  • The day of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell missed his daughter’s final choir performance in high school. “Whatever you’re doing can’t be that important,” his angry wife told him. Only when President Barack Obama announced the successful mission later that night on television did she discover why her husband had to stay late at the office.

Read a sample of the book

 

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