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the story behind the book | kate tuttle

Shining a light on government’s secrets

Annie Jacobsen investigates DARPA in ‘The Pentagon’s Brain’

david wilson for the boston globe

“The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency” follows Annie Jacobsen’s two previous books that investigate hidden government and military histories (“Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base” and “Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America ”), and it serves as “part three in a series,” said the author.

The new book shines light on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. Founded during the Eisenhower administration in 1958, Jacobsen said, “DARPA is the most powerful, most prolific military-science agency in the world. It is also one of the least reported on.”


Most Americans have no idea the agency even exists, something Jacobsen would like to change. “DARPA not only leads technology around the world, but it creates entire industries,” she said. “The Internet is an obvious one, GPS another, cell technology, the world of drones, both civilian and for defense purposes.”

Yet, she added, while DARPA innovations have often benefited citizens and society, it’s “ important as an alert and knowledgeable citizen to realize that DARPA’s primary job is to create weapons systems. So whatever it’s working on must be, or should be, looked at through the point of view of weapons development.”

Gaining access wasn’t always easy. “My job as a reporter is to inform the public,” Jacobsen said, but that’s not in the job descriptions of DARPA staff and scientists. Many of her information requests were rejected or ignored, but she was able to unearth fascinating — and occasionally chilling — details, including one document about plans for “robotic swarms of hunter-killer drones” to be used in future warfare.

“What is at issue here is the military-industrial complex,” she said. “It was Eisenhower who said these two concepts can live together — democracy and military industrialization — but the real key factor is people maintaining an awareness of what is going on in their own country.”


Jacobsen will read 7 p.m. Wednesday at Harvard Book Store.

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at