James Bamford is an author and journalist who has written extensively about the National Security Agency. His books include The Puzzle Palace, Body of Secrets, and The Shadow Factory. He has also produced a documentary for NOVA on PBS. We learned about James last year through a Wired article about the NSA’s new data center in Bluffdale, Utah.
My conversation with James covers several topics that have been missing from The Conversation thus far: privacy, surveillance, and the threat of totalitarian government. As a result, this episode has few overt connections to the rest of the project, but there are underlying commonalities. From Chuck Collins to David Korten, we have heard thinkers concerned with hyperindividualism in its economic and social manifestations. On the other end of the spectrum, we have David Miller and Robert Zubrin who are worried about the possibility for collective regulation to dampen individual creativity and enterprise. James departs from all of these conversations and examines how the individual/community tension plays out in the realm of security and personal liberty.
Micah, Neil, and I conclude the episode with an attempt to better integrate James into the rest of the project. Somehow, this leads us into a discussion of what government is for and if an apathetic democracy is worth preserving.