Thomas & Mercer, 2016, 418 pages
NSA director Theodore Anders has a simple goal: collect every phone call, email, and keystroke tapped on the Internet. He knows unlimited surveillance is the only way to keep America safe.
Evelyn Gallagher doesn't care much about any of that. She just wants to keep her head down and manage the NSA's camera network and facial recognition program so she can afford private school for her deaf son, Dash.
But when Evelyn discovers the existence of a program code-named God's Eye and connects it with the mysterious deaths of a string of journalists and whistle-blowers, her doubts put her and Dash in the crosshairs of a pair of government assassins: Delgado, a sadistic bomb maker and hacker, and Manus, a damaged giant of a man who until now has cared for nothing beyond protecting the director.
Within an elaborate game of political blackmail, terrorist provocations, and White House scheming, a global war is being fought - a war between those desperate to keep the state's darkest secrets and those intent on revealing them. A war that Evelyn will need all her espionage training and savvy to survive, because the director has the ultimate advantage: The God's Eye View.
I don't expect an NSA novel to be realistic or even even-handed. (See my review of Hostile Intent.) When you read a novel about the NSA, you should generally treat it with the same skepticism you would treat a novel about secret vampire societies or time traveling Highlanders. So I was kind of expecting a stupid thriller where the NSA has magical see-anything-anywhere-anytime technology and Edward Snowden and Chelsea née Bradley Manning would be praised as "whistleblowers," but The God's Eye View is even more egregious than Dan Brown's Digital Fortress. People read crap written by hack authors and think it reflects reality. A lot of reviews of this book praise it as "scarily realistic" and the author for "doing his research."
These reviewers are fucking idiots.
First of all, understand that most people who make movies or books about the NSA are ignorant tools, regardless of their political leanings. From Enemy of the State to Digital Fortress, most fictional representations of the NSA are pure fantasy, describing an agency with magical powers, unlimited authority, and nonexistent oversight. The reality is far more tedious and bureaucratic. The Director of the NSA is a career military officer who by necessity has gotten where he is by playing Washington politics and keeping his nose clean. He spends more time pleading for money before Congress than concocting secret conspiracies. NSA employees are regular civil servants, and their jobs are generally no more exciting than those who work for the IRS or the Department of Agriculture. Sure, with security clearances and the NSA's mission they get to see signals intelligence collection and a rare few are actually involved in tracking down terrorists, but what they are not doing is spending their days reading your email or listening to Angela Merkel's phone calls.
Of course, those who believe that the NSA has fleets of black helicopters and government assassins ready to go at any time are not going to believe anything as mundane as actual facts. Unfortunately, some of those people write books, and many more read them.
I guess I should have been warned when God's Eye View opens with quotes from Julian Assange and the Stasi. Barry Eisler has drunk the Koolaid.
In his author's bio, Eisler says that he worked for three years "in a covert position with the CIA's Directorate of Operations."
That sounds a lot more impressive than it is. It's unlikely he actually did anything that people usually think of as "spy stuff," but working for the DO means he probably had a "cover" assignment, meaning he worked somewhere pretending to be something other than a CIA employee. I'm sure it was interesting, but it doesn't mean he was anything more than a low-level GS employee. He also did it over 20 years ago. So he is not an expert insider writing about shit he actually knows. Also, the CIA and NSA are completely different agencies with different missions. So bragging that he once worked for the CIA for a short time means nothing in terms of how much he actually knows about the NSA today.
This became evident as his novel departed further and further from reality. So fine, he wrote a sensational technothriller. In his version of reality, the NSA not only can but does casually spy on anyone anywhere. I realize that many people actually believe that the NSA is reading Americans' emails and listening to their phone calls, despite the fact that even in the volumes of data released by Edward Snowden and other so-called "whistleblowers," no evidence of doing this has ever been found. The NSA's mission is very strictly defined and regulated, and there are very strict rules it must follow when it comes to surveillance of US citizens. The NSA cannot simply decide to spy on someone inside the United States because terrorism. To do so requires going to court to get a FISA warrant, and it requires a ton of paperwork and very high-level authorizations - it is absolutely not something an ordinary NSA employee can do, and even the Director of the NSA cannot authorize it on a whim.
"That's just what They want you to believe!"
Sure, you can choose to believe that it's all lies, all the investigations and audits and Congressional hearings have been cover-ups (according to Eisler, the media is just a lapdog for the NSA), every single NSA employee casually disregards the Constitution and breaks the law daily and this doesn't bother anyone working there. In which case, nothing anyone tells you will convince you differently.
In The God's Eye View, NSA employees use the tools of counter-terrorism surveillance to check up on people they meet on Match.com and spy on anyone anywhere in realtime. And the Director of the NSA is a power-hungry psychopath who runs the NSA as his personal fiefdom. He keeps a rapist serial killer and a deaf brute hitman on retainer. In Barry Eisler's world, the NSA casually assassinates journalists, political activists, politicians, and its own employees, as well as setting off bombs in Washington, D.C. as false flags so that the NSA can be given more power to fight terrorism. About the only thing the NSA doesn't do in this book is actually monitor other countries or do counter-terrorism. The NSA, in Eisler's world, is indistinguishable from the KGB or the Stasi. It doesn't actually perform its function, merely acts as the private army of its power-crazed Director.
The plot is basically Oliver Stone's Snowden mixed with a Tom Clancy novel. An NSA employee (the DIRNSA's personal assistant) who helped create the "God's Eye" program that allows the NSA to track anyone anywhere, begins to suffers a crisis of conscience when she suspects the DIRNSA is having people killed for knowing too much. Of course suffering a crisis of conscience means she now knows too much, so when the DIRNSA suspects her loyalty has become shaky, she is next to be disposed of. He summons his pet minion, a deaf assassin with an angsty abusive backstory, to follow her around, and when he is convinced that she is indeed a liability, he summons his other personal assassin, the sadistic rapist-serial killer whom he allows to run amok in the US as long as he's available to kill people for the NSA, to do away with his own employee.
Oh, but wait! The poor personal assistant has a deaf son! And the deaf killer, when he meets her and his son, is touched! Literally, since she is inexplicably and immediately attracted to a guy described as some sort of misshapen hulking monster, so they fuck in a couple of very purple sex scenes and this results in the deaf guy becoming a good guy and trying to save her from the other assassin and the evil DIRNSA.
As a thriller, this book would rate slightly higher for a quick and entertaining if silly plot and mediocre writing. But for writing crappy, poorly researched garbage, Eisler rates at the Twilight level. Just plain bad.
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