Keefe, Patrick Radden 1976–

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Keefe, Patrick Radden 1976–

(Patrick S. Radden Keefe)

PERSONAL: Born 1976. Education: Yale University Law School, J.D., 2005.

ADDRESSES: Office—World Policy Institute, New School University, 66 5th Ave., 9th Fl., New York, NY 10011. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Attorney. Project leader for World Policy Institute.

AWARDS, HONORS: Marshall scholar; Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers fellow, New York Public Library, 2003.


Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including New York Review of Books, Yale Journal of Constitutional Law, Slate, Boston Globe, New York Times, and Legal Affairs. Book reviewer, New York Review of Books.

ADAPTATIONS: Chatter was adapted to audiocassette, Books on Tape, 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, a familiar watchword appeared in the American vernacular: "chatter." Prior to a number of terrorist attacks throughout the world, and particularly before the 9/11 attacks, intelligence sources detected increased amounts of chatter: communication among and between foreign groups and individuals. Greater levels of communication thereby correlated with a greater possibility of more attacks. Even as the public dreaded news of increased chatter, they often did not know exactly what the chatter was about, how it was identified and gathered, and what governments did with information derived from it. In Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping Patrick Radden Keefe works to "demystify a very mysterious subject," that of electronic espionage and large-scale communications monitoring, noted William Grimes in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Published while Keefe was still a student at the Yale University Law School, Chatter is a careful examination of the techniques and uses of signals intelligence, or SIGINT, as a means of gathering information on terrorists, criminals, and a variety of other enemies of the state. Keefe "explores the nature and context of communications interception, drawing together strands of history, investigative reporting and riveting anecdotes," commented a reviewer on the Milton Academy Web site. "The result is part detective story, part travel-writing, part essay on paranoia and secrecy in a digital age."

In his book, Keefe describes Menwith Hill, a surreal-looking high-technology surveillance base nestled in the countryside of North Yorkshire, England, that is the "largest eavesdropping base on Earth and America's ear on the world," related James Bamford in the Washington Post Book World. Keefe relates how he was consistently stymied in his attempts to get information directly from the organizations involved with signals intelligence. His requests for access to the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), for example, were met with complete silence; no one in the NSA would even acknowledge him. Keefe had to winnow the story out of available public resources, including news reports, patent filings, and even informal chats with SIGINT workers in local bars.

Keefe also explores other instances in which the desire for useful intelligence conflicts with the potential to cross into wholesale invasions of privacy, such was in the case of the ominous Echelon system. Echelon, a collaborative effort between the United States, Great Britain, and a number of other ally countries, had the ability to intercept millions of electronic communications per hour, but the secrecy in which it operated meant that the general public had little knowledge of its existence, and no outside agencies or individuals were able to report on Echelon's activities. "Echelon clearly threatened individual privacy and raised questions around how much secrecy democratic governments should be able to maintain in the name of national security," observed a writer on the Yale University Law School Web site. Similarly, the U.S. government's aborted Total Information Awareness program, promising the ability to monitor nearly every aspect of Americans' lives through massive linkages among private and government databases, was criticized as being almost Orwellian in its potential to impose Big Brother-like scrutiny on ordinary citizens. "A suspicious Congress strangled the program in its cradle," Grimes reported.

"In the end, Keefe argues that the vital debate over where to draw that line should not be left just to intelligence officials and Congress," commented Bamford. "The public, he insists, must educate itself as best it can and weigh in on the decision" as to what constitutes enough surveillance to reasonably ensure public safety and an unacceptable level of intrusion into the lives of everyday citizens, Bamford added. "Keefe's book will reach readers interested in intelligence as well as those worried by it," concluded Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor.

"Provocative, sometimes funny, and alarming without being alarmist, Chatter is a journey through a bizarre and shadowy world with vast implications for our security as well as our privacy," stated a contributor to the Milton Academy Web site. "Keefe writes, crisply and entertainingly, as an interested private citizen rather than an expert," Grimes commented. He "does a wonderful job" of exploring the world of electronic surveillance and eavesdropping, Bamford added.



Booklist, February 1, 2005, Gilbert Taylor, review of Chatter: Dispatches from the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping, p. 923.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2004, review of Chatter, p. 1183.

Library Journal, February 1, 2005, Harry Charles, review of Chatter, p. 101.

San Diego Union-Tribune, April 10, 2005, William Grimes, "Chatter Is a Decent Attempt to Demystify the Murky World of Electronic Espionage."

Washington Post Book World, February 20, 2005, James Bamford, "… We're Watching Them," review of Chatter, p. T05.


Milton Academy Web site, (August 30, 2005), "Patrick Radden Keefe '94 Sparks National Praise, Intrigue with Chatter, an Exposé of Modern Espionage."

Yale University Law School Web site, (March 18, 2005), "Patrick Keefe '05 Investigates SigInt in Chatter.