America the Vulnerable

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A former top-level National Security Agency insider goes behind the headlines to explore America’s next great battleground: digital security. An urgent wake-up call that identifies our foes; unveils their methods; and charts the dire consequences for government, business, and individuals.

Shortly after 9/11, Joel Brenner entered the inner sanctum of American espionage, first as the inspector general of the National Security Agency, then as the head of counterintelligence for the director of national intelligence. He saw at close range the battleground on which our adversaries are now attacking us-cyberspace. We are at the mercy of a new generation of spies who operate remotely from China, the Middle East, Russia, even France, among many other places. These operatives have already shown their ability to penetrate our power plants, steal our latest submarine technology, rob our banks, and invade the Pentagon’s secret communications systems.

Incidents like the WikiLeaks posting of secret U.S. State Department cables hint at the urgency of this problem, but they hardly reveal its extent or its danger. Our government and corporations are a “glass house,” all but transparent to our adversaries. Counterfeit computer chips have found their way into our fighter aircraft; the Chinese stole a new radar system that the navy spent billions to develop; our own soldiers used intentionally corrupted thumb drives to download classified intel from laptops in Iraq.

Dispatches from the corporate world are just as dire. In 2008, hackers lifted customer files from the Royal Bank of Scotland and used them to withdraw $9 million in half an hour from ATMs in the United States, Britain, and Canada. If that was a traditional heist, it would be counted as one of the largest in history. Worldwide, corporations lose on average $5 million worth of intellectual property apiece annually, and big companies lose many times that.

The structure and culture of the Internet favor spies over governments and corporations, and hackers over privacy, and we’ve done little to alter that balance. Brenner draws on his extraordinary background to show how to right this imbalance and bring to cyberspace the freedom, accountability, and security we expect elsewhere in our lives.

In America the Vulnerable, Brenner offers a chilling and revelatory appraisal of the new faces of war and espionage-virtual battles with dangerous implications for government, business, and all of us.

Read a conversation with Joel Brenner and Scott Moyers, publisher of the Penguin Press »

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Politics & Prose




Virginia Lawyer

If you’re one of those people who thinks you’d be better off if you turned off your computer, unplugged it, took out the hard drive, chopped it into pieces, burned the pieces, and buried the ashes in someone’s yard twenty miles from your house, this book is for you.”

- Gordon Hickey, February 2012


“Elegantly argued, teeming with facts and illuminating anecdotes, sophisticated about technology, and all written with an insider’s understanding of the intelligence community. … deserves pride of place in a literature we can all hope will read some day as a mere expression of anxiety at modernity–but which we must all fear is prophecy we continue to ignore at our great collective peril.”

“His writing is a pleasure. …  pervasively informed – and enriched – by the things the author has seen. …  a very important book ….”

- Benjamin Wittes, Brookings Institution, December 28, 2011

The Christian Science Monitor

“…. framed by insider perspective and spiced with numerous case examples makes a compelling, readable narrative….  should be required reading on Capitol Hill and in the West Wing.”

“He knows what he is talking about. We should listen to him.  Carefully.”

- Mark Clayton, November 3, 2011

Discover Magazine

“A public service announcement of the most urgent sort, this engrossing book reveals how our lack of cyber savvy, both as individuals and as a nation, is exposing us to extraordinary risks, including viruses that could destroy the power grid, simple hacks that have harvested millions of credit card numbers from retailers, and security breaches that are hemorrhaging classified intelligence through the Net. It is thought provoking reading from an expert witness.”

- Veronique Greenwood, October 2011

Publishers Weekly

This alarming account by an expert is worthy of serious attention from policy makers and average readers alike.

- December 2011


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Politics & Prose


“If you have responsibility for protecting intellectual property, trade secrets, and other instruments of successful business; if you are responsible for protecting national information and technology interests, then you have a responsibility to read this book. Bring a change of underwear.”

—Vint Cerf, chief Internet evangelist at Google


“Cybercrime, espionage, and warfare are among the great challenges of this century, but as Joel Brenner argues, we are woefully ill prepared to meet them. Drawing on history, law, economics, common sense, and his rare experience in counterintelligence, Brenner deftly describes the problems and off ers a series of very practical solutions. This is book is both well written and convincing.”

—Joseph Nye, author of Soft Power and The Future of Power and
University Distinguished Service Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government


“America the Vulnerable off ers an expert’s keen insight into the netherworld of cyberrisk. Rich in facts, stories, and analysis, the book is a clarion call for more eff ective cyberpolicies and practices in both the government and private sector. America should take heed.”

—Ambassador Henry A. Crumpton, former CIA officer, former U.S. coordinator for counterterrorism, and CEO of Crumpton Group


“Brenner takes us inside the daily battle in the world of cyberespionage, where China and others are stealing American corporations’ ‘secret sauce.’ He shows us the ongoing cyberwar that the United States is losing.”

—Richard Clarke, author of Cyber War and Against All Enemies, former White House national coordinator for security, and former special adviser to the president for cybersecurity


“Joel Brenner is a quiet hero—a lawyer who, after 9/11, forsook a prosperous life to serve the United States on a diff erent kind of front line: the world of intelligence. He has written a book about cyberspace, that will inform his fellow citizens—and should trouble them deeply. A lucid, scary, and very important book.”

—Eliot Cohen, author of Supreme Command and Conquered into Liberty


“Joel Brenner’s book should be front and center in the 2012 presidential race. Scarier than a Stephen King novel—only this is nonfiction!”

—David Smick, author of the international bestseller The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy