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Reece Hirsch

About Reece

Reece Hirsch is the author of four thrillers that draw upon his background as a privacy attorney. His first book, The Insider, was a finalist for the 2011 International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel. His next three books, The Adversary, Intrusion, and Surveillance, all feature former Department of Justice cybercrimes prosecutor Chris Bruen. Hirsch is a partner in the San Francisco office of an international law firm and cochair of its privacy and cybersecurity practice. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation (

Reece has been listed in Chambers USA: America's Best Lawyers for Business since 2005. He earned his law degree from the University of Southern California and a B.S. degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Prior to law school, Reece worked as a journalist in Atlanta for several years, including a stint as an assistant editor of a business magazine. He also edited and published an arts and entertainment magazine in Atlanta.

Reece is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the International Association of Thriller Writers, and has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Northern California chapter of MWA.

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Q & A

How did SURVEILLANCE come about?

A: My first book, THE INSIDER, touched upon NSA surveillance at a time when the issue, and much of what we know now about the NSA's role, were not in the public domain. SURVEILLANCE is my "post-Snowden" NSA book and it addresses how the NSA might respond to the new limitations imposed upon its surveillance authorities by the USA Freedom Act. As I researched the NSA, I came to realize what a high bar reality has set for those of us who write paranoid thrillers. But above all, SURVEILLANCE is intended to be a fast, thrilling adventure that illuminates a few of the more disturbing aspects of the way we live today. The book is written from three different perspectives on the modern surveillance state: (1) a person who is on the run from our government (Chris Bruen), (2) someone who is trying to live in hiding "off-the-grid" (Zoey Doucet), and (3) a conflicted NSA analyst (Sam Reston) haunted by the failures of 9-11 who offers a through-the-lookinglass view from inside the agency.

What inspired INTRUSION?

A: Like my previous books, INTRUSION draws inspiration from real events. I was fascinated by the widely reported 2009 hack of Google, which was attributed to hackers based in China that were suspected to be affiliated with the People's Liberation Army. I wondered how even a powerful company could defend itself against a sophisticated, state-sponsored assault. I figured that's where an attorney like my character Chris Bruen would be brought in. In INTRUSION, Chris's client sends him to China to attempt to find evidence establishing who was behind a hack and theft of intellectual property. As you might expect, things go horribly, horribly wrong. The investigation of the hack in Chapter 3 of INTRUSION closely parallels a 2013 report released by Mandiant Security Consulting (now part of FireEye, Inc.) that presented evidence linking a series of hacks based in China to the People's Liberation Army and a particular building in Shanghai. General Keith Alexander, then head of the NSA, called this wave of hacks targeting US corporations "the greatest transfer of wealth in history."

Where did the idea behind THE ADVERSARY come from?

A: THE ADVERSARY deals with the very real threat posed by the sophisticated new generation of computer viruses exemplified by the Stuxnet virus. As reported in David Sanger's 2012 book "Confront and Conceal," the Stuxnet virus was created through a collaboration between the U.S. and Israeli governments to disrupt very specific targets—the centrifuges at Iran's Natanz nuclear enrichment center, the heart of the Iranian nuclear program. But a computer virus like Stuxnet is different from a bomb that is destroyed when it is detonated. A computer virus is made up of code that, once deployed, remains out there in the world. THE ADVERSARY considers what might happen if a computer virus like Stuxnet was retooled by black hat hackers and turned back against our country as a weapon of cyberterrorism.

What made you want to write a legal thriller?

A: After more than 20 years of practicing law, it's the world I know. One of things I like best about the legal thriller genre is that lawyers are the ultimate insiders. They're privy to their clients' secrets, and guide them through some of their biggest crises. A legal thriller offers the opportunity to take the reader behind the scenes of a world of money and power. In THE INSIDER, it was the world of high-stakes M&A, the encryption software business, and the workings of a big law firm. In THE ADVERSARY, it's the world of hackers, cybercrime and computer viruses and the lawyers who defend their clients against those threats.

What was your background in writing prior to THE INSIDER?

A: Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to tell stories and write fiction, but I didn't really get serious about it until after I turned forty. I heard the clock ticking and realized that if I didn't make a serious effort to complete a novel, I would always regret it. I had taken creative writing classes as an undergraduate at Northwestern, and briefly toyed with the idea of pursuing an M.F.A. When I worked as a journalist, I was a big fan of the New Journalism and the idea of bringing techniques of fiction to feature writing. Tom Wolfe was my journalistic hero.

So you published a magazine prior to law school?

A: After graduating from journalism school and working for a while as an assistant editor of a business magazine, I decided to start a new, free arts and entertainment magazine in Atlanta called Open City. If I'd known how difficult it was to publish a free magazine with zero funding, I probably wouldn't have attempted it. But we managed to publish the magazine for three years, making it from issue to issue solely on ad sales. It was difficult, but I had a great time, worked with some very talented and patient young writers, and I had the opportunity to interview interesting people like Michael Stipe, Ray Bradbury and Oliver Stone. Eventually, I sold the magazine to another local publication and went to law school.

Is your legal practice similar to Chris Bruen's?

A: Like Chris, I'm a specialist in privacy and security law. Unlike Chris, I've never been a federal prosecutor, or a litigator, for that matter. I also don't run around the world hunting down hackers. However, I have worked with attorneys who have practices similar to Chris's. And I do advise clients on how to respond to hacking exploits and security breaches.

What does a privacy and security lawyer do?

A: I advise companies on how to comply with an incredibly complex patchwork of U.S. privacy and security laws and regulations. It's a very rapidly evolving area of the law right now. I help companies better understand how they can, and can't, use your personal information.

Where did the idea behind THE INSIDER come from?

A: As a specialist in privacy and security law, I had long been familiar with the Clipper Chip program, which was formulated by the National Security Agency during the first Bush administration. Clipper Chip was a powerful encryption program, based on an algorithm known as Skipjack, which the government intended to offer for commercial use by businesses and individuals. The encryption software contained a chip, dubbed the Clipper Chip, which created a "back-door" that would have permitted law enforcement agencies to access the encrypted communications to combat terrorism. In 1995, during the Clinton administration, the program was ultimately abandoned based upon growing privacy concerns that were raised in Congressional hearings.

After 9-11, during the second Bush administration, it came to light that the NSA had enlisted telecommunications companies to collaborate in domestic surveillance programs. Combining the enormous databases of personal information maintained by the government and telecoms without appropriate oversight seemed to me to be a very dangerous trend. It was then that I thought again of the Clipper Chip program. I considered what might have happened if the Clipper Chip program had never really been abandoned, but had been carried forward through a secret alliance between the NSA and a major encryption software company. And that was how I came up with one of the key plot elements of THE INSIDER. Those issues are more timely than ever now in the wake of the Edward Snowden matter and the disclosure of the NSA's involvement with several major technology companies in conducting the Prism program.

What's next?

A: I'm currently working on a stand-alone thriller that doesn't feature Chris Bruen, but like my other books it highlights some cutting-edge privacy and security issues that are very much in the headlines. It can be a challenge to work with issues that are so timely because there's always the danger that current events are going to outpace your imagination. But that's also one of the things that makes writing the Bruen books so much fun. I like to think of them as dispatches from the front lines of the war on cybercrime.

When do you find time to write?

A: It's not easy with my job, but I usually write very early in the mornings and on weekend mornings. Riding into the city on the BART train also works for me, particularly for revisions.