DIGITAL FORTRESS
Dan Brown


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St. Martin's Press, February 1998
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
 
Susan Fletcher, head cryptographer for the National Security Agency, is preparing for a romantic weekend with her fiancÚ, David Becker, when he phones to postpone their plans. David, a language professor at Georgetown University, is called out of town on a mysterious errand. The errand will only take one day, in and out, and they can leave for their romantic weekend when he returns.

But minutes after David's message, Susan receives a call from the NSA calling her in to work to handle a crisis. Her boss, Commander Trevor Strathmore, has encountered an unbreakable code called Digital Fortress that threatens to make the translation computer at NSA obsolete and will cripple the nation's intelligence gathering agency. NSA is a top secret agency and the very existence of TRANSLTR is only a rumor, but a former cryptographer, Ensei Tankado, has devised a plan to sabotage the agency. Susan arrives at NSA to find she is caught up in a dangerous race to save the agency from destruction and that David has become unwittingly involved in the conspiracy. With national security and lives at stake, Susan is in a race against time to discover the passkey that will unlock Digital Fortress.

DIGITAL FORTRESS is a chilling, fast paced techno thriller. Thanks to Dan Brown you will never send another email without thinking about the work done at the NSA. This book is so well researched that you will have trouble discerning fact from fiction, a trademark of Brown's novels. The National Security Agency does exist, and is a code-breaking, intelligence gathering agency, but who knows if a code breaking computer on the scale of TRANSLTR exists? The details of encryption technology, anonymous remailers, and computer viruses are believable and pretty well explained for the average reader. You would need a degree in computers or electrical engineering to detect any flaws in the science. At its core, DIGITAL FORTRESS deals with privacy issues and the sacrifices every citizen must make for intelligence gathering to go on. I like the main characters; however, the characterization was minimal, and they took a back seat to the science and suspense.

Dan Brown, a graduate and teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy, is reported to have been inspired to write this novel by the sudden appearance of FBI agents on the school campus. Two students allegedly sent threatening emails that were intercept by an intelligence agency and were believed to be a threat to national security. Brown's research led him to the little known agency, NSA (only 3% of the public knew of its existence until now) and to the release of DIGITAL FORTRESS. Brown's other novels include ANGELS & DEMONS and THE DA VINCI CODE, featuring Robert Langdon's series, and DECEPTION POINT.
 
March 2004

 

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