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AMERICA’S TOP-SECRET 
LITARY RESEARCH AGENCY 


iE 


PENTAGON d 
BRAIN 


AN UNCENSORED HISTORY OF 
DARPA, 
AMERICA’S TOP SECRET 
MILITARY RESEARCH AGENCY 


ANNIE JACOBSEN 


@® 


LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY 
le) 





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For Kevin 


The best way to predict the future is to create it. 
—Erich Fromm 


PROLOGUE 


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or 


DARPA as it is known, is the most powerful and most 
productive military science agency in the world. It is also 
one of the most secretive and, until this book, the least 
investigated. Its mission is to create revolutions in military 
science and to maintain technological dominance over the 
rest of the world. 

DARPA was created by Congress in 1958 and has 
functioned ever since as the central research and 
development organization of the Department of Defense. 
With an annual budget of roughly $3 billion, DARPA is 
unlike any other military research agency in the United 
States. DARPA as an agency does not conduct scientific 
research. Its program managers and directors hire defense 
contractors, academics, and other government 
organizations to do the work. DARPA then facilitates the 
transition of its successful results to the military for use. It 
acts swiftly and with agility, free from standard bureaucracy 
or red tape. DARPA maintains an extraordinarily small staff. 
For six decades now the agency has employed, on average, 
120 program managers annually, each for roughly five 
years’ tenure. These entrepreneurial leaders, the majority 
of whom are accomplished scientists themselves, initiate 
and oversee hundreds of research projects—involving tens 
of thousands of scientists and engineers working inside 
national laboratories, military and defense contractor 
facilities, and university laboratories—all across America 
and overseas. 


DARPA program managers maintain an unusual degree 
of authority in an otherwise rigid military chain of 
command. They can start, continue, or stop research 
projects with little outside intervention. Once ready for 
fielding, the resulting weapons and weapons-related 
systems are turned over to the Army, Navy, Air Force, and 
Marines, and to intelligence agencies including the CIA, 
NSA (National Security Agency), DIA (Defense Intelligence 
Agency), NGA (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency), 
NRO (National Reconnaissance Office), and others. 

DARPA carefully controls its public persona. Stories 
about DARPA as America’s cutting-edge science agency 
appear regularly in the press, while the bulk of DARPA’s 
more consequential and sometimes Orwellian programs go 
largely unreported. “Tiny DARPA implants could give 
humans self-healing powers,” headlined CBS News in the 
fall of 2014. That same week, Business Insider ran the 
headline “DARPA’s Incredible Jumping Robot Shows How 
the US Military Is Pivoting to Disaster Relief.” These and 
other DARPA stories angle toward health and wellness, 
when in fact DARPA’s stated mission is to create weapons 
systems. This book reveals why. Many news stories remind 
readers that DARPA created the Internet, Global Positioning 
Systems (GPS), and stealth technology. But to describe 
DARPA this way is to describe Apple as the computer 
company that built the Macintosh 512K. These DARPA 
milestones are forty-year-old inventions. Why has so much 
else about America’s most powerful and most productive 
military science agency been shrouded in mystery? This 
book shines a light on DARPA’s secret history. 

Until 1972, DARPA was located inside the Pentagon. 
Today the agency maintains headquarters in an unmarked 
glass and steel building four miles from the Pentagon, in 
Arlington, Virginia. DARPA’s director reports to the Office of 
the Secretary of Defense. In its fifty-seven years, DARPA has 
never allowed the United States to be taken by scientific 


surprise. Admirers call DARPA the Pentagon’s brain. Critics 
call it the heart of the military-industrial complex. Is DARPA 
to be admired or feared? Does DARPA safeguard 
democracy, or does it stimulate America’s seemingly 
endless call to war? 

DARPA makes the future happen. Industry, public health, 
society, and culture all transform because of technology 
that DARPA pioneers. DARPA creates, DARPA dominates, 
and when sent to the battlefield, DARPA destroys. “We are 
faced with huge uncertainties and shifting threats,” DARPA 
director Arati Prabhakar stated in a press release in 2014, 
“but we also have unparalleled opportunities to advance 
technologies in a way that can provide the nation with 
dramatic new capabilities.” But what if some of these 
“dramatic new capabilities” are not such great ideas? 

To research this book, I interviewed seventy-one 
individuals uniquely affiliated with DARPA, going back to 
the earliest days of the agency. The list includes presidential 
science advisors, DARPA program managers and scientists, 
members of the esoteric and highly secretive Jason 
scientists, captains, colonels, a Nobel laureate, and a four- 
star general. In interviewing these individuals, I heard 
stories about pushing known scientific boundaries in the 
name of national security, about weather warfare, social 
science experiments, and war games. I heard about 
brilliance and hubris, about revolutionary triumphs and 
shortsighted defeat. One concept stands out. DARPA, by its 
mandate, pioneers advanced military science in secret. A 
revolution is not a revolution unless it comes with an 
element of surprise. Once DARPA technology is revealed on 
the battlefield, other nations inevitably acquire the science 
that DARPA pioneered. For example, in the early 1960s, 
during the Vietnam War, DARPA began developing 
unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. It took three decades 
to arm the first drone, which then appeared on the 
battlefield in Afghanistan in October 2001. By the time the 


public knew about drone warfare, U.S. drone technology 
had advanced by multiple generations. Shortly thereafter, 
numerous enemy nations began engineering their own 
drones. By 2014, eighty-seven nations had military-grade 
drones. 

In interviewing former DARPA scientists for this book, I 
learned that at any given time in history, what DARPA 
scientists are working on—most notably in the agency’s 
Classified programs—is ten to twenty years ahead of the 
technology in the public domain. The world becomes the 
future because of DARPA. Is it wise to let DARPA determine 
what lies ahead? 


PART | 





THE COLD WAR 


CHAPTER ONE 


The Evil Thing 


One day in the winter of 1954, a group of American 


scientists found themselves entering into a time when a 
machine they had created could trigger the end of the 
world. It was March 1, 1954, 4:29 a.m. local time on Bikini 
Atoll in the Marshall Islands, a small island chain in the vast 
Pacific Ocean, 2,650 miles west of Hawaii. Some of the 
scientists in the group had warned of this moment. Enrico 
Fermi and Isidor Rabi, both Manhattan Project scientists, 
called this machine an “evil thing,” and they told President 
Truman it should never be created. But it was built anyway, 
and now it was about to explode. 

The machine was a thermonuclear, or hydrogen, bomb, 
small enough to be loaded onto a U.S. Air Force bomber and 
dropped on an enemy city like Moscow. Because the bomb’s 
existence had been kept secret from the American public, 
the test that the scientists were about to witness had been 
given a code name. It was called Castle Bravo. 

On one end of Bikini Atoll, ten men, each with a top 
secret Q clearance for access to nuclear secrets, waited 
inside a concrete bunker, facing an unknown fate. In a little 
more than two hours, the most powerful bomb in the 
history of the world to date was going to be detonated just 
nineteen miles away. No human being had ever before been 
this close to the kind of power this bomb was expected to 


deliver. With a predicted yield of 6 megatons, Castle Bravo 
would deliver twice as much power as all the bombs 
dropped on Germany and Japan during World War II 
together, including both atomic bombs. 

Thanks to recent advancements in defense science, by 
1954 machines were being miniaturized at an astonishing 
rate. Nuclear weapons in particular were getting smaller 
and more efficient in ways that scientists could not have 
imagined a decade before. The Castle Bravo bomb would 
likely explode with one thousand times the force of the 
atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945, and 
yet it weighed just a little more than twice as much. 

The light had not yet come up on Bikini. An intense 
tropical rainfall the night before had left the fronds on the 
coconut palms and pandanus trees soaking wet. Salt-loving 
sea lavender plants covered the lowlands, and little penny- 
sized geckos scampered across wet white sands. The 
bunker, code-named Station 70, was an odd sight to behold, 
squat, rectangular, with blast-proof doors and three-foot 
concrete walls. Everything but the bunker’s entrance had 
now been buried under ten feet of sand. A freestanding 
concrete-block seawall stood between the bunker and the 
lagoon, engineered to help protect the men against a 
potentially massive tidal wave. A three-hundred-foot-tall 
radio tower built nearby made it possible for the men in the 
bunker to communicate directly with U.S. defense officials 
and scientists running this secret operation from aboard 
the Task Force Command ship USS Estes, sixty miles out at 
sea. 

The men inside the bunker were members of the bomb’s 
firing party, a team of six engineers, three Army 
technicians, and one nuclear scientist. Miles of waterproof 
submarine cable connected the racks of electronic 
equipment inside the bunker to the Castle Bravo bomb, 
which was located on a separate island, nineteen miles 
across Bikini’s lagoon. 


“In the bunker we felt secure,” recalled Bernard O’Keefe, 
one of the nuclear weapons engineers who had advocated 
for this test. Like Fermi and Rabi, Barney O’Keefe had 
worked on the Manhattan Project. But unlike those two 
nuclear physicists, O’Keefe believed this hydrogen bomb 
was a good thing. That it would keep Americans safe. 
Defense science is, and likely always will be, a debate. 

“At 4:30 a.m. we heard from the scientific director,” 
O’Keefe later remembered. Dr. William Ogle, Los Alamos 
scientific director, used a ship-to-shore radio link to relay 
messages from the USS Estes. Zero Hour grew near. 

“Start the countdown,” Ogle said. 

“The Time is H minus two hours,” O’Keefe announced. 
Beside him, another member of the firing party pushed the 
red button marked “TWO HOURS.” The machinery took 
hold. 

Inside the bunker, time marched on, and as it did, the 
general tenor shifted from bearable to “agonizing,” O’Keefe 
recalled. The interior of Station 70 was rough and ugly, with 
the damp baldness of new concrete. Pool hall-style reflector 
lights gave off a harsh fluorescent glare. There was a 
laboratory table covered with tools of the engineering 
trade: radio tubes, bits and pieces of wire, a soldering iron. 
On one wall hung a blackboard. On it someone had written 
a mathematical equation then erased part of it so it no 
longer made sense. A clock ticked toward Zero Hour. For a 
long stretch no one said a word, and a heavy and 
foreboding silence filled the room. Just sixteen minutes 
before detonation, someone finally spoke. One of the Army’s 
radio technicians wondered aloud how tonight’s steak 
dinner, stored in a meat locker at the back of the bunker, 
was going to taste after the bomb finally went off. 

“H minus fifteen minutes,” said O’Keefe, his voice 
sounding out across dozens of loudspeakers now 
broadcasting the information to more than ten thousand 
scientists, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and government officials 


spread out across fourteen seagoing vessels, forty-six 
aircraft, and two weather stations. There was no turning 
back now. Zero Hour was just fifteen minutes away. 

Out at sea, aboard another vessel, the men on the USNS 
Ainsworth heard Barney O’Keefe’s voice “loud and clear,” 
recalls Ralph “Jim” Freedman, a_twenty-four-year-old 
nuclear weapons engineer. Standing beside Freedman on 
deck was a group of scientists from Los Alamos. These were 
the physicists who had designed and built this bomb. They 
were here now to witness the results of their engineered 
creation—the machine that Enrico Fermi and Isidor Rabi 
had warned President Truman was an “evil thing.” The sun 
had not yet risen. Outside, all around, it was dark. 

“All observers having high-density goggles put them on,” 
O’Keefe’s voice boomed. Freedman was feeling anxious and 
uneasy. He had not slept well the night before. “I was in the 
same bunkroom as the Los Alamos scientists, some who 
were up all night, drinking Chivas Regal and discussing the 
bomb test,” Freedman recalls. “They were discussing things 
they were not supposed to be discussing but did anyway, 
because who could sleep the night before the test?” Castle 
Bravo had been built according to the “Teller-Ulam” 
scheme—named for its co-designers, Edward Teller and 
Stanislaw Ulam—which meant, unlike with the far less 
powerful atomic bomb, this hydrogen bomb had been 
designed to hold itself together for an extra hundred- 
millionth of a second, thereby allowing its hydrogen 
isotopes to fuse and create a chain reaction of nuclear 
energy, called fusion, producing a_ potentially infinite 
amount of power, or yield. “What this meant,” Freedman 
explains, was that there was “a one-in-one-million chance 
that, given how much hydrogen [is] in the earth’s 
atmosphere, when Castle Bravo exploded, it could catch the 
earth’s atmosphere on fire. Some scientists were extremely 
nervous. Some made bets about the end of the world.” 

This was not Freedman’s first atmospheric nuclear bomb 


test. By 1954 he had worked on more than a dozen nuclear 
tests at the continental atomic test site located in Nevada, 
seventy miles north of Las Vegas. Freedman had witnessed 
atomic explosions before, through dark welder’s glasses. He 
had seen mushroom clouds form. But Castle Bravo was 
different. It was going to be colossal. Titanic. A history- 
making bomb test. With his goggles in place over his eyes, 
Freedman turned to face the bomb. There was less than 
two minutes to go when a Los Alamos scientist standing 
beside him let out a frustrated cry. 

“He’d left his goggles down below deck,” Freedman 
explains. “And there wasn’t enough time for him to go get 
them and make it back up.” 

Freedman took off his goggles and handed them to the 
man. “I was young,” he says, “not so important to the test.” 
Without eye protection, Jim Freedman had to turn his back 
to the bomb. So instead of watching Castle Bravo explode, 
Freedman watched the scientists watch the bomb. 

The prerecorded voice of Barney O’Keefe came over the 
loudspeaker, counting down the last seconds. Everyone fell 
silent. “Five. Four. Three. Two. One.” Zero Hour. A flash of 
thermonuclear light, called the Teller light, sprang to life as 
a flood of gamma radiation filled the air. The presence of x- 
rays made the unseen visible. In the flash of Teller light, 
Freedman—who was watching the scientists for their 
reactions—could see their facial bones. 

“In front of me... they were skeletons,” Freedman recalls. 
Their faces no longer appeared to be human faces. Just 
‘Jawbones and eye sockets. Rows of teeth. Skulls.” 

Out at sea and in the distance, the world’s largest-ever 
nuclear fireball—nearly four-and-a-half miles in diameter 
and nine miles tall—lit up the sky. So intense was that 
fireball that Navy personnel manning a weather station 155 
miles to the east watched, awestruck, as the dark sky 
remained alight for sixty agonizing seconds. Next, the 
mushroom cloud started to form. Freedman’s eyes 


remained on the Los Alamos scientists, his own perspective 
now returned to normal in the absence of the Teller light. “I 
was watching their faces,” he recalls, “to see their reaction. 
Most had their mouths open, with the eyeballs darting back 
and forth. I remember the eyes. The eyeballs kept moving. 
There was fear and terror, I think. The mushroom cloud just 
kept getting bigger.” The scientists knew something was 
wrong. 

One scientist held two fingers up in front of his eye, trade 
craft among nuclear weapons engineers to roughly 
measure the rate of expansion of a mushroom cloud. What 
was predicted to be a 6-megaton explosion had gone out of 
control. Castle Bravo was a 15-megaton explosion. No one 
had any idea the explosion could be this big. 

“The mushroom cloud should have been fifteen [or] 
twenty miles wide at this point. Instead it was forty,” 
Freedman explains. “As the cloud kept growing behind me, 
I could see in the faces that [some] of the scientists thought 
the atmosphere was catching on fire. The look said, “This is 
the end of the world.’” 

Time passed. Freedman stared at the horrified scientists. 
Then, finally, the rapid expansion of the mushroom cloud 
began to slow. To Freedman’s eye, the scientists’ expression 
of intense terror and despair suddenly lifted and was gone. 
“The look on their faces went from fear to satisfaction,” 
Freedman recalls. “The world didn’t end and they were 
triumphant. Self-satisfied with what they had accomplished. 
With what they had done.” 

Within sixty seconds, the top of the mushroom cloud 
reached fifty thousand feet, roughly twice as high as 
commercial airplanes flew back then. Its cap would 
eventually grow to an astounding seventy miles across. The 
cloud’s colossal stem was sucking millions of tons of 
pulverized coral up from the ocean and into the 
atmosphere, where it would be dispersed into the jet 
stream as radioactive dust. The remains would leave a 


footprint of fallout on every corner of the earth. 

An unexpected ninety-degree shift in wind direction 
meant that weather forecasters had been wrong about 
which way the wind would blow. Intense fallout was now 
heading in an easterly direction, where it would pass over 
several of the Task Force vessels and the inhabited atolls of 
Rongelap and Rongerik. And it was headed directly for 
Station 70, on Enyu Island. 

Back inside the bunker, the firing party was silent. They 
could not feel or see the fireball. They’d missed the Teller 
light. All the ten men had to go by, to gauge what might be 
going on outside, was the violent electronic chatter on the 
equipment racks. 

“The explosion had to have been a big one to cause that 
much electrical commotion,” O’Keefe later recalled. O’Keefe 
had also calculated that it would take another forty-five 
seconds for the shock wave to travel the nineteen miles 
from ground zero across the lagoon and hit the bunker 
head-on. And so when, after only ten seconds, the bunker 
began to shudder and sway, O’Keefe knew instantly 
something unexpected had happened. 

“The whole building was moving,” O’Keefe recalled, “not 
shaking or shuddering as it would from the shock wave that 
had not arrived yet, but with a slow, perceptible, rolling 
motion, like a ship’s roll.” 

O’Keefe felt nauseated. He wanted to throw up. “I was 
completely unable to get it through my head that the 
building was moving,” he said, trying to push away the 
sickening feeling that the bunker might be sinking into the 
sea. “The walls are three feet thick,” he told himself. “It’s 
anchored like a rock on this island.” But things were most 
definitely moving outside. Objects on the surfaces and walls 
began to rattle, slide, and crash to the floor. O’Keefe looked 
at the clock. He knew how long it was supposed to take for 
the shock wave to travel from ground zero to the bunker. 
“It was impossible for the shock wave to have reached Enyu 


Island yet,” he recalled thinking. “But the bunker was 
moving. The motion was unmistakable as it built up.” 

Lights flickered. The walls appeared to bulge. Then there 
was a loud and frightening crash, like a thunderclap, as the 
giant steel door beat like a drumhead. A “slow, sickening 
whoosh” sounded through the bunker “as the air found its 
way out after the shock wave had passed.” One of the men 
was thrown to the ground, and O’Keefe watched him 
stagger as he struggled to his knees. Sparks were flying. 
There was the sputter of electronic batteries. A vapor cloud 
began to fill the room. Then the worst possible element in 
this catastrophic mix appeared. 

“Water!” someone yelled. “There’s water coming in!” 

O’Keefe’s legs went rubbery. It was too early for a tidal 
wave, he told himself, and began to think that perhaps the 
whole ocean had erupted around them. That soon he and 
his colleagues would be jettisoned to the bottom of the 
lagoon, their concrete bunker a watery tomb. The scientist 
in charge, Dr. John Clark, dispatched one of the Army 
technicians to investigate. The technician walked to the 
single round porthole built into the blast-proof steel doors 
and looked outside. Station 70 was not underwater. It was 
still anchored to the land. The water in the bunker was 
coming from burst water pipes. O’Keefe volunteered to take 
a Geiger counter and venture outside. Several others 
followed along, Geiger counters in hand. 

The situation outside looked far worse than anyone had 
anticipated. Palm trees were on fire. Dead birds littered the 
land. There was no visible life, and they sensed that there 
might not be life anywhere. The sun was blotted out behind 
the nuclear mushroom cloud. “The air was filled with a 
whitish chaff,” O’Keefe recalled. “I stuck out my hand, 
which was soon covered with a substance like talcum 
powder.” When O’Keefe turned on his Geiger counter to 
check for radiation, the needle spiked. Someone else 
shouted out a dangerous radiation level. If a human were 


exposed to this level of radiation for twenty-five minutes, he 
would be dead. 

The men ran back into the bunker. But inside, behind 
three-foot concrete walls, there were also life-threatening 
radiation levels. The group retreated to a region far back in 
the bunker, behind a second concrete-block wall where the 
urinals were. Jack Clark called for an emergency evacuation 
but was told it was too dangerous to send a helicopter pilot 
to Enyu Island just yet. Station 70 had been designed with a 
ten thousand factor of radiation shielding. Whatever was 
going on inside the bunker, outside it was ten thousand 
times worse. The firing party would have to wait it out. 
Eventually the deadly radiation levels would subside, they 
were told. 

Eighty miles to the east another calamity was unfolding. 
A Japanese fishing trawler, called the Lucky Dragon 
Number Five, had been caught unawares roughly fifteen 
miles outside the designated U.S. military restricted zone. 
After the Castle Bravo bomb exploded, many of the 
Japanese fishermen on the trawler ran out on deck to 
behold what appeared to be some kind of mystical 
apparition, the sun rising in the west. Awestruck, they stood 
staring at the nuclear fireball as it grew, until a chalky 
material started falling from the sky. This was pulverized 
coral, made highly radioactive by the thermonuclear blast. 
By the time the fishermen returned to Japan, all of them 
were suffering from radiation poisoning. Six months later, 
the Lucky Dragon's chief radio operator, Aikichi Kuboyama, 
died. 

Castle Bravo was a weapon of unprecedented 
destruction. It was 250 percent more powerful than the 
force calculated by the scientists who had engineered it. In 
time Castle Bravo would become known as the worst 
radiological disaster in history. Radioactive contamination 
became so consequential and widespread that two days 
after the explosion, the Navy evacuated Rongelap, 


Rongerik, Ailinginae, and Utirik atolls, which lay between 
seventy-five and three hundred miles to the east of ground 
zero. Many of the islanders living there were powdered in 
radioactive dust. 

In the days that followed, the world’s 2.7 billion 
inhabitants remained ignorant of what had happened in the 
Marshall Islands. The Atomic Energy Commission ordered a 
news blackout on the aftereffects of the bomb, including 
that no mention be made of the extensive fallout or the 
evacuation of the four atolls. Castle Bravo was only the first 
explosion in a series of U.S. hydrogen bomb tests, a series 
that had been obliquely announced to the public as 
“weapons tests.” All other information was classified. This 
was 1954, before the invention of communications 
satellites. It was still possible to move ten thousand men 
and a fleet of warships and airplanes unobserved to an 
obscure corner of the earth to conduct a secret hydrogen 
bomb test. 

Americans back home remained in the dark. On March 
10, a full nine days after the United States had exploded 
what would turn out to be a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb, 
causing deadly fallout to circle the earth, President Dwight 
Eisenhower took to a podium in the White House press 
room. In his weekly presidential news conference to the 
nation, he had this to say: “I have only one announcement. 
It is very inconsequential. Sometime during the coming 
week I shall probably go on the air to discuss the general 
contents of the tax program.” 

But in Japan the Lucky Dragon fishing trawler had 
returned to port, and news of the radiation-poisoned 
fishermen was making international headlines. The Atomic 
Energy Commission issued a terse statement saying that 
some individuals had been “unexpectedly” subjected to 
“some radiation [during a] routine atomic test in the 
Marshall Islands.” On March 17, at the weekly news 
conference from the White House, reporter Merriman 


Smith asked the president to shed light on this mysterious, 
all-powerful weapon. 

“Mr. President,” said Smith. “The Joint Congressional 
Atomic Energy Commissioner said last night that we now 
have a hydrogen bomb and can deliver it anywhere in the 
world. I wonder if you could discuss that?” 

“No, I wouldn’t want to discuss that,” the president said. 
And he did not. 

It was the Cold War, and secrecy reigned. 


Behind the scenes, what President Eisenhower was just 
now learning about the Castle Bravo bomb was horrifying 
beyond most people’s comprehension. The president’s 
scientific advisors showed him a top secret map of the 
fallout pattern made by the Castle Bravo bomb across the 
Marshall Islands. The scientists then superimposed that 
same fallout pattern onto a map of the east coast of the 
United States. If ground zero had been Washington, D.C., 
instead of Bikini Atoll, every resident of the greater 
Washington-Baltimore area would now be dead. Without a 
Station 70-style bunker for protection, the’ entire 
population living there would have been killed by 5,000 
roentgens of radiation exposure in mere minutes. Even in 
Philadelphia, 150 miles away, the majority of inhabitants 
would have been exposed to radiation levels that would 
have killed them within the hour. In New York City, 225 
miles north, half of the population would have died by 
nightfall. All the way to the Canadian border, inhabitants 
would have been exposed to 100 roentgens or more, their 
suffering similar to what the fisherman on the Lucky 
Dragon had endured. 

But President Eisenhower had no intention of relaying 
this information to the public. Instead, he said there was 
nothing to discuss. The physical fallout map would remain 
classified for decades, but even the president could not 


control the escalating international outrage over the Castle 
Bravo bomb. Soon he would be forced to address the issue. 


The secret decision to engineer the thermonuclear, or 
hydrogen, bomb began five years earlier when, on August 
29, 1949, the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb. 
Suddenly, the United States lost the nuclear monopoly it 
had maintained since World War II. The question of how to 
respond took on great urgency. Should America reply with 
powerful counterforce? Or was restraint the more suitable 
reply? 

One month after the Soviet atomic bomb test, the 
General Advisory Committee (GAC) of the U.S. Atomic 
Energy Commission—an elite group of nuclear scientists— 
convened, in secret, to identify whether or not the United 
States should pursue a crash program to build the 
hydrogen bomb. The chairman of this committee was J. 
Robert Oppenheimer, the former scientific director of the 
Manhattan Project and a man known as the father of the 
atomic bomb. In “unanimous opposition,” the scientists 
agreed that the United States should not move forward 
with the hydrogen bomb, and they stated so in no uncertain 
terms. The reasons were uncomplicated, they said. “It is 
clear that the use of this weapon would bring about the 
destruction of innumerable human lives,” they wrote. “Its 
use would involve a decision to slaughter a vast number of 
civilians.” Tens of thousands of people had been killed in the 
atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; a hydrogen 
bomb would kill millions in a single strike. The hydrogen 
bomb was a weapon with a built-in “policy of exterminating 
civilian populations,” the GAC members warned. 

Two committee members, the physicists Enrico Fermi 
and Isidor Rabi, felt compelled to add a letter, or “annex,” 
for then President Truman to read. “It is clear that such a 
weapon cannot be justified on any ethical ground,” they 


wrote. “The fact that no limits exist to the destructiveness of 
this weapon makes its very existence and the knowledge of 
its construction a danger to humanity as a whole. It is 
necessarily an evil thing considered in any light.” While 
there was unanimity among the scientists on the General 
Advisory Committee—the official advisory committee on all 
matters related to nuclear weapons—the GAC members 
were not the only nuclear scientists with power and 
persuasion in Washington, D.C. 

As in any serious scientific race, there was fierce 
competition going on behind the scenes. There existed 
another group of nuclear scientists who were deeply 
committed to engineering a hydrogen bomb. Leading this 
team were the Hungarian-born Edward Teller and his 
mentor, the American-born Ernest O. Lawrence, both 
former members of the Manhattan Project. Neither Teller 
nor Lawrence had been elected to the General Advisory 
Committee, nor did they take part in the unanimous 
decision to advise President Truman against building the 
hydrogen bomb. 

Teller and Lawrence had extraordinary power and 
influence in Washington, at the Pentagon and the Atomic 
Energy Commission. Mindful that the GAC had plans to 
stymie their efforts for a hydrogen bomb, Edward Teller 
met personally with the chairman of the congressional 
committee on nuclear energy. “We must know more about 
principles of thermonuclear devices to make a decision 
about [the] military implications,” said Teller, who felt that 
Oppenheimer was foolishly being guided by moral 
arguments in a fight against an atheistic communist enemy. 
Senator Brien McMahon, the powerful chairman of the Joint 
Committee on Atomic Energy, agreed. The view of the 
Oppenheimer group “just makes me sick,” McMahon told 
Teller. 

Ernest Lawrence met with David E. Lilienthal, the 
chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. “If we don’t 


get this super [i.e., the hydrogen bomb] first,” Lawrence 
warned, “we are sunk, the U.S. would surrender without a 
struggle.” Lawrence considered the atomic bomb “one of 
mankind’s greatest blessings,” and felt that the hydrogen 
bomb was “a technical means of taking profit out of war.” 
He met with Lewis Strauss, chairman of the Atomic Energy 
Committee. Lawrence took umbrage at the idea of anyone’s 
bringing moral principles into the mix. Their conversation 
inspired Strauss to appeal directly to the president. “A 
government of atheists is not likely to be dissuaded from 
producing the weapon on ‘moral’ grounds,” Strauss wrote. 
The “super” must be built. “If we let the Russians get the 
super first, catastrophe becomes all but certain,” Brien 
McMahon told the president and his national security 
advisors. “It’s either we make it or we wait until the 
Russians drop one on us without warning,” said National 
Security Committee member Admiral Sidney Souers. 

In January 1950 President Truman authorized a crash 
program to build the hydrogen bomb. The Joint Committee 
on Atomic Energy decided that a second national nuclear 
weapons laboratory was needed now, in order to foster 
competition with Los Alamos. This idea—that rivalry fosters 
excellence and is imperative for supremacy—would become 
a hallmark of U.S. defense science in the decades ahead. 
Lawrence was put in charge of the new lab, with Teller 
acting as his special scientific advisor. The lab, a branch of 
the University of California Radiation Laboratory, was 
located in Livermore, California, about forty miles southeast 
of the university’s Berkeley campus. 

Livermore, which opened in the spring of 1952, began 
with 123 employees. Three of them, all graduate students 
at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory, were Edward Teller 
protégés. Their names were Herb York, Harold Brown, and 
John Foster. Herb York, age thirty, was Livermore’s first 
scientific director. Harold Brown, age twenty-four, was put 
in charge of its A Division, for hydrogen bomb work. John 


Foster, age twenty-nine, headed up the B Division, which 
worked on smaller and more efficient atomic weapons. In 
retrospect, it seems that York, Brown, and Foster were all 
remarkably inexperienced young men to be put in charge of 
developing the most powerful nuclear weapons in the 
world. Each scientist would play a major role in the history 
of DARPA and leave footprints on U.S. national security that 
are ineradicable and absolute. 

Nuclear weapons work at Livermore went slowly at first. 
For all the ambition and big ideas, Livermore’s first nuclear 
weapons tests, detonated at the Nevada Test Site in 1953, 
were duds. One exploded with such a low yield—equivalent 
to just two hundred tons of TNT—that the steel tower on 
which it detonated was left standing in the desert, merely 
bent and crumpled. A photograph of the misshapen tower 
was published in newspapers around the country, 
accompanied by jokes about Livermore’s impotence. 

“Los Alamos scientists filled the air with horse laughs,” 
scientific director Herb York later recalled. And so, despite 
the Livermore team’s desire to shepherd the world’s first 
deliverable hydrogen bomb into existence, scientists at Los 
Alamos were instead given scientific authority over the 
Castle Bravo bomb. Edward Teller had designed the bomb 
before Livermore existed, which is why he is considered the 
father of the hydrogen bomb. But Los Alamos was in charge 
of the test. 

In that fateful winter of 1954, there were additional 
hydrogen bomb tests planned for Bikini Atoll. The Bravo 
bomb was only the first of what would be a six-bomb 
thermonuclear test program in the Castle series, from 
March 1 to May 14. Five of the six bombs had been 
designed and built by Los Alamos. One, called Koon, was 
designed at Livermore. Like the new laboratory’s previous 
two efforts, Koon was a failure. Instead of exploding in the 
megaton range, as was planned, Koon was a 110-kiloton 
dud. The new Livermore laboratory project was now at 


serious risk of being canceled. What good is a competition if 
one side cannot seem to compete? 

Teller and his protégé Herb York would not accept 
failure. Fueled by humiliation, they planned to outperform 
the competition at Los Alamos. Four months after Castle 
Bravo, the General Advisory Committee met in Los Alamos 
for classified discussions about how to move forward with 
the hydrogen bomb. The majority of these men were the 
same ones who had opposed the creation of the super bomb 
just four and a half years before. One person missing was 
Robert Oppenheimer. He had been stripped of his security 
clearance, on the grounds that he was a communist, and 
banished from government service for life. Oppenheimer’s 
forced exile sent a strong message to defense scientists. 
There was little room for dissent, and certainly not for 
objection on moral grounds. Gone was any further 
discussion of ethics, or of the fact that the super bomb was 
a dangerous machine. The hydrogen bomb was part of the 
U.S. military arsenal now. As commissioners, these scientists 
had much work to do. 

Isidor Rabi replaced Oppenheimer as committee 
chairman. Rabi now embraced the super bomb as having 
created a “complete revolution... in atomic weapons.” 
Science had fathered a new generation of technologically 
advanced weapons and had paved the way for a whole new 
“family” of thermonuclear weapons, Rabi said, “from 
tactical to multi-megaton strategic weapons, which would 
render some stockpile weapons obsolete or of little utility.” 

In an atmosphere of such rapid scientific advancement, 
the Livermore laboratory remained in a precarious position. 
Its first three weapons tests—code-named Ruth and Ray, at 
the Nevada Test Site, and Koon, in the Marshall Islands— 
had been failures. During the July 1954 meeting in New 
Mexico, the General Advisory Committee discussed whether 
or not creating the second laboratory had been a mistake. 
Isidor Rabi called the Livermore tests “amateurish,” a 


failure highlighted by the fact that all Livermore had to do 
was work on the hydrogen bomb. The lab didn’t even have 
to share any of the national security burdens that Los 
Alamos shouldered, Rabi said, including responsibility for 
building the nation’s stockpile. In the summer of 1954, it 
looked as if the Livermore laboratory might be closed down. 

But Livermore’s chief scientist Herb York, and Edward 
Teller, acting as special advisor to Ernest Lawrence, had 
already crafted a bold response, and they had come to New 
Mexico to present their idea to the General Advisory 
Committee. On day three of the meeting, York and Teller 
presented an idea for a new weapon on Livermore’s behalf. 
Castle Bravo had been a 15-megaton bomb. Livermore had 
drawn plans for two mega-super bombs, which they had 
code-named Gnomon and Sundial. This was a play on 
words; gnomons and sundials are two of the oldest scientific 
devices known to man, used in the ancient world to 
measure shadows cast by the sun. Livermore’s mega-super 
bombs were each designed to have a 10,000-megaton yield, 
York and Teller said. This weapon was capable of destroying 
an entire continent in a single strike. 

The idea was met with laughter. Scientists on the 
General Advisory Committee were appalled. In the only 
surviving record of the meeting, one committee member, 
Dr. James Whitman, expresses shock and says that a 
10,000-megaton bomb would “contaminate the earth.” 
Teller defended his idea, boasting that Lawrence had 
already approached the Air Force, and the Air Force was 
interested. Rabi called the idea “a publicity stunt,” and 
plans for a 10,000-megaton bomb were shelved. But 
Livermore was allowed to keep its doors open after all. 

Decades later, Herb York explained why he and Edward 
Teller had felt it necessary to design a 10,000-megaton 
bomb when the United States had, only months earlier, 
achieved supremacy over the Soviets with the 15-megaton 
Castle Bravo bomb. The reason, York said, was that in order 


to maintain supremacy, American scientists must always 
take new and greater risks. “The United States cannot 
maintain its qualitative edge without having an aggressive 
R&D [research and development] establishment that 
pushes against the technological frontiers without waiting 
to be asked,” York said, “and that in turn creates a faster- 
paced arms race. That is the inevitable result of our 
continuing quest for a qualitative edge to offset the other 
side’s quantitative advantage.” 

For Herb York, the way for America to maintain its 
position as the most militarily powerful country in the world 
was through the forward march of science. To get the most 
out of an American scientist was to get him to compete 
against equally brilliant men. That was what made America 
great, York said. This was the American way of war. And this 
was exactly the kind of vision the Department of Defense 
required of its scientists as it struggled for survival against 
the Soviet communists. The age of thermonuclear weapons 
had arrived. Both sides were building vast arsenals at a 
feverish pace. There was no turning back. The only place to 
go was ahead. 

It was time to push against technological frontiers. 


CHAPTER TWO 


War Games and Computing 
Machines 


On the west coast of California, in the sunny Santa Monica 


sunshine, the defense scientists at RAND Corporation 
played war games during lunchtime. RAND, an acronym for 
“research and development,” was the Pentagon’s first 
postwar think tank, the brains behind U.S. Air Force brawn. 
By day, during the 1950s, analysts inside RAND’s offices 
and conference rooms churned out reports, mostly about 
nuclear weapons. Come lunchtime they moved outdoors, 
spreading maps of the world across tabletops, taking game 
pieces from boxes and playing Kriegspiel, a chess variant 
once favored by the powerful German military. 

Competition was valued and encouraged at RAND, with 
scientists and analysts always working to outdo one 
another. Lunchtime war games included at least one person 
in the role of umpire, which usually prevented competitions 
from getting out of hand. Still, tempers flared, and 
sometimes game pieces scattered. Other times there was 
calculated calm. Lunch could last for hours, especially if 
John von Neumann was in town. 

In the 1950s, von Neumann was the superstar defense 
scientist. No one could compete with his brain. At the 
Pentagon, the highest-ranking members of the U.S. armed 


services, the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of 
Staff, all saw von Neumann as an infallible authority. “If 
anyone during that crucial period in the early and middle- 
fifties can be said to have enjoyed more ‘credibility’ in 
national defense circles than all the others, that person was 
surely Johnny,” said Herb York, von Neumann’s close friend. 

Born in 1903 to a well-to-do Hungarian Jewish family, 
John von Neumann had been a remarkable child prodigy. In 
the first grade he was solving complex mathematical 
problems. By age eight he had mastered calculus, though 
his talents were not limited to math. By the time von 
Neumann graduated from high school, he spoke seven 
languages. He could memorize hundreds of pages of text, 
including long numbers, after a single read-through. 
“Keeping up with him was impossible,” remarked the 
mathematician Israel Halperin. “The feeling was you were 
on a tricycle chasing a racing car.” 

“Johnny was the only student I was ever afraid of,” said 
his childhood teacher, George Péolya, also a famous 
mathematician. “If in the course of a lecture I stated an 
unsolved problem, the chances were he’d come to me at the 
end of the lecture with the complete solution scribbled on a 
slip of paper.” 

By all accounts, von Neumann was gentle and kind, 
beloved for his warm personality, his courtesy, and his 
charm. “He was pleasant and plump, smiled easily and 
often, enjoyed parties and other social events,” recalled 
Herb York. He loved to drink, play loud music, attend 
parties, and collect toys. He always wore a three-piece 
banker’s suit with a watch chain stretched across his plump 
belly. There exists a photograph of von Neumann traveling 
down into the Grand Canyon on a donkey’s back, outfitted 
in the legendary three-piece suit. It is said that the only 
things von Neumann carried in his pants pockets were 
unsolvable Chinese puzzles and top secret security 
clearances, of which he had many. 


To his core, von Neumann believed that man was violent, 
belligerent, and deceptive, and that he was inexorably 
prone to fighting wars. “I think the USA-USSR conflict will 
very probably lead to an armed ‘total’ collision and that a 
maximum rate of armament is therefore imperative,” von 
Neumann wrote to Lewis Strauss, head of the Atomic 
Energy Commission, three years before the Castle Bravo 
bomb exploded—a weapon that von Neumann helped 
engineer. 

Only in rare private moments would “the deeply cynical 
and pessimistic core of his being” emerge, remarks his 
daughter Marina von Neumann Whitman, a _ former 
economic advisor to President Nixon. “I was frequently 
confused when he shifted, without warning.... [O]ne minute 
he would have me laughing at his latest courageous pun 
and the next he would be telling me, quite seriously, why all- 
out atomic war was almost certainly unavoidable.” Did war 
stain him? During World War II, when his only daughter 
was a little girl, John von Neumann helped decide which 
Japanese civilian populations would be targeted for atomic 
bombing. But far more revealing is that it was von 
Neumann who performed the precise calculations that 
determined at what altitude over Hiroshima and Nagasaki 
the atomic bombs had to explode in order to achieve the 
maximum kill rate of civilians on the ground. He determined 
the height to be 1,800 feet. 

At the RAND Corporation, von Neumann served as a 
part-time consultant. He was hired by John Davis Williams, 
the eccentric director of RAND’s Mathematics Division, on 
unusual terms: Von Neumann was to write down his 
thoughts each morning while shaving, and for those ideas 
he would be paid $200 a month—the average salary of a 
full-time RAND analyst at the time. Von Neumann lived and 
spent most of his time working in New Jersey, where he had 
served as a faculty member at the Princeton Institute for 
Advanced Study since the early 1930s, alongside Albert 


Einstein. 

To the RAND scientists playing lunchtime war games, 
less important than beating von Neumann at Kriegspiel was 
watching how his mind analyzed game play. “If a mentally 
superhuman race ever develops, its members will resemble 
Johnny von Neumann,” Edward Teller once said. “If you 
enjoy thinking, your brain develops. And that is what von 
Neumann did. He enjoyed the functioning of his brain.” 

John von Neumann was obsessed with what he called 
parlor games, and his first fascination was with poker. 
There was strategy involved, yes, but far more important 
was that the game of poker was predicated on deception: to 
play and to win, a man had to be willing to deceive his 
opponent. To make one’s opponent think something false 
was something true. Second-guessing was _ equally 
imperative to a winning strategy. A poker player needs to 
predict what his opponent thinks he might do. 

In 1926, when von Neumann was twenty-three years old, 
he wrote a paper called “Theory of Parlor Games.” The 
paper, which examined game playing from a mathematical 
point of view, contained a soon-to-be famous proof, called 
the minimax theorem. Von Neumann wrote that when two 
players are involved in a zero-sum game—a game in which 
one player’s losses equal the other player’s gains—each 
player will work to minimize his own maximum losses while 
at the same time working to maximize his minimum gains. 
During the war, von Neumann collaborated with fellow 
Princeton mathematician Oskar Morgenstern to explore 
this idea further. In 1944 the two men co-authored a 673- 
page book on the subject, Theory of Games and Economic 
Behavior. The book was considered so groundbreaking that 
the New York Times carried a page one story about its 
contents the day it was published. But von Neumann and 
Morgenstern’s book did more than just revolutionize 
economic theory. It placed game theory on the world stage, 
and after the war it caught the attention of the Pentagon. 


By the 1950s, von Neumann’s minimax theorem was 
legendary at RAND, and to engage von Neumann in a 
discussion about game theory was like drinking from the 
Holy Grail. It became a popular pastime at RAND to try to 
present to von Neumann a conundrum he could not solve. 
In the 1950s, two RAND analysts, Merrill Flood and Melvin 
Dresher, came up with an enigma they believed was 
unsolvable, and they presented it to the great John von 
Neumann. Flood and Dresher called their quandary the 
Prisoner’s Dilemma. It was based on a _ centuries-old 
dilemma tale. A contemporary rendition of the Prisoner’s 
Dilemma involves two criminal suspects faced with either 
prison time or a plea deal. 

The men, both members of a criminal gang, are believed 
to have participated in the same crime. They are arrested 
and put in different cells. Separated, the two men have no 
way of communicating with each other, so they can’t learn 
what the other man is being offered by way of a plea deal. 
The police tell each man they don’t have enough evidence 
to convict either of them individually on the criminal 
charges they were brought in for. But the police do have 
enough evidence to convict each man on a lesser charge, 
parole violation, which carries a prison sentence of one 
year. The police offer each man, separately, a Faustian 
bargain. If he testifies against the other man, he will go free 
and the partner will do ten years’ prison time. There is a 
catch. Both men are being offered the same deal. If both 
men take the plea deal and testify against the other, the 
prison sentence will be reduced to five years. If both men 
refuse the deal, they will each be given only one year in jail 
for parole violation—clearly the best way to minimize 
maximum losses and maximize minimum gains. But the deal 
is on the table for only a finite amount of time, the police 
Say. 

Von Neumann could not “solve” the Prisoner’s Dilemma. 
It is an unsolvable paradox. It does not fit the minimax 


theorem. There is no answer; the outcome of the dilemma 
game differs from player to player. Dresher and Flood 
posed the Prisoner’s Dilemma to dozens of RAND 
colleagues and also to other test subjects outside RAND. 
While no one could “solve” the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the 
RAND analysts learned something unexpected from the 
results. The outcome of the Prisoner’s Dilemma seemed to 
depend on the human nature of the individual game players 
involved—whether the player was guided by trust or 
distrust. Dresher and Flood discovered the participants’ 
responses also revealed their philosophical construct, which 
generally correlated to a_ political disposition. In 
interviewing RAND analysts, almost all of whom were 
political conservatives, Dresher and Flood discovered that 
the majority chose to testify against their criminal partner. 
They did not trust that partner to follow the concept of self- 
preservation, gamble against his own best interests, and 
refuse to talk. Five years in prison was better than ten, the 
RAND analysts almost universally responded. By contrast, 
Dresher and Flood found that the minority of game players 
who refused to testify against their criminal partner were 
almost always of the liberal persuasion. These individuals 
were willing to put themselves at risk in order to get the 
best possible outcome for both themselves and a colleague 
—just a single year’s jail time. 

Dresher and Flood saw that the paradox of the Prisoner’s 
Dilemma could be applied to national security decisions. 
Take the case of Robert Oppenheimer, for example, a 
liberal. As chairman of the General Advisory Committee, 
Oppenheimer had appealed to Secretary of State Dean 
Acheson to try to persuade President Truman not to go 
forward with the hydrogen bomb. To show restraint, 
Oppenheimer said, would send a clear message to Stalin 
that America was offering “limitations on the totality of war 
and thus eliminating the fear and raising the hope of 
mankind.” Acheson, a conservative, saw the situation very 


differently. “How can you persuade a paranoid adversary to 
‘disarm by example?’” he asked. 

Von Neumann became interested in the Prisoner’s 
Dilemma as a means for examining strategic possibilities in 
the nuclear arms race. The Prisoner’s Dilemma was a non- 
zero sum game, meaning one person’s wins were not equal 
to another person’s’ gains. From von Neumann’s 
perspective, even though two rational people were involved 
—or, in the case of national security, two superpower 
nations—they were far less likely to cooperate to gain the 
best deal, and far more likely to take their chances on a 
better deal for themselves. The long-term implications for 
applying the Prisoner’s Dilemma to the nuclear arms race 
were profound, suggesting that it would forever be a game 
of one-upmanship. 


In addition to game theory and nuclear strategy, the RAND 
Corporation was interested in computer research, a rare 
and expensive field of study in the 1950s. The world’s 
leading expert in computers was John von Neumann. While 
no one person can accurately claim credit for the invention 
of the computer, von Neumann is often seen as one of the 
fathers of modern computers, given the critical role he 
played in their early development. His work on computing 
machines goes back to World War II, a time when 
“computer” was the name for a person who performed 
numerical calculations as part of a job. 

During the war, at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground 
in Maryland, scores of human computers worked around 
the clock on trajectory tables, trying to determine more 
accurate timing and firing methods for various battlefield 
weapons. Bombs and artillery shells were being fired at 
targets with ever-increasing speed, and the human 
computers at Aberdeen simply could not keep up with the 
trajectory tables. The work was overwhelming. Von 


Neumann, one of the nation’s leading experts on ballistics 
at the time and a regular presence at Aberdeen, got to 
talking with one of the proving ground’s best “computers,” 
Colonel Herman Goldstine, about this very problem. 
Goldstine was an Army engineer and former mathematics 
professor, and still he found computing to be grueling work. 
Goldstine explained to von Neumann that on average, each 
trajectory table he worked on contained approximately 
three thousand entries, all of which had to be multiplied. 
Performed with paper and pencil, each set of three 
thousand calculations took a man like Goldstine roughly 
twelve hours to complete and another twelve hours to 
verify. The inevitability of human error was what slowed 
things down. 

Von Neumann told Colonel Goldstine that he believed a 
machine would one day prove to be a better computer than 
a human. If so, von Neumann said, this could profoundly 
impact the speed with which the Army could perform its 
ballistics calculations. As it so happened, Colonel Goldstine 
was Cleared for a top secret Army program that involved 
exactly the kind of machine von Neumann was theorizing 
about. Goldstine arranged to have von Neumann granted 
clearance, and the two men set off for the University of 
Pennsylvania. There, inside a locked room at the Moore 
School, engineers were working on a Classified Army- 
funded computing machine—the first of its kind. It was 
called the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, 
or ENIAC. 

ENIAC was huge and cumbersome: one hundred feet 
long, ten feet high, and three feet deep. It had 17,468 
vacuum tubes and weighed sixty thousand pounds. Von 
Neumann was fascinated. ENIAC was “the first complete 
automatic, all-purpose digital electronic computer” in the 
world, von Neumann declared. He was certain ENIAC 
would spawn a revolution, and that, indeed, computers 
would no longer be men but machines. 


Von Neumann began developing ideas for creating an 
electronic computer of his own. Borrowing ideas from the 
ENIAC construct, and with help from Colonel Goldstine, he 
drew up plans for a second classified electronic computer, 
called the Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer, 
or EDVAC. Von Neumann saw great promise in a redesign 
of the ENIAC computer’s memory. He believed there was a 
way to turn the computer into an “electronic brain” capable 
of storing not just data and instructions, as was the case 
with ENIAC, but additional information that would allow the 
computer to perform a myriad of computational functions 
on its own. This was called a stored-program computer, and 
it “broke the distinction between numbers that mean things 
and numbers that do things,” writes von Neumann’s 
biographer George Dyson, adding, “Our universe would 
never be the same.” These “instructions” that von Neumann 
imagined were the prototype of what the world now knows 
as software. 

Von Neumann believed that this computer could 
theoretically speed up atomic bomb calculations being 
performed by his fellow Manhattan Project scientists at Los 
Alamos, in New Mexico. He and the team at the Moore 
School proposed that the Army build a second machine, the 
one he called EDVAC. But the atomic bomb was completed 
and successfully tested before EDVAC was finished, and 
after the war, EDVAC was orphaned. 

Von Neumann still wanted to build his own computer 
from scratch. He secured funding from the Atomic Energy 
Commission to do so, and in November 1945, John von 
Neumann began building an entirely new computer in the 
basement of Fuld Hall at the Institute for Advanced Study in 
Princeton. Colonel Goldstine arrived to assist him in the 
winter of 1946, and with help from a small staff of 
engineers, von Neumann first constructed a machine shop 
and a laboratory for testing computer components. 
Officially the project was called the Electronic Computing 


Instrument Computer; von Neumann preferred to call the 
machine the Mathematical and Numerical Integrator and 
Computer, or MANIAC. 

MANIAC was smaller and much more advanced than 
ENIAC, which weighed thirty tons. ENIAC was rife with 
limitations; gargantuan and cumbersome, it sucked power, 
overheated, and constantly needed to be rewired whenever 
a problem came along. ENIAC technicians spent days 
unplugging tangled cables in order to find a solution for a 
numerical problem that took only minutes to compute. 
MANIAC was compact and efficient, a single six-foot-high, 
eight-foot-long machine that weighed only a thousand 
pounds. But the most significant difference between ENIAC 
and MANIAC was that von Neumann designed his computer 
to be controlled by its own instructions. These were housed 
inside the machine, like a brain inside a human being. 

Indeed, von Neumann had consciously modeled MANIAC 
after the human brain. “I propose to store everything that 
has to be remembered by the machine, in these memory 
organs,” von Neumann wrote, including “the coded, logical 
instructions which define the problem and control the 
functioning of the machine.” In this way, MANIAC became 
the world’s first modern stored-program computer. Von 
Neumann’s friend and colleague Edward Teller saw great 
promise in the computer and used MANIAC to perform 
calculations for the hydrogen bomb. 

After two and a half years of work, the team at Princeton 
tested MANIAC against von Neumann’s own brain. Initially, 
von Neumann was able to compute numbers in his head 
faster than the machine. But as his assistants entered more 
and more complicated computational requests, von 
Neumann finally did what human beings do: he erred. The 
computer did not. It was a revelatory moment in the history 
of defense science. A machine had just outperformed a 
brain the Pentagon relied on, one of the greatest minds in 
the world. 


The Pentagon’s strategy for nuclear deterrence in the 
1950s was based on a notion called mutual assured 
destruction, or MAD. This was the proposition that neither 
the Soviets nor the Americans would be willing to launch a 
nuclear attack against the other because that action would 
ensure a reciprocal action and ultimately guarantee both 
sides’ demise. At RAND, analysts began applying the 
Prisoner’s Dilemma strategy to a nuclear launch, keeping in 
mind that the driving principle of the dilemma was distrust. 
This led a RAND analyst named Albert Wohlstetter to start 
poking holes in the notion that MAD offered security. The 
way Wohlstetter saw it, MAD most definitely did not. He 
argued that if one side figured out a way to decapitate the 
other in a so-called “first strike,” it might be tempted to 
launch an unprovoked attack to ensure its superiority. The 
only solution, said Wohlstetter, was to develop a new 
nuclear strategy whereby the United States had more 
nuclear weapons in more hardened missile silos secreted 
around the American countryside than the Soviets could 
decapitate in a preemptive strike. Wohlstetter’s famous 
theory became known as “second strike.” U.S. policy 
regarding second strike deterrence took on the acronym 
NUTS, for nuclear utilization target selection. 

President Eisenhower began to see the madness of it all. 
The year after Castle Bravo, the Soviets successfully tested 
their own deliverable hydrogen bomb. If something wasn’t 
done to stop it, the arms race would only continue to 
escalate. Speaking to his cabinet, Eisenhower wondered if 
it was possible to put an end to nuclear weapons tests. He 
launched his administration’s first investigation into the 
possibility of stopping nuclear science in its tracks. His 
vision was short-lived. After a month of study and 
discussion, the State Department, the Atomic Energy 
Commission, the CIA, and the Department of Defense were 
all unanimous in their opposition to ending nuclear tests. 
Atmospheric nuclear weapons tests must continue, they all 


said. The safety and security of the country depended on 
more nuclear weapons and more nuclear weapons tests. 
The president’s advisors instead encouraged him to focus 
his attention on strengthening a national effort to protect 
civilians in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack, an 
unpopular program called civil defense. This job fell to the 
Federal Civil Defense Administration, a _ three-year-old 
agency with headquarters in Washington, D.C. 

The plan for civil defense in the mid-1950s was to have 
people prepare to live underground for a period of time 
after a nuclear attack. An effort to build a national network 
of underground bunkers had been moving forward in fits 
and starts. The president’s advisors told him that his 
endorsement would boost morale. But the very idea of 
promoting civil defense put Eisenhower in an intractable 
bind. Ever since he had been shown the fallout map from 
the Castle Bravo bomb, Eisenhower knew how implausible 
a civil defense program was—how many tens of millions of 
Americans were destined to die in the first few hours of a 
nuclear attack. The idea that there was safety to be found in 
a civilian underground bunker program was apocryphal. 
One needed to look no further than what had happened to 
the men in the Station 70 bunker. Station 70 was a 
windowless bunker carefully constructed of three-foot-thick 
concrete walls with steel doors, buried under ten feet of 
dirt and sand. It was surrounded by a moat and had a 
secondary blast buttress wall. And even with a 10,000 
factor of shielding, the radiation nearly killed the men 
inside; they barely made it off Enyu alive. After taking cover 
in the bunker’s urinal for eleven hours, the men were 
ultimately evacuated from the death zone by two Army 
helicopters in a carefully orchestrated military operation. 
The helicopter pilots were part of a ten-thousand-man task 
force, with unlimited access to state-of-the-art rescue and 
communication equipment. The rescue teams had fewer 
than one dozen rescue operations to perform, the majority 


of which had been rehearsed. Castle Bravo was a highly 
organized scientific test. In a real nuclear attack, there 
would be carnage and mayhem. Each person would be on 
his or her own. 

To be caught outside, en route to a civil defense shelter, 
even forty miles away from ground zero, would be life 
threatening. The bomb blast and shock waves would 
rupture lungs, shred eardrums, and cause organs to 
rupture and bleed. Debris—uprooted trees, sheets of metal, 
broken glass, electrical wires, wood, rocks, pipes, poles— 
everything would be ripped apart and hurled through the 
air at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour. How, in good 
conscience, could the president urge the public to support a 
program he knew was more than likely going to kill so many 
of them? 

Paradoxically, in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack, 
there was a fully formed plan in place to keep the president 
and his cabinet alive. An executive branch version of the 
Station 70 bunker had recently been completed six miles 
north of Camp David, just over the Pennsylvania state line. 
This underground command center, called the Raven Rock 
Mountain Complex, was buried inside a mountain of 
granite, giving the president protection equivalent to that 
of walls a thousand feet thick. The Raven Rock complex, 
also called Site R, had been designed to withstand a direct 
hit from a 15-megaton bomb. The idea of an underground 
presidential bunker was first conceived by U.S. Army 
military intelligence (G-2) during postwar examination of 
the underground bunker complexes of the Third Reich. The 
survival of so many of the Nazi high command in Berlin was 
predicated on the underground engineering skills of a few 
top Nazi scientists, including Franz Xaver Dorsch, Walter 
Schieber, and Georg Rickhey, all three of whom were hired 
by the U.S. Army to work on secret U.S. underground 
engineering projects after the war, as part of Operation 
Paperclip. 


Plans for Raven Rock were first drawn up in 1948, 
including some by Rickhey. Work began shortly after the 
Russians detonated their own atomic bomb, known in the 
West as Joe-1, in August 1949, and by 1950, construction 
crews with top secret clearances were working around the 
clock to build the first underground presidential bunker 
and command post. Site R was a three-story complex with 
living quarters for the president and his advisors, a 
hospital, chapel, barbershop, library, and water reservoir. 
By the time the bunker was finished, in 1954, the costs had 
reached $1 billion (roughly $9 billion in 2015). 

In the event of a nuclear strike, the president would be 
helicoptered from the White House lawn to the landing pad 
at Raven Rock, a trip that would take roughly thirty-five 
minutes. But the prospect of retreating underground in the 
event of a nuclear strike made President Eisenhower 
despondent. To his cabinet he expressed his view of what 
governance would be like after a nuclear attack: 
“Government which goes on with some kind of continuity 
will be like a one-eyed man in the land of the blind.” 

While the president lived with his conundrum, the civil 
defense program grew. The details of the Castle Bravo test 
remained classified, as did the existence of the Raven Rock 
command center, leaving the public in the dark as to the 
implausibility of civil defense. Nuclear tests continued 
unabated, in Nevada and in the Marshall Islands. But the 
press attention created by the Castle Bravo fallout debate 
began to generate strong negative responses to the viability 
of civil defense. 

In February 1955 the Senate Armed Services Committee 
opened a federal investigation into what civil defense really 
meant for the American people. The _ investigating 
committee was headed by a Tennessee Democrat, Senator 
Estes Kefauver, known for his crusades against organized 
crime and antitrust violations. The Senate sessions would 
become known as the Kefauver hearings, and in the course 


of them, shocking new information came to light. 

Civil defense had a two-pronged focus: on those who 
would stay in the city and seek shelter, and on those who 
would try to leave. In the event of a nuclear attack, which 
would likely target a big city, some people living in urban 
centers were advised to hurry to air-raid-type shelters that 
had been built underground. As for those who could leave, 
the Federal Civil Defense Administration said that they 
should evacuate the cities, promising that this was a better 
alternative. During the hearings, the senators had 
questions. In the mid-1950s, most land outside big cities 
was little more than open countryside. Where were citizens 
supposed to evacuate to? And what were they supposed to 
eat? 

The director of the Federal Civil Defense Administration, 
Frederick “Val” Peterson, took the stand. The former 
Nebraska governor was under oath. He revealed that the 
plan of the administration was to dig roadside trenches 
along public highways leading out of all the big cities across 
the nation. The trenches were to be three feet deep and 
two feet wide. When the bombs hit the cities, Peterson said, 
people who had already made it out were to stop driving, 
abandon their automobiles, lie down in the trenches, and 
cover themselves with dirt. Senator Kefauver, learning this 
along with the public for the first time, was dumbfounded. 
The government could use science and technology to create 
power as great as that generated by the sun, but when it 
came to civil defense, this was the best they could come up 
with? What about “food, water [and] sanitation in [these] 
trenches?” the incredulous Kefauver asked. Peterson 
fumbled for an answer. “Obviously, in these trenches, if they 
are built on an emergency basis, there would be no 
provisions for sanitation,” he admitted. But there was an 
alternative plan. Instead of the dirt trenches, another idea 
being discussed involved using concrete pipes, four feet in 
diameter, to be laid down alongside the highways. When the 


bombs hit the cities, Peterson said, people who had already 
made it out would stop driving, abandon their automobiles, 
and crawl into the pipes. Sometime thereafter, Peterson 
explained, federal emergency crews would come along and 
bury the pipes with earth. 

Senator Leverett Saltonstall, a Republican from 
Massachusetts, expressed astonishment. He told Peterson 
that he found it impossible to imagine millions of “shell- 
shocked evacuees waiting out a nuclear war inside concrete 
pipes,” without fresh air, water, sanitation, food, or medical 
care. And for who knew how long. Senator Saltonstall said 
he would rather lie down in a dirt ditch “than get into a 
concrete pipe a mile long, with no exit.” Saltonstall shared 
his vision of being crushed in the mayhem by fellow 
American citizens fighting to stay alive. 

Next came the issue of food. Committee members 
wanted to know how the government was going to help 
feed evacuees after a nuclear exchange. Peterson replied 
that the United States would open food kitchens, but there 
would be little food to be served. “We can’t eat canned 
foods,” he explained, because radiation could penetrate tin 
cans. “We won’t eat refrigerated foods,” he conceded, 
because most electricity would be out. The truth was not 
pretty, he acknowledged, but was “stark, elemental, brutal, 
filthy and miserable,” he said under oath. “We will eat gruel 
made of wheat cooked as it comes out of the fields and corn 
parched and animals slaughtered as we catch them before 
radioactivity destroys them.” The committee told Peterson 
his agency’s plans for evacuation were inadequate. In a 
matter of hours, the notion of civil defense became the 
subject of national ridicule. And yet the nuclear tests 
continued unabated. 

Over the next two years, the United States exploded 
eighteen nuclear weapons; the Soviet Union exploded 
twenty-five. Nuclear spending was at an all-time high, and 
design originality was key. The Pentagon ordered hundreds 


of high-yield hydrogen bomb warheads, like the one 
detonated during Castle Bravo, but also smaller, lighter- 
weight tactical atomic bombs. Herb York flew to 
Washington, D.C., with a full-scale mockup of Livermore’s 
newest design, the forty-eight-pound Davy Crockett nuclear 
weapon, in his carry-on bag. The Davy Crockett had the 
same yield as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, but 
advances in science meant that the powerful weapon was 
small enough to be handheld. Thanks to ambition and 
ingenuity, the Livermore laboratory had begun to pull 
ahead from behind. The computer designed by John von 
Neumann played an important role in allowing Livermore 
scientists to model new nuclear weapons designs before 
building them. 


In the summer of 1955, John von Neumann was diagnosed 
with cancer. He had slipped and fallen, and when doctors 
examined him, they discovered that he had an advanced, 
metastasizing cancerous tumor in his collarbone. By 
November his spine was affected, and in January 1956 von 
Neumann was confined to a wheelchair. In March he 
entered a guarded room at Walter Reed Hospital, the U.S. 
Army’s flagship medical center, outside Washington, D.C. 
John von Neumann, at the age of fifty-four, racked with pain 
and riddled with terror, was dying of a cancer he most likely 
developed because of a speck of plutonium he inhaled at 
Los Alamos during the war. Two armed military guards 
never left his side. 

For a while, von Neumann’s mind remained sharp, but as 
the end grew near, his mental faculties began to degrade. 
Beside him at his bed, von Neumann’s brother Michael read 
aloud from Goethe’s tragic play Faust. Michael would read 
a page and then pause. Lying on the hospital bed, eyes 
closed, faculties failing, for some time von Neumann could 
still pick up in the text precisely where his brother left off. 


But soon, even John von Neumann’s indomitable memory 
would fail. Friends said the mental decline was excruciating 
for him to endure. An atheist all his life, von Neumann used 
to joke about people who believed in God. In a limerick for 
his wife, Klara, he’d once written, “There was a young man 
who said, Run! / The end of the world had begun! / The one 
I fear most / Is that damn Holy Ghost. / I can handle the 
Father and Son.” Now von Neumann sought God and he 
called upon the services of a Roman Catholic priest. 

But death grew near. In von Neumann’s final, frightened 
last days, even the priest could not offer a reprieve. Weeks 
before von Neumann died, Herb York went to Walter Reed 
hospital to pay his final respects. “Johnny was in a bed with 
high, criblike sides, intended to keep him from falling out or 
otherwise getting out on his own,” York recalled. “I tried to 
start a conversation about some technical topic I thought 
would interest and divert him, but he would say no more 
than a simple hello.” Von Neumann’s brain was failing him. 
Cancer was robbing him of the thing he valued most, his 
own mind. Soon he would not remember. In weeks there 
would be nothing left of him. John von Neumann died on 
February 8, 1957. 

He left behind a single unfinished manuscript that he had 
been working on in his final months of life. It was called 
“The Computer and the Brain.” A copy was made for the 
Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory library, where it remains 
today. In this paper, von Neumann draws a comparison 
between the computer and the human nervous system. He 
theorizes that one day the computer will be able to 
outperform the human nervous system by infinite orders of 
magnitude. He calls this advanced computer an “artificial 
automaton that has been constructed for human use.” John 
von Neumann believed computers would one day be able to 
think. 


CHAPTER THREE 


Vast Weapons Systems of the 
Future 


lt was October 4, 1957, 6:00 p.m. Cocktail hour at the 


Officers Club at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in 
Huntsville, Alabama, or “Rocket City, USA.” Neil H. McElroy, 
a corporate executive soon to be confirmed as secretary of 
defense, had just arrived in a military jet with an entourage 
of defense officials from the Pentagon. Inside the Officers 
Club, drinks flowed freely. Appetizers were passed among 
the men. McElroy stood chatting with Wernher von Braun, 
the famous German rocket scientist who now served as 
director of development operations at Huntsville, when a 
press officer named Gordon Harris rushed into the room 
and interrupted the party with an_ extraordinary 
announcement. 

“The Russians have put up a successful satellite!” Harris 
shouted. 

The room fell silent. For several moments only the 
background music and the tinkling of ice cubes could be 
heard. 

“It’s broadcasting signals on a common frequency,” 
Harris said. “At least one of our local ‘hams’ has been 
listening to it.” A barrage of questions followed. 

It did not take long for news of Sputnik to become 


official. The Soviet news agency, TASS, released a statement 
providing technical information and _ specifics about 
Iskusstvennyy Sputnik Zemli, or “artificial satellite of the 
earth.” The Soviets had beaten the Americans into space. 
Not since Pearl Harbor had the Pentagon been caught by a 
surprise of such consequence. 

The nation slipped into a panic over what was seen as 
superior Soviet scientific prowess. Eisenhower’s attempts 
to minimize the significance of Sputnik had a reverse effect, 
with many Americans accusing the president of trying to 
conceal U.S. military weakness. Sputnik weighed only 184 
pounds, but it had been launched into space by a Soviet 
ICBM. Soon the Soviet ICBM would be able to carry a much 
heavier payload—such as a nuclear bomb—halfway across 
the world to any target in the United States. 

The situation was made worse when, on December 20, 
1957, someone leaked a top secret analysis of the Soviet 
threat, called the Gaither Report, to the Washington Post. 
The report “portrays a United States in the gravest danger 
in its history,” wrote the Post. “It shows an America exposed 
to an almost immediate threat from the missile-bristling 
Soviet Union.” If Sputnik had caused mild panic, the 
Gaither Report produced national hysteria. 

But the Gaither Report had its own controversial 
backstory, one that would remain classified for decades. In 
the spring of 1957, seven months before Sputnik was 
launched, President Eisenhower asked his National 
Security advisors to put together a team that could answer 
one question: how to protect the American people in an all- 
out nuclear war. A RAND Corporation co-founder, the 
venture capitalist H. Rowan Gaither, was chosen to chair 
the new presidential research committee. Making up the 
body of the panel were officials from NORAD (North 
American Air Defense Command), the Strategic Air 
Command, the office of the secretary of defense, the 
Federal Civil Defense Administration, the Weapons Systems 


Engineering Group, and the CIA. There were 
representatives from the defense contracting industry, 
including Livermore, Sandia, Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed, 
Hughes, and RAND. The corporate advisors on the panel 
were from Shell Oil, IBM, Bell Telephone, New York Life 
Insurance, and Chase Manhattan Bank. 

In the resulting top secret Gaither Report, officially titled 
“Deterrence and Survival in the Nuclear Age,” the defense 
contractors, industrialists, and defense scientists concluded 
that there was no way to protect U.S. citizens in the event of 
a nuclear war. Instead, the panel advised the president to 
focus on building up the U.S. arsenal of nuclear weapons. 
The most menacing threat came from the Soviet ICBMs, 
they said. The individuals who calculated the exactitude of 
the Soviet missile threat were Herb York, scientific director 
at the Livermore laboratory, and Jerome Wiesner, a 
presidential science advisor and MIT engineering professor. 

No figure mattered more. The Soviets had just 
successfully launched their first long-range missile from the 
Baikonur Cosmodrome, in what is now Kazakhstan, all the 
way across Siberia—a distance of three thousand miles. To 
determine how many ICBMs the USSR could produce in the 
immediate future, York and Wiesner set up shop inside the 
Executive Office Building, next door to the White House, in 
the summer of 1957 and got to work doing calculations. 

“The issue was both real and hot,” York later recalled. 
“We took the best data there were on the Soviet rocket 
development program, combined them with what we could 
learn about the availability of factory floor space [in Russia] 
needed for such an enterprise, and concluded that they [the 
Soviets] would produce thousands [of ICBMs] in the next 
few years.” 

One Castle Bravo-size bomb dropped on Washington, 
D.C., would take out the Eastern Seaboard in a single 
strike. York and Wiesner’s ICBM analysis indicated that the 
Soviets wanted to be able to strike America a thousandfold. 


The information was shocking and alarming. If the Soviets 
were trying to produce a thousand ICBMs in only a few 
years, clearly there was only one rational conclusion to 
draw. The Soviet Union was preparing for total nuclear war. 

It would take years to learn that the number York and 
Wiesner submitted to the Gaither Report was nothing more 
than a wild guess. In the summer of 1957 the Soviets had a 
total of four ICBMs built, and in the “next few years” they 
would build roughly one hundred more. This was a far cry 
from the thousands of missiles York and Wiesner said the 
Soviets would be producing in the next few years. 

“The estimate was quite wrong,” York conceded thirty 
years later. In defense of his error, York said, “The problem 
was simple enough. I knew only a little about the Soviet 
missile development program and nothing about the Soviet 
industry. In making this estimate, I was thus combing two 
dubious analytical procedures: worst-case analysis and 
mirror imaging.” How could such an egregious error have 
happened, York was asked? “My alibi is that I was new to 
the subject and that, like the rest of the panel, I was an easy 
victim of the extreme degree of secrecy that the Russians 
have always used to conceal what they are doing.” York also 
pointed out that no one on the Gaither Report panel 
questioned his and Wiesner’s math. “I don’t remember [the 
others] arguing with our views,” York said. 

When President Eisenhower received his copy of the 
Gaither Report on November 7, 1957, the timing could not 
have been worse. The Sputnik launch had taken place a 
mere month before. Eisenhower disagreed with the 
findings of the report. He had much better intelligence, 
from the CIA, but it was highly classified and no one but a 
small group of individuals knew about it. CIA pilot Hervey 
Stockman had flown a classified mission over the Soviet 
Union in a U-2 spy plane the year before. Stockman 
returned from his dangerous mission with thousands of 
photographs of Soviet Russia, the first ever (this was before 


the Corona satellite program), showing that the Russians 
were not preparing for total war. There was only one 
person on the Gaither panel who had knowledge of this 
information, and that was CIA deputy director Richard 
Bissell. It was Bissell who was in charge of the U-2 
program, which he ran out of a secret base called Area 51, 
in Nevada. No one else on the Gaither panel had a need to 
know about the top secret U-2 program and the multiple 
missions it had been flying over the Soviet Union. All the 
Gaither panel had to go by was what York and Wiesner told 
them, in error, about Soviet ICBMs. 

After President Eisenhower rejected most of the findings 
of the panel, someone leaked the top secret report to the 
press. It was York and Wiesner’s findings about the missile 
threat that the public focused on, which was what caused 
the Sputnik panic to escalate into hysteria. Eisenhower 
responded by creating the President’s Science Advisory 
Committee to advise him on what to do next. Among those 
chosen was Herb York, the youngest member of the group. 
It remains a mystery whether or not the president knew 
that York was responsible for the most consequential error 
in the Gaither Report. York soon left Livermore for 
Washington, D.C. He would remain there for the rest of the 
Eisenhower presidency. 

With the narrative of Soviet aggression spinning out of 
control, the president authorized Secretary of Defense 
McElroy to proceed with a bold new plan. McElroy was a 
master of public relations. A thirty-two-year veteran of 
Procter & Gamble, McElroy is considered the father of 
brand management. He began as a door-to-door soap 
salesman and worked his way up through management. In 
the mid-1950s, P&G had four major soap brands—Ivory, Joy, 
Tide, and Oxydol. Sales were lagging until McElroy came up 
with the concept of promoting competition among in-house 
brands and targeting specific audiences to advertise to. It 
was McElroy’s idea to run soap ads on daytime television, 


when many American housewives watched TV. By 1957, 
P&G soap sales had risen to $1 billion a year, and McElroy 
would be credited with inventing the concept of the soap 
opera. “Soap operas sell lots of soap,” he famously said. 
Now McElroy was the U.S. secretary of defense. He took 
office with a clear vision. “I conceive the role of the 
Secretary of Defense to be that of captain of President 
Eisenhower’s defense team,” he said. His first job as captain 
was to counter the threat of any future Soviet scientific 
surprise. 

On November 20, 1957, just five weeks after assuming 
office, Secretary McElroy went to Capitol Hill with a bold 
idea. He proposed the creation of a new agency inside the 
Pentagon, called the Advanced Research Projects Agency, 
or ARPA. This agency would be in charge of the nation’s 
most technologically advanced military projects being 
researched and developed for national defense, including 
everything that would be flown in outer space. 

“What we have in mind for that agency,” McElroy told 
lawmakers, was an entity that would handle “all satellite 
and space research and development projects” but also 
have “a function that extends beyond the immediate 
foreseeable weapons systems of the current or near 
future.” McElroy was looking far ahead. America needed an 
agency that could visualize the nation’s needs before those 
needs yet existed, he said. An agency that could research 
and develop “the vast weapons systems of the future.” 

Congress liked the idea, and McElroy was encouraged to 
proceed. The military services, however, were adamantly 
opposed. The Army, Air Force, and Navy were unwilling to 
give up control of the research and development that was 
going on inside their individual services, most notably in the 
vast new frontier that was space. McElroy called the most 
senior military leaders into his office in the E-Ring of the 
Pentagon to discuss how best to handle “the new dimension 
of outer space.” 


In separate meetings, Army, Air Force, and Navy 
commanders each insisted that outer space was their 
service’s domain. To the Army, the moon was simply “the 
high ground,” and therefore part of its domain. Air Force 
generals, claiming that space was “just a little higher up” 
than the area they already controlled, tried to get Secretary 
McElroy interested in their plans for “creating a new 
Aerospace Force.” The admirals and vice admirals of the 
U.S. Navy argued that “outer space over the oceans” was a 
natural extension of the “underwater, surface and air 
regime in which [the Navy] operated” and should therefore 
be considered the Navy’s domain. General Bernard 
Schriever of the U.S. Air Force told the Senate 
Preparedness Subcommittee that he wanted to state on 
record his “strong negative against ARPA.” 

The Atomic Energy Commission had its own idea about 
this new agency McElroy was proposing. Ever seeking more 
power and control, the Atomic Energy Commission lobbied 
to remove authority over outer space from the Defense 
Department entirely and have it placed under AEC 
jurisdiction. The AEC chairman had a bill introduced in 
Congress to establish an “Outer Space Division.” Defense 
contractors also lobbied hard against McElroy’s idea for a 
new agency. Many feared that their established relations 
with individual military services would be in jeopardy. 
Ernest Lawrence of Livermore rushed to the Pentagon to 
meet personally with Defense Secretary McElroy and 
present his alternative idea to ARPA. Accompanying 
Lawrence was Charles Thomas, the president of Monsanto 
Chemical Company, a nuclear defense contractor that 
would be vilified during the Vietnam War for producing the 
herbicide Agent Orange, and made notorious in the 1990s 
for being the first agrochemical company to genetically 
modify food crops. Lawrence and Thomas met with McElroy 
in his private office and shared their idea “to adopt some 
radical new measures... to meet the Sputnik challenge and 


cope better with problems of science and technology in the 
Defense Establishment.” They proposed that McElroy allow 
the two of them to create and administer a new government 
agency, classified top secret and modeled after the 
Manhattan Project. The meeting lasted several hours before 
McElroy rejected the two defense contractors’ idea as 
“infeasible in peacetime.” Lawrence had a_ second 
suggestion. If this new agency was to work, it would need a 
brilliant scientist at the helm. Someone who understood 
how the military and industry could put America’s best 
scientists to work solving problems of national defense. The 
perfect person, said Lawrence, was Herb York. McElroy 
promised to give the suggestion some thought. 

McElroy had one last hurdle to overcome, involving 
colleagues just one floor away at the Pentagon. The Joint 
Chiefs of Staff hated the idea of an Advanced Research 
Projects Agency and registered a formal nonconcurrence 
on December 7, 1957. But the attack against ARPA by the 
military services was bound to fail. “The fact that they didn’t 
want an ARPA is one reason [Eisenhower] did,” said Admiral 
John E. Clark, an early ARPA employee. 

President Eisenhower was fed up with the interservice 
rivalries. Having commanded the Supreme Headquarters 
Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War II, 
he held deep convictions regarding the value of unity 
among the military services. As president, he had been a 
crusader against the excessive waste of resources that 
came from service duplication. “The Army and Air Force 
‘race’ to build almost duplicate CRBMs [Continental Range 
Ballistic Missiles] incensed him,” wrote _ presidential 
historian Sherman Adams. 

On January 7, 1958, President Eisenhower sent a 
memorandum to Congress authorizing $10 million in the 
1958 fiscal year “for expenses necessary for the Advanced 
Research Projects Agency, including acquisition and 
construction of such research, development and _ test 


facilities, and equipment, as may be authorized by the 
Secretary of Defense, to remain available until expended.” 

In his State of the Union message two nights later, 
Eisenhower announced to the nation the creation of this 
new agency. “Some of the important new weapons which 
technology has produced do not fit into any existing service 
pattern,” Eisenhower explained. These new weapons should 
“cut across all services, involve all services, and transcend 
all services, at every stage from development to operation.” 
The rapid technological advances and the revolutionary 
new weapons this technology was producing created a 
threat as revolutionary to warfare as the invention of the 
airplane, Eisenhower said. But instead of working together, 
the services had succumbed to petty “jurisdictional 
disputes” that “bewilder and confuse the public and create 
the impression that service differences are damaging the 
national interest.” This was why ARPA had been created, 
Eisenhower said, in “recognition of the need for single 
control in some of our most advanced development 
projects.” 

That the president would publicly admonish the services 
outraged top officials, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “So 
the Agency was controversial even before it was formed,” 
wrote Lawrence P. Gise, ARPA’s first administrator, in an 
unpublished history of the agency’s origins. “Beset by 
enemies internally, subjected to _ critical pressures 
externally, and starting from scratch in a novel area of 
endeavor, ARPA was a tumultuous and exciting place to be.” 


It was the second week of February 1958, and Washington, 
D.C., was blanketed in snow. A severe blizzard had wreaked 
havoc on the nation’s capital. Subzero wind chills and five- 
foot snow drifts paralyzed traffic. On Monday morning, the 
Eisenhower administration advised all nonessential 
government workers to stay home. Herb York received a 


telephone call at his house. It was the personal secretary to 
Neil McElroy, asking York to come to the Pentagon right 
away for a meeting with the secretary of defense, alone. 
Never mind the storm, York recalled. He was determined to 
get to the Pentagon. 

Herb York was in a remarkable position. If he did not 
have time to reflect on this now, he would pay homage to his 
humble background later in life. Here he was, living in 
Washington, D.C., and advising the president of the United 
States on scientific matters, when he had been the first 
person in his family to attend college. York’s father was a 
New York Central Railroad baggage man. His grandfather 
made caskets for a living; his specialty was lining a 
customer’s permanent resting place with satin bows and 
carved velvet trim. Herb York had been born of humble 
means but had a brilliant mind and plenty of ambition. To 
think he was only thirty-six years old. 

“From the earliest times,” York recalled, “I remember 
[my father] saying he did not want his son to be a railroad 
man. He made it clear that that meant I should go to 
college, even though he knew little about what that actually 
entailed.” York followed his father’s advice, spending most 
of his free time at the Watertown, New York, public library 
reading newspapers, books, and science magazines. He 
attended the University of Rochester on a scholarship and 
excelled in the field he chose for himself, physics. Like many 
other top university physics graduates of his generation, 
York was recruited into the Manhattan Project during the 
war. In the spring of 1943 he traveled by bus to faraway 
Berkeley, California, where, as circumstance would have it, 
he was assigned to work under Ernest O. Lawrence. During 
the war, York helped produce uranium in Lawrence’s 
cyclotron, material that would eventually make its way into 
the core of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. After the war York 
returned to Berkeley to get his Ph.D. During his doctoral 
research, he co-discovered the neutron pi meson, which 


elevated him to elite status among nuclear scientists. In 
1952 York became chief scientist at Livermore. Now, during 
the February 1958 nor’easter, Herb York wondered what 
lay ahead. 

“IT made my way with difficulty across the river to the 
Pentagon and did a lot of walking in deep snow,” York 
recalled. He had tried to hail a taxi, but there were none 
around. The parking lot at the Pentagon was almost empty. 
But the man he had come to see, Secretary of Defense 
McElroy, was in his office, busy at work. York had a feeling 
he was being considered for the position of chief scientist at 
ARPA. Because of the snowstorm, he would benefit, he said, 
from having an “unhurried, hour-long, one-on-one 
conversation that I could not have had with the secretary 
on an ordinary, busy day.” 

After the meeting York went home and McElroy weighed 
his options. There was one other contender for the position 
of ARPA chief scientist, and that was Wernher von Braun. 
Von Braun and his team had just launched America’s first 
successful satellite, Explorer I, and as far as the public was 
concerned, von Braun’s star was on the rise. But Army 
intelligence had information on von Braun that the rest of 
the world most definitely did not, namely, that he had been 
an officer with the Nazi paramilitary organization the SS 
during the war and that he was implicated in the deaths of 
thousands of slave laborers forced to build the V-2 rocket, in 
an underground labor-concentration camp _ called 
Nordhausen, in Nazi Germany. 

While McElroy weighed his options for scientific director, 
new information came to light. Von Braun was nothing if not 
entitled, and in his discussions regarding the new position, 
he insisted that were he to transfer his services over to the 
Pentagon, a sizable group of his German rocket scientist 
colleagues would have to accompany him there. Army 
intelligence had classified dossiers on each of von Braun’s 
113 German colleagues. They were all part of Operation 


Paperclip, the secret intelligence program that had brought 
Nazi scientists to America after the war. Many of von 
Braun’s rocket team members had been ardent Nazis, 
members of ultra-nationalistic paramilitary organizations, 
including the SS and the SA. 

“For a while Wernher von Braun appeared to have the 
job but to get him it was necessary to take his 10-15 man 
package of [German] associates and that was not 
acceptable,” wrote ARPA administrator J. Robert Loftis in a 
declassified report. Secretary McElroy offered Herb York 
the job. York accepted. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, 
he said. 

York moved into his office in the Pentagon the following 
month, in March 1958. He would remain on the president’s 
scientific advisory board. On the wall of York’s new office he 
hung a large framed photograph of the moon. Next to it he 
hung an empty frame. When people visited they would ask, 
why the empty frame? York told them he would leave the 
frame empty until it could be filled with a photograph of the 
backside of the moon, taken from a spacecraft to be 
developed by ARPA. This new agency Herb York was in 
charge of at the Pentagon would be capable of phenomenal 
things. 


With his new Advanced Research Projects Agency in place, 
President Eisenhower was more determined than ever to 
put an end to nuclear weapons tests. The week after York 
hung the moon photograph on his office wall, Eisenhower 
took all of his scientific advisors, including Herb York, to 
Ramey Air Force Base, in Puerto Rico, to discuss banning 
nuclear weapons tests. The president wanted to know, was 
this good for national security, and if so, could it be done? 
Everyone voted yes on both counts, except Herb York, who 
abstained. 

Decades later, York explained his bias. “I might well have 


responded ‘no’ but abstain was the most I could do under 
the circumstances.” Just weeks on the ARPA job, York felt 
conflicted. He now served the president of the United 
States and the secretary of defense. But he also remained 
loyal to Ernest Lawrence, whom he had worked for his 
entire adult life, and who was something of a father figure 
to him. Edward Teller was York’s mentor, the teacher who 
had taught him most of what he knew about nuclear 
physics. “Lawrence and Teller were all participants in the 
nuclear weapons program,” York later explained. “It was 
their ox that was about to be gored.” If the president was 
able to ban nuclear weapons tests, the Livermore 
laboratory would most likely cease to exist. 

The following day, after hearing arguments from the 
other scientists, York changed his position and voted in 
favor of a nuclear weapons test ban. It did not take long for 
word to reach Livermore, where Edward Teller became 
enraged. “Traitorous!” Teller said of York to his Livermore 
colleagues. 

Just two weeks after the Puerto Rico trip, President 
Eisenhower took action. In his memoirs the president 
wrote, “I formally proposed to Chairman Khrushchev a 
measure we had been considering—a meeting of experts 
whose technical studies would precede any political 
conference.” Come summer, scientific experts from the 
United States and the Soviet Union would meet in Geneva 
to discuss how to put an end to nuclear weapons tests once 
and for all. The centerpiece was test detection. ARPA would 
be in charge of overseeing this new technology, which 
included seismic and atmospheric sensing, designed to 
make sure no one cheated on the test ban. The program 
was Called Vela. Its technology was highly classified and 
included three subprograms: Vela Hotel, Vela Uniform, and 
Vela Sierra. 

The leaders of the world’s two superpowers each had a 
vested interest in making this test ban happen. Each man 


was tired of having to live and govern under the nuclear 
sword of Damocles. Both Eisenhower and Khrushchev 
would send their most qualified scientists to Geneva, with a 
mission to sort out any differences and to make the 
moratorium happen. President Eisenhower made a bold 
and brilliant move with his choice. Instead of sending one of 
his science advisors who wanted nuclear weapons tests to 
stop, he chose a scientist who did not: Ernest Lawrence. So 
committed to nuclear weapons tests was Ernest Lawrence 
that he had recently told Congress, “If we stop testing.... 
Well, God forbid... we will have to use weapons that [will] 
kill 50 million people that need not have been killed.” 

President Eisenhower was determined to bring about a 
test ban, but he was also determined to ensure that the 
Soviets could not and would not cheat. In sending Lawrence 
on his behalf, Eisenhower knew that the Soviet scientists’ 
intentions would be under intense scrutiny. For the first 
time since Castle Bravo, there was a sense of hope in the 
air. 

Meanwhile, at ARPA, Herb York was about to get to work 
on the Vela programs. Vela would soon become ARPA’s 
second-biggest program after Defender, which was ARPA’s 
colossal effort to advance antiballistic missile technology. 
Vela was a joint effort with the Atomic Energy Commission, 
the Air Force, and later NASA to advance sensor technology 
so the United States could certify that no nuclear weapons 
were being detonated in secret. Vela Hotel developed a 
high-altitude satellite system to detect nuclear explosions 
from space. Vela Uniform developed ground sensors able to 
detect nuclear explosions underground, and produced a 
program to monitor and read “seismic noise” across the 
globe. Vela Sierra monitored potential nuclear explosions in 
space. 

So much rested on the success of the Geneva Convention 
of Experts. Putting an end to nuclear weapons tests would 
slow the arms race and dramatically reduce the chances for 


all-out nuclear war. But could it be done? 


CHAPTER FOUR 


Emergency Plans 


For Herb York, the sense of hopefulness that followed him 


back home from Puerto Rico did not last long. Shortly after 
the president announced his plans for a nuclear test ban, a 
twenty-two-page secret document called “The Emergency 
Plans Book” arrived on York’s desk at the Pentagon. Its 
classified contents were nothing short of apocalyptic. They 
would remain classified for the next forty years. When, in 
1998, the Defense Department learned that an author 
named L. Douglas Keeney had discovered a copy of “The 
Emergency Plans Book” inside a declassified U.S. Air Force 
file at the National Archives, the Pentagon immediately 
reclassified the report. Keeney made public the contents of 
the copy he had come across, but the original document 
remains classified. 

For defense officials, “The Emergency Plans Book” 
served as the “only approved guidance to departments and 
agencies” regarding what to expect before, during, and 
after a Soviet nuclear attack on U.S. soil. Issued by the 
Office of Emergency Planning, a federal agency whose 
function was to coordinate and _ control wartime 
mobilization activities, the book was not a hypothetical war 
game. It was official protocol. To those familiar with its 
contents, it would become known as the Doomsday 
scenario. 


The scenario begins on a hypothetical “D-Day” in the not- 
so-distant future. Because of the inadequacy of U.S. 
Capabilities at the time, the first strike comes as a surprise. 
Soviet sleeper cells have managed to “emplace by 
clandestine means” several hydrogen bombs inside the 
continental United States, and these weapons are the first 
to explode. Thermonuclear war has begun. 

In quick succession, Soviet submarines swarm the 
Eastern and Western Seaboards, firing nuclear missiles at 
dozens of inland targets. At roughly the same time, the 
Soviets launch a catastrophic air attack against the United 
States using bombers and fighter jets. The U.S. Air Defense 
Command destroys a substantial portion of the attacking 
swarms, but at least half of the Soviet aircraft are able to 
fire off their tactical nuclear weapons before being shot 
down. The opening salvo comes to a climax as hundreds of 
incoming ICBMs, launched from the Soviet Union, reach the 
U.S. mainland. The majority of these nuclear-armed missiles 
are able to outfox the Army’s Nike-Ajax missile batteries 
and strike military and civilian targets across the nation. In 
less than one hour, 25 million Americans are dead. 

The Soviets have all but decapitated U.S. military 
installations, write the authors of “The Emergency Plans 
Book,” including most atomic weapons facilities, naval 
bases, airfields, and Army bases. All major communication 
centers, financial districts, and transportation hubs have 
been targeted for attack, and the majority of them have 
suffered catastrophic losses. America’s infrastructure has 
been obliterated. Virtually nothing remains of Washington, 
D.C. Even those living in rural America experience death 
and destruction on a cataclysmic scale. Because of 
automated-targeting errors, many of the nuclear weapons 
miss their intended targets and instead strike at random 
across the heartland. 

Though crippled, the U.S. military has not been 
destroyed and the counterattack begins. “Notwithstanding 


severe losses of military and civilian personnel and 
materiel,” the authors predict, “air operations against the 
enemy are continuing and our land and naval forces are 
heavily engaged. Both sides are making use of atomic 
weapons for tactical air support and in the land battle.” 
Lightweight portable nuclear weapons, like Livermore’s 
Davy Crocket bomb, are deployed across the nation by the 
thousands as Soviet ground forces invade. Next comes a 
final full-scale nuclear exchange. ICBMs rain down from the 
skies by the hundreds. Coastal naval bases are pummeled 
with hydrogen bombs. Ports are clogged with sinking ships. 
Merchant shipping comes to a halt. Surface transportation 
and airlift capacity are nonexistent. 

There are now hundreds of ground zeros across America, 
and everything within a five-to ten-mile radius of each one 
has been obliterated. The confluence of fireballs has 
created a series of major firestorms. Forests and cities are 
in flames. Those who escape being burned to death are 
subjected to varying degrees of deadly radiation. “The 
surface bursts have resulted in widespread radioactive 
fallout of such intensity that over substantial parts of the 
United States the taking of shelter for considerable periods 
of time is the only means of survival.” 

In the document’s “Post-Attack Analysis,” things get 
much worse. One hundred million American survivors now 
live in a nation entirely without the rule of law. The 
government is paralyzed. Roughly 50 million people are in 
need of immediate emergency medical attention, half of 
whom will require hospitalization for up to twelve weeks. 
Twelve and a half million others have received lethal doses 
of radiation and will die in the next few days, regardless of 
treatment. Health resources are in a critical state. The 
doctors and nurses who survived the first strike cannot 
begin to handle what is now being asked of them. Of a pre- 
attack total of 1.6 million U.S. hospital beds, 100,000 
remain. Radiation is but one malady. “Communicable 


diseases, including typhoid fever, smallpox, tetanus and 
streptococcal diseases, begin to run rampant.” Day-to-day 
production of food comes to a halt. Most salvageable food 
stocks have been contaminated. Widespread looting has 
begun, with survivors hoarding what little remains. 

The housing system has gone critical. Millions of homes 
were destroyed in the nuclear exchange; millions of people 
now have nowhere to live. Fallout has made vast portions of 
the Eastern Seaboard uninhabitable. There is no electricity, 
no refrigeration, no transportation, and no community 
water systems. Another deadly health menace emerges 
with the inability of the survivors to dispose of human waste 
or the dead bodies of millions killed in a single day. Then 
comes the knockout punch. “Along the coasts, bubonic 
plague, cholera and typhus are expected to emerge,” write 
the authors, “part of a Soviet biological warfare secondary 
attack.” The authors of the secret document clearly believe 
the Soviets to be the kind of enemy who will stop at nothing. 
Americans who managed to survive nuclear Armageddon 
must now prepare for the emergence of incurable diseases 
like bubonic plague. 

By the twenty-first century, catastrophic narratives like 
the Doomsday scenario would become a staple of post- 
apocalyptic fiction, films, and video games. But in 1958 this 
was the first and only known official document of its kind. 
Out in Santa Monica, RAND analysts regularly gamed out 
first-and second-strike scenarios as war games, which Air 
Force officials would then use to persuade Congress to 
allocate more funds for the Strategic Air Command. But 
“The Emergency Plans Book” was not a “what if”; it was a 
“here’s when.” It was doctrine. An official reference 
manual. 

It was also not a report that could be ignored. “The 
Emergency Plans Book” was sent to the highest-ranking 
defense officials in each of the military services, the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff, the director of ARPA, the secretary of 


defense, each of the assistant secretaries of defense, and 
the director of the National Security Agency. In a cover 
letter, the director of the Office of Emergency Planning 
instructed recipients to submit changes or indicate they 
had none. As for Herb York, when faced with this portrait of 
extreme cataclysm, the ARPA director did not lose sight of 
the agency’s mission to prevent strategic surprise. 
Submitting or not submitting notes to the Office of 
Emergency Planning was, for York, a moot point. 

Herb York had another plan in play, a seemingly 
preposterous idea that was already several years in the 
making. What if ARPA could create a defensive shield over 
the entire United States and stop incoming Soviet ICBMs in 
their tracks? York believed it could be done on account of a 
theory that had been proposed to him by an eccentric, 
brilliant, and obscure scientist named Nicholas Christofilos. 
As York later explained, Christofilos believed it was possible 
to create “an Astro-dome like defensive shield made up of 
high-energy electrons trapped in the earth’s magnetic field 
just above the atmosphere.” It sounded ludicrous. 
Something straight out of a Marvel comic book. But York 
thought it just might work. 

Which is why, in the summer of 1958, Herb York 
gathered together a group of the nation’s top scientists and 
had them briefed on this radical, classified idea. York 
wanted to know what the top men of science thought of 
what he called the “Christofilos effect.” The top secret 
program had already been given the go-ahead by the 
president of the United States. In March 1958 York met 
with Eisenhower and personally briefed him on plans for an 
ARPA operation to test the Christofilos effect. By summer, 
the idea was no longer just an idea but ARPA’s first full-scale 
operation. The top secret, restricted data, limited 
distribution Operation Order 7-58 went by the cover name 
Project Floral. Its real name, which was classified, was 
Operation Argus—for the mythological giant with one 


hundred eyes. 


On July 14, 1958, with top secret clearances in place, 
twenty-two defense scientists gathered at the National War 
College at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., with the goal of 
producing “ARPA Study No. 1.” The gathering went by its 
own code name, Project 137. Its purpose, explained York, 
was “to identify problems not now receiving adequate 
attention” in the national security domain. 

“Fort McNair was a_ delightful place to work,” 
remembered Marvin “Murph” Goldberger, one of the 
Project 137 scientists. The facility was one of the oldest 
Army posts in the nation and one of the most genteel. Each 
morning the scientists gathered in Roosevelt Hall, a grand 
neoclassical building of red brick with granite trim 
overlooking the Potomac. There they listened to Defense 
Department officials deliver briefings on America’s “defense 
problems selected for their urgency.” Then the scientists 
gathered in groups to discuss what had been said and 
brainstorm science-based solutions. Afternoons were spent 
writing. In the early evening, everyone would dine together, 
in the War College mess hall, and discuss Soviet threats. 
They were dealing with a total of sixty-eight national 
security problems and programs, from submarine warfare 
and balloon warfare to biological weapons, chemical 
sensing, and the possibility of inventing a laser beam 
weapon. But the most interesting program by far, as 
Goldberger recalled, was the Christofilos effect. 

“Hearing about it required its own special clearance,” 
Goldberger said. 

The Project 137 group was led by John Wheeler, a 
Princeton University physicist famous for coining the term 
“black hole.” Working alongside Wheeler were five others 
from Princeton, four from Berkeley, three from the 
University of Illinois, one from Stanford, one from the 


University of Chicago, and one from Cal Tech. Four 
scientists came from the federally funded nuclear 
laboratories, Los Alamos, Livermore, Oak Ridge, and 
Sandia. Two scientists came from the defense industry, one 
from General Dynamics and the other from the DuPont 
chemical company. 

These were advanced scientific thinkers of the most 
serious kind. The Supermen of hard science. Among them 
were particle physicists, theoretical physicists, 
astrophysicists, chemists, mathematicians, an economist, 
and a nuclear weapons engineer. They were men who 
coined terms like hexaquark, wormholes, and quantum 
foam. Two of them, Eugene Wigner and Val Fitch, would win 
the Nobel Prize in physics. All of the scientists were 
experienced in Defense Department work, and many had 
been part of the Manhattan Project during World War II. 
Stated requirements for membership in Project 137 were 
“ingenuity, practicality and motivation.” 

“We listened to Nick [Christofilos] discuss the 
[Christofilos] effect,” recalled Goldberger. “He was a 
strange kind of genius.” 

Christofilos’s theoretical Astrodome-like shield was the 
hoped-for result of exploding a large number of nuclear 
weapons in space as a means of defending against incoming 
Soviet ICBMs. By Christofilos’s count, this likely meant 
“thousands per year, in the lower reaches of the 
atmosphere.” These explosions, he said, would produce 
“huge quantities of radioactive atoms, and these in turn 
would emit high-energy electrons (beta particles) and inject 
them into a region of space where the earth’s magnetic 
fields would trap and hold on them for a long time.” 
Christofilos figured that this electromagnetic field could last 
months, or perhaps longer, and that “the trapped electrons 
would cause severe radiation—and even heat damage—to 
anything, man or nuclear weapon, that tried to fly through 
the region.” In short, the idea was that the arming and 


firing mechanisms on the incoming Soviet ICBMs would be 
fried. 

Christofilos had presented the idea a few years earlier, 
back when York was the chief scientist at Livermore. “His 
purpose was of epic proportions,” York recalled. “His idea 
was the most amazing and original of all not only at 
Livermore but, to my knowledge, in the entire country,” a 
plan to create “an impenetrable shield of high-energy 
electrons over our heads, a shield that would destroy any 
nuclear warhead that might be sent against us.” But 
exploding thousands of nuclear weapons in space each year 
was an impractical proposition. “At the time Nick presented 
these proposals, I could not conceive of a procedure for 
actually carrying them out,” said York. “In sum, there was 
simply no place to take an invention like Nick’s.” Then York 
became chief scientist at ARPA. 

Nicholas Christofilos had an unusual backstory. He was 
born in Boston to Greek immigrant parents but at the age 
of seven returned with his family to Athens, where he went 
to school, dreamed about science, and became an amateur 
radio operator. He graduated from the National Technical 
University in Athens in 1938 and went to work in an 
elevator factory. His first job was as an elevator installer. 
When the Nazis took over Athens, Christofilos’s elevator 
factory was converted to a truck repair facility. Left with 
“very little to do,” Christofilos kept himself busy learning 
German. Eventually he was able to read the German- 
language physics textbooks and scientific journals that his 
new Nazi bosses left lying around the factory. According to 
Herb York, Nick Christofilos began “focusing his attention 
on the design of high-energy accelerators—cyclotrons and 
the like.” 

With no formal training, and in a matter of a few years, 
Christofilos transformed himself from an_ elevator 
technician into one of the most ingenious scientists in the 
modern world. There are almost no details about his work 


during this dark time of occupation and war, but three 
years after the end of the war, in 1948, he wrote a letter to 
the University of California Radiation Laboratory in 
Berkeley, “purporting to describe a new _ invention,” 
according to York. “The letter was, apparently, not easy to 
decipher.” But when a scientist at Livermore finally did 
“puzzle it out,” says York, “he discovered that it was only 
another way of describing the synchrocyclotron,” a device 
that had been invented independently several years before 
by Edwin McMillan, a chemist at Berkeley, and Vladimir 
Veksler, a physicist in the USSR. “Papers describing that 
invention had already been published more than a year 
before Nick’s letter arrived, so it was set aside and 
forgotten,” said York. The supposition was that the letter 
writer could have gotten the information from the academic 
paper. Then, two years later, scientists at Livermore 
received a second letter from Nicholas Christofilos, this one 
describing another type of particle accelerator. “It was 
considerably more complex than the first,” said York, “and 
whoever was assigned to read it could not make out what it 
was trying to say.” Same as the first letter, it was cast aside. 

Two years later, two nuclear physicists at the Brookhaven 
National Laboratory on Long Island published a paper 
describing an accelerator, this one so _ technologically 
advanced that for the first time in the history of science, a 
machine could “produce particles with more than one 
billion electron volts of energy,” noted York. As it so 
happened, Christofilos had recently moved to the United 
States. When he read the article in a science journal, he 
contacted the authors to tell them he had already invented 
that machine in his mind, and had described it in a letter 
that was on file with the Livermore lab. When Christofilos 
demanded due credit for the invention, a search of the 
records was made. Sure enough, according to York, 
Christofilos had a clear priority of invention. “Naturally,” 
recalled York, the discovery that a Greek elevator installer 


had priority in this very sophisticated invention produced a 
flurry of interest and reaction.” In 1954 Christofilos was 
offered a job at Brookhaven, where a huge accelerator 
based on his invention was being built. But soon Christofilos 
became bored with the invention he had imagined years 
before. He was already well on to other ideas. When Herb 
York learned the strange story of Nicholas Christofilos, he 
Saw great potential and hired him. 

Resistance came from the federal security clearance 
people. “They found it hard to believe that an ‘elevator 
mechanic’ had accomplished all that Christofilos had 
claimed,” said York. “He must be, they thought, some sort of 
mole that the Russians had pumped full of ideas not his 
own.” Clearance officers finally authorized Christofilos to 
work at Livermore, giving him access to top secret 
information. But he was denied the coveted Q clearance, 
which allows a scientist access to nuclear secrets. At 
Livermore, Christofilos produced one seminal idea after 
another. Eventually he was granted higher clearances than 
just about everyone else around him. When Sputnik flew, 
Christofilos became convinced that the Russians had gained 
a too significant scientific advantage over the United States. 
That they were likely planning a surprise attack. He threw 
all his energy and ingenuity into finding a way to keep this 
from happening. Now the Project 137 scientists were at a 
crossroads. It was risky and expensive. But if the 
Christofilos effect worked, it would be a magic bullet 
answer to ballistic missile defense. 

At Fort McNair, the scientists agreed that the Christofilos 
effect was worth investigating. In practical terms, it was the 
best idea anyone had come up with. The scope of national 
security threats facing the nation left many of the Project 
137 scientists with a deep sense of foreboding. It caused 
“responsible people sleepless nights,” John Wheeler said. 
Although all of the scientists had worked on Defense 
Department programs before, learning of sixty-eight 


threats concurrently “weighed heavily on the conscience,” 
Goldberger recalled. 

“Many of the members of Project 137 were deeply 
disturbed and others even shocked by the gravity of the 
problems with which they found themselves confronted,” 
Wheeler wrote in his after-action report for ARPA. “The 
group has developed a strong feeling for and deep 
appreciation of the great crisis with which the nation is 
faced. The group senses the rapidly increasing danger into 
which we are inexorably heading.” 

Much rested on the success of Operation Argus, now set 
to unfold at the bottom of the world. 


Halfway across the earth, in the middle of the South 
Atlantic Ocean, the men of Task Force 88 were assembled 
as far away from civilization as man can get without being 
in Antarctica. The spot had been chosen because it was 
outside shipping lanes, in a remote expanse between the tip 
of South America and the tip of Africa, east of a dip in the 
magnetic field known as the Brazilian Anomaly. The 
weather was unpredictable, and there was the issue of high 
seas. It was in this rough ocean that the U.S. military 
planned to launch three nuclear weapons into space, off the 
back of a moving seaplane tender called the USS Norton 
Sound. The hope was that the Christofilos effect would 
create a great enough disturbance in the _ earth’s 
geomagnetic fields, in the layers of the ionosphere, and in 
radio waves that it would ruin the delicate electronics 
housed inside any incoming missile. 

An extraordinary number of men and machines were 
involved in Operation Argus, the only fully classified test in 
the history of U.S. nuclear testing; no part of the operation 
was made public, nor would the public know about it until 
the New York Times broke the story six months after its 
completion. There were 4,500 military personnel, hundreds 


of scientists and engineers, twenty-one fixed-wing aircraft, 
eight Sikorsky helicopters, three destroyers, a fleet oiler, an 
aircraft carrier, a seaplane tender, more than a dozen 
Lockheed X-17A missiles, and three nuclear warheads 
involved. ARPA was the agency in charge, with divisions 
from the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy shouldering 
major elements of the operation. Satellites, each carrying a 
payload of a hundred pounds of recording instruments, 
would be placed in equatorial and polar orbits by the Army 
Ballistic Missile Agency shortly before the tests. The sensors 
would record effects and relay data. With so many moving 
parts, on so many different continents, any number of 
things could go wrong. 

Weather was a major unknown to contend with. 
Operation Argus involved firing three nuclear-tipped 
Lockheed X-17A missiles off the back of a moving ship. The 
USS Norton Sound was capable of launching a missile in 
winds up to forty-six miles per hour, but no one had 
expected waves nearing twenty feet. The ship could make 
speed corrections to compensate for the wind, but the 
waves threatened to dangerously alter the missile 
trajectory in its boost stage. The commander of Task Force 
88 was concerned with the safety of his crew, and with good 
reason. 

During a practice run of a missile launch, one of the X- 
17As failed in flight, after only twenty-five seconds. Had 
there been a nuclear weapon in the nosecone, it would have 
produced a catastrophic disaster. The missile would have 
been just a few thousand feet up, and exploding at that 
height would likely have killed or injured many of the crew. 
Making matters seem even more precarious, in the 
following test run, the missile failed again, this time just 
three seconds after launch. 

Secrecy was paramount to success. If the Christofilos 
effect was achieved, it would produce massive disturbances 
across the earth’s upper atmosphere. These disruptions 


would be detected by every nation monitoring these kinds 
of phenomena, most notably the Soviets. Total secrecy 
meant the disturbances would infuriate the Soviets; they 
would have no idea what caused them and would most 
likely conclude the United States was working on a top 
secret high-altitude weapon. This was one of the desired 
effects. 

Four days before the first nuclear launch, all ships and 
aircraft were in place. U.S. reconnaissance aircraft 
patrolled the skies over the South Atlantic. Ships carrying 
antiaircraft rockets were at the ready, in the unforeseen 
event of Soviet sabotage. The commander of Task Force 88 
sent his final coded message to the ARPA office at the 
Pentagon, a prearranged indication that the operation was 
a go at his end. 

“Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” the commander stated 
clearly into a ship-to-shore radio microphone. The first test 
would take place on August 27, 1958. Although no one had 
a name for it at the time, Operation Argus was the world’s 
first test of an electromagnetic pulse bomb, or EMP. 


Halfway across the world, in Switzerland, a remarkable 
series of events was taking place. It was the height of the 
summer season, and Ernest O. Lawrence and his wife, 
Molly, were attending a party at the historic Parc des Eaux- 
Vives, an eighteenth-century mansion on Lake Geneva. Mist 
rose off the lake, the weather was magnificent, and from 
the villa’s terrace where the couple sat behind protective 
glass, there were stunning panoramic views. Ernest and 
Molly Lawrence dined and watched fireworks. Wine flowed. 
And Ernest Lawrence was having a miserable time. 

For the first time in the history of nuclear weapons, top 
scientists from the United States and the Soviet Union had 
been meeting here in Geneva, under the strictest of 
security provisions, to hash out technical terms so that a 


nuclear test suspension could go forward. The Geneva 
Conference of Experts marked the ultimate low point in the 
prolific nuclear weapons career of Ernest Lawrence. For 
more than twenty years, Lawrence had been one of the 
nation’s most vocal advocates for nuclear weapons 
development and testing, along with his deputy Edward 
Teller. That Eisenhower wanted Lawrence to represent him 
distressed Lawrence when he was first asked, and it upset 
him even more now that he was attending the conference. 

“The President has asked, so I must go!” he told Molly 
before they left California. The very thought rendered 
Lawrence “depressed over the idea,” according to his 
biographer Herbert Childs, but still he “felt it was his duty 
to accept” and to go to Geneva. The conference lasted all 
summer, and for Lawrence the meetings were becoming 
increasingly stressful. There were so many important 
technical aspects to iron out, including ways in which each 
side could be certain that the other side would not cheat. 
For that, Lawrence brought his Livermore deputy Harold 
Brown, the young physicist who had taken over York’s job 
as Chief scientist at Livermore. 

Here in Geneva, Brown acted as Lawrence’s technical 
advisor. In order to stop testing, both superpowers had to 
agree to the creation of a network of 170 seismic detection 
facilities across Europe, Asia, and North America. This 
technology effort was being spearheaded by ARPA through 
its Vela Uniform program. Technology had advanced to the 
point where these detection facilities would soon be able to 
monitor and sense, with close to 100 percent certainty, any 
aboveground nuclear test over 1 kiloton and, with 90 
percent certainty, any underground test over 5 kilotons. 
Both sides knew that in some situations it was difficult for 
detection facilities to tell the difference between an 
earthquake and an underground test. These were the kinds 
of verification details that the experts were working to hash 
out. 


Ernest Lawrence had been attending meetings by day 
and social events by night. The situation was stressful, and 
now he was exhausted. Lawrence worried that there was 
something wrong with his health. He deeply distrusted the 
Soviets. Perhaps working with their scientists was making 
him ill? He had just returned from a first-class trip across 
India and Europe, traveling in private planes and being 
driven by chauffeurs. He and his family had visited with 
statesmen and maharajahs. There, he’d felt fine. Travel 
always made him feel better, and Molly suggested a day trip 
to the ski resort at Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, in the nearby 
Alps. Lawrence agreed and off they went, but upon his 
return, Lawrence came down with a fever. The next day he 
was unable to get out of bed. 

“He just didn’t seem to get well, though he didn’t seem 
terribly sick,” recalled his colleague Robert Bacher, one of 
three nuclear scientists officially representing the United 
States. Fearing her husband had pneumonia, Molly 
Lawrence called for a physician. Dr. Bernard Wissmer 
examined Lawrence and noted that he “was cheerful and 
did not seem acutely ill, despite fever.” 

Lawrence confided in the Swiss doctor. He suffered from 
colitis, or inflammation of the bowels, he said, and he 
relapsed when he became tense. Dr. Wissmer gave him a 
proctoscopic exam and said he was in good health. The 
following day Lawrence made some effort to attend the 
conference, but mostly he had Harold Brown participate on 
his behalf. Venturing out of his hotel room, he collapsed in 
the hallway. Molly suggested they return home. 

“T could never live with myself if I left before this 
conference was over,” Lawrence told his wife. Dr. Wissmer 
prescribed penicillin. Then later that week, after a lakeside 
lunch with his translator, the Berkeley professor and 
Russian émigré Leonid Tichvinsky, Lawrence decided that 
he had had enough. “This is it, we’re going home tonight,” 
he told his wife. 


Arriving back in California, Lawrence checked into a 
hospital. He never left. He was given a blood transfusion 
and was told he needed to have his colon removed. The 
thought of never being able to defecate like a healthy 
human horrified him, his biographer later revealed. Shortly 
after the surgery, Lawrence slipped into a coma. On August 
27, he died. He had just turned fifty-seven years old. The 
Livermore laboratory would be renamed the Lawrence 
Livermore National Laboratory. 


Halfway across the world in a far corner of the South 
Atlantic, outside shipping lanes and near a dip in the 
magnetic field, on the same day that Ernest Lawrence died, 
the first of the three Argus high-altitude nuclear weapons 
was detonated. Argus 1 suffered an errant missile 
trajectory and missed its target—which was 340 nautical 
miles above the earth—by more 230 miles. Three days later 
Argus 2 also failed to reach its desired altitude and 
exploded roughly 84 nautical miles above the task force 
launching area. The last and final test, Argus 3, was the 
most precarious, first with a misfire in high winds followed 
by a nuclear explosion on September 6, 1958, at an altitude 
of 115 nautical miles. Operation Argus proved to be a grand 
disappointment. The results were nothing close to what 
Nicholas Christofilos had predicted and Herb York had 
hoped for. While the Christofilos effect did occur, it was 
limited in intensity and very short-lived. More nuclear tests 
were needed. But the moratorium was coming. 

In Switzerland, at the Geneva Conference of Experts, the 
scientists submitted their final report. Given advances in 
the technology of detection, American and Soviet scientists 
now agreed that it was possible to cease nuclear testing. If 
one side cheated, they would be caught. President 
Eisenhower was delighted. The very next day he held a 
press conference to announce that the United States would 


halt nuclear testing, starting on October 31, if the Soviets 
formally agreed to halt testing as well. 

At Livermore laboratory in California, Edward Teller was 
furious. He had no intention of giving up nuclear testing 
without protest. Two days after the death of his colleague 
and boss Ernest Lawrence, even before Lawrence was 
buried, Teller sent a classified telegram to Brigadier 
General Alfred Starbird, the defense official at the Pentagon 
in charge of nuclear weapons tests. The telegram, marked 
“Priority,” had the subject heading “Thoughts in Connection 
to the Test Moratorium.” 

Teller told Starbird that the test ban was a threat to 
national security. That it showed weakness and vulnerability 
and opened America up to a sneak nuclear attack. “The 
purpose [of this telegram] is in part to clarify laboratory 
plans and in part to point out dangers in connections with 
future discussions concerning the test moratorium,” Teller 
wrote. “The laboratory must continue research and 
development of nuclear weapons,” he wrote, “in order to 
comply with the [president’s] directive.” More tests needed 
to be done in order to make sure that it was safe to comply. 
Furthermore, he argued, many of Livermore’s nuclear tests 
were not tests per se but rather scientific experiments, as 
Operation Argus was. 

There was a loophole to be explored, Teller suggested. 
“Explosions below a_ kiloton cannot be detected and 
identified by any of the methods considered realistic by any 
of the delegations at the Geneva Conference,” he wrote. 
The United States could secretly conduct low-yield tests. 
Yes, it would be cheating, but the Russians could not be 
trusted, and surely they would cheat too. 


CHAPTER FIVE 


Sixteen Hundred Seconds Until 
Doomsday 


Eugene McManus, an electronics technician, worked at 


the top of the world. He had joined the Air Force, at age 
seventeen, for adventure and to learn radar technology, and 
now here he was four years later working at a classified 
ARPA-activated outpost just nine hundred miles from the 
North Pole. This was the Ballistic Missile Early Warning 
System (BMEWS) facility, the world’s first operational 
missile-detection radar site, and it was connected directly 
with the North American Air Defense Command, or NORAD. 
McManus and everyone else who worked here knew the 
remote, isolated facility as “J-Site.” 

“Our job at J-Site amounted to ninety percent boredom 
and ten percent panic,” Gene McManus recalls. “The panic 
was if the power went off or if there was a missile scare.” 

J-Site was part of ARPA’s secretive 474L System Program 
Office, which was responsible for developing techniques 
and equipment to track all objects in space and any ICBMs 
that might be coming in over the North Pole. The Air Force 
ran the place, and McManus technically worked for RCA, 
Radio Corporation of America, under its defense contractor 
division, RCA Service Company. 

The Arctic environment played a role in everything, 


McManus explains. J-Site was located thirteen miles from 
the main Defense Department base in Thule, Greenland, an 
area that was landlocked by ice nine months of the year. For 
roughly four of those months, the sun never came up over 
the horizon and the temperature stayed around -40 
degrees Fahrenheit. There was darkness all day and all 
night, the black sky interrupted only by the low-rising 
moon. For the two hundred people who worked at J-Site 
each day, the commute was called “the coldest thirteen 
miles on wheels.” 

The J-site workers—mostly radar technicians and 
maintenance crews—rode to the BMEWS site in a twelve- 
bus convoy that always traveled in tight formation. If any 
bus were to fall behind, get stuck, or have engine failure, it 
would not take long for the passengers to freeze to death. 
In a phase-one blizzard, which was common, bus drivers 
battled 70-mile-per-hour winds and maintained visibility of 
about fifty feet. But if a phase-three blizzard hit, the worst 
kind of storm, with winds up to 120 miles per hour, visibility 
was reduced to inches, and the road turned into a giant 
snowdrift. Bus drivers had to slow down to a treacherous 
10-mile-per-hour crawl. Driving slower meant the bus 
engine could stall. Driving faster meant the bus driver 
might drive off the road into deep snow. One Christmas, 
Gene McManus and his fellow crewmembers got caught in 
a phase-three blizzard, and the commute that normally took 
thirty to forty minutes took thirteen hours. “The 
anemometer [wind meter] at the BMEWS site pegged ata 
hundred and sixty-five miles per hour,” McManus recalls. 
He and his crew got stranded at J-Site, which was 
particularly unfortunate because the Bob Hope USO tour 
was visiting Thule Air Base that holiday, and instead of 
seeing the show live, the stranded J-Site workers had to 
listen to the gala over the public address system. 

J-Site was a futuristic-looking environment with some of 
the most modern, most powerful technical equipment in the 


world, perched high on a frozen, treeless bluff overlooking 
the Wolstenholme Fjord. Four massive radar antennas, each 
165 feet high and 400 hundred feet long, were 
programmed to track objects three thousand miles out. 
When McManus arrived in the spring of 1961, workers 
were building the radome, a bright white 150-foot-tall 
microwave radar dome that looked like a giant golf ball 
made of honeycomb pieces in the shape of pentagons and 
hexagons bolted together. 

In the summer it was beautiful. “We would watch the 
icebergs calve from the glaciers, and when the fjord 
thawed, the water was clear blue,” McManus remembers. 
He and other technicians would take summer walks around 
J-Site. The landscape was barren above the Arctic Circle, 
but when the snow melted, from June to early September 
the tundra bloomed with moss, cotton, and poppies. 
Sometimes you could see arctic foxes and hares if you had 
sharp eyes. 

At J-Site there were nine buildings attached by enclosed 
roadways, like tunnels. Because the ground was 
permanently frozen, nothing was built underground. J-Site 
was a self-supporting facility with its own mess hall, 
receiving docks, and machine shop—all in support of the 
computer rooms, which were the heart of the BMEWS 
facility. The outpost required 85 megawatts of electricity “to 
provide full power to the radar and auxiliary equipment, 
lights, and computers,” McManus explains, enough wattage 
to power about fifteen thousand U.S. homes. For this, J-Site 
had its own power source in the oil-fired turbines on a Navy 
ship at anchor in the bay. “The heat generated by the power 
ship kept the water in the ship’s permanent mooring 
thawed, even at minus forty degrees,” says McManus. 

It was Gene McManus’s job as an electronics technician 
to take care of the cables at J-Site, and these were far from 
any old cables. “Hundreds of miles of inch-thick multi- 
conductor cable carrying control, communication, and 


radar receiver information [were] laid perfectly straight in 
the cable tray, never crossing over or under another,” 
McManus recalls. “Each was tied down at precise intervals, 
with the knots in the cable ties all facing the same direction. 
When the cables had to bend around corners, the radius of 
the bends of all the cables in the tray were exactly the 
same.” Precision was everything. The information flowing 
through these cables could start or prevent World War III. 

“The ten percent panic part of the job came when 
something unusual was happening with the electricity,” says 
McManus. “Once we had a water leak in one of the 
antennae, in one of the waveguides. The power was down 
for about fifteen minutes.” It was nerve-racking, but it was 
nothing compared to what happened the third day J-Site 
went into twenty-four-hour operational mode, on October 5, 
1960. 

Three thousand miles from J-Site, deep inside Cheyenne 
Mountain in Colorado Springs, a clock on the wall read 3:15 
p.m. Air Force colonel Robert L. Gould was sitting in the 
NORAD War Room when an alarm light flashed red. 
NORAD, or North American Air Defense Command, was an 
organization created in 1958 by the United States and 
Canada to defend against a Soviet attack. The War Room 
was where military personnel monitored airspace for 
ICBMs and incoming Soviet military aircraft. Colonel Gould 
was’ facing aa freestanding, twelve-by-twelve-foot 
transparent plastic display board with a map of North 
America and Eurasia drawn on it. Above the map was an 
alarm-level indicator made up of five red lights. Nearby, Air 
Force technicians monitored information coming in from 
the BMEWS J-Site at Thule. 

Suddenly, the Level Three light flashed. Had the Level 
One light flashed, NORAD protocol would have required 
Colonel Gould to “assemble the battle staff [and] watch 
closely.” If the light had flashed on Level Two, Gould would 
know “the contact is significant. Be ready to move in 


seconds.” Instead, the alarm system sounded at Level 
Three, which required Gould immediately to contact the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, the Chiefs of Staff 
Committee in Ottawa, and Strategic Air Command (SAC) 
headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. A flashing Level Four 
was something every individual in the War Room knew 
about from training but dreaded ever having to deal with 
because it meant “You are apparently under attack.” A 
Level Four flashing light required an officer to “bring 
defense weaponry up, warn SAC to prepare its ICBMs for 
launching, get its bombers off the ground and turn loose 
the airborne alert force.” Level Five was the endgame. It 
indicated “it is 99.9 percent certain that you are under 
ICBM attack.” 

With Level Three flashing, Colonel Gould picked up the 
telephone in the War Room. As he waited to connect with 
NORAD’s commander in chief, Air Force general Laurence 
Kuter, the alarm level suddenly went to Level Four, then 
Level Five. Gould quickly learned that General Kuter was 
flying over South Dakota and could not be reached, so he 
was instead put in touch with NORAD’s deputy commander, 
Air Marshal Charles Roy Slemon, of Canada. By now, also on 
the line was NORAD’s chief of intelligence, Air Force 
brigadier general Harris B. Hull. 

“Where is Khrushchev?” Air Marshal Slemon asked 
Brigadier General Hull. 

“In New York City,” Hull quickly replied. 

This changed everything. There was a moment’s pause. 

“Do you have any intelligence indications that would tend 
to confirm the radar reports” of an ICBM attack? Slemon 
asked. 

“None, sir,” Hull said. 

What was said next remains classified. 

To Air Marshal Slemon, it seemed extremely unlikely that 
the Soviets would strike North America when Premier 
Khrushchev was in New York City, at the United Nations. 


But Slemon also believed that an attack could not be ruled 
out entirely and that it was time to get the BMEWS J-Site 
on the phone. 

The technicians at J-Site, who were manning the IBM 
7094 computers that received data from the radar, 
analyzed it, and made calculations were seeing very 
strange radar returns. A radar echo from an incoming 
ICBM took one-eighth of a second to receive. These radar 
returns were seventy-five seconds long. How could anything 
be that far away? But whatever it was that was coming over 
the horizon, according to the computers there were literally 
thousands of them. Here at J-Site, where environment was 
everything, someone thought of looking outside. There, 
coming up over the horizon, over Norway, was a huge rising 
moon. 

The BMEWS had not malfunctioned. It was “simply more 
powerful than anyone had dreamed,” said a NORAD 
spokesman after the story broke on December 7, 1960. The 
“BMEWS—thought to have a range up to three thousand 
miles—had spotted the moon nearly a quarter of a million 
miles distant,” explained reporter John Hubbell. The J-Site 
computers had not been programmed to read or express 
that kind of distance and instead “divided three thousand 
miles into the precise distance to the moon and reported 
the distance left over—twenty-two hundred miles—as 
range.” 

It was a defining moment in the history of weapons 
development and the future of man and machine. A 
computer had reported that a thousand-strong Soviet ICBM 
attack was under way. And a human, in this case Air 
Marshal Charles Roy Slemon, used his judgment to 
intervene and to overrule. At J-Site, the ARPA 474L System 
Program Office worked with technicians to teach the 
BMEWS computers to reject echoes from the moon. 


On October 5, 1960, nuclear Armageddon was averted, but 
the underlying reality of national defense was that the 
scientists who had created the hydrogen bomb had created 
a weapon against which there was no defense. In ARPA’s 
first years as an agency, its single biggest program was 
Defender, with a mission to advance antiballistic missile 
technology and further develop “early warning systems” 
like the one at J-Site in Thule. Defender began with a 
publicly announced first-year budget of $100 million, 
roughly half of ARPA’s entire budget. This figure was 
misleading, as Herb York explained in now declassified 
memos, because it included only research and development 
costs, not operational costs. In its first two years alone, the 
Pentagon spent closer to $900 million on Defender, York 
said, roughly $7.3 billion in 2015. 

The Defender program, also called Ballistic Missile 
Defense (BMD), was ARPA’s most important national 
security program and the one that received the most press. 
People wanted to believe that the brilliant scientists who 
had created weapons of mass destruction in the first place 
could create a means to defend against them, especially 
now that the Soviets had an arsenal of their own. To Herb 
York, the situation was dire, mostly because of the time 
frame involved. York ordered ARPA scientists to determine 
the exact amount of time it would take for a Soviet ICBM 
carrying a megaton warhead to travel from a launch pad in 
Russia to a target in Washington, D.C. 

In a secret dossier, “Assessment of Ballistic Missile 
Defense Program” (PPD 61-33), obtained through the 
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and not known to have 
been reported before, ARPA mathematicians whittled that 
number down to an exact figure—a mere 1,600 seconds. It 
seemed impossibly fast. Just twenty-six minutes and forty 
seconds from launch to annihilation. 

The ARPA report chronicled the journey of the nuclear- 
armed ICBM in its three stages: boost, midcourse, and 


terminal phase. The initial boost stage took three hundred 
seconds—five minutes. This included the time it took for the 
rocket to fire up off the launch pad, head skyward, and 
reach cruising altitude. The second stage, called midcourse, 
lasted 1,200 seconds—twenty minutes. This stage included 
the time it took for the missile to travel in an arc-like 
trajectory over the planet at an altitude of approximately 
eight hundred miles above sea level. The final stage was 
called the terminal stage. It accounted for the last one 
hundred seconds of flight—1.6 minutes. This terminal phase 
began when the warhead reentered the earth’s atmosphere 
and ended when it struck its target—an American city. 
Sixteen hundred seconds. That was it. 

The secret “Assessment of Ballistic Missile Defense” came 
with a stern forewarning: “The nuclear-armed ICBM 
threatens us with annihilation; the stakes are so high that 
we must explore every alternative of strengthening our 
military posture.” One of the great tragedies, or ironies, 
here was that defending against a single ICBM was actually 
not too difficult a task. According to the authors of the ARPA 
report, the Army’s antiballistic missile system, called Nike- 
Zeus, gave “high confidence that... targets [i.e., incoming 
Soviet ICBMs] could be destroyed.” The problem was 
numerical, the scientists said. It was the sheer volume of 
megaton weapons in existence—with more still being 
engineered—that made the situation so hopeless. “The most 
important limitation of [Nike-Zeus] is that its firepower will 
probably not be able to handle the number of simultaneous 
targets which can reasonably be expected in an all-out war 
with the USSR,” the scientists wrote. 

For Herb York, it was time to go back to the Supermen of 
hard science. Several of the men from Project 137 had 
formed a defense consulting group of their own. They called 
themselves the Jason scientists. 

“IT suppose you could say I started Jason,” said Murph 
Goldberger in a 2013 interview, at the age of ninety-one. 


The former Manhattan Project member, former science 
advisor to President Johnson, former president of the 
Federation of American Scientists, and the first American 
scientist to travel to communist China on an official 
government-sponsored science mission, among other 
impressive feats, was living with his full faculties intact ata 
retirement home in La Jolla, California, called Casa de 
Manana, or House of Tomorrow. Eating Hungarian goulash 
in a dining room filled with people of a similar age, and with 
a commanding view of the vast Pacific, Goldberger 
explained, “I was Jason’s first director or president. It was 
an impressive group. We were scientists committed to 
solving defense problems.” 

Murph Goldberger had been involved in nuclear physics 
since he was twenty-two years old. During World War II, as 
a college student and member of the enlisted reserves, he 
was called up to the Army’s Special Engineering 
Department—the Manhattan Project—after being singled 
out for his scientific talent. After the war he earned a Ph.D. 
in physics under Enrico Fermi, the scientist who told 
President Truman that the hydrogen bomb was “an evil 
thing.” Murph Goldberger had been a key player in Project 
137 at Fort McNair. At the time he was working as a 
professor of physics at Princeton University, alongside John 
Wheeler, Oskar Morgenstern, and Eugene Wigner. A Life 
magazine article about America’s most important scientists 
carried a photograph of the four Princeton physicists and 
described them with a kind of reverence. Scientists in the 
1950s were seen as modern-day wizards, alchemists who 
could unlock the secrets of the universe. American 
scientists could win wars, defeat polio, even travel to the 
moon. 

After Project 137 ended, Goldberger returned to 
Princeton, where he soon got an idea. He wanted to craft a 
defense consulting group of like-minded colleagues. 
Goldberger contacted four friends outside the university 


enclave, scientists whose areas of expertise had been 
entwined since the end of World War II. Kenneth Watson, a 
nuclear physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, 
and protégé of Edward Teller, had done a postdoctoral 
fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. 
Keith Brueckner, a physicist, meteorologist, and former Los 
Alamos weapons developer, had studied at the Berkeley 
Radiation Laboratory with Watson and Goldberger and at 
the Institute for Advanced Study alongside John von 
Neumann. Murray Gell-Mann, the youngest member, had 
been a doctoral student of Manhattan Project giant Victor 
Weisskopf, and was someone Goldberger considered a 
prodigy. The four physicists agreed to start a for-profit 
defense consulting company together. Their first idea was 
to call it Theoretical Physics, Inc. “The idea was that we 
would not work simply as consultants; we’d work as a 
formal group, a little business,” Keith Brueckner recalled, in 
a 1986 oral history. 

Goldberger decided to run the idea by a fourth colleague 
and friend, the physicist Charles H. Townes. Two years 
earlier Townes had published the first academic paper on 
what he called the microwave laser, or maser. In time the 
maser would become known as the laser, and it is now 
considered one of the most significant inventions of the 
twentieth century, used widely in both defense and civilian 
work. Townes had recently taken a leave of absence from 
his position as a professor at Columbia University to serve 
as vice president of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), 
a federally funded research center in Alexandria, Virginia, 
that served one customer: the Department of Defense. 
Specifically, IDA served the Office of the Secretary of 
Defense (OSD) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff JCS). If another 
service wanted IDA’s assistance researching a problem, 
they had to secure permission from OSD or JCS first. In the 
early ARPA years, the salaries of all ARPA directors and 
program managers were paid through IDA. Townes thought 


Goldberger’s idea of a defense consulting group was 
excellent, and he suggested that Goldberger speak with 
Herb York. Perhaps the Advanced Research Projects Agency 
would fund the group itself, Townes said. He offered to find 
out. 

“Townes called back to say [ARPA] loved the idea,” 
Goldberger remembered. The scientists, mostly university 
professors, were free to consult during the summer, as they 
had at the war college at Fort McNair. The group could 
remain flexible and independent, detached from any 
Pentagon mindset. To avoid red tape or bureaucracy, they 
could be paid through IDA; besides, most of their work 
would be classified. IDA would provide the group with an 
administrative assistant. 

Goldberger and his colleagues got to work creating a list 
of scientists they felt would add to their group of defense 
consultants. They wanted to limit membership to theoretical 
physicists, said Goldberger, generalists who had knowledge 
in a wide variety of areas and used mathematical models 
and abstractions to understand, explain, and predict 
phenomena in the natural world. “It was a very elite 
operation,” recalled Brueckner. “It was an honor to be 
asked.” Goldberger remembered that “everyone was 
excited, full of ideas, and very patriotic.” Murph 
Goldberger, Keith Brueckner, Kenneth Watson, and Murray 
Gell-Mann drew up a list of their most respected colleagues 
and asked them to participate. 

The group’s first meeting took place at IDA headquarters 
in Virginia on December 17, 1959. George Kistiakowsky, 
one of President Eisenhower’s science advisors, led the 
meeting. Kistiakowsky kept a daily desk diary in which he 
recorded his thoughts. “Met at IDA headquarters with the 
‘bright young physicists,’ a group assembled by Charles 
Townes to do imaginative thinking about military 
problems,” Kistiakowsky noted that day. “It is a 
tremendously bright squad of some 30 people.” After the 


first meeting Goldberger went home to _ Princeton 
University very excited, he recalled. “We knew the group 
could contribute significantly to the problems” of national 
defense. 

Three weeks later, on January 1, 1960, and by ARPA 
Project Assignment number 11, the group became an 
official entity. What to call it, Murph Goldberger wondered? 
“The Pentagon had a machine that generated code names 
for projects,” he said. Whether the Defense Department 
naming process was random or systematic remains a 
mystery, but the machine decided that this scientific 
advisory group was to be called Project Sunrise. 
Goldberger felt disappointed. “The name did not fit,” he 
recalled. That night he shared his feelings with his wife and 
fellow scientist, Mildred Goldberger; the couple had met 
when they were both working on the Manhattan Project 
during the war. “Mildred thought Project Sunrise was a 
dreadful name,” Goldberger recalled. This group was going 
to be doing dynamic problem solving and groundbreaking 
consulting work. Project Sunrise sounded sentimental and 
bland. Goldberger recalled Mildred picking up a piece of 
paper on the table in front of her, a document from IDA. 
The header included the image of an ancient Greek 
Parthenon-style building. Ancient Greece made Mildred 
Goldberger think about Jason and the Argonauts, 
characters from Greek mythology. Jason, the leader of the 
Argonauts, is one of history’s great mythological heroes, the 
archetype of a man on a quest. The Argonauts were Jason’s 
band of warriors who accompanied him on his journey to 
find the Golden Fleece. 

“You should call yourself Jason,” Mildred Goldberger 
said. Which is how one of the most secret and esoteric, most 
powerful and consequential scientific advisory groups in the 
history of the U.S. Department of Defense got its name. 
Over the course of the next fifty-five years, the Jason group 
would impact ARPA, and later DARPA, with greater 


Significance than any other scientific advisory group. 
Jason’s first senior advisors were Hans Bethe, George 
Kistiakowsky, and Edward Teller. 

In April 1960, each member of Jason was granted a 
clearance of top secret or above. The Jason scientists’ first 
official meeting took place in Washington, D.C., where they 
were briefed on a set of challenges to consider. Ballistic 
missile defense was at the top of the list. The Jasons were 
briefed on the classified elements of the Defender program 
and asked to think outside the boundaries of possibility that 
were currently being explored by other scientists. 

Two months after their first official briefing, the Jason 
group held a summer study at the Lawrence Berkeley 
National Laboratory in California, formerly called the Rad 
Lab. It took place between June 1 and August 15, 1960, and 
there were about twenty Jason _ scientists present. 
Goldberger recalled that during that meeting they learned 
that ARPA wanted them to think about measures and 
countermeasures, about offense and defense. The Jason 
scientists were briefed on the classified results of Operation 
Argus and the Christofilos effect. They were asked to think 
about new programs to be researched and developed, and 
also to imagine the programs that Russian scientists might 
be working on. The 1960 summer study produced multiple 
classified reports. 

Goldberger described one concept in general terms. It 
was a variation of the Christofilos effect. “The idea was 
proposed to the [Jason] study group that the enemy could 
detonate a nuclear weapon high up [in the atmosphere] to 
confuse satellite detection.” The Jasons were to think about 
the creation of an effect similar to the electromagnetic 
pulse seen during Argus. One of the Jason scientists who 
was present at that meeting, Sidney Drell, tried to explain 
the concept in an oral history in 1986. “If you have a high 
altitude explosion of a nuclear weapon, and it makes a 
[cloud] of NO [nitric oxide molecules], would that cause a 


big enough cloud to last long enough that we wouldn’t see 
the missile attack launch and we wouldn’t get the early 
warning?” In their first summer study, the Jason scientists 
were asked to calculate the size of the cloud, the amount of 
nitric oxide in the cloud, and the rate of dispensation in the 
atmosphere required to negatively impact the electronics 
on a nearby U.S. satellite system. From their calculations, 
said Goldberger, the Jasons concluded that the enemy 
would have to explode “many megaton warheads” to have a 
significant effect on the signals, and that this was 
“impractical.” For ARPA, this was good news. 

These were the kinds of hard science problems the 
Jasons were excellent at solving, and ARPA wanted the 
group to apply this type of “imaginative thinking” to the 
Defender conundrum. They came up with a new idea, one 
that involved the age-old warfare concept of using decoys— 
devices meant to distract or mislead—like the mythological 
Trojan horse. The Jasons suggested the development of a 
new technology whereby American ICBM warheads could 
be equipped with decoys designed to evade, or trick, the 
Soviet’s antiballistic missile defense system. If every U.S. 
warhead was equipped with five or six decoys, then the 
entire U.S. arsenal of ICBMs would have a five or six times 
greater chance of getting through to a target in the Soviet 
Union. The Jasons called this concept “penetration aids.” 

On the basis of the Jason scientists’ work, ARPA created a 
new program called PENAIDS, short for penetration aids. 
PENAIDS suggested the development of a far more 
aggressive offensive posture in the MAD dilemma, the 
inventing of new ways for U.S. missiles to outfox the Soviets’ 
ballistic missile defense. Starting in 1962, PENAIDS proof 
tests at the missile bases at White Sands, New Mexico, and 
at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands delivered promising 
results, which the Jason scientists reviewed. PENAIDS led 
to another ARPA study called “Pen X,” which endorsed the 
engineering of a new kind of advanced hydrogen bomb 


warhead called MIRVs, multiple independently targetable 
reentry vehicles. Their birth initiated a fierce new 
competition in the nuclear arms race as both sides rushed 
to build more accurate, more powerful, more deceptive 
MIRVs. The programs were initially classified, but when 
they were made public, MIRVs were vilified as dangerous 
and destabilizing because they put a premium on a nuclear 
first strike. 

For their second summer study, in 1961, the Jason 
scientists met in Maine, on the Bowdoin College campus. 
Jack Ruina, the new director of ARPA, called Charles 
Townes at IDA to coordinate his attending the summer 
study. Ruina also wanted to bring several ARPA program 
managers along. 

“Well, we don’t want anybody from ARPA to attend 
except you,” Townes told him. 

Ruina was stunned. The Jasons worked for ARPA—and 
ARPA only. “What do you mean, we can’t attend?” Ruina 
said. “We are paying for the whole thing. You can’t say 
you’re [going to] have a private meeting when it’s the 
government that is paying for it.” 

“Sorry, you can’t come to our meetings,” ‘Townes 
repeated. 

“Charlie, you can’t do that,” Ruina told him. 

Townes explained to Ruina that this was how the Jason 
scientific advisory group worked. The Jasons sought 
objectivity, and they wanted to remain free from 
government bureaucracy and red tape. They did not want 
Pentagon interference during any of their summer studies. 
The Jasons gathered together to solve problems related to 
national defense. That was it. 

After some back-and-forth, Ruina and Townes reached an 
agreement of sorts. As suggested, Jack Ruina, as director of 
ARPA, could attend a Jason summer study, alone. 

For the Maine summer study, the focus again was on the 
Defender program. The Princeton physicist John Wheeler 


had a summerhouse not far from the college campus, on a 
wooded island off the coast called High Island. Wheeler had 
the group out to his house for many of the meetings that 
summer, where the scientists held clambakes, ate lobsters, 
and considered another highly classified program. This one 
involved the concept of directed energy. “This was very 
exotic science,” Ruina recalled. Directed energy beams 
come in two forms: light, which involves lasers, and charged 
particles, which involve electrons or protons. “Particle beam 
weapons [are] esoteric weapons systems,” Ruina explained. 
They come with a “Buck Rogers death ray image,” noted an 
early ARPA summary, because they “work at the speed of 
light and involve instantaneous kill.” 

The Jason scientists wondered if an incoming ICBM could 
be shot down by a directed energy beam. The conundrum, 
according to Ruina, “was whether you can use a particle 
beam, earth-based, to form a beam through the atmosphere 
and destroy an incoming warhead.” The _ concept’s 
originator was Nick Christofilos; he had first presented the 
idea during Project 137, Goldberger recalled. Scientists at 
Livermore laboratory had already conducted earlier proof 
test experiments under the code name Seesaw. The 
Classified results were shared with the Jason scientists, who 
were impressed. Directed energy weapons were well worth 
researching and developing, they decided, and ARPA moved 
forward with Project Seesaw—its first directed energy 
weapons program. Goldberger recalled the program being 
so highly classified that not even all of the Jasons were 
cleared for future work on it. 

“Seesaw was a Sensitive, limited-access project which 
deserves mention in the ARPA history as the most enduring 
specific project ever supported by the agency,” an agency 
review stated. ARPA’s mission was and remains getting 
programs up and running, then transferring them over to 
the military services or other government agencies for field 
use. Project Seesaw remained in development at ARPA for 


fifteen long years. Then in 1974 it was transferred to the 
Atomic Energy Commission. Some unclassified summaries 
have been released. Over the next fifty-five years, ARPA’s 
directed energy weapons programs would develop and 
grow. The majority of them remain highly classified. 

“Directed energy is the weapon of the future,” said 
retired four-star general Paul F. Gorman in a 2014 
interview for this book. “But that is a sensitive area and we 
can’t get into that.” 


CHAPTER SIX 


Psychological Operations 


A handsome dark-haired war hero named William H. 


Godel was commanding the attention of a crowd of 
reporters outside Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. 
It was June 3, 1959. Godel wore the wire-rimmed glasses of 
an intellectual and walked with the slight limp of a Marine 
wounded in battle, in his case the hellhole of Guadalcanal. 
As director of policy and planning for the Advanced 
Research Projects Agency, Godel had a few facts to share 
with the press corps about America’s tiniest space pioneers, 
four black mice. Not far away from where Godel was 
standing at the podium, a seventy-eight-foot Thor Agena A 
rocket, carrying the Discoverer III life-sustaining satellite, 
pointed upwards at the sky. The four black mice were inside 
the rocket’s nosecone. They were about to be shot into 
space. 

The mice, Godel announced, were “happy and healthy.” 
They were all males and were about two months old. These 
were not “ordinary mice” but members of the C-57 strain, 
making them “the best specimens of a special strain of 
hardy laboratory animals, selected and trained specifically 
for their road trip into space and planned return to earth.” 
They had been selected, at random, from a pool of sixty 
similarly trained mice. Their mouse capsule, roughly two 
feet long and two feet wide, was air-conditioned and 


soundproof. They had a food supply of unsalted ground 
peanuts, orange juice, and oatmeal. Each rodent had a tiny 
instrument pack on its back containing mini-transmitters 
that would record its heartbeat, pulse, and body 
temperature and then send that information back to Air 
Force veterinarians on the ground. 

Godel cautioned people to be realistic about the fate of 
the mice. Most likely they would not return to earth alive, 
he said. The chances that the mice astronauts would live 
through the journey were roughly one in seven hundred. 

“We don’t want to humanize them in any way,” said a 
colleague of Godel’s, an Air Force officer. The mice were 
purposely unnamed because “it would just make it worse 
for those people who have tender feelings about these 
things.” 

So much rested on the success of the mission. The space 
race was about creating ICBMs capable of annihilating the 
other side, but it was also a psychological race, about 
humans and science and who was best. Both the United 
States and the Soviet Union had succeeded in getting 
animals into space, but neither side had been able to launch 
living beings into space with enough acceleration to escape 
the earth’s gravity and achieve orbital motion, that 
mysterious balancing point somewhere between gravity’s 
pull on the satellite and a satellite’s inherent inertia. The 
satellite had to reach an altitude of 150 miles above the 
earth’s surface while traveling at a speed of about 17,000 
miles per hour. Too slow and the satellite would fall back to 
earth; too fast and it would disappear into deep space. The 
plan was for the Discoverer III life-sustaining satellite to 
achieve orbit, circle the earth seventeen times, then return 
back to earth with the mice, ideally, alive. The Navy had 
been rehearsing “a dramatic rescue effort” to retrieve the 
capsule once it landed in the ocean. 

In the Cold War space race, each side sought to be the 
first nation to achieve specific scientific milestones. Getting 


mice into orbit was a big one. The Discoverer program was, 
as a “satellite technology effort,” a scientific experiment 
that would eventually allow humans to travel into space. 
That was all true, but there was another side. Discoverer III 
was a highly classified spying mission, a cover for America’s 
first space-based satellite reconnaissance program, called 
Corona. The CIA had done the heavy lifting in Corona’s 
early years, with the support of the U.S. Air Force. ARPA 
had inherited the program from the Air Force in 1958. The 
mission of Corona was to photograph the Soviet Union from 
Space so that the United States could better understand 
Soviet military hardware on the ground. Corona would 
remain one of America’s most closely guarded secrets, and 
would stay classified for thirty-six years, until February 
1995. Like the U-2 spy plane, also a highly classified CIA 
program, this was where technology, espionage, and the 
quest for military superiority fused. 

It was ARPA’s job to put satellites in space for 
intelligence-gathering purposes, and William Godel oversaw 
these early programs. Satellite technology gave birth to a 
whole new world of intelligence-collection disciplines, 
including IMINT, or imagery intelligence (like Corona); 
SIGINT, signals __ intelligence; GEOINT, geospatial 
intelligence; and MASINT, measurement and signature 
intelligence. Some of ARPA’s most successful early satellite 
programs included SAMOS (signals intelligence), GEODESY 
(mapping), NOTUS (communications), TRANSIT 
(navigation), and MIDAS (early warning). Most of these 
programs were highly classified, while others, like TIROS, 
the Television-Infrared Observation Satellite Program, 
amazed and informed the general public in remarkable 
ways. 

TIROS was the world’s first true weather satellite. ARPA 
had inherited much of the technology from an Army 
program called JANUS. The TIROS satellite, a _first- 
generation remote-sensing instrument, was developed by 


RCA. It weighed 270 pounds and contained a television 
system that transmitted images of the earth’s weather— 
most notably its cloud cover—from a 450-mile altitude orbit 
back to a ground station at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. 
The first launch took place on April 1, 1960; by then the 
program had been transferred to the newly created 
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. 
In its seventy-six-day life, TIROS transmitted 22,952 images 
back to earth. Every image was revolutionary. The spiral 
banded structure of oceanic storms, the vastness of 
mountain-wave cloud structures, the unexpected rapid 
changes in cloud patterns—none of this had been seen 
before. Technology offered a view of the planet previously 
beyond human comprehension, a new and spectacular 
perspective on Mother Earth. Before TIROS it was 
unknown. 

The first set of photographs were pictures of cloud 
formations along the St. Lawrence River, over the Baja 
Peninsula, and across Egypt near the Red Sea. They were 
so magnificent that the director of NASA personally 
delivered them to President Eisenhower for him to see. The 
president called a press conference and shared details of 
the breathtaking photographs with the American public. 
The New York Times ran a four-column page-one article 
about TIROS. The very notion that it was now possible to 
see photographs of a storm front out at sea, before it hit 
land, inspired awe, if not disbelief, in millions of people. The 
photographs were marvels of modern science. National 
Geographic dedicated a large portion of its August 1960 
issue to the seminal images. 

To William Godel, satellites provided access to legions of 
foreign intelligence. Hired just weeks after ARPA’s creation, 
Godel held the second-most-important job after Herb York. 
His nebulous title, originally director of foreign 
developments, then director of policy and planning, 
purposely concealed the classified nature of Godel’s work. 


Godel was in charge of ARPA’s psychological warfare 
programs as well as its overseas research programs, both 
of which would intensify during the Vietnam War. When 
Godel departed the agency under FBI investigation for 
financial misconduct in 1964, he left behind the most 
controversial and most toxic legacy in the agency’s fifty- 
seven-year history. Notably, his presence at ARPA has been 
largely erased from the official record. “The Pentagon 
library has no information about him in our collection,” 
confirmed Pentagon librarian Myron “Mike” Hanson in 
2013. Declassified files located at the National Archives and 
other documents obtained through the Freedom of 
Information Act reveal a story of intrigue. 

William Godel began his career in espionage. By the time 
of the Discoverer III launch of the four black mice, Godel 
had more than a decade of experience working with and 
among spies. He moved back and forth between military 
intelligence and civilian intelligence, between the CIA and 
the Pentagon, with great self-confidence and aplomb. From 
his earliest beginnings as a Marine Corps intelligence 
officer until he began working for ARPA in February 1958, 
Godel had already forged a brilliant record in the 
uppermost echelons of the U.S. intelligence community. He 
was intensely patriotic, physically brave, and intellectually 
bold. He joined the Marine Corps in 1940, at the age of 
nineteen, and one month after turning twenty-one he 
fought at Guadalcanal, the remote jungle-covered island in 
the Pacific where Allied forces won their first major 
offensive against the Empire of Japan. At Guadalcanal, 
Godel was shot in the leg and suffered a near-fatal injury 
that left him with a leg brace and a limp. 

After the war, Godel worked at the Pentagon, in military 
intelligence. His boss was Major General Graves B. Erskine, 
a hard-charging war hero who had already fought in both 
world wars. In World War II, the forty-seven-year-old 
General Erskine led the Third Marine Division in the battle 


for Iwo Jima. In the spring of 1950, Godel was chosen by 
General Erskine to accompany him on an elite mission to 
Southeast Asia, a mission that would profoundly affect how 
William Godel saw the world and how he would do his job at 
the Pentagon over the next fourteen years. 

On its face, the mission to Southeast Asia in July 1950, 
led by Erskine and the diplomat John F. Melby, was a joint 
State Department-Defense Department diplomatic effort to 
determine the long-range nature of American objectives in 
the region. Its real purpose, classified secret, was to 
examine how communist-backed fighters, also called 
insurgents or guerrillas, were resisting and undermining 
French colonial rule in Vietnam. When the Melby-Erskine 
team arrived in Vietnam, French military officers handed 
General Erskine and his associates five thousand pages of 
reports to read. Erskine found the request ridiculous. 

The French “haven’t won a war since Napoleon,” he told 
Godel and the team. “Why listen to a bunch of second raters 
when they are losing this war?” Instead, General Erskine 
told his team to go out into the field with South Vietnamese 
army units of the French Expeditionary Corps and make 
military intelligence assessments of their own. For several 
weeks the Erskine team accompanied the soldiers on tours 
of military installations, including forays into Vietnam’s 
neighbors Laos and Cambodia. One night the Erskine group 
accompanied a South Vietnamese army unit on a nighttime 
ambush of a camp of communist insurgents. The French 
ordered the South Vietnamese unit to capture the 
communist soldiers, called Viet Minh, and bring them back 
to French Expeditionary Corps headquarters for 
interrogation. The French believed that the Viet Minh 
soldiers had information that could help them gain a 
strategic edge. 

The ambush was a success but the mission was a failure. 
In an after-action report, Godel’s colleague Captain Nick 
Thorpe explained why. “The Vietnamese refused to bring 


back heads with bodies still attached to them,” Thorpe 
wrote. To Godel, the ramifications were profound. The 
French wanted the soldiers’ minds; the South Vietnamese 
brought them heads. French commanders’ wanted 
intelligence; South Vietnamese soldiers wanted revenge. 
The way Godel saw it, the French colonialists were trying 
to fight the Viet Minh guerrillas according to colonial rules 
of war. But the South Vietnamese, who were receiving 
weapons and training from the French forces, were actually 
fighting a different kind of war, based on different rules. 
Guerrilla warfare was irrational. It was asymmetrical. It 
was about cutting off the enemy’s head to send a message 
back home. When, in the spring of 1950, William Godel 
witnessed guerrilla warfare firsthand in Vietnam, it shifted 
his perspective on how the United States would need to 
fight future wars. Guerrilla warfare involved psychological 
warfare. To Godel, it was a necessary component for a win. 


Halfway across the world in Korea, during some of the 
heaviest fighting of the Korean War, a most unusual element 
of ARPA’s psychological warfare programs found its origins 
near a hilltop called Outpost Bunker Hill. It was the fall of 
1952 on the western front, and soldiers with the First 
Marine Division were freezing and tired in their rat-infested 
trenches. For months the Marines had been battling the 
enemy here for control of area hills. Once a hilltop was 
conquered, the Marines would dig in and build bunkers and 
trenches with their shovels. Sometimes they could rest. 

The Korean War, like so many wars, began as a civil war 
between the North and the South. In June 1950 the conflict 
became international when the United Nations joined the 
war to support the South, and the People’s Republic of 
China joined the war to support the North. The 
international war began as a mobile campaign, with UN 
forces led by an American, General Douglas MacArthur. The 


initial ground assault was supported by U.S. airpower. But 
after more than two years of battle, by the fall of 1952 the 
conflict had devolved into trench warfare, the old- 
fashioned, grueling style of warfare that defined World War 
I and had come to symbolize stalemate. 

“We hated to dig,” recalled A. Robert Abboud, First 
Marine Division Company commander at Outpost Bunker 
Hill. “The Chinese were wonderful diggers. They had 
tunnels they could drive trucks through,” said Abboud. “We 
couldn’t get to them with our air power because they were 
underground all the time.” 

Yet these tunnels were a lifeline for the Marines at 
Outpost Bunker Hill. And so with their shovels they dug and 
dug, creating a labyrinth of trenches and tunnels that 
provided them with some degree of safety from enemy 
attack. “We had lumber, really six-by-sixes... in the 
trenches,” explained Abboud, “that we’d set up and then 
we'd put a roof of lumber on top and sand bags on top of 
that.” In this manner, the Marines created firing positions 
along a number of the topographical crests. Individual men 
maintained guard over their own sliver of the hill. “You had 
to make sure that there was integrity, that nobody came in 
and infiltrated your area,” said Abboud. The Marines relied 
on one another. 

It was tough and brutal work, keeping enemy infiltrators 
at bay. The weather was hellish and cold. It snowed much of 
the time, and there were rats running around the trenches. 
Late at night the youngest soldiers, whom Abboud called 
“just kids with bayonets,” got sent out into the darkness, 
down the hill and into the rice paddies on patrol. Their job 
was to poke their bayonets around on the ground in an 
effort to locate Chinese land mines. Other times, more 
senior officers led dangerous patrols to check the integrity 
of the perimeter wire. Abboud himself went so many times 
he lost track of the number. Sometimes his deputy went, a 
young machine gun officer whose safety Abboud felt 


particularly responsible for, and whose name was Allen 
Macy Dulles. The young soldier’s father, Allen Welsh Dulles, 
was the deputy director of the CIA. 

It was also personal. Abboud and the younger Dulles had 
known each other since they were boys. “I’d known Allen 
because he’d gone to Exeter and he was on the debating 
team,” Abboud recalled. “I was on the debating [team] at 
Roxbury Latin,” the venerable Boston day school. The two 
boys became friends, sharing a similar passion for antiquity 
and a desire to study ancient Greece. Both did; Allen Macy 
Dulles studied classics at Princeton, Abboud at Harvard. 
Now here they were in Korea, together serving as Marines. 
Despite his being the son of the deputy director of the CIA, 
Allen Dulles sought no special treatment in Korea. He 
insisted on taking his equal share of the dangerous night 
patrols, said Robert Abboud. 

While both men came from privilege, Dulles came from 
extraordinary privilege. In addition to his father’s powerful 
position at the CIA, his uncle John Foster Dulles was about 
to become U.S. secretary of state. From his knowledge of 
classics, Abboud knew that the history of warfare—from 
Carthage to the present time—was riddled with stories of 
princes being captured by enemy forces only to be used as 
bargaining chips. These stories almost always had a tragic 
end. The thought of the young Allen Macy Dulles being 
captured and taken prisoner of war by the Chinese 
communists worried Abboud. Sometimes it kept him up at 
night. 

Still, “we took turns going out there to the front lines,” 
Abboud recalled. On occasion, Abboud suggested maybe it 
wasn’t a good idea. “If I said, ‘Allen, I can’t send you out 
there. Your father is [deputy] head of the CIA. What 
happens if you get captured?’ He’d say, ‘I’m a Marine Corps 
officer and it’s my turn to go out there. I’m going to go.’” 

Which is exactly what Allen Macy Dulles did one fateful 
night in November 1952. 


“For God’s sake don’t get hurt!” Abboud called after his 
friend. 

Dulles made his way out of the bunker. Abboud watched 
him climb over the sandbags and head down the steep 
slope of the hill, then listened on the communications 
system. 

“T’m on the radio and I’m listening and my heart’s in my 
throat,” Abboud remembered. “God, don’t let anything 
happen here,” he prayed. 

Dulles walked down the slope a good distance until he 
came to where the Marines had constructed a simple 
barbed-wire fence. The enemy had cut the concertina wire 
there. He pulled a tool from his pocket and began making 
repairs. Suddenly the area was consumed by a loud and 
deafening noise. The enemy was launching a mortar attack. 

“Lieutenant Dulles has been hit!” cried a voice over the 
radio. 

Robert Abboud summoned four Marines and a stretcher. 
The team ran out of the bunker, down the hill, and into the 
open terrain in search of Dulles. They discovered him not 
far from the fence, lying on the ground. 

“We found him,” Abboud recalled. The situation was 
grim. Dulles’s helmet had been knocked off his head. Blood 
and shrapnel covered the ground. He was unconscious. A 
low pulse. Abboud picked his friend’s helmet up off the 
ground. 

“There was a lot of his head in the helmet,” Abboud said. 

The team lay Dulles on the stretcher and ran back to the 
bunker with what was left of him. When a rescue chopper 
finally arrived, they loaded Dulles inside. Abboud 
remembered watching the Sikorsky fly away. News reached 
Washington, D.C., fast. 

“Marine Lieutenant Allen Macy Dulles, son of the deputy 
director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has been 
critically wounded in Korea,” the Associated Press reported 
the following day. The helicopter took Dulles to the hospital 


ship USS Consolation, anchored off the coast of Korea. 
There he remained, unconscious but with signs of life. He 
was twenty-two years old. 

“He was unconscious for three weeks, maybe a month,” 
recalled his sister Joan Dulles Talley at age ninety, in 2014. 
“Initially there was no cognition. No response to people or 
to environmental stimulus. Then, slowly, he came back. He 
reemerged. Doctors told us there would be no hearing in 
one ear but he could speak, just like someone who was 
normal. At first there was hope. Allen seemed normal when 
we took him home. But as month after month passed, he 
was not able to make a life for himself. Then we realized 
what had been injured was his mind.” 

Dulles had suffered a catastrophic traumatic brain injury. 
The promising young scholar, brave Marine, and son of the 
deputy director of the CIA was, in the words of his sister, 
“caught between worlds. It was as if he were trapped in a 
faraway place,” Talley continued. “Allen was there, but not 
really there. It was so terribly tragic. He was so young. He 
was someone who had been so gifted in the mind. Like so 
many young soldiers he had everything ahead of him, and 
then... no more.” 

In November 1952 the human brain was uncharted 
territory. Cognitive science, the study of the mind and its 
processes, was still in its dark ages. Neuroscience, as an 
interdisciplinary field that now includes biology, chemistry, 
genetics, and computer science, did not yet exist. Not for 
another three months would James D. Watson and Francis 
H. C. Crick announce that they had determined the 
structure of DNA, the molecule that carries genes. 
Advanced computers that can image the human brain and 
produce high-resolution scans had not yet been developed. 
Lobotomies—a neurosurgical procedure that removes part 
of the brain’s frontal lobes—were still being performed in 
U.S. hospitals as a means to treat psychiatric illness. Brain 
science was as mysterious in 1952 as was the center of the 


earth or the surface of the moon. Like a man lost in space, 
Allen Macy Dulles had very little hope of ever returning 
fully to this world. 

A few weeks after Allen Macy Dulles was transported 
back to the United States, in January 1953, his father, Allen 
W. Dulles, was chosen by President Eisenhower to be the 
director of the CIA. Already Dulles had decided he would do 
everything in his power to help his brain-injured son. Most 
notably, he hired a top brain specialist named Dr. Harold G. 
Wolff, a world-renowned neurologist and director of the 
New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. In addition to 
being the world’s authority on migraine research, Dr. Wolff 
was a pioneer in the study of general brain behavior, with a 
specialty in psychosomatic illness, or mental illness, which 
in 1953 did not mean all that much. Dr. Wolff, on the 
surface, was a man of distinction. Privately he was a dark, 
shadowy figure, though this would take decades to be 
known. After graduating from Harvard Medical School in 
1923, Wolff traveled to Europe to study neuropathology, or 
diseases of the nervous system, in Austria. Next he traveled 
farther east, to Leningrad, where he worked under Ivan 
Pavlov, the famous Russian physiologist known for his 
discovery of classical conditioning, the idea that human 
behavior could be strengthened or weakened though 
punishment and reward. (Pavlov won the Nobel Prize in 
medicine in 1904 and will forever be remembered for his 
famous dog.) 

When Lieutenant Allen Macy Dulles came back from 
Korea with his brain injury, CIA director Allen Welsh Dulles 
contacted Wolff in New York City, hoping Wolff could help 
his son get well. Dr. Wolff said he would be happy to see 
what he could do. But the following month a national 
security crisis gripped the nation, and Allen Dulles was 
pulled away. On February 23, 1953, a U.S. Marine colonel 
named Frank S. Schwable appeared on TV as a prisoner of 
war of the North Koreans. Schwable, a member of the U.S. 


First Marine Air Wing, had been shot down on a combat 
mission over North Korea seven months earlier, in July 
1952. Now, in a six-thousand-word statement broadcast on 
Chinese radio, Colonel Schwable shocked the world with a 
startling confession. 

Colonel Schwable said that he had been given detailed 
orders by his superior officers to participate in “various 
elements of bacteriological warfare.” Schwable cited 
specific “field tests” which he claimed had already taken 
place and said that military commanders had discussed 
with him their plans for using biological weapons against 
North Korean civilians in “regular combat operations.” 
Schwable named names, described meetings, and discussed 
strategy. Everything Schwable said, if true, violated the 
Geneva Conventions. General Mark W. Clark, UN Supreme 
Commander in Korea, immediately denounced the germ 
warfare charges, declaring them fabrications, but at the 
Pentagon, officials were aware how quickly such a narrative 
could spin out of control. 

At the Pentagon, the man tasked with handling the 
situation was William Godel, now deputy director of the 
Psychological Strategy Board (PSB). The PSB coordinated 
psychological warfare operations between the Department 
of Defense and the CIA. In response to the Colonel 
Schwable affair, Godel convened an emergency meeting of 
the PSB. This was psychological warfare of the worst order, 
Godel declared; declassified minutes of the emergency PSB 
meeting indicate that its members agreed. The position of 
the U.S. government was then, and is now, that it never 
engaged in biological warfare in Korea. So how should the 
United States respond? 

Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson suggested an “all 
out campaign to smear the Koreans.” He wanted the 
Pentagon to accuse the communists of “a new form of war 
crime, and a new form of refinement in atrocity techniques; 
namely mind murder, or menticide.” The CIA thought this 


was a bad idea. “Menticide” was too powerful a word, 
Director Dulles cautioned, and it conceded too much power 
to the communists. But time was critical, and the Pentagon 
had to respond. The members of the PSB agreed to a 
watered-down version of Secretary Wilson’s suggestion. 
Hours later, the Department of Defense issued a statement 
calling Colonel Schwable’s action the result of the “mind- 
annihilating methods of these Communists in extorting 
whatever words they want.” Defense Department officials 
had a very specific name for what the communists were 
doing to our soldiers, a word recommended by the CIA. The 
communists were “brainwashing” American soldiers, the 
Pentagon said. 

It was a CIA move that was three years in the making. In 
fact, the word “brainwashing” had entered the English 
lexicon in September 1950, courtesy of the CIA, when an 
article written by a reporter named Edward Hunter 
appeared in a Miami newspaper, the News. “Brain-Washing 
Tactics Force Chinese into Ranks of Communist Party,” the 
headline read. Although Hunter had been a journalist for 
decades, he also worked for the CIA. He’d been hired by the 
agency on a contract basis to disseminate brainwashing 
stories through the mainstream press. “Brain-washing,” 
wrote Hunter, was a devious new tool being used by the 
communists to strip a man of his humanity and “turn him 
into a robot or a slave.” The very concept grabbed 
Americans by the throat. The notion of government mind- 
control programs had been a mainstay of dystopian science- 
fiction novels for decades, from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1921 
Classic We to Aldous Huxley’s 1932 best-seller Brave New 
World. But that was science fiction. This was real, Hunter 
wrote. To be incinerated in a nuclear bomb attack was an 
ever-present Cold War threat, but it was also an 
abstraction, difficult to conceptualize on an individual scale. 
In 1950, the idea of being brainwashed, as if controlled by 
an evil wizard’s spell—that was somehow much easier to 


relate to. Brainwashing terrified people, and they wanted to 
know more. 

Edward Hunter wrote article after article on the subject, 
expanding his stories into a book. The communists, he 
declared, had developed tactics “to put a man’s mind into a 
fog so that he will mistake what is true for what is untrue, 
what is right for what is wrong.” Brainwashing could turn a 
man into an amnesiac who could “not remember wrong 
from right.” Memories could be implanted in a brainwashed 
man whereby he would “come to believe what did not 
happen actually had happened, until he ultimately becomes 
a robot for the Communist manipulator,” Hunter warned. 

In the September 1950 Miami News article, Hunter 
claimed to have information proving that the Chinese had 
created “brainwashing panels” of experts who used drugs, 
hypnosis, and other sinister means that could render a man 
“a demon [or] a puppet.” The goal of the communists, said 
Hunter, was to conquer America by conquering its citizens 
—one at a time. In a follow-up book on the subject, Hunter 
explained the science behind the “mind atrocities called 
brainwashing.” Through conditioning, the communists 
intended to change human nature. To turn men into ants. 
“What the totalitarian state strives for is the insectivization 
of human beings,” Hunter declared. “Brain changing is the 
culmination of this whole evil process,” he said. “The brain 
created science and now will be subordinate to it.” Even 
Congress invited Hunter to testify before the Committee on 
Un-American Activities, in a session discussing “Communist 
Psychological Warfare (Brainwashing).” He was presented 
as an author and a foreign correspondent, with no mention 
of his role as a CIA operative. 

Psychologists across America echoed Hunter’s thinking, 
adding to the growing fear of mind control. In an article for 
the New York Times Magazine, the renowned psychologist 
and former prisoner of the Nazis Joost A. M. Meerloo 
agreed that brainwashing was real and possible. “The 


totalitarians have misused the knowledge of how the mind 
works for their own purposes,” Meerloo wrote. 

With all this focus on brainwashing and its evil power, 
starting with Hunter’s first mention of the concept in the 
fall of 1950, it is surprising how quickly the story of the 
brainwashed Marine colonel Frank S. Schwable in the 
winter of 1953 went away. At first the situation garnered 
considerable press, but then diffused. This was largely due 
to the behind-the-scenes efforts of William Godel. Godel had 
been assigned to act as liaison between the Pentagon and 
the government of North Korea in an effort to get Schwable 
and thousands of other Korean War POWs released. The 
documents at the National Archives are limited in number, 
and many remain classified, but what surfaces is the notion 
that William Godel was extremely effective at his job. By the 
late summer of 1953, the majority of the captured pilots 
had been returned. Many of them appeared on television 
and explained what had been done to them, that they had 
been tortured into making false confessions. A _ solid 
narrative emerged. The evil communists had tried to 
“brainwash” the Americans, with emphasis on the word 
“tried,” and failed. Schwable recanted everything he had 
said and was awarded the Legion of Merit. The American 
public welcomed this idea with open arms; in _ his 
constitution and character, the American serviceman was 
stronger than and superior to the communist brainwashers. 


As for Allen Macy Dulles, he was not getting any better. The 
brain injury had damaged his prefrontal cortex, leaving him 
with permanent’ short-term amnesia, also_ called 
anterograde amnesia. He had lost the ability to transfer 
new information from his short-term memory to his long- 
term memory. He knew who he was, but he could not 
remember things like where he was. Or what day it was. Or 
what he had done twenty minutes before. 


“He was present, one hundred percent present, in the 
moment,” his sister Joan Talley said. “But he could not hang 
on to anything that was happening anymore. He could 
remember everything about his life up to the war, up to the 
injury. Then nothing.” His days at Exeter, when he was a 
teenager, were his fondest memories, all sharp. He retained 
much knowledge of the classics, and of ancient Greek 
warfare, which he had studied at Princeton. He could recall 
training with the Marines, but from the moment of the 
injury, it was all darkness. Just a blank page. “You would 
talk to him, and ten minutes later he would not remember 
anything that you had just said,” Joan Talley recalled. “Poor 
Allen began to act paranoid.” Conspiratorial thinking 
gripped his mind. It was the fault of the Nazis, he claimed. 
The fault of the Jews. His father was not his father. His 
father was a Nazi spy. “The psychiatrists tried to say it was 
mental illness. That Allen was suffering from schizophrenia. 
That was the new diagnosis back then. Blame everything on 
schizophrenia.” 

The ambitious Dr. Harold Wolff could not help Allen Macy 
Dulles, nor could any of the other doctors hired by his 
father. He was moved into a mental institution, called the 
Chestnut Lodge, in Rockville, Maryland. This was the 
infamous locale where the CIA sent officers who 
experienced mental breakdowns. How much doctoring 
went on at the Chestnut Lodge remains the subject of 
debate, but the facility offered safety, security, and privacy. 
Joan Talley visited her brother regularly, though it pained 
her to see him locked up there. 

“Allen was suffering from a terrible brain injury,” she 
said. “Of course he wasn’t crazy.... Allen had been 
absolutely brilliant before the brain injury, before the war. It 
was as if somewhere down inside he knew that he was 
[once] very intelligent but that he wasn’t anymore. It drove 
him mad. That his brilliance in life was over. That there 
would be brilliance no more.” Allen Macy Dulles was 


shuffled around from one mental hospital to another. 
Eventually he was sent overseas, to a lakeside sanatorium 
in Switzerland, where he returned to a prewar life of 
anonymity. Joan moved to Zurich, to study psychology. She 
visited her brother every week. 

Dr. Harold Wolff did not disappear. He had become 
friendly with CIA director Dulles while treating his 
amnesiac son. Now Dr. Wolff had a bold proposal for the 
CIA. A research project in a similar field. What, really, was 
brainwashing other than an attempt to make a man forget 
things he once held dear? Wolff believed this was rich 
territory to mine. The brainwashing crisis with the Korean 
War POWs had passed, but there was much to learn from 
brainwashing techniques. What if a man really could be 
transformed into an ant, a robot, or a slave? What if he 
could be made to forget things? This could be a major tool 
in psychological warfare operations. The CIA was 
interested, and so was William Godel. 

In late 1953 Dr. Wolff secured a CIA contract to explore 
brainwashing techniques, together with Dr. Lawrence 
Hinkle, his partner at the Cornell University Medical 
College in New York City. Their classified report, which took 
more than two years to complete, would become the 
definitive study on communist brainwashing techniques. 
From there, the work expanded. Soon the two doctors had 
their own CIA-funded program to carry out experiments in 
behavior modification and mind control. It was called the 
Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology. One of their 
jobs was to conduct a study on the soldiers who had become 
POWs during the Korean War. This work would later be 
revisited by the CIA and DARPA starting in 2005. 

At the Pentagon, having so adroitly dealt with the POW 
brainwashing scandal, William Godel was elevated to an 
even more powerful position. Starting in 1953, he served as 
deputy director of the Office of Special Operations, an office 
inside the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Godel’s boss 


was General Graves B. Erskine. Godel acted as liaison 
between the Pentagon and the CIA and NSA. So trusted 
was William Godel that during important meetings he would 
sometimes serve as an alternate for the deputy secretary of 
defense. In declassified State Department memos, Godel 
was praised as an “expert from DoD on techniques and 
practices of psychological warfare.” He worked on many 
different classified programs in the years from 1955 to 
1957 and left a footprint around the world. As part of the 
Joint Intelligence Group, he was in charge of “collecting, 
evaluating and disseminating intelligence in support of 
activities involving the recovery of U.S. nationals held 
prisoner in Communist countries around the globe.” He 
served as deputy director of the Office of Special 
Operations, Department of the Navy, and was in charge of 
the classified elements of the Navy’s mission to map 
Antarctica. In March 1956, a five-mile-wide ice shelf off the 
coast of Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, was named after 
him, the Godel Iceport. But his true passion was 
counterinsurgency. 

In 1957 Godel traveled around the country, giving 
lectures at war colleges to promote the idea that the United 
States would sooner or later have to fight wars in remote 
places like Vietnam. In many ways, Godel would say to his 
military-member audiences, America was already fighting 
these wars, just not out in the open. In his lectures he 
would remark that by the time of the French defeat at Dien 
Bien Phu, the U.S. had “been paying eighty percent of the 
bill.” Godel believed that America had “to learn to fight a 
war that doesn’t have nuclear weapons, doesn’t have the 
North German Plain, and doesn’t necessarily involve 
Americans.” 

Godel believed he knew what the future of warfare would 
look like. How its fighters would act. They would use 
irregular warfare tactics, like the ambushes and 
beheadings he had witnessed in Vietnam. America’s future 


wars would not be fought by men wearing U.S. Army 
uniforms, Godel said. They would be fought by local fighters 
who had been trained by U.S. forces, with U.S. tactics and 
know-how, and carrying U.S. weapons. The way Godel saw 
it, the Pentagon needed to develop advanced weaponry, 
based on technology that was not just nuclear technology, 
but that could deal with this coming threat. Godel 
formulated a theory, something he proudly called his “bold 
summation.” Insurgents might have superior discipline, 
organization, and motivation, he said. But science and 
technology could give “our” side the leading edge. 

In February 1958, William Godel was hired on in a key 
position at the newly formed Advanced Research Projects 
Agency. It was Godel’s role as director of the Office of 
Foreign Developments to handle what would be ARPA’s 
covert military operations overseas. For Godel, his 
experience in Vietnam back in 1950 left him convinced that 
if America was going to defeat the global spread of 
communism, it needed to wage a new kind of warfare called 
counterinsurgency warfare, or COIN. Godel was now in a 
position to create and implement the very programs he had 
been telling war college audiences across the country 
needed to be created. Through inserting a U.S. military 
presence into foreign lands threatened by communism— 
through advanced science and technology—democracy 
would prevail and communism would fail. This quest would 
quickly become Godel’s obsession. 

In 1959 ARPA’s Office of Foreign Developments was 
renamed the Policy and Planning Division. Godel retained 
the position of director. Herb York moved from chief 
scientist at ARPA to the director of the Defense Department 
of Research and Engineering, or DDR&E, with all ARPA 
program managers still reporting to him. Herb York and 
William Godel shared a similar view: the United States must 
aggressively seek out potential research and development 
capabilities to assist anticommunist struggles in foreign 


countries by using cutting-edge technology, most of which 
did not yet exist. In early 1960, York authorized a lengthy 
trip for Godel and for York’s new deputy director, John 
Macauley. The two men were to travel through Asia and 
Australia to set up foreign technology-based operations 
there. Godel still acted as ARPA liaison to the NSA and CIA. 

Godel traveled to a remote area in South Australia called 
Woomera. Here the Defense Department was building the 
largest overland missile range outside the Soviet Union. 
The site was critical to ARPA’s Defender program. Next he 
went to Southeast Asia, where he made aé_ general 
assessment of the communist insurgency that was 
continuing to escalate there, most notably in Vietnam. Upon 
his return to the United States, Godel outlined his 
observations in a memo. In 1960 the South Vietnamese 
army had 150,000 men, making them far _ superior, 
numerically, to what was estimated to be an insurgent 
fighting force of between only three thousand to five 
thousand communists, the Viet Minh or Vietcong. And yet 
the South was unable to control this insurgency, which was 
growing at an accelerating rate. South Vietnamese 
president Ngo Dinh Diem’s “congenitally trained, 
conventionally organized and _ congenitally equipped 
military organizations are incapable of employment in anti- 
guerrilla operations,” Godel wrote. 

For the secretary of defense William Godel prepared 
lengthy memos on the unique nature of the insurgency, 
singling out the growing communist-backed guerrilla forces 
in Vietnam and neighboring Laos and the “potential value of 
applying scientific talent to the problem.” Godel suggested 
that ARPA create “self-sustaining paramilitary organizations 
at the group level,” to be sent into Vietnam to conduct 
psychological warfare operations. Godel believed that ARPA 
should begin providing local villagers with weapons to use, 
so as to turn them into counterinsurgency fighters for the 
Pentagon. “These forces should be provided not with 


conventional arms and equipment requiring third-and 
fourth-level maintenance but with a capability to be farmers 
or taxi drivers during the day and anti-guerrilla forces at 
night.” William Godel was suggesting that ARPA take on a 
role that until now had been the domain of the Special 
Operations Division of the CIA and U.S. Army Special Forces 
teams. Godel believed that ARPA should create its own army 
of ARPA-financed fighters who would appear to be civilians 
by day, but who would take on the role of paramilitary 
operators by night. A new chapter in ARPA history had 
begun. 

Upon returning from Vietnam, Godel roamed the halls of 
the Pentagon, intent on garnering support for his 
counterinsurgency views. He was largely ignored. “Godel 
continued to press his views on people throughout the 
government, many of them well-placed via his remarkable 
network of contacts,” said an ARPA colleague, Lee Huff, but 
the Eisenhower administration had little interest in his 
ideas, and he was vetoed at every turn. With the arrival of a 
new president, this would change. 


When a new president takes office, he generally changes 
the guard. And the arrival of John Fitzgerald Kennedy 
meant the departure of Herb York. “When John Kennedy 
won the 1960 election [I] became what politicians call lame 
ducks,” York later observed, adding that he was not sorry to 
go. “I didn’t have to spend all my time putting out fires” 
anymore. York was proud of the work he had accomplished 
while at ARPA, the “truly revolutionary changes” he had 
overseen at the Pentagon. At the top of the list was the 
arsenal of nuclear weapons he had helped build up. “By the 
end of the Eisenhower period, we had firm plans and 
commitments for the deployment of about 1,075 ICBMs 
(805 Minutemen plus 270 Atlas and Titans),” York noted 
with pride. 


He also admitted that these accomplishments presented 
a paradox. As he put it, “Our nuclear strategy, and the 
objective situation underlying it, created an awful 
dilemma.” After his years working on ARPA’s Defender 
program, he had “concluded that a defense of the 
population was and very probably would remain impossible 
in the nuclear era.” 

At noon on January 20, 1960, John F. Kennedy became 
the thirty-fifth president of the United States. It would be 
more than a week before York would officially leave office. 
As the “senior holdover in the [Defense] Department,” York 
explained, “I became the Secretary of Defense at the same 
moment” the president took office. Former Ford Motor 
Company president Robert McNamara had been nominated 
to serve as Kennedy’s secretary of defense, but it was not 
known how long the confirmation hearings would take. In 
the meantime, someone had to be in charge of the nation’s 
nuclear weapons. The practice of the president remaining 
in constant contact with the so-called nuclear football, the 
briefcase containing the codes and other data enabling a 
president to order a nuclear launch, was not yet in effect. In 
January 1961 it was the job of the secretary of defense to 
carry the case, to be responsible for, in York’s words, 
“getting the nuclear machine ready to go into action when 
the president so ordered it.” What this meant was that for 
now, Herb York was in charge of America’s entire nuclear 
arsenal. 

A special red telephone was installed in York’s bedroom, 
at his home just outside Washington. It had a large red 
plastic light on top that would flash if York was being called. 
The red phone was connected to one place only, the War 
Room located beneath the Pentagon. The day after 
Kennedy’s inauguration, York decided to venture over to 
the War Room to see what was going on down there. 

“When I knocked at the door, a major opened it a crack,” 
York recounted. 


From behind the crack in the door, the man asked, “What 
do you want?” 

“T’m the acting secretary of defense,” York answered. 

“Just a minute,” said the man. He closed the door gently 
in York’s face. A few moments later, the man, an Army 
major, returned and let Herb York inside, not without some 
fanfare. York looked around. Here, the Pentagon was 
keeping special “watch” on situations around the globe 
considered most critical to national security. One place was 
the Central African Republic of the Congo, not yet called 
Zaire, where a rebellion was under way in the mineral-rich 
province of Katanga. “The other was Laos,” recalled York, 
Vietnam’s turbulent neighbor. The next three presidents 
would have their presidencies defined by the Vietnam War. 
But at that time, as far as the rest of America was 
concerned, “nothing special was going on in either place, as 
far as our people knew. Vietnam was not yet in our sights.” 

The following week, Robert McNamara was confirmed as 
the new secretary of defense. No one bothered to go to 
York’s house and retrieve the red telephone. “It remained 
there until I left Washington, permanently, some four 
months later,” said York. 


PART Il 





THE VIETNAM WAR 


CHAPTER SEVEN 


Techniques and Gadgets 


The first two U.S. military advisors to die in the Vietnam 


War were ambushed. Major Dale Buis and Master Sergeant 
Chester Ovnand were sitting with six other Americans in 
the mess hall of a South Vietnamese army camp twenty-five 
miles north of Saigon when the attack came. The lights 
were off and the men were watching a Hollywood movie, a 
film noir thriller called The Tattered Dress. When it was 
time to change the reel, a U.S. Army technician flipped on 
the lights. 

Outside, a group of communist guerrilla fighters had 
been surveilling the army post and waiting for the right 
moment to attack. With the place now illuminated, they 
pushed the muzzles of their semiautomatic weapons 
through the windows and opened fire. Major Buis and 
Master Sergeant Ovnand were killed instantly, as were two 
South Vietnamese army guards and an eight-year-old 
Vietnamese boy. In a defensive move, Major Jack Hellet 
turned the lights back off. The communist fighters fled, 
disappearing into the jungle from where they had come. 

In his first two months in office, President Kennedy spent 
more time on Vietnam and neighboring Laos than on any 
other national security concern. Counterinsurgency 
warfare, all but ignored by President Eisenhower, was now 
a top priority for the new president. William Godel finally 


had an ear, and by winter, the Advanced Projects Research 
Agency made its bold first entry into the tactical arena. On 
the morning of his eighth day in office, the new president 
summoned his most senior advisors—the vice president, the 
secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the director of 
the CIA, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the 
assistant secretary of defense, and a few others—to the 
White House. The subject of their meeting was the “Viet- 
nam counter-insurgency plan,” the location still so foreign 
and far away that it was hyphenated in the official 
memorandum. Two days after the meeting, President 
Kennedy authorized an increase of $41.1 million to expand 
and train the South Vietnamese army, roughly $325 million 
in 2015. Of far greater significance for ARPA, President 
Kennedy signed an official “Counter-insurgency Plan.” This 
important meeting paved the way for the creation of two 
high-level groups to deal with the most classified aspects of 
fighting communist insurgents in Vietnam, the Vietnam 
Task Force and the Special Group. William Godel was made 
a member of both groups. 

From the earliest days of his presidency, Kennedy 
worked to distance himself from a traditional, old school 
military mindset. President Eisenhower, age seventy-one 
when he left office, had been a five-star general and served 
as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe 
during World War II. President Kennedy was a dashing 
young war hero, full of idealism and enthusiasm, and just 
forty-three years old. Kennedy sought a more adaptable, 
collegial style of policy making when it came to issues of 
national security. The Eisenhower doctrine was based on 
mutual assured destruction, or MAD. The Kennedy doctrine 
would become known as “flexible response.” The new 
president believed that the U.S. military needed to be able 
to fight limited wars, quickly and with flexibility, anywhere 
around the world where communism threatened 
democracy. In describing his approach, Kennedy said that 


the nation must be ready “to deter all wars, general or 
limited, nuclear or conventional, large or small.” 

The new president reduced the number of National 
Security Council staff by more than twenty and eliminated 
the Operations Coordinating Board and the Planning Board. 
In their place, he created interagency task forces. These 
task forces were almost always chaired by men from his 
inner circle, Ivy League intellectuals on the White House 
staff or in the Pentagon. Kennedy’s secretary of defense, 
Robert McNamara, was a Harvard Business School 
graduate whose deputy, Roswell Gilpatric, was a graduate 
of Yale Law School. The president’s brother and attorney 
general, Robert Kennedy, was, like the president, a Harvard 
grad. National security advisor McGeorge Bundy graduated 
from Yale, as did deputy national security advisor Walt 
Rostow and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for 
International Security Affairs William Bundy (brother of 
McGeorge Bundy), who also attended Harvard Law School. 
The staffs of many presidential administrations have been 
top-heavy with Ivy League graduates, but to many in 
Washington, it seemed as if President Kennedy was making 
a statement. That a man’s intellectual prowess was to be 
valued above everything else. War was a thinking man’s 
game, he seemed to be saying. Intellect won wars. The most 
powerful men in Secretary McNamara’s Pentagon were 
defense intellectuals, including many former RAND 
Corporation employees. As a group, they would become 
known as McNamara’s whiz kids. 

“Viet-nam” had to be dealt with, the president’s advisors 
agreed. On April 12, 1961, in a memo to the president, Walt 
Rostow suggested “Nine Proposals for Action” in Vietnam to 
fight the guerrillas there. “Action Proposal Number Five,” 
written by William Godel, suggested “the sending to Viet- 
Nam of a research and development and military hardware 
team which would explore with General McGarr which of 
the various techniques and ‘gadgets’ now available or being 


explored that might be relevant and useful in the Viet-nam 
operation.” General Lionel McGarr was the commander of 
the Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam (MAAG-V), 
and the ongoing “Viet-nam operation,” which involved 
training the South Vietnamese army in U.S. war-fighting 
skills. Godel’s action proposal called for ARPA to augment 
MAAG-V efforts with a new assemblage of “techniques and 
‘gadgets.’” 

President Kennedy liked Godel’s proposal and personally 
requested more information. The following week, Deputy 
Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric submitted to the 
president a memorandum that elaborated on “Action 
Proposal Number Five.” This particular plan of action, 
according to Gilpatric, involved the use of cutting-edge 
technology to fight the communist insurgents. He proposed 
that ARPA establish its own research and development 
center in Saigon, a physical location where an ARPA field 
unit could develop new weapons specifically tailored to 
jungle-fighting needs. There would be other projects too, 
said Gilpatric—the “techniques” element of Godel’s 
proposal. These would involve’ sociological research 
programs and psychological warfare campaigns. The ARPA 
facility, set up in buildings adjacent to the MAAG-V center, 
would be called the Combat Development and Test Center. 
It would be run jointly by ARPA, MAAG-V, and the South 
Vietnamese armed forces (ARVN). The ARPA program 
would be called Project Agile, as in flexible, capable, and 
quick-witted. Just like the president and his advisors. 

The following month, President Kennedy sent Vice 
President Lyndon B. Johnson to meet personally with South 
Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem and garner support 
for the “techniques and ‘gadgets’” idea. Photographs of the 
two men dressed in matching white tuxedo jackets and 
posing for cameras at Diem’s Independence Palace in 
Saigon were reprinted in newspapers around the world. 
Johnson, who was six foot four, towered over the diminutive 


Diem, whose head barely reached Johnson’s shoulder. Both 
men smiled broadly, expressing commitment to their 
countries’ ongoing partnership. Communism was a scourge, 
and together the governments of the United States and 
South Vietnam intended to eradicate it from the region. 

President Diem, an avowed anticommunist and fluent 
English speaker, was Catholic, well educated, and 
enamored of modernity. These qualities made him a strong 
ally of the U.S. government but alienated him from many of 
his own people. In the early 1960s, the majority of 
Vietnamese were agrarian peasants—Buddhist and Taoist 
rice farmers who lived at the subsistence level in rural 
communities distant from Saigon. By the time President 
Diem met with Vice President Johnson to discuss fighting 
communist insurgents with techniques and gadgets, Diem 
had been in power for six years. Diem ruled with a heavy 
hand and was notoriously corrupt, but the Kennedy 
administration believed it could make the situation work. 

During the meeting, Johnson asked Diem to agree to an 
official memo of understanding, to “consider jointly the 
establishment in [Saigon] of a facility to develop and test 
[weapons], using the tools of modern technology and new 
techniques, to help [both parties] in their joint campaign 
against the Communists.” Diem agreed and the men shook 
hands, setting Project Agile in motion and giving ARPA the 
go-ahead to set up a weapons facility in Saigon. 

“[Diem] is the Winston Churchill of Asia!” Johnson 
famously declared. 

The following month, on June 8, 1961, William Godel 
traveled to Vietnam with Project Agile’s first research and 
development team to set up ARPA’s Combat Development 
and Test Center (CDTC). Project Agile was now a 
“Presidential issue,” which gave Godel authority and 
momentum to act. The new R&D center was located in a 
group of one-story stone buildings facing the Navy Yard, 
near the Saigon River. Each building had heavy shutters on 


the windows and doors to keep out the intense Saigon heat. 
Ceiling fans were permanent fixtures inside all the 
buildings, as were potted palms and tiled floors. On the 
walls hung large maps of Vietnam and framed posters of the 
CDTC logo, an amalgamation of a helmet, wings, an anchor, 
and a star. Desks and tabletops were adorned with 
miniature freestanding U.S. flags, and there were large 
glass ashtrays on almost every surface. Some buildings 
housed ARPA administrators, while others functioned as 
laboratories where scientists and engineers worked. 
Photographs in the National Archives show “ARPA” stamped 
in bold stenciling on metal desks, tables, and folding chairs. 

During the trip, Godel met three separate times with 
President Diem. On one visit Diem toured the CDTC, and in 
photographs he appears confident and pleased as he strolls 
down the pebble pathways, wearing his signature Western- 
style white suit and hat. Accompanying Diem is his ever- 
present entourage of military advisors, soldiers dressed in 
neat khaki uniforms, aviator sunglasses, and shiny shoes. In 
Godel’s first field report he notes President’s Diem 
insistence that U.S. military involvement in South Vietnam 
remain disguised. This, warned Diem, was the only way for 
the two countries to continue their successful partnership. 
The success of Project Agile rested on discretion and 
secrecy. Godel agreed, and a large open-sided workspace— 
similar to an airplane hangar but without walls—was 
constructed adjacent to the CDTC. Here, local Vietnamese 
laborers toiled away in plain sight, building components for 
Project Agile’s various secret weapons programs. 

By August, ARPA’s Combat Development and Test Center 
was up and running with a staff of twenty-five Americans. 
Colonel William P. Brooks, U.S. Army, served as chief of the 
ARPA R&D field unit, while President Diem’s assistant chief 
of staff, Colonel Bui Quang Trach, was officially “in charge,” 
which was how he signed documents related to the CDTC. 
ARPA’s first staffers included military officers, civilian 


scientists, engineers, and academics. Some had research 
and development experience and others had combat 
experience. The CDTC was connected by a_ secure 
telephone line to room 2B-261 at the Pentagon, where 
Project Agile had an office. Agile’s budget for its first year 
was relatively modest, just $11.3 million, or one-tenth of the 
budget for ARPA’s biggest program, Defender. By the 
folowing year, Project Agile’s budget would double, 
transforming it into the third-largest ARPA program, after 
Defender and Vela. 

Upon returning to Washington, D.C., from Saigon, Godel 
traveled across the nation’s capital, giving briefings on 
Project Agile to members of the departments of State and 
Defense, and the CIA. On July 6, 1961, he gave a closed 
seminar at the Foreign Service Institute. There he 
discussed the first four military equipment programs to be 
discreetly introduced into the jungles of Vietnam—a boat, 
an airplane, guns, and dogs. At first glance, they hardly 
seem high-tech. Two of the four programs, the boats and 
the dogs, were as old as warfare itself. But ARPA’s “swamp 
boat” was a uniquely designed paddlewheel boat with a 
steam engine that burned cane alcohol; it carried twenty to 
thirty men. What made it unusual was that it was 
engineered to float almost silently and could operate in as 
little as three inches of water. In 1961, the night in Vietnam 
was ruled by the Vietcong communist insurgents, which 
meant the boat had to be able to travel quietly down the 
Mekong Delta waterways so that U.S. Special Forces 
working with South Vietnamese soldiers could infiltrate 
enemy territory without being ambushed. 

ARPA’s canine program was far more ambitious than 
using dogs in the traditional role of sentinels. “One of the 
most provoking problems [in Vietnam] is the detection and 
identification of enemy personnel,” ARPA chemists A. C. 
Peters and W. H. Allton Jr. stated in an official report, noting 
how Vietcong fighters were generally indistinguishable 


from local peasants in South Vietnam. ARPA’s dog program 
sought to develop a chemical whose scent could be 
detected by Army-trained dogs but not by humans. As part 
of a tagging and tracking program, the plan was to have 
Diem’s soldiers surreptitiously mark large groups of people 
with this chemical, then use dogs to track whoever turned 
up later in a suspicious place, like outside a military base. 

ARPA’s canine program was an enormous undertaking. 
The chemical had to work in a hot, wet climate, leave a 
sufficient “spoor” to enable tracking by dogs, and be 
suitable for spraying from an aircraft. The first chemical 
ARPA scientists focused their work on what was called 
squalene, a combination of shark and fish liver oil. German 
shepherds were trained in Fort Benning, Georgia, and then 
sent to the CDTC in Saigon. But an administrative oversight 
set the program back when Army handlers neglected to 
account for “temperatures reaching a level greater than 
100 F” After forty-five minutes of work in the jungles of 
Vietnam, the ARPA dogs “seemed to lose interest in any 
further detection trials.” The German shepherds’ acute 
sense of smell could not be sustained in the intense jungle 
heat. 

The first Project Agile aircraft introduced into the war 
theater was a power glider designed for audio stealth— 
light, highly maneuverable, and able to fly just above the 
jungle canopy for extended periods on a single tank of 
gasoline. Godel called it “an airborne Volkswagen.” Because 
it flew so close to the treetops, guerrilla fighters found it 
nearly impossible to shoot down. ARPA’s power glider would 
pave the way for an entirely new class of unconventional 
military aircraft, including drones. 

The most significant weapon to emerge from the early 
days of Project Agile was the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. In 
the summer of 1961, Diem’s small-in-stature army was 
having difficulty handling the large semiautomatic weapons 
carried by U.S. military advisors. In the AR-15 Godel saw 


promise, “something the short, small Vietnamese can fire 
without bowling themselves over,” he explained. Godel 
worked with legendary gun designer Eugene M. Stoner to 
create ten lightweight AR-15 prototypes, each weighing just 
6.7 pounds. Vietnamese commanders at the CDTC 
expressed enthusiasm for this new weapon, Godel told 
Secretary McNamara, preferring it to the M1 Garand and 
Browning BARs they had been carrying. 

Inside the Pentagon, the military services had been 
arguing about a service-wide infantry weapon—since Korea. 
With Agile’s “Presidential issue” authority, Godel cut 
through years of red tape and oversaw the shipment of one 
thousand AR-15s to the CDTC without delay. U.S. Special 
Forces took the AR-15 into the battle zone for live-action 
tests. “At a distance of approximately fifteen meters, [a U.S. 
soldier] fired the weapon at two VC [Vietcong] armed with 
carbines, grenades, and mines,” read an after-action report 
from 340 Ranger Company. “One round in the [VC’s] head 
took it completely off. Another in the right arm took it 
completely off, too. One round hit him in the right side, 
causing a hole about five inches in diameter. It can be 
assumed that any one of the three wounds would have 
caused death,” the company commander wrote. 

In 1963 the AR-15 became the standard-issue rifle of the 
U.S. Army. In 1966 it was adapted for fully automatic fire 
and redesignated the M16 assault rifle. The weapon is still 
being used by U.S. soldiers. “The development of the M-16 
would almost certainly not have come about without the 
existence of ARPA,” noted an unpublished internal ARPA 
review, written in 1974. 


The Combat Development and Test Center was up and 
running with four weapons programs, but dozens more 
were in the works. Project Agile “gadgets” would soon 
include shotguns, rifle grenades, shortened strip bullets, 


and high-powered sound canons. ARPA wanted a proximity 
fuse with an extra 75-millisecond delay so bombs dropped 
from aircraft could be detonated below the jungle canopy 
but just above the ground. Big projects and small projects, 
ARPA needed them all. Entire fleets of Army vehicles 
required retrofitting and redesign to handle rugged jungle 
trails. ARPA needed resupply aircraft with short takeoff and 
landing capability. It had plans to develop high-flying 
helicopters and low-flying drones. ARPA needed scientists to 
create disposable parachutes for aerial resupply, chemists 
to develop antivenom snakebite and leech repellent kits, 
technicians to create listening devices and_ seismic 
monitoring devices that looked like rocks but could track 
guerrilla fighters’ movement down a jungle trail. ARPA 
needed teams of computer scientists to design and build 
data collection systems and storage systems, and to retrofit 
existing air, ground, and ocean systems so all the different 
military services involved in this fight against the 
Vietnamese communists could communicate better. 

But there was one weapons program—highly classified— 
that commanded more of Godel’s attention than the others. 
This particular program was unlike any other in the Project 
Agile arsenal in that it had the potential to act as a silver 
bullet—a single solution to the complex hydra-headed 
problem of counterinsurgency. It involved chemistry and 
crops, and its target was the jungle. Eventually the weapon 
would become known to the world as Agent Orange, and 
instead of being a silver bullet, Agent Orange was a hideous 
toxin. But in 1961, herbicidal warfare was still considered 
an acceptable idea and William Godel was in charge of 
running the program for ARPA. 

At Fort Detrick, in Maryland, ARPA ran a toxicology 
branch where it worked on chemical weapons-related 
programs with Dr. James W. Brown, deputy chief of the 
crops division of the Army Chemical Corps Biological 
Laboratories. ARPA had Dr. Brown working on a wide 


variety of defoliants with the goal of finding a chemical 
compound that could perform two functions at once. ARPA 
wanted to strip the leaves off trees so as to deny Vietcong 
fighters protective cover from the jungle canopy. And they 
wanted to starve Vietcong fighters into submission by 
poisoning their primary food crop, a jungle root called 
manioc. 

On July 17, 1961, Godel met with the Vietnam Task Force 
to brief its members on what was then a highly classified 
defoliation program, and to discuss the next steps. “This is a 
costly operation which would require some three years for 
maximum effectiveness,” Godel said. The use of biological 
and chemical weapons was prohibited by the Geneva 
Convention and from his experience in Korea, Godel knew 
how easily the international spotlight could turn its focus on 
claims of Geneva Convention violations. For this reason, 
anyone briefed on the defoliation campaign and _ all 
personnel working at the CDTC were advised to move 
forward, “subject to political-psychological restrictions 
(such as those imposed by Communist claims of US. 
biological warfare in Korea).” The classified program would 
be called “anticrop warfare research,” as destroying enemy 
food supplies was not against the rules of war. In the field, 
operational activities were to be referred to as “CDTC Task 
Number 20,” or “Task 20” for short. 

While it is interesting to note ARPA’s unity with the 
Vietnam Task Force on the question of allowing this 
controversial decision to proceed, the record indicates that 
the meeting was a formality and that Godel had already 
gotten the go-ahead. On the same day Godel met with the 
Vietnam Task Force, the first batch of crop-killing chemicals 
—a defoliant called Dinoxol—arrived at the Combat 
Development and Test Center in Saigon. A few days later, 
spray aircraft were shipped. And a week after that, Dr. 
James W. Brown, deputy chief of the crops division at Fort 
Detrick, arrived at the CDTC to oversee the first defoliation 


field tests. 

The first mission to spray herbicides on the jungles of 
Vietnam occurred on August 10, 1961. The helicopter—an 
American-made H-34 painted in the colors of the South 
Vietnamese army and equipped with an American-made 
spray system called a HIDAL (Helicopter Insecticide 
Dispersal Apparatus, Liquid)—was flown by a South 
Vietnamese air force pilot. President Diem was an 
enthusiastic advocate of defoliation, and two weeks later he 
personally chose the second target. On August 24 a fixed- 
wing aircraft sprayed the poisonous herbicide Dinoxol over 
a stretch of jungle along Route 13, fifty miles north of 
Saigon. 

The defoliation tests were closely watched at the 
Pentagon. R&D field units working out of the CDTC oversaw 
Vietnamese pilots as they continued to spray herbicides on 
manioc groves and mangrove swamps. Godel and his staff 
were working on a more ambitious follow-up plan. A portion 
of the Mekong Delta believed to contain one of the heaviest 
Vietcong populations, designated “Zone D,” was chosen to 
be the target of a future multiphase campaign. Phase I seta 
goal of defoliating 20 percent of the manioc groves and 
mangrove swamps over a thirty-day period. This was to be 
followed by Phase II, with a goal of defoliating the 
remaining 80 percent of Zone D, meaning the entire border 
with North Vietnam. Together, the two-part operation 
would take ninety days to complete. After Phase I and Phase 
II were completed, Phase III called for the defoliation of 
another 31,250 square miles of jungle, which was roughly 
half of South Vietnam. Finally, ARPA’s R&D field units would 
be dispatched to burn down all the resulting dead trees, 
turning the natural jungle into man-made farmland. This 
way, Godel’s team explained, once the insurgency was 
extinguished, it would not be able to reignite. The projected 
cost for the Project Agile defoliation campaign was between 
$75 and $80 million, more than half a billion dollars in 


2015. The only foreseeable problem, wrote the staff, was 
that the program’s ambitious scope would require more 
chemicals than could realistically be manufactured in the 
United States. 


In 1961, few Americans outside elite government circles 
knew what was happening in Vietnam. Inside Washington, 
the power struggles over how best to handle the communist 
insurgency were becoming contentious as the rift between 
the White House and the Pentagon widened. Just three 
months after taking office, Kennedy experienced the bitter 
low point of his presidency when a CIA-sponsored, military- 
supported paramilitary invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba 
failed. More than a hundred men were killed and twelve 
hundred were captured. The fiasco damaged _ the 
president’s relationship not only with the CIA but also with 
the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Publicly, President Kennedy 
assumed full blame. “I’m the responsible official of the 
government,” he famously said. But to his closest White 
House advisors, he said that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had 
failed him. 

“The first advice I’m going to give my _ successor,” 
Kennedy told Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, “is to 
watch the generals and to avoid feeling that just because 
they were military men their opinion[s] on military matters 
were worth a damn.” The situation seemed to strengthen 
his perception that his group of intellectually minded White 
House advisors and civilian Pentagon advisors, the so-called 
McNamara whiz kids, not only were more trustworthy but 
also had better ideas on military matters than did the 
military men themselves. 

After the Bay of Pigs, in the summer of 1961 President 
Kennedy created a new position on his White House staff 
called military representative of the president. The post was 
created specifically for General Maxwell Taylor, a dashing 


multilingual World War II hero who had written a book 
critical of the Eisenhower administration. According to a 
memo that outlined General Taylor’s duties as military 
representative of the president, he was to “advise and assist 
the President with regard to those military matters that 
reach him as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.” 
General Taylor was also to “give his personal views to assist 
the President in reaching decisions,” and he was to have a 
role in offering “advice and assistance in the field of 
intelligence.” It was a position of enormous influence, 
particularly in light of the coming war in Vietnam. General 
Taylor was to advise the president on all military matters, 
and yet he was part of the White House staff, not the 
Pentagon. 

General Taylor was dispatched to Vietnam as head of a 
delegation that would become known as the Taylor-Rostow 
mission. The purpose of the mission was to investigate what 
future political and military actions were necessary there. 
Accompanying Taylor on this trip was William Godel. The 
two men shared similar views on counterinsurgency 
programs; in fact, Godel would write major portions of 
Taylor’s trip report. Godel took General Taylor to ARPA’s 
new Combat Development and Test Center and showed him 
some of the gadgets and techniques being developed there. 
In Taylor’s report to President Kennedy, he praised the 
CDTC’s work, noting “the special talents of the U.S. 
scientific laboratories and industry” on display. 

The Taylor-Rostow mission left Washington on Sunday, 
October 15, 1961, stopped for a briefing in Honolulu, and 
arrived in Saigon on October 18. Godel joined the party in 
Saigon. General Taylor wore civilian clothes and requested 
that there be no press briefings, no interviews, no social 
functions, and most of all no military formalities. To the 
president, General Taylor described the Vietnam situation 
as “the darkest since the early days of 1954,” a reference to 
the year when the French lost Dien Bien Phu. Taylor 


warned how dangerous the terrain had become, noting that 
the “Vietcong strength had increased from an estimated 
10,000 in January 1961 to 17,000 in October; they were 
clearly on the move in the delta, in the highlands, and along 
the plain on the north central coast.” He painted the picture 
facing the government of South Vietnam in the bleakest of 
terms. President Diem and his generals “were watching 
with dismay the situation in neighboring Laos and the 
negotiations in Geneva, which convinced them that there 
would soon be a Communist-dominated government in 
Vientiane,” the capital of Laos, Taylor wrote, and proposed 
that President Kennedy take “vigorous action” at once. 

“If Vietnam goes, it will be exceedingly difficult if not 
impossible to hold Southeast Asia,” Taylor warned. “What 
will be lost is not merely a crucial piece of real estate, but 
the faith that the U.S. has the will and the capacity to deal 
with the Communist offensive in that area.” General 
Taylor’s message was clear. The United States needed to 
expand its covert military action in Vietnam. In his report to 
President Kennedy, Taylor suggested making use of ARPA’s 
gadgets and techniques, most notably “a very few ‘secret 
weapons’ on the immediate horizon” at the CDTC. One such 
“secret weapon” was herbicide. As the program moved 
forward, however, there was a hitch. 

In the fall of 1961, Radio Hanoi in North Vietnam made 
public ARPA’s secret defoliation tests. The United States had 
“used poisonous gas to kill crops and human{s],” Radio 
Hanoi declared in a condemnatory broadcast. The 
revelatory radio program was then rebroadcast on Radio 
Moscow and Radio Peking, but surprisingly, it did not 
produce the kind of international uproar that the Vietnam 
Task Force had cautioned against in the July 17 meeting. 
But the president’s advisors agreed that a formal decision 
had to be made about whether to proceed with ARPA’s 
defoliation program or to halt it. The Vietnam Task Force 
asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to weigh in. 


On November 3, they expressed their opposition. Mindful 
of the Geneva Protocols, they wrote, “the Joint Chiefs of 
Staff are of the opinion that in conducting aerial defoliant 
operations [against] food growing areas, care must be 
taken to assure that the United States does not become the 
target for charges of employing chemical or biological 
warfare.” Echoing earlier concerns from the Vietnam Task 
Force, the Joint Chiefs warned that the world could react 
with solemn condemnation, and that “international 
repercussions against the United States could be most 
serious.” 

Even deputy national security advisor Walt Rostow, just 
back from the trip to Vietnam with General Taylor and 
William Godel, felt compelled to point out to the president 
the reality behind spraying defoliants. In a memorandum 
with the subject line “Weed Killer,” Rostow told President 
Kennedy, “Your decision is required because this is a kind of 
chemical warfare.” There was no uncertainty in Walt 
Rostow’s words. 

On November 30, 1961, President Kennedy approved the 
chemical defoliation program in Vietnam. The program, said 
Kennedy, was to be considerably smaller than the Advanced 
Research Projects Agency had originally devised, and it 
should instead have a budget between $4 million and $6.5 
million. With President Kennedy’s blessing, the genie was 
out of the bottle. By war’s end, roughly 19 million gallons of 
herbicide would be sprayed on the jungles of Vietnam. A 
2012 congressional report determined that over the course 
of the war, between 2.1 million and 4.8 million Vietnamese 
were directly exposed to Agent Orange. 

From his ARPA office at the Pentagon, William Godel sent 
a memo, marked “Secret,” to Dr. James Brown, the Army 
scientist at Fort Detrick, asking Brown to come see him at 
once. During the meeting, Dr. Brown was informed that he 
was now Officially the person in charge of defoliation 
operations in Vietnam and that he was a representative of 


the secretary of defense. “He was advised to be ignorant of 
all other technical matters,” notes a declassified memo. “If 
friendly authorities requested information on _ biological 
anticrop or antipersonnel agents or chemical agents or 
protective measures or detection kits, etc., etc. he [Dr. 
Brown] was to state he knew nothing about them and 
suggest that they direct their inquiries to Chief MAAG 
[Military Assistance Advisory Group].” 

Like much of ARPA’s Project Agile, the defoliation 
campaign was a “Presidential issue.” Details about the 
program, what it involved, and what it sought to accomplish 
were matters of national security, and the narrative around 
this story needed to be tightly controlled. In the words of 
Walt Rostow, the Agent Orange campaign was “a kind of 
chemical warfare.” But it was also a “secret weapon,” and 
had the potential of serving as a magic bullet against 
communist insurgents in Vietnam. 


CHAPTER EIGHT 


RAND and COIN 


At the RAND Corporation in sunny Santa Monica, 


California, by 1961 war game playing had expanded 
considerably since the days of John von Neumann and the 
lunchtime matches of Kriegspiel. For several years now, 
RAND had been simulating counterinsurgency war games 
played out between U.S. forces and guerrilla fighters in 
Vietnam. These counterinsurgency games were the 
brainchild of Ed Paxson, an engineer from the mathematics 
department, who called the game series Project Sierra. 
Unlike the old lunchtime matches, the Sierra games lasted 
months, sometimes more than a year, and involved various 
scenarios, including ones in which U.S. forces used nuclear 
weapons against communist insurgents. One day back in 
the mid-1950s, while observing one of the Sierra war 
games, an analyst named George Tanham made an astute 
observation. He mentioned that the entire Sierra series was 
unrealistic because the RAND analysts were assuming 
Vietnamese communist fighters fought like American 
soldiers, which they did not. 

In the mid-1950s it was generally agreed that Tanham 
knew more about counterinsurgency than anyone else at 
RAND. A Princeton University graduate and former U.S. Air 
Force officer, Tanham was a highly decorated veteran of 
World War II. After the war he earned a Ph.D. from 


Stanford in unconventional warfare and joined RAND in 
1955. Tanham’s observations about the Sierra war games 
impressed RAND president Frank Collbohm, who sent 
Tanham to Paris to study counterinsurgency tactics, and to 
learn how and why the French army lost Vietnam at Dien 
Bien Phu in 1954. Tanham’s study was paid for by the 
Pentagon and was classified secret. When a sanitized 
version appeared in 1961, George Tanham became the first 
American author to publish a book about communist 
revolutionary warfare. 

At the Pentagon, Tanham’s book caught Harold Brown’s 
eye. Brown, who had taken over Herb York’s job as director 
of Defense Department Research and _ Engineering 
(DDR&E), was the man to whom ARPA directors reported. 
Like Herb York, Harold Brown had served as chief scientist 
at Livermore laboratory before coming to Washington, D.C. 
Harold Brown reached out to Tanham and asked him to pay 
a visit to ARPA’s Combat Development Test Center in Saigon 
and write up his assessment of CDTC progress there. 
Tanham’s 1961 report remains classified, but he referred to 
some of his observations in a report three years later, since 
declassified. ARPA’s weapons programs in Vietnam—CDTC’s 
“gadgets”—needed to expand, said Tanham. And so did 
psychological warfare efforts—CDTC’s “techniques.” But 
equally important, said Tanham, was the war’s presentation 
back home. He suggested that the conflict be presented to 
the American people as a “war without guns being waged 
by men of good will, half a world away from their native 
land.” 

When Tanham returned from Saigon, he met with the 
Vietnam Task Force, the Special Group, and the CIA. The 
following month Harold Brown sent a classified letter to 
Frank Collbohm asking the RAND Corporation to come on 
board and work on Project Agile in Vietnam. RAND was 
needed to work on “persuasion and motivation” techniques, 
programs designed to win the hearts and minds of the 


Vietnamese people. 

In its “persuasion and motivation” campaign, ARPA 
began pursuing a less traditional defense science program 
involving social science research. Accepted as an offshoot of 
anthropology, and generally looked down upon by nuclear 
physicists like those in the Jason advisory group, social 
science concerned itself with societies and the relationships 
among the people who live in groups and communities. 
Harold Brown told Frank Collbohm that ARPA needed 
studies performed that could answer questions that were 
confounding defense officials at the Pentagon. Who were 
these people, the Vietnamese? What made one Vietnamese 
peasant become a communist and another remain loyal to 
President Diem? How did these foreign people live, work, 
strategize, organize, and think? The idea was that if only 
ARPA could understand what motivated Vietnamese people, 
the Pentagon might be able to persuade them to see 
democracy as a form of government superior to 
communism. 

It was an enticing proposal for RAND. Social science 
research was far afield from the RAND Corporation’s brand 
of nuclear war analysis and strategy, and of game theory. 
But defense contractors need to stay relevant in order to 
survive, and Frank Collbohm recognized that with 
President Kennedy in office, there was much new business 
to be had in counterinsurgency studies and strategy. Here 
was an opportunity for RAND to expand its Defense 
Department contracts beyond what it had become famous 
for. 

RAND formed two counterinsurgency committees to 
strategize how best to handle Harold Brown’s requests. 
One committee was called the Third Area Conflict board 
and was run by Albert Wohlstetter, the man behind RAND’s 
legendary “second strike” nuclear strategy, also known as 
NUTS. The second committee was run jointly by RAND vice 
president George H. Clement, an expert on missiles, 


satellites, and “weapons systems philosophy,” and Bob 
Bucheim, head of the aero-astronautics department. 
Proposals were written, and in a matter of months, ARPA 
and RAND entered into an initial Project Agile contract for 
$4 million (roughly $32 million in 2015), to be paid out over 
a period of four years. With funding secure, RAND was 
given its own office inside the Combat Development Test 
Center in Saigon, where a secretary answered telephones, 
typed letters, and received mail. RAND analysts could 
reside in a French colonial villa down the street from the 
MAAG-V headquarters at 176 Rue Pasteur, or they could 
have their own apartments. In early 1962, RAND began 
sending academics, analysts, and anthropologists to Saigon. 
Soon the number of RAND staff working out of the CDTC 
would more than double the number of Pentagon 
employees there. 

The first two RAND analysts to arrive in Saigon, in 
January 1962, were Gerald Hickey and John Donnell. Both 
men were eminently qualified anthropologists and spoke 
fluent Vietnamese. Hickey had been a professor at Yale 
University, where he specialized in Vietnamese culture. 
Donnell taught social sciences at Dartmouth College. Both 
had spent time working in Vietnam as government 
consultants. Before working for RAND, Hickey was part of 
the Michigan State University Group, whose members, at 
the behest of the State Department, counseled President 
Diem’s government in how to be better administrators. 
Donnell, who also spoke Chinese, consulted for the State 
Department on Asian affairs. 

Saigon in January 1962 was a beautiful city, resplendent 
with French colonial architecture and still called the Paris 
of the Orient. Its broad boulevards were lined with leafy 
trees, and the streets were filled with bicycles, rickshaws, 
and cars. Locals relaxed outside in parks or in European- 
style cafés. Vendors sold flowers, and President Diem’s 
police forces patrolled the streets. But for Hickey and 


Donnell, there was a not so subtle indication that things had 
changed in Saigon since their last visits in the late fifties. 
“Signs of conflict had replaced the feeling of peace,” Hickey 
later wrote. “Everyone was concerned with security.” 

The road from the airport to RAND’s office at the CDTC 
was crowded with military vehicles. During dinner their 
first night in Saigon under the ARPA contract, Hickey and 
Donnell sat in a rooftop café at the Caravelle Hotel listening 
to mortar explosions in the distance and watching flares 
light up the edges of the city. “Both John and I were 
somewhat astonished how the advent of the insurgency had 
changed the atmosphere of Saigon,” Hickey recalled. 

The plan was for the two anthropologists to travel into 
the central highlands and study the mountain people who 
lived there, the Montagnards. President Diem told his 
American counterparts that he doubted the loyalty of the 
mountain dwellers, and Hickey and Donnell were being sent 
to assess the situation. Before leaving for the mountains, 
they checked in with ARPA’s Combat Development and Test 
Center, where they were met by a CIA officer named Gilbert 
Layton, who told them there had been a change of plans. 
The CIA was working on its own project with the 
Montagnards, Layton said, and there was not room for both 
programs. Hickey and Donnell would have to find another 
group of people to study. 

Hickey and Donnell discussed the situation, consulted 
with RAND headquarters back in Santa Monica, and agreed 
on a different study to pursue. There was another 
important program that the Defense Department and the 
CIA had been working on with President Diem called the 
Strategic Hamlet Program, or “rural pacification.” The plan 
was for the South Vietnamese army to move peasants away 
from the “Vietcong-infested” countryside and into new 
villages, or hamlets, where they would allegedly be safe. 
The Strategic Hamlet Program offered financial incentives 
to get the villagers to move. Using Defense Department 


funds, Diem’s army would pay the villagers to build tall, 
fortress-like walls around their new jungle settlements. 

Building these fences required weeks of intense labor. 
First, a deep ditch had to be dug around each new hamlet. 
Next, concrete posts needed to be sunk down into the ditch 
at intervals of roughly ten feet. Finally, villagers were to 
venture out into the jungle forests, cut down hundreds of 
thick stalks of bamboo, and make spears, which would then 
be used to build the fence. The South Vietnamese army 
would provide the villagers with the concrete posts and also 
with large rolls of barbed wire, courtesy of the Pentagon. 
The rest of the labor was for the villagers to do. 

Defense Department officials saw U.S. investment in the 
Strategic Hamlet Program as an effective means of 
pacification and a way to help President Diem gain control 
over the region. The idea was that in exchange for their 
safety, the Vietnamese farmers would develop a sense of 
loyalty toward President Diem. But there was also a far 
more ambitious plan in place whereby ARPA would collect 
enough information on strategic hamlets to be able to 
“monitor” their activity in the future. 

After the CIA canceled Hickey and Donnell’s Montagnard 
project, the men decided to study the Strategic Hamlet 
Program. It is unlikely they knew about ARPA’s future 
monitoring plans. Hickey and Donnell rented a Citroén and 
set off for a village northwest of Saigon called Cu Chi. 

In Cu Chi, at a small shop, they came across a group of 
village farmers drinking tea. At first they found the villagers 
to be reticent, but after they spent a few days talking with 
them in their own language, tongues loosened up. As 
anthropologists, Hickey and Donnell were familiar with 
local farming techniques, and they also understood the 
villagers’ deeply held beliefs in spirit culture, or animism, 
the idea that a supernatural power organizes and animates 
the material world. After a few more afternoon visits, the 
villagers began offering information to Hickey and Donnell 


about what had been going on in their village as far as the 
Strategic Hamlet Program was concerned. 

“Without our asking, the Cu Chi villagers complained 
about the strategic hamlet,” Hickey wrote in his report. The 
program had required villagers to move away from where 
they had been living, deep in the jungle, to this new village 
they did not consider their own. The mandatory relocation 
was having a devastating effect. People were distraught 
over having been forced to leave their ancestral homes and 
their ancestors’ graves. Here, in this new village, farmers 
now faced a new challenge as they struggled to plant crops 
on unfamiliar land. Villagers were angry with the Diem 
government because they had been told that in exchange 
for digging ditches and building walls, they would be paid 
ten piasters a day and given lunch. President Diem’s forces 
were supposed to have provided them with concrete posts 
and barbed-wire fence. Instead, the villagers said, Diem’s 
soldiers had rounded up groups of men, forced them to 
work, refused to feed them, and charged them money for 
building supplies. The forced labor lasted roughly three 
months, with only one five-day break for the New Year 
festival. The labor program coincided with the most 
important planting time of the year, which meant that many 
farmers had been unable to plant their own crops. As a 
result, they would likely end up producing only one-tenth of 
their usual annual yield. “One bad crop year can put a 
Vietnamese farmer in debt for several years afterwards 
because [farmers] live on a very narrow subsistence 
margin,” Hickey wrote. Subsistence farmers live season to 
season, producing just enough food to feed their families, 
meaning they rarely have anything left over to spare or 
save. 

In one interview after another, Hickey and Donnell found 
widespread dissatisfaction with the Strategic Hamlet 
Program. Most villagers had never wanted to leave their 
original homes in the first place. The “compulsory 


regrouping” and “protracted forced-labor” had caused 
villagers undue emotional suffering. President Diem 
promised political and economic reforms, but nothing had 
materialized. Even on a practical level, the program was 
failing. A group of villagers showed Hickey and Donnell a 
deep underground tunnel that had been dug by the 
Vietcong. It ran directly under the perimeter defense wall 
and up into the center of the village. Vietcong could come 
and go as they wished, the villagers said. And they did. 

Hickey and Donnell spent three months interviewing 
villagers in Cu Chi. The conclusion they drew cast the 
Strategic Hamlet Program in a very grim light. In the 
winter of 1962, strategic hamlets were being erected at a 
rate of more than two hundred per month. The Defense 
Department had set a goal of establishing between ten 
thousand and twelve thousand hamlets across South 
Vietnam over the next year. 

Hickey and Donnell presented their findings to General 
Paul Harkins, the new commander of the recently renamed 
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, or MACV. The 
anthropologists believed that General Harkins would be 
unhappy with the news but that he would take seriously the 
villagers’ legitimate concerns. Years later, when the ARPA 
report was finally declassified, Hickey recalled the meeting. 
“I said, in essence, that strategic hamlets had the potential 
of bringing security to the rural population but they would 
not work if they imposed economic and social burdens on 
the population,” he said. If President Diem wanted villager 
support, he had to hold up his end of the bargain and pay 
the workers, as agreed. “General Harkins replied that 
everyone wanted protection from the Viet Cong, so they 
would welcome the strategic hamlets.” The discussion was 
over, General Harkins told Hickey and Donnell, and the 
anthropologists left Harkins’s office in Saigon. 

Hickey and Donnell were flown to the Pentagon, where 
they were scheduled to brief Harold Brown and Walt 


Rostow, the president’s national security advisor, on the 
Strategic Hamlet Program. The Pentagon was a world away 
from Saigon and from Cu Chi, and yet the anthropologists 
knew firsthand what an impact the Defense Department’s 
work was having on the villagers living there. They made 
their way through security, into the mezzanine, past the 
food shops and the gift shops and the employee banks. They 
walked up stairs, down corridors, and into Harold Brown’s 
office in the E-Ring, not far from the secretary of defense 
and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Brown’s office was spacious 
and well decorated, with large leather chairs and couches, 
and a view of the Potomac River. 

Hickey recalled paraphrasing from their written ARPA 
report. “In the present war,” he said, “the Vietnamese 
peasant is likely to support the side that has control of the 
area in which he lives, and he is more favorably disposed to 
the side which offers him the possibility of a better life.” 
Hickey and Donnell told Brown and Rostow that Diem’s 
army was simply not holding up its end of the bargain. As a 
result, and despite the well-intended efforts of the Strategic 
Hamlet Program, local Vietnamese peasants were more 
likely to side with the Vietcong. 

Then something strange happened. “As we began our 
first debriefing at the Pentagon with Harold Brown,” Hickey 
noted, “[he] swung his heavy chair around and looked out 
the window, leaving us to talk to the back of his chair.” 
Hickey and Donnell kept talking. Perhaps Brown was simply 
contemplating the severity of the situation. 

“Farmers were unwilling to express enthusiasm for the 
program and appeared to harbor strong doubts that the 
sacrifices of labor and materials imposed on them could 
yield any commensurate satisfaction,” the anthropologists 
explained. If something wasn’t done, the entire Strategic 
Hamlet Program was at risk of collapse. Hickey and Donnell 
suggested that the Pentagon put pressure on Diem’s forces 
to pay the farmers a small amount of compensation, 


immediately. 

Harold Brown did not respond. Throughout most of the 
meeting, he kept his back turned on the two men, and 
though now they had finished their briefing, Brown still 
didn’t turn around to face them. National security advisor 
Walt Rostow, who had been paying attention, looked away. 
An aide walked into the room, and Hickey and Donnell were 
shown the door. 

Escorted out of Harold Brown’s office, the two men were 
led down the corridor to where they were scheduled to 
brief Marine Corps lieutenant general Victor “Brute” 
Krulak, now _ serving as_ special assistant for 
counterinsurgency and special activities. Krulak was a 
hard-charging militarist. During World War II he had 
masterminded the invasion of Okinawa, the _ largest 
amphibious assault in the Pacific theater and the last battle 
of the war. In the Korean War, Krulak had pioneered the use 
of helicopters in battle. Krulak was not happy with what 
Hickey and Donnell had to say, and he was demonstrative in 
his disapproval. He told them that he wasn’t going to pay a 
bunch of Vietnamese peasants for their support. “He 
pounded his fist on the desk [and said] that ‘we’ were going 
to make the peasant do what’s necessary for the strategic 
hamlets to succeed,” Hickey recalled. 

The anthropologists from RAND were shown the door. 
Their thirty-page report, originally prepared for ARPA as an 
unclassified report, was now given a Classification of secret, 
which meant it could not be read by anyone without an 
appropriate government clearance. Harold Brown told 
RAND president Frank Collbohm about his dissatisfaction 
with what he saw as Hickey and Donnell’s overly pessimistic 
analysis of the Strategic Hamlet Program. The 
anthropologists’ findings were “too negative,” ARPA officials 
complained, and they prepared an official rebuttal to be 
attached to each copy distributed around the White House 
and the Pentagon. 


Determined to repair any damage that Hickey and 
Donnell might have done, Collbohm sent a new set of RAND 
researchers to Saigon with specific instructions to 
reevaluate the Strategic Hamlet Program. This included 
Fulbright scholar Joe Carrier, who worked in cost analysis 
at RAND, and Vic Sturdevant, from systems analysis. With 
no previous knowledge of Southeast Asia, and with no local 
language skills, the two men studied incidents in strategic 
hamlets initiated by the Vietcong over a nine-month period, 
from December 1962 to September 1963. Their findings 
were markedly different from Hickey and Donnell’s. In this 
new ARPA report on the Strategic Hamlet Program, Carrier 
and Sturdevant concluded that it would likely prove 
promising in the long run, if only the Defense Department 
would take a “more patient approach.” 

Another RAND analyst dispatched to Vietnam to write a 
similarly themed report was George B. Young, an expert in 
missile design, aerodynamics, and nuclear propulsion. 
Young, who was Chinese American, became the first RAND 
employee assigned full-time to the Combat Development 
Test Center in Saigon. His analysis of the Strategic Hamlet 
Program was enthusiastic. Young said the villagers were 
committed to participating. In his ARPA report, called 
“Notes on Vietnam,” Young wrote about the fluid “delivery 
of intelligence” information that was taking place. Locals in 
the program had been taught to make written notes on any 
Vietcong activity they observed, Young reported. In turn, 
that information was taken to village elders, who wrote up 
reports for the Diem government. Soon, Young declared, 
the Vietcong forces would be “ground to a pulp.” 

George Tanham returned to the CDTC in Saigon in 1963, 
now under a long-term ARPA contract. Much had changed 
since Tanham’s first trip, at Harold Brown’s behest, in the 
summer of 1961. In his “Trip Report: Vietnam, 1963,” 
Tanham showed great optimism about how things were 
shaping up in Vietnam. An Air Force officer from the 


Combat Development and Test Center took Tanham in an 
airplane ride over the strategic hamlet regions, just outside 
Saigon—some of the very same hamlets that Gerald Hickey 
and John Donnell had written so pessimistically about in 
their report, the one that caused Harold Brown to turn his 
back on them. Tanham marveled at the little villages down 
below. He said he could see the bamboo huts, the barbed- 
wire fences, even the distinct perimeter ditches, and that it 
all looked wonderful. In Tanham’s estimation, the Defense 
Department could look ahead to “successfully concluding 
the war in two or three years or even less.” He included in 
his report an interview with an officer from the U.S. Air 
Force who said that the Air Force was “proud of its 
contribution to the war in Vietnam” and that it planned to 
“leave behind helicopters and airplanes when it left, ideally 
sometime in 1964.” Things were looking very positive, 
Tanham wrote. He quoted a high-ranking general as telling 
him, “Given a little luck we can wind this one up in a year.” 


CHAPTER NINE 


Command and Control 


In October 1962, a quiet forty-seven-year-old civilian 


scientist from Missouri arrived at the Pentagon to begin a 
new job with the Advanced Research Projects Agency. His 
work would change the world. By 2015, 3 billion of the 7 
billion people on the planet would regularly use technology 
conceived of by him. The man, J. C. R. Licklider, invented the 
concept of the Internet, which was originally called the 
ARPANET: 

Licklider did not arrive at the Pentagon with the intent of 
creating the Internet. He was hired to research and 
develop command and control systems, most of which were 
related to nuclear weapons at the time. The idea that a 
bright red telephone, like the one installed in Herb York’s 
bedroom in the first week of the Kennedy presidency, was 
the only way for heads of state to communicate the dreaded 
“go or no-go” decision in a potential nuclear launch 
scenario was absurd. In the world of push-button warfare, 
fractions of seconds mattered. World leaders could not 
afford the extra seconds it would take to dial a 1962 
telephone. 

The mandate to update the command and control system, 
which would become known as C2, came from the 
president. Within months of taking office, Kennedy ordered 
Congress to allocate funds to rapidly modernize the U.S. 


military command and control system, specifically to make 
it “more flexible, more selective, more deliberate, better 
protected, and under ultimate civilian authority at all 
times.” The directive for “new equipment and facilities” was 
sent to the Pentagon, where it was tasked to ARPA. Harold 
Brown recruited J. C. R. Licklider for the job. 

Licklider was a trained psychologist with a rare 
specialization in psychoacoustics, the scientific study of 
sound perception. Psychoacoustics concerns itself with 
questions such as, when a person across a room claps his 
hands, how does the brain know where that sound is 
coming from? It involves elements of both psychology and 
physiology, because sound arrives at the ear as a 
mechanical sound wave, but it is also a perceptual event. 
People hear differently in different situations, and those 
“conditions have consequences,” Licklider liked to say. 
During World War II, while working at Harvard University’s 
Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory, Licklider conducted 
experiments with military pilots in all kinds of flight 
scenarios, with the goal of developing ' better 
communication systems for the military. Aircraft were not 
yet pressurized, and at altitudes of 35,000 feet, cockpit 
temperatures descended below freezing, which profoundly 
affected how pilots heard sound and how they responded 
through speech. Licklider conducted hundreds. of 
experiments with B-17 and B-24 bomber pilots, analyzed 
data, and published papers on his findings. By war’s end, he 
was considered one of the world’s authorities on the human 
auditory nervous system. 

After the war, Licklider left Harvard for the Lincoln 
Laboratory at MIT, where he became interested in how 
computers could help people communicate better. 
Engineers at the Lincoln Laboratory were working on an 
IBM-based computer system for the Air Force called the 
Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, or SAGE, which was 
being built to serve as the backbone of the North American 


Air Defense Command (NORAD) air defense system. SAGE 
was the first computer to integrate radar with computer 
technologies, and to perform three key functions 
simultaneously: receive, interpret, and respond. The SAGE 
system received information from tracking radar; it 
interpreted data as it came in; and in response, it pointed 
America’s defensive missile systems at incoming threats. It 
was a gargantuan machine, so large that technicians 
walked inside it to work on it. SAGE system operators were 
among the first computer users in the world required to 
multitask. While sitting at a console, they watched display 
monitors, typed on keyboards, and flipped switches as new 
information constantly flowed into the SAGE system 
through telephone lines. 

Licklider was inspired by the SAGE system. To him, it 
exemplified how computers could do more than just collect 
data and perform calculations. He imagined a time in the 
future when man and machine might interact and problem- 
solve to an even greater degree. He wrote a paper outlining 
this concept, called “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” in which he 
described a partnership between humans and “the 
electronic members of the partnership,” the computers. 
Licklider envisioned a day when a computer would serve as 
a human’s “assistant.” The machine would “answer 
questions, perform simulation modeling, graphically display 
results, and extrapolate solutions for new situations from 
past experience.” Like John von Neumann, Licklider saw 
similarities between the computer and the brain, and he 
saw a symbiotic relationship between man and machine, 
one in which man’s burdens, or “rote work,” could be eased 
by the machine. Humans could then devote their time to 
making important decisions, Licklider said. 

Licklider believed that computers could one day change 
the world for the better. He envisioned “home computer 
consoles,” with people sitting in front of them, learning just 
about anything they wanted to. He wrote a book, Libraries 


of the Future, in which he described a world where library 
resources would be available to remote users through a 
single database. This was radical thinking in 1960 yet is 
almost taken for granted today by the billions of people who 
have the library of the Internet at their fingertips twenty- 
four hours a day. Computers would make man a better- 
informed being, Licklider wrote, and one day, “in not too 
many years, human brains and computing machines will be 
coupled... [and] the resulting partnership will think as no 
human brain has ever thought.” 

It was exactly this kind of revolutionary thinking that 
interested the Advanced Research Projects Agency and why 
the work of J. C. R. Licklider caught ARPA’s attention. 
Computing power needed to be leveraged beyond its 
present capabilities in order to advance command and 
control systems, and J. C. R. Licklider was the man for the 
job. ARPA director Jack Ruina telephoned Licklider and 
asked him to come to Washington and give a series of 
seminars on computers to Defense Department officials. 
Then he offered Licklider a job. When Licklider arrived at 
the Pentagon just a few months later for his first day of 
work, the sign on his door read “Advanced Research 
Projects Agency, Command and Control Research, J. C. R. 
Licklider, Director.” It was a small office, in both physical 
size and relative importance. At the time, it was impossible 
to imagine just how colossal a program command and 
control would become. In 1962, it was just an idea. 

When Licklider arrived at the Pentagon in the fall of 
1962, the Department of Defense purchased more 
computers than any other organization in the world, and 
ARPA had just entered the world of advanced computer 
research. The agency inherited four computers from the Air 
Force, old dinosaurs called Q-32 machines. Each was the 
size of a small house. These were the computers that the 
SAGE program had run on at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, 
starting in 1954; there was no way the Pentagon was going 


to throw them away. The Q-32s, built by Systems 
Development Corporation, a subdivision of RAND, had been 
incredibly expensive to construct, each costing $6 million 
(roughly $50 million in 2015). ARPA had inherited them, 
and Licklider was given the job of making sure they got 
used. 

Fifteen days after Licklider’s arrival at the Pentagon, the 
most harrowing of conflicts set the world on a razor’s edge. 
Photographs taken by a U-2 spy plane revealed that the 
Soviets had covertly placed nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba, 
ninety miles off the coast of Florida. President Kennedy 
demanded that the missiles be removed, but Premier Nikita 
Khrushchev refused. For thirteen days, starting on October 
16, the United States and the Soviet Union played a game 
of nuclear chicken. At the height of the crisis, on October 
24, the United States set up a military blockade off the 
island and a standoff in the ocean ensued. By all accounts, 
this thirteen-day period was the closest the world has ever 
come to nuclear war, before or since. The president raised 
the defense condition to DEFCON 2 for the first and only 
time in history. And yet new information from ARPA’s history 
has recently come to light that paints an even more 
dramatic Cuban Missile Crisis than was _ previously 
understood. 

“Guess how many nuclear missiles were detonated 
during the Cuban Missile Crisis?” asks Paul Kozemchak, 
special assistant to DARPA director Arati Prabhakar, during 
an interview for this book. Kozemchak is a thirty-year 
veteran of DARPA, which makes him the longest-serving 
employee in its history. “I can tell you that the answer is not 
‘none,’” said Kozemchak. “The answer is ‘several.’” In this 
case, “several” refers to four. 

By the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Eisenhower’s test 
ban had failed, and the United States and the Soviet Union 
had both returned to nuclear weapons testing. Twice 
during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, on October 20 


and October 26, 1962, the United States detonated two 
nuclear weapons—code-named Checkmate and Bluegill 
Triple Prime—in space. These tests, which sought to 
advance knowledge in ARPA’s pursuit of the Christofilos 
effect, are on the record and are known. What is not known 
outside Defense Department circles is that in response, on 
October 22 and October 28, 1962, the Soviets also 
detonated two nuclear weapons in space, also in pursuit of 
the Christofilos effect. In recently declassified film footage 
of an emergency meeting at the White House, Secretary of 
Defense McNamara can be heard discussing one of these 
two Soviet nuclear bomb tests with the president and his 
closest advisors. “The Soviets fired three eleven-hundred- 
mile missiles yesterday at Kapustin Yar,” McNamara tells 
them, one of which contained a 300-kiloton nuclear 
warhead. “They were testing elements of an antimissile 
system in a nuclear burst environment.” 

It is hard to determine what is more shocking, that this 
information, which was made public by Russian scientists in 
the early 1990s, is not generally known, or that four 
nuclear weapons were detonated in space, in a DEFCON 2 
environment, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Firing off 
nuclear weapons in the middle of a nuclear standoff is 
tempting fate. The BMEWS system, at J-Site in Thule, could 
easily have misidentified the Soviet missile launches as a 
nuclear first strike. “The danger of the situation simply 
getting out of control, from developments or accidents or 
incidents that neither side—leaders on either side—were 
even aware of, much less in control of, could have led to 
war,” says the former CIA officer Dr. Raymond Garthoff, an 
expert in Soviet missile launches. 

The information about the Soviet high-altitude nuclear 
tests remained classified until after the Berlin Wall came 
down. The Soviet nuclear weapon detonated on October 28, 
1962, over Zhezgazghan in Kazakhstan at an altitude of 
ninety-three miles had a consequential effect. According to 


Russian scientists, “the nuclear detonation caused an 
electromagnetic pulse [EMP] that covered all of 
Kazakhstan,” including “electrical cables buried 
underground.” 

The Cuban Missile Crisis made clear that command and 
control systems not only needed to be upgraded but also 
needed to be reimagined. It was J. C. R. Licklider who first 
challenged his ARPA colleagues to rethink old ideas about 
what computers could do beyond mathematical tasks like 
payroll and accounting. Licklider proposed the development 
of a vast multiuser system, a “network” of computers that 
could collect information across multiple platforms—from 
radar and satellites to intelligence reports, communication 
cables, even weather reports—and to integrate them. What 
was needed, said Licklider, was a partnership between man 
and machine, and between the military and the rest of the 
world. 

Of his ARPA bosses, Licklider wrote, “I kept trying to 
convince them of my philosophy that what the military 
needs is what the business man needs, is what the scientist 
needs.” Six months after arriving at ARPA, he sent out a 
memo calling this network the “Intergalactic Computer 
Network.” At the time, different computers spoke different 
programming languages, something Licklider saw as a 
hurdle that needed to be immediately overcome. It was an 
extreme problem, he wrote, one “discussed by science 
fiction writers: How do you get communications started 
among totally uncorrelated sapient beings?” Finding the 
answer would take decades, but it began at ARPA in 1962. 


J. C. R. Licklider is sometimes called modern computing’s 
“Johnny Appleseed” for planting the first seeds of the digital 
revolution. What is not generally known about Licklider is 
that he ran a second office at the Pentagon called the 
Behavioral Sciences Program, an office that would 


eventually take on much more Orwellian tasks related to 
surveillance programs. This office grew out of a study 
originally commissioned by Herb York, titled “Toward a 
Technology of Human Behavior for Defense Use.” This study 
examined how computers, or “man-machine systems,” could 
best be used in conflict zones. The results, today, are far- 
reaching. 

In its Behavioral Sciences Program, ARPA wanted to 
“build a bridge from psychology into the other social 
sciences” using computers, according to an early ARPA 
report. Because Licklider was trained as a psychologist, 
ARPA director Jack Ruina believed he was the right man for 
this job, too. 

One task of the Behavioral Sciences Program was to 
imagine a future world where computers could be used by 
the Defense Department as teaching tools. This was 
visionary thinking in 1962, when computers still took up 
entire rooms and cost millions of dollars to build and 
operate. “Computer assisted teaching systems and 
computer assisted gaming and simulation studies are 
examples of work chosen [for] human performance 
research believed to be defense relevant,” read an internal 
ARPA report. Training President Diem’s South Vietnamese 
army was a solid example. ARPA sought ways in which to 
teach Vietnamese recruits to be better soldiers and more 
efficient administrators so they could defeat communism. 
This was arduous, labor-intensive work. Language and 
culture barriers added an extra layer of toil. One idea 
behind the Behavioral Sciences Program was _ that 
computers could one day shoulder the burden of this kind 
of work. 

The Behavioral Sciences Program initiated a number of 
projects. These were programs that had a public face but 
also had highly classified components. ARPA secretly 
opened a second Combat Development Test Center, this one 
on the outskirts of Bangkok, five hundred miles to the 


northwest of Saigon. Like its Vietnamese counterpart, this 
new CDTC would also research and develop techniques and 
gadgets but with a focus on longer-term counterinsurgency 
goals, including Licklider’s plans for computer-assisted 
teaching, gaming, and simulation studies. Congress was not 
told about the new Combat Development Test Center in 
Bangkok, nor was the House Committee on Appropriations, 
though the Defense Department was legally required to 
notify it before constructing new facilities. 

“Thailand was the laboratory for the soft side and 
Vietnam was the laboratory for the hard side, or things that 
go boom,” explained James L. Woods, an ARPA officer who 
worked at the CDTC in Thailand. 

There was a bigger plan in play, until now unreported. 
Secretary McNamara was eager to have ARPA create 
additional Combat Development Test Centers around the 
world, something he considered an important part of the 
president’s national security policy of flexible response. 
Insurgent groups, also called terrorist organizations, were 
on the rise across Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa, and 
the Middle East. “The U.S. would need to support Limited 
Wars in these remote areas,” one Project Agile report 
declared, adding that “similar representation is being 
considered by OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] in 
other areas of the world.” ARPA called its worldwide 
program “Remote Area Conflict” and hired the defense 
contractor Battelle Memorial Institute to open and operate 
two “Remote Area Conflict Information Centers,” one in 
Washington, D.C., and the other in Columbus, Ohio, to keep 
track of programs at the Combat Development Test Centers 
in Saigon and Bangkok and all future CDTCs, and to write 
summary reports and produce analyses of progress made. 
As early as 1962, ARPA drew up plans for CDTCs in Beirut 
and Tehran under this new “Remote Area Conflict” banner. 
The declassified CDTC files housed at the National Archives 
have been miscataloged and are lost. The only known 


copies remain with Battelle. Though the copies are more 
than fifty years old, Battelle declined to release them, 
stating that “unfortunately, it is Battelle policy not to 
release copies of Battelle reports.” 

In Thailand, the new CDTC flourished. ARPA engineers in 
Licklider’s Behavioral Sciences Program office believed that 
computers could be used to model social behavior. Data 
could be collected and algorithms could be designed to 
analyze the data and to build models. This led Licklider to 
another seminal idea. What if, based on the data collected, 
you could get the computer to predict human behavior? If 
man can predict, he can control. “Much of the work is 
theoretical and experimental,” stated T. W. Brundage, the 
first director of the CDTC in Bangkok, “and for the time 
being is mainly non-hardware oriented.” Brundage was 
referring to one of the first tests of Licklider’s theory to be 
conducted at the new center. It was called “Anthropometric 
Survey of the Royal Thai Armed Forces,” and involved 2,950 
Thai soldiers, sailors, and pilots. It was an example of a 
CDTC program with a public face but a classified motive. 
The Thai government was told that the purpose of the 
program was “to provide information on the body size of 
Thai military personnel,” which could then be used for 
“design and sizing of clothing and equipment” of the Thai 
armed forces in the future. ARPA technicians took fifty-two 
sets of measurements from each of the 2,950 Thai 
participants, things like eye height, seated height, forearm- 
to-hand length, and ankle circumference. But the Thai 
participants were also asked a bevy of personal questions— 
not just where and when they were born, but who their 
ancestors were, what their religion was, and what they 
thought of the king of Thailand. 

The true purpose of the “Anthropometric Survey of the 
Royal Thai Armed Forces,” and dozens of other surveys like 
it, was “data collection and data processing.” The 
information was sent back to the Computer Branch of the 


U.S. Army Natick Laboratories in Natick, Massachusetts. 
“After coding the background information, all of the data 
were transferred from the data sheets to punched cards,” 
reads a declassified report. A digital profile was then made 
“on each of the men in the series.” ARPA wanted to create a 
prototype showing how it could monitor third world armies 
for future use. The information would be saved in 
computers stored in a secure military facility. In 1962 
Thailand was a relatively stable country, but it was 
surrounded by insurgency and unrest on all sides. If 
Thailand were to become a battle zone, ARPA would have 
information on Thai soldiers, each of whom could be 
tracked. Information—like who deserted the Thai army and 
became an enemy combatant—could be ascertained. Using 
computer models, ARPA could create algorithms describing 
human behavior in remote areas. Eventually these patterns 
could lead to predictive computer modeling, Licklider 
believed. 

There were other individuals working with and for 
Licklider in his predictive modeling programs. One was 
Ithiel de Sola Pool, a left-leaning revolutionary in the field of 
social science. Doing contract work for ARPA, Pool became 
one of the first social scientists to use computers to create 
models for analyzing human behavior. He would become 
the world’s first authority on the social impact of mass 
media. J. C. R. Licklider and Ithiel de Sola Pool put together 
a series of proposals for ARPA to consider. Computer 
models could be used to answer important questions, the 
men said. They proposed that studies be done on “peasant 
attitudes and behavior,” “‘stability and disorder’ in several 
countries,” and “cultural patterns.” 

Pool and Licklider both served on ARPA’s Behavioral 
Sciences Panel, and in that capacity they examined Hickey 
and Donnell’s study of the Strategic Hamlet Program. “They 
[Hickey and Donnell] have yielded much useful information 
and opened up promising areas for investigation,” Licklider 


and Pool wrote, “but with regard to the solution of these 
important, complex problems, they have barely scratched 
the surface.” The two behavioral scientists recognized that 
the information Hickey and Donnell had collected on the 
villagers could also be used to create computer models and 
to predict how these kinds of individuals might act in future 
conflicts. “These are important tools,” said Licklider, for 
they can lead to a better understanding of the “inexorable 
flow from conditions to consequences.” With baseline data 
in a Defense Department computer system, the behavior of 
the villagers could be covertly monitored, analyzed, and 
modeled. This was an effective means of command and 
control. 

But as with the history of warfare, the desire to control 
and the ability to control are often at odds. Despite 
inventive government efforts to influence a population, 
events occur that are beyond military control. What 
happened next in Vietnam had consequences that could not 
be undone. 


May 8, 1963, marked the 2,527th birthday of the Buddha, 
and a group of religious followers gathered in the village of 
Hue to celebrate. Protest was in the air. Buddhists were 
being repressed by President Diem’s autocratic Catholic 
regime. The villagers of Hue had been told not to fly 
Buddhist flags, but they did anyway. The mood was festive, 
and a large crowd of nearly ten thousand people had 
assembled near the Hue radio station when eight armored 
vehicles and several police cars arrived on the scene in a 
show of force. Police ordered revelers to disperse, but they 
refused. Police used fire hoses and tear gas, still with no 
effect. Someone threw a grenade onto the porch of the 
radio station, killing nine people, including four children. 
Fourteen others were severely injured. A huge protest 
followed. The event became a catalyst for people across 


South Vietnam to express widespread resentment against 
President Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, who was 
head of the secret police. The Buddhists demanded the 
right to fly their own flags and to have the same religious 
freedoms accorded to members of the Catholic Church. 
When the government refused, more than three hundred 
monks and nuns convened in Saigon for a protest march, 
including an elderly monk named Thich Quang Duc. The 
group made its way silently down one of Saigon’s busiest 
boulevards to a crossroads, where everyone stopped and 
waited. Thich Quang Duc sat down on a cushion in the 
middle of the street and assumed the lotus position. A 
crowd gathered around him, including New York Times 
reporter David Halberstam. Two other monks, each 
carrying a five-gallon can of gasoline, walked up to Thich 
Quang Duc and poured gasoline on him. One of them 
handed Thich Quang Duc a single match. He struck the 
match, touched it to his robe, and set himself on fire. 

David Halberstam described the devastation he felt 
watching the monk catch fire and burn to death right in 
front of him on the Saigon street. “Flames were coming 
from a human being; his body was slowly withering and 
Shriveling up, his head blackening and_ charring,” 
Halberstam wrote. “In the air was the smell of burning 
flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I 
could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now 
gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take 
notes or ask questions, too bewildered even to think.... As 
he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a 
sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the 
wailing people around him.” 

During the self-immolation, somehow the monk was able 
to remain perfectly still. He did not writhe or scream or 
show any indication of pain. Even as he was consumed by 
fire, Thich Quang Duc sat upright with his legs folded in the 
lotus position. His body burned for about ten minutes until 


finally the charred remains toppled over backwards. 

Journalist Malcolm Brown, the Saigon bureau chief for 
the Associated Press, took a photograph of the burning 
monk, and this image was printed in newspapers around 
the world. People everywhere expressed outrage, and 
overnight President Diem became an international pariah. 

But instead of showing empathy or capitulating to the 
Buddhists’ wishes, President Diem, together with his 
brother Ngo Dinh Nhu and Nhu’s wife, the glamorous 
Madame Nhu, began to slander the Buddhists. Madame 
Nhu went on national TV in pearls and a black dress, 
fanning herself with a folding fan, to say that Buddhist 
leaders had gotten Thich Quang Duc drunk and set him up 
for suicide as a political ploy. 

“What have the Buddhist leaders done?” asked Madame 
Nhu on television. “The only thing they have done, they 
have barbecued one of their monks whom they have 
intoxicated.... Even that barbecuing was done, not even 
with self-sufficient means because they used imported 
gasoline.” By the end of summer, the crisis was full-blown. 
The White House advised President Diem to make peace 
with the Buddhists immediately. Diem ignored the request 
and instead, in August 1963, declared martial law. 

In late October, the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, 
Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., told President Kennedy that a coup 
d’état was being organized against President Diem by a 
group of Diem’s own army generals. In the now famous 
“Hillman cable,” the president, the ambassador, and 
diplomats Averell Harriman and Roger Hillman agreed not 
to interfere with the overthrow of Diem by his own military. 
In the cable, Ambassador Lodge gave secret assurances to 
the South Vietnamese generals that it was fine with the 
White House for them to proceed with the coup. 

On November 1, 1963, a group of Diem’s generals 
overthrew the government of South Vietnam. President 
Diem and his brother escaped to the Saigon district of 


Cholon, where they hid inside a Catholic church. The 
folowing morning, November 2, the brothers were 
discovered. Diem and Nhu were thrown into the back of an 
American-made armored personnel carrier and driven 
away. Sometime shortly thereafter, President Diem and his 
brother were executed. Their bullet-riddled bodies were 
photographed, then buried in an unmarked grave in a plot 
of land adjacent to Ambassador Lodge’s house. 

When the leader of the Vietnamese communist 
movement, Ho Chi Minh, learned of the assassination, even 
he was surprised. “I can scarcely believe the Americans 
would be so stupid,” he said. 

Out in the countryside across South Vietnam, the 
garrison state constructed by President Diem and the U.S. 
Department of Defense began to crumble. The local people, 
be they paddy rice farmers or committed Vietcong, began 
tearing down the fabricated enclaves the Diem regime had 
forced them to build as part of the Strategic Hamlet 
Program. News footage seen around the world showed 
farmers smashing the fortifications’ bamboo walls with 
sledgehammers, shovels, and sticks, as the strategic 
hamlets disappeared. Seizing the opportunity, the 
communists began sending thousands of Vietcong fighters 
to infiltrate the villages of South Vietnam. They came down 
from the North by way of a series of footpaths and jungle 
trails, which would become known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. 
Soon it would be impossible to tell a neutral farmer from a 
committed communist insurgent. 

Command and control was an illusion in Vietnam. Despite 
millions of dollars, hundreds of men, and the use of lethal 
chemicals as part of a herbicide warfare campaign, ARPA’s 
Project Agile—with its cutting-edge gadgets and 
counterinsurgency techniques—was having little to no 
effect on the growing communist insurgency spreading 
across South Vietnam. Perhaps Americans in Saigon might 
have been able to foresee the fall of President Ngo Dinh 


Diem, but it is unlikely that anyone could have predicted 
what happened shortly thereafter, halfway around the 
world in Texas. Twenty days after the execution of Diem and 
his brother, while riding in an open car through Dealey 
Plaza in Dallas, President John Kennedy was shot dead by 
an assassin. 

Another president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, would inherit 
the hornet’s nest that was Vietnam. 


CHAPTER TEN 


Motivation and Morale 


The anthropologist Gerald Hickey leaned out the side of a 


low-flying military aircraft watching the sea_ snakes 
swimming below. The weather was warm, the sea calm, and 
as the aircraft he shared with a team of ARPA officials 
approached Phu Quoc Island in the Gulf of Siam, the water 
was robin’s egg blue. It was the winter of 1964, and Hickey 
was back in Vietnam, working for the RAND Corporation on 
another ARPA contract, this time studying how U.S. military 
advisors got along with their Vietnamese counterparts. The 
war that did not officially exist marched on. 

The ARPA officers were heading out to the island to test 
weapons and gear which they would then turn over to their 
junk fleet commander counterparts, local Vietnamese 
fishermen paid by the Pentagon to patrol the coasts and 
keep an eye out for Vietcong. Hickey was here to interview 
participants on both sides. “En route, the ARPA officers 
tested the new AR-15, an early version of the M-16, by 
shooting at long sea snakes, which when hit, flew into the 
air,” Hickey recalled. 

Once on the island the group set up a beachfront camp, 
stringing ARPA-engineered hammocks between palm trees 
and setting up ARPA-engineered tents before heading over 
to the steep sea cliffs, where they tested the ruggedness of 
ARPA-designed military boots. Hickey tagged along, 


notebook in hand, taking notes and asking questions, as he 
always did. After the day’s work, the men sat around a fire 
pit eating grilled shark and giant sea turtle, washing it 
down with rice and La Rue beer. 

After the Phu Quoc Island trip, Hickey headed back to 
Saigon and then up to the U.S. military facility at Da Nang, 
conducting dozens of interviews along the way. On July 4, 
1964, he caught a ride in an H-34 Marine helicopter and 
headed into the Ta Rau Valley to a Special Forces camp 
located at Nam Dong. 

“Known as deep VC territory,” Hickey noted in his 
journal. 

Captain Roger Donlon, commander of the unit at Nam 
Dong, met Hickey at the dirt landing pad when his 
helicopter touched down. Hickey noted how heavily fortified 
the camp was, its perimeter ringed with anti-sniper 
sandbags, machine gun posts, mortar pits, and concrete 
bunkers. Hickey was here at Nam Dong to interview each 
member of the twelve-man Special Forces team as well as 
their Vietnamese counterparts, young men who were 
mostly Nung people, an ethnic minority of Chinese descent. 

The team at Nam Dong was here in the Ta Rau Valley to 
protect five thousand Vietnamese who lived in the 
surrounding area. In addition to patrolling the jungle, the 
Special Forces team organized locals’ efforts to dig wells 
and build schools. There was little else to do here, and 
Hickey recalled that “the A-team members were happy to 
have an anthropologist in town.” 

His first day in Nam Dong, Hickey accompanied Captain 
Donlon out to one of the villages where there had been 
reports of chemicals being sprayed out of aircraft. “Rice 
crops had been destroyed and villagers were sick,” Hickey 
noted. Captain Donlon told the sick villagers that he would 
send their complaints up the chain of command. Hickey had 
no way of knowing that the organization paying for his 
report, ARPA, was the same organization behind the science 


program that had sprayed the chemicals on the villagers 
and their rice crops. 

The men drove back to the base in an Army jeep, careful 
to get to the camp before nightfall. Once the sun 
disappeared behind the mountains, the valley was plunged 
into darkness, making travel dangerous and difficult. Back 
at Nam Dong, Hickey filled out a timesheet, required by 
RAND to be submitted each week, and dropped it in the 
command center’s U.S. mailbox. He ate dinner with the 
Nung soldiers, interviewing them in their native language. 
The Nung soldiers told Hickey they believed a Vietcong 
attack was imminent, and he took the news to Captain 
Donlon. A team meeting was organized, and Donlon 
ordered the Vietnamese strike force to double its outer 
perimeter security and also ordered the helicopter landing 
zone to be fortified. Donlon gave Hickey an AR-15 and told 
him to sleep with it close by his bed. 

In the middle of the night, at 2:26 a.m., a massive 
explosion knocked Hickey out of bed. More explosions 
followed, and suddenly the camp was filled with white 
phosphorus smoke. With the sound of automatic weapons 
fire coming from every direction, Hickey grabbed his 
eyeglasses and his AR-15 and started to run. “Suddenly 
bullets were piercing the bamboo walls,” he later recalled. 

Outside his bunkroom, the mess hall and supply room 
were on fire. “Mortar rounds landed everywhere, grenades 
exploded, and gunfire filled the air. In a matter of minutes,” 
Hickey recounted, “the camp had become a battlefield.” For 
a moment, he felt all was lost. That he would die here in 
Nam Dong. Instead, the anthropologist raised his AR-15 
and assumed the role of a soldier, fighting alongside the 
Green Berets and the Nung commandos through the night. 

When light dawned and the Vietcong retreated back into 
the jungle, Hickey surveyed the carnage. Sixty Nung, two 
Americans, and one Australian had been killed. “There were 
bodies and pieces of bodies everywhere—on the cluttered 


parade ground, in the grasses, and on the [perimeter] 
wires.” One of the Nung soldiers he had eaten dinner with 
the night before was dead, recognizable only by the insignia 
on his shirt. “The smoky air was heavy with the odor of 
death,” Hickey recalled. Overcome by a wave of nausea, he 
threw up. 

“The July 1964 Nam Dong battle foreshadowed the fury 
of the struggle that would become known as the Vietnam 
War,” wrote Hickey. “As that war, with its modern 
technology and armaments and large armies, drew all of 
South Vietnam into its vortex and captured the world’s 
attention, the battle of Nam Dong faded into obscurity.” 
Americans still did not know they were fighting a war in 
Vietnam. Captain Roger Donlon was awarded _ the 
Congressional Medal of Honor, the first of the Vietnam War, 
and Gerald Hickey would continue his work as an 
anthropologist, writing more than a dozen reports for 
ARPA, on subjects including the role of the AR-15 in battle 
and the effects of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese. 


Back in America, RAND Corporation president Frank 
Collbohm had set his focus on securing a lucrative new 
contract with the Advanced Research Projects Agency. 
Collbohm and analyst Guy Pauker flew to Washington, D.C., 
to meet with ARPA officials. RAND’s Third Area Conflict 
Board believed that the firm’s social scientists could help 
stop the Vietcong insurgency by researching and analyzing 
for the Pentagon the “human problems” connected to 
insurgent groups. The broad-themed contract they sought 
had enormous potential value and would turn out to be 
RAND’s single-biggest contract during twelve years of war 
in Vietnam. It was called the Viet Cong Motivation and 
Morale Project, and it was secured in a single meeting in 
Washington, D.C. 

In Washington, Collbohm and Pauker met with Seymour 


Deitchman, Harold Brown’s new special assistant for 
counterinsurgency at ARPA. Before Deitchman took over 
the counterinsurgency reins, ARPA’s Project Agile programs 
had been overseen by William Godel. But the situation with 
Godel had taken a bizarre turn. For eighteen months, Godel 
had received high praise from the White House and the 
Pentagon for his counterinsurgency work, winning the 
prestigious National Civil Service League award and being 
named one of the nation’s ten top government 
administrators in 1962. But suddenly and mysteriously, 
financial incongruities within Project Agile’s overseas 
expense accounts were brought to the attention of 
Secretary of Defense McNamara, and the FBI was brought 
in to investigate. Godel was at the very center of the 
investigation. Counterinsurgency was too significant a 
program to leave in the hands of a man under suspicion, 
and Deitchman, an aeronautical and mechanical engineer 
working at the Institute for Defense Analyses, or IDA, was 
chosen to replace Godel. 

Also present during the meeting was the powerful 
William H. Sullivan, a career State Department official and 
the head of President Johnson’s new Interagency Task 
Force on Vietnam. In a few months’ time, Sullivan would 
become ambassador to Laos. Between Sullivan and 
Deitchman, the officials in the room had the power to award 
a significant counterinsurgency contract to whomever they 
saw fit, in this case RAND. Which is exactly what the record 
shows happened next. 

William Sullivan pulled out a sheet of paper and set it in 
front of Collbohm and Pauker. On the paper was a list of 
twenty-five topics that the Interagency Task Force and the 
Pentagon wanted researched. Down at the bottom, near the 
end, one topic leaped out at Guy Pauker. It read: 

“Who are the Vietcong? What makes them tick?” 

Pauker was electrified. “Where did this question come 
from?” he asked. 


“That question came directly from Secretary of Defense 
Robert McNamara,” Sullivan said, “who keeps asking the 
question.” 

“Frank and I agreed on the spot that RAND would try to 
answer the Defense Secretary’s question,” Pauker recalled. 

Guy Pauker, born in Romania, was a_ staunch 
anticommunist. He had a Ph.D. from Harvard in Southeast 
Asian studies, and was an expert on how Stone Age 
cultures, such as the Navajo, do or do not adapt to the 
modern world. He felt excited by this counterinsurgency 
challenge. The Vietcong were like a Stone Age people, 
Pauker believed, and he welcomed the opportunity to 
determine what it was that made them tick. Collbohm and 
Pauker returned to RAND headquarters in Santa Monica, 
where they put together an outline for the new project and 
a bid. 

Over at the Pentagon, the question “What makes the Viet 
Cong tick?” had also been confounding the Advanced 
Research Projects Agency. “The original intent” of the 
RAND program, as Seymour Deitchman later explained it, 
was to understand the nature of the Vietcong revolutionary 
movement by finding answers “to such questions as, what 
strata of society its adherents came from; why they were 
adherents; how group cohesiveness was built into their 
ranks; and how they interacted with the populace.” By the 
summer of 1964, the secretary of defense had grown 
frustrated by the lack of progress being made in the 
“techniques” area of Project Agile. Three years into the 
conflict and still no one seemed to have a handle on who 
these Vietcong insurgents really were. ARPA needed quality 
information on the enemy combatant, said Deitchman, and 
for this, to help facilitate the new RAND Corporation study, 
the secretary of defense made a deal with the CIA. 

Joseph Zasloff was the lead social scientist on the original 
Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Project, and in 2014 he 
recalled the premise of the RAND study. “The CIA had 


detention centers and prisons in South Vietnam,” Zasloff 
said, facilities that were not supposed to exist. It was in 
these secret detention centers that the CIA kept captured 
communist POWs, from whom various case officers tried to 
extract information. “We interviewed these prisoners for 
our study,” explained Zasloff. “We learned a lot from them 
about what had been going on. Some were old and had 
fought at Dien Bien Phu. Some were just teenagers. They 
were all very dedicated. Had great discipline and 
commitment. They were indoctrinated into the communist 
way of thinking.” 

Joe Zasloff and his wife, Tela, arrived in Saigon for the 
Motivation and Morale Project in the summer of 1964. 
Zasloff, an expert on Southeast Asian studies, had spent the 
previous year at RAND working on a report for the U.S. Air 
Force called The Role of North Vietnam in the Southern 
Insurgency. In this report, which he produced from his 
office in Santa Monica, Zasloff concluded that the North 
Vietnamese were responsible for fueling the insurgency in 
the South. Through the lens of history this is hardly news, 
but in 1964 Zasloff’s findings were considered original. He 
was sent to Saigon to lead this new RAND study. Zasloff did 
not have the kind of hands-on social science research 
experience that Gerald Hickey and John Donnell had, but he 
had been to Vietnam, in the late 1950s, as a university 
professor teaching social science at the Faculty of Law in 
downtown Saigon. 

Because Zasloff would be working directly with the 
highest-ranking members of the MACV, he was given a 
civilian rank equal to the rank of general, as well as 
accommodations fit for a general. The Zasloffs settled into 
ARPA’s elegant two-story villa at 176 Rue Pasteur, just down 
the street from the Combat Development Test Center. Their 
front yard had trees and a grassy lawn. A wide wooden 
veranda and second-story balconies added to the French 
colonial feel, as did the staff of servants who took care of 


housekeeping needs. Tela Zasloff had the maids string 
white lights throughout the garden, said to be inhabited by 
ghosts. A ten-foot-tall concrete wall had been constructed 
around the villa’s perimeter as an added_ security 
precaution. 

The villa’s first-floor interior was grand, laid out like a 
posh hotel lobby, with rattan furniture and potted palm 
trees. The downstairs served as a work area for the RAND 
researchers who came and went. At night, the Zasloffs 
frequently hosted dinner parties. 

One month after the Zasloffs got the place up and 
running, John Donnell, the author with Hickey of the 
unfavorable Strategic Hamlet Program report, arrived. 
Donnell was to be Zasloff’s partner on the new ARPA 
project, examining communist motivation and morale. The 
success of the program relied on getting accurate 
information from POWs, and Donnell spoke Vietnamese. 
Zasloff also hired local academics to act as interpreters, 
French-speaking Vietnamese intellectuals who were 
considered wealthy by national standards. The Vietnamese 
interpreters were often invited to the Zasloffs’ dinner 
parties and were asked to share their thoughts and 
perceptions. The interpreters were candid and open, 
admitting freely that they knew almost nothing about 
Vietnamese peasants who lived in villages outside Saigon. 
They were all citizens of the same country, but with very 
little in common. Most farmers, the interpreters said, 
lacked dreams and aspirations and were generally content. 
Most had no ambition to do anything but farm. All the 
peasants wanted out of this life, the interpreters said, was 
to live with their families in peace, in rural villages, without 
being harassed or disturbed. 

The interpreters set out with Zasloff and Donnell to 
interview prisoners of war in the secret CIA prisons across 
the South. The group interviewed prisoners inside the 
notorious Chi Hoa prison in Saigon as well as in many 


smaller detention centers out in the provinces. Most of the 
POW interviews were done with either Zasloff or Donnell 
and one Vietnamese interpreter, who also acted as a 
stenographer or note taker. There were no uniformed 
officials present, which meant the prisoners often loosened 
up and spoke freely. 

“We interviewed all kinds of prisoners,” Zasloff recalled. 
“Some from the North and some from the South.” Most of 
the northern-born fighters had made their way to the South 
along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. While their histories unfolded, 
the initial assumptions of the interpreters from Saigon 
began to change, including the preconception that all a 
Vietnamese farmer wanted was to own a small plot of land 
and be left in peace. As work progressed, the RAND 
researchers started to learn more about what was actually 
fueling the insurgency. It was a relatively simple answer 
that was echoed among the prisoners. What motivated 
Vietcong fighters, the prisoners said, was_ injustice, 
“grievances the peasants held against the Saigon 
government.” The prisoners told Zasloff and Donnell they 
believed that through communism, they could have a better 
life, one that was not based on corruption. The prisoners 
expressed “ardent aspirations they had for education, 
economic opportunity, equality and justice for themselves 
and their descendants,” Zasloff and Donnell wrote. 

The POWs also talked of being tortured by the 
government of South Vietnam. Some prisoners showed the 
RAND analysts scars they claimed were the results of 
incessant torture by prison guards. They spoke of being 
forced to watch summary executions of fellow prisoners, 
without explanation or trial. There was no way to verify the 
veracity of what they were told, but Zasloff and Donnell felt 
compelled to report these Geneva Convention violations to 
Guy Pauker at RAND. When Pauker forwarded the 
information on to the Pentagon in a memo titled “Treatment 
of POWs, Defectors and Suspects in South Vietnam,” 


Seymour Deitchman got involved. 

He asked questions: How did Zasloff and Donnell know 
that the prisoners were not lying? Why believe a prisoner in 
the first place? Instead of looking into Zasloff and Donnell’s 
claims, Deitchman later commissioned a RAND study on 
how to detect when a Vietcong prisoner was telling a lie. In 
“Estimating from Misclassified Data,” RAND analyst S. 
James Press used a probability theorem called Bayes’ 
theorem to refute the idea that POW interviews could 
always be trusted. “The motivation for the work had its 
genesis in a desire to compensate for incorrect answers 
that might be found in prisoner-of-war interviews,” Press 
wrote. After forty-eight pages of mathematical calculations 
that placed Vietcong POWs’ answers in hypothetical 
categories, Press concluded, “It is clear that if hostile 
subjects were aiming at an optimal strategy, they would lie 
independently of all the categories.” 

The same summer that Zasloff and Donnell presented 
their concerns to Seymour Deitchman, something totally 
unexpected happened at the Pentagon, a situation that still 
confounded Joseph Zasloff after more than fifty years. His 
earlier RAND monograph, The Role of North Vietnam in the 
Southern Insurgency, began making its way around the 
upper echelons of the Pentagon. In this report Zasloff had 
concluded that the North Vietnamese were responsible for 
most insurgent activity in the South. “Much of the strength 
and sophistication of the insurgent organization in South 
Vietnam today is attributable to the fact that North Vietnam 
plans, directs, and coordinates the over-all campaign and 
lends material aid, spiritual leadership and moral 
justification to the rebellion,” Zasloff had written. A copy 
went to the Air Force chief of staff, General Curtis LeMay. 
The overall war policy at the time called for “graduated 
pressure,” a_ strategy that Robert McNamara had 
developed for President Johnson to avoid making the war in 
Vietnam official. Only a few months remained until the 


November presidential election; Johnson desperately 
wanted to maintain what was known at the Pentagon as his 
“hold until November” policy. This strategy allowed for so- 
called tit-for-tat bombing raids, small-scale U.S. Air Force 
attacks against communist activity. Up to this point in the 
conflict, Hanoi, the capital of the North, had not been 
targeted. 

Reading Zasloff’s The Role of North Vietnam in the 
Southern Insurgency, General LeMay decided the paper 
was the perfect report on which to base his argument to 
bomb North Vietnam. Unknown to Zasloff, his RAND report 
would now become the centerpiece of LeMay’s new 
strategy for the secretary of defense. In this unconventional 
war, which America was still not officially fighting, the role 
of bombing had been fraught with contention. In the 
summer of 1964, the U.S. Air Force was playing a 
subordinate role to the U.S. Army, which led efforts on the 
ground. General LeMay had been arguing that airpower 
was the way to quell the insurgency, but his arguments had 
been falling on deaf ears. As LeMay geared up to use 
Zasloff’s RAND study in a new push with Secretary 
McNamara, a major incident and turning point in the war 
occurred. 

In the first week of August 1964, U.S. naval forces 
clashed with North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of 
Tonkin. It served as a casus belli, an act or event used to 
justify war. President Johnson went on national television, 
interrupting regular programming across the country to 
announce North Vietnamese aggression and request from 
Congress the authority to take military action. This was the 
official beginning of the Vietnam War. In a matter of days, 
Congress passed the ‘Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving 
President Johnson the authority to take whatever actions he 
Saw necessary, including the use of force. At the Pentagon, 
Zasloff’s study was now at the center of a perfect storm. On 
August 17, 1964, General LeMay sent a memorandum to 


General Earle “Bus” Wheeler, the chairman of the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff. “The best chance” for winning the war in 
Vietnam, LeMay wrote, was to choose ninety-four targets in 
North Vietnam already identified by the Pentagon as 
“crucial” to the communists and therefore necessary to 
destroy. Zasloff’s study, also sent to General Wheeler, was 
the centerpiece of LeMay’s argument. At the time, Zasloff 
had no idea. 

In Saigon, Zasloff and Donnell were getting close to the 
end of their prisoner of war study, the first of the Viet Cong 
Motivation and Morale Project reports for ARPA. The men 
had conducted 145 interviews over five months, in multiple 
CIA prisoner facilities. In December 1964, Guy Pauker flew 
to Saigon to help compile the information. In the downstairs 
mezzanine of the ARPA villa on Rue Pasteur, the three men 
labored for weeks to put together Zasloff and Donnell’s final 
report, which was fifty-four pages long. 

Once it was completed, the RAND analysts briefed 
General William Westmoreland, at MACV headquarters just 
down the street. The Vietcong insurgents, Zasloff and 
Donnell said, saw the Americans as invaders and would do 
anything they could to make them give up and leave. Ten 
years earlier, participants from the same movement had 
fought to kick the French out, and had succeeded. Now 
they were fighting for the same cause. The insurgency was 
not an insurgency to the locals, Zasloff and Donnell said. It 
was a nationalist struggle on behalf of the people of 
Vietnam. The insurgents saw themselves as being “for the 
poor,” the analysts said, and they saw the Americans as the 
villains, specifically “American imperialists and_ their 
lackeys, the GVN [Government of Vietnam].” Zasloff and 
Donnell said that in their POW interviews they had learned 
that very few fighters understood what communism meant, 
what it stood for. Hardly any of the Vietcong had even heard 
of Karl Marx. It was a fact that the Vietcong had patrons 
among the Chinese communists and that the same patrons 


had been helping the North Vietnamese, giving them 
weapons and teaching war-fighting techniques. But what 
the local people were after was independence. South 
Vietnamese peasants had aspirations, too. They wanted 
social justice, economic opportunity. And they wanted their 
land back—land that had been taken from them during 
dubious security operations like the Strategic Hamlet 
Program. That was what made the Vietcong tick, Zasloff and 
Donnell told General Westmoreland. 

Next, the men briefed General Maxwell Taylor, whom 
Johnson had made U.S. ambassador to Vietnam. After that, 
it was back to MACV headquarters to brief the senior staff, 
as well as the ARPA officials at the Combat and 
Development Test Center. In each facility, to each person or 
group of people, they said the same thing. The Vietcong 
were a formidable foe. They “could only be defeated at 
enormous costs,” Zasloff and Donnell said, “if at all.” 


Under the aegis of the Viet Cong Motivation and Morale 
Project, the Advanced Research Projects Agency sought to 
determine what made the Vietcong tick. But the agency did 
not want to hear that the Vietcong could not be defeated. 
Seymour Deitchman took the position that Zasloff and 
Donnell had gone off the rails, same as Hickey and Donnell 
had done with the Strategic Hamlet Program report a few 
years before. According to other RAND officers, Deitchman 
perceived the POW report as unhelpful. RAND needed to 
send researchers into the field whose reports were better 
aligned with the conviction of the Pentagon that the 
Vietcong could and would be defeated. Frank Collbohm 
took to the hallways of the RAND headquarters he was in 
charge of in Santa Monica. “I am looking for three senior, 
imaginative fellows to go over to Vietnam,” he said, and to 
get a handle on the chaos in Southeast Asia. He needed to 
replace Zasloff and was looking for a quality analyst to take 


over the Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Project. Collbohm 
found what he was looking for in a controversial nuclear 
strategist named Leon Gouré. 

Leon Gouré, born in Moscow in 1922, was a Sovietologist 
who loathed Soviet communism. He was born into a family 
of Jewish socialist intellectuals who were part of a faction 
called the Mensheviks, who came to be violently persecuted 
by the Leninists. When Gouré was one year old, the family 
went into exile in Berlin, only to flee again a decade later 
when Hitler became chancellor of Germany. The Gourés 
moved to Paris but in 1940 were again forced to flee. Gouré 
once told the Washington Post that his family left Paris on 
the last train out, and that only when he arrived in America 
did he finally feel he had a home. Gouré enlisted in the U.S. 
Army, became a citizen, and was sent back to Germany to 
fight the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge. As a member of 
the Counterintelligence Corps, America’s Army intelligence 
group, he became fluent in German and French. He also 
became a valuable interrogator, learning how to draw 
information out of captured prisoners, and to write 
intelligence reports. 

After the war, Gouré earned an undergraduate degree 
from New York University and a master’s degree from 
Columbia. In 1951 he became an analyst with RAND, and in 
no time he was working on post-nuclear war scenarios with 
the firm’s elite defense intellectuals, including Albert 
Wohlstetter and Herman Kahn. Gouré’s particular area of 
expertise was post-apocalypse civil defense, and in 1960 he 
traveled to Moscow on a civil defense research trip for 
RAND. In 1961 his findings were published as a book that 
caused a national outcry. 

Gouré claimed that during his trip to Moscow, he had 
seen firsthand evidence indicating that the Soviet Union 
had built a vast network of underground bunkers, which 
would protect the Russian people after a nuclear first strike 
against the United States. The Soviet action would 


inevitably be followed by a U.S. nuclear response. The 
concept of mutual assured destruction was based on the 
idea that the superpowers would not attack each other, 
provided they remained equally vulnerable to a nuclear 
strike. Gouré’s frightening premise suggested that the 
Soviet Politburo believed they could survive a nuclear war 
and protect the majority of their population as well. Like 
Albert Wohlstetter’s second-strike theory, Gouré’s findings 
suggested that since the Soviets believed they could 
survive, they might attempt a decapitating first strike. 
Gouré’s critics said his work was unreliable. That he 
hated Soviet communism with such passion that he was 
biased to the point of being blind. In December 1961 an 
article attacking Gouré’s work appeared in the New York 
Times under a headline that read “Soviet Shelters: A Myth 
or Fact?” Reporter Harrison E. Salisbury had taken a 
month-long trip across the Soviet Union, covering roughly 
twelve thousand miles. He said that he “failed to turn up 
evidence of a single Soviet bomb shelter,” and that the 
underground bomb shelters purported to have been built 
across Moscow were nothing more sinister than subway 
tunnels. He singled out “Leon Gouré, research specialist of 
the Rand Corporation,” who, Salisbury wrote, “has 
presented several studies contending that the Russians 
have a wide program for sheltering population and industry 
from atomic attack.” Salisbury had interviewed scores of 
Russians for his article and learned that Gouré’s reports 
had been “vigorously challenged by observers on the 
scene.” Close scrutiny of the alleged facts, wrote Salisbury, 
revealed that no shelters had been constructed. “Diplomats, 
foreign military attaches and correspondents who have 
traveled widely in the Soviet Union report that there is no 
visible evidence of a widespread shelter program.” The 
Gouré report, Salisbury suggested, served only one master, 
RAND’s single largest customer, the U.S. Air Force, in its 
quest for tens of millions more dollars from the Pentagon 


for its ever-growing bomber fleets. 

The acrimonious debate over the legitimacy of Gouré’s 
civil defense report raged for months and then subsided. 
Gouré disappeared from the headlines but continued to 
write reports for RAND. Now, as 1964 drew to a close, 
Frank Collbohm tapped Leon Gouré to replace Joseph 
Zasloff as the lead social scientist on the ARPA Viet Cong 
Motivation and Morale Project in Saigon. Zasloff saw this 
appointment as a disaster waiting to unfold. 

“Still, after fifty years, I get red in the face just thinking 
of what Leon Gouré did,” Zasloff said in 2014. Within a 
matter of weeks Gouré was in Saigon. And he was ready to 
take charge. 


In Saigon, stability and security were quickly deteriorating 
as chaos enveloped the city. On Christmas Eve, 1964, two 
Vietcong fighters drove a car packed with two hundred 
pounds of explosives into the underground parking garage 
beneath the Brink Bachelor Officers Quarters, a seven-story 
hotel leased by the Defense Department to provide housing 
for its officers in Saigon. The bomb demolished three floors 
of the building, killing two U.S. servicemen and injuring 
sixty-three Americans, an Australian Army officer, and forty- 
three Vietnamese civilians. 

Suddenly faced with the possibility that Saigon could fall 
to the Vietcong, Secretary of Defense McNamara pressured 
President Johnson to take action. On February 7, 1965, a 
limited bombing campaign called Operation Flaming Dart 
began. Eleven days later, Johnson ordered the Joint Chiefs 
of Staff to initiate Rolling Thunder I, the air campaign that 
General LeMay had been arguing for. On March 8, the 
Marines landed in the city of Da Nang. It was war. Officially 
now. 

Leon Gouré settled into the RAND Saigon villa previously 
occupied by the Zasloffs and got to work. His first report for 


the Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Project drew 
conclusions that were diametrically opposed to what Zasloff 
and Donnell had found. 

“By and large,” wrote Gouré, “Vietnamese farmers hold 
no strong political views.” Indeed, it was “the ideological 
apathy of the peasant” that allowed most Vietnamese to 
concentrate on “personal survival,” not political aspirations, 
Gouré wrote. The majority of the Vietnamese were neutral, 
he said, and unlike people from the West, they did not 
adhere to the democratic notion that “they have a real 
freedom of choice.” Gouré argued that bombing was the 
pathway to victory in Vietnam. Bombing weakened the 
morale of the Vietcong, he said. 

“Gouré gave the Pentagon exactly what the Air Force 
wanted to hear, about bombing [Vietnam],” Zasloff said. But 
to Zasloff, what was particularly egregious was that Gouré 
used the transcripts of Zasloff and Donnell’s prisoner 
interviews to draw his own conclusions. These conclusions, 
said Zasloff, “simply were not there.” Gouré did not 
interview any Vietcong prisoners on his own for his original 
report. 

In the winter of 1965, RAND’s Guy Pauker flew to 
Washington to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to sell 
an expanded idea for the Viet Cong Motivation and Morale 
Project, now being run by Leon Gouré. The premise, Pauker 
said, was to determine how best to “break the backbone of 
the VC [Vietcong] hard core.” In this new study, Gouré 
would interview Vietcong prisoners himself, and by doing 
so, he would best be able to determine the psychological 
effect that airpower and heavy weapons were having on the 
Vietcong. “Judicious exploration” of this concept, Pauker 
said, “offered considerable promise” about the way to win 
this war. The Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed, and the ARPA 
project was expanded. With no previous experience 
studying Southeast Asia, Leon Gouré, RAND’s leading 
Sovietologist and civil defense expert, was put in charge of 


the expanded Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Project. 

The villa at Rue Pasteur was now a regular meeting place 
for RAND anthropologists and social scientists working on 
various ARPA projects over the course of the long war. This 
group included Gerald Hickey, now back in Saigon to work 
on studies about how Special Forces worked with 
Montagnards and how Vietnamese beliefs in “cosmic 
forces” factored into the war. In his memoir, Hickey recalled 
how a rising star at the Pentagon named Dan Ellsberg 
regularly came around the RAND villa. Hickey had met 
Ellsberg the previous summer and was aware of his 
reputation as a brilliant Harvard economist who had 
written a fascinating paper on how diplomacy was similar to 
blackmail. Ellsberg was now working in Vietnam for the 
Defense Department, with the mysterious title of “special 
liaison” to the Pentagon. One particular evening with Daniel 
Ellsberg stuck in Hickey’s mind. 

“In November 1965, I was invited to have an informal 
dinner with Dan Ellsberg at his Saigon villa next to the 
heavily guarded villa of General Westmoreland,” Hickey 
recalled. “Dan was affable as we talked about many 
subjects relating to Vietnam, and then he produced a 
packet of photos taken on trips into the countryside with 
[Lieutenant Colonel] John Paul Vann. In the photographs he 
carried an automatic weapon, which he said he often fired 
into the thick foliage along the road where the Vietcong 
might be hiding. Talking about these trips,” recalled Hickey, 
“Dan became more excited by the bravado, the adventure, 
something I had seen in other such men (combattant 
manqué [frustrated fighter], the French called them) who 
came to Vietnam for reasons I could never understand.” 

Vietnam was a complicated, labyrinthine place to work 
and to live, with professionals serving many masters on 
many projects about whose real meaning they had no idea. 
This was the nature of classified defense work, with 
individual scientists and soldiers given but a sliver of the 


truth, just enough to be able to do the job without always 
knowing the reason behind it. Ellsberg’s bravado may not 
have made much sense to Hickey in 1965. In the fall of 
1972, things would become illuminated when Ellsberg took 
actions against the Pentagon that would force him to go 
underground as, for a time, the most wanted man in 
America. 


Leon Gouré continued to produce reports for ARPA, almost 
all of which promised the Pentagon that Vietcong fighters 
were rapidly losing motivation and morale. In “Some 
Impressions of Viet Cong Vulnerabilities: An Interim 
Report,” Gouré and co-author C. A. H. Thomson declared 
that Vietcong soldiers had become “discouraged and 
exhausted,” and that “life in the Viet Cong has become 
more dangerous and that the hardships are greater than in 
1964.” These findings, Gouré said, drew upon a record of 
450 interviews with Vietcong captives, “a body of evidence 
yielding more or less reliable impressions... of the Viet 
Cong’s current vulnerabilities.” Furthermore, wrote Gouré, 
Vietcong cadres had confided in him that they had lost 
hope. In recent months, as he put it, Vietcong “soldiers have 
spoken more often of their probable death in the next 
battle, of never seeing their families again.” There is no 
mention in these reports that Vietcong fighters also 
expressed a willingness to die for their nationalist cause. 
Instead, Gouré’s reports served as pithy endorsements for 
continued U.S. Air Force bombing campaigns. “Fear of air 
power,” Gouré promised, would “bring the VC to their 
knees.” 

In 1965 Leon Gouré became an advisor to Secretary 
McNamara. It was not unusual for him to be picked up at 
the RAND villa on Rue Pasteur and helicoptered to an 
aircraft carrier stationed off the coast of Vietnam, where he 
would brief field commanders on the studies that RAND 


was doing for ARPA and the Pentagon. When summoned to 
Washington, Gouré was treated with equal fanfare. The 
word among defense intellectuals was that President 
Johnson walked around the White House with a copy of 
Gouré’s findings in his back pocket. 

“When Gouré would return from Vietnam to [RAND 
headquarters in] Santa Monica, he would stay long enough 
to change shirts, then fly off to Washington to brief 
McNamara,” recalled Guy Pauker, who had begun to sour 
on the truthfulness of Gouré’s findings. For as much as 
Gouré was respected by the Pentagon and the White House, 
he was creating enemies inside RAND. Gouré’s undoing 
began in late 1965, when RAND’s work on the Viet Cong 
Motivation and Moral Project came under scrutiny by 
Congress. During a hearing before the Subcommittee on 
International Organizations and Movements, Congressman 
Peter H. B. Frelinghuysen demanded to know why the 
RAND Corporation had been hired to do so much work on 
the Vietcong when it seemed that what they were gathering 
was “Straight military intelligence.” That work “should be 
done by the military,” Frelinghuysen said, not “highly-paid 
consultants like Rand.” 

“As a matter of convenience, [we] gave the contract to 
the Rand Corporation, as an instrument of the military 
systems, to perform the study,” ARPA’s Seymour Deitchman 
said. ARPA did not want to send its own people into the field 
—people like Deitchman—because they were “heavily 
occupied with operational problems associated with the 
war, and would not have time to spend several months on 
these detailed questions—important as they were,” 
Deitchman explained. A think tank like Rand had the 
manpower, the expertise, and the time. 

Congressman Frelinghuysen did not agree. Not only was 
the work expensive, but also its conclusions were puerile, 
he said. He quoted from one of Gouré’s reports, calling the 
work so banal “it was something a child could have come up 


with.” 

Frelinghuysen’s accusations caught the attention of 
Senator J. William Fulbright, who in turn made himself 
familiar with Gouré’s reports and was appalled by what he 
saw as Gouré’s manipulation of prisoner of war interviews. 
“(We have] received reports of recent surveys conducted by 
the RAND Corporation and others concerning the attitudes 
of the Viet Cong defectors and prisoners,” Fulbright wrote 
to Secretary McNamara. It appeared to him that “those in 
charge of the project may have manipulated the results in 
such a way as to affect the results.” Senator Fulbright 
demanded that the entire RAND effort be reviewed. 

When McNamara assigned an Air Force officer to 
investigate, the Air Force found nothing wrong with the 
RAND work. But the national attention that Congress had 
directed at RAND made the corporation look bad. Despite 
RAND’s initial support of Leon Gouré, the controversy 
surrounding him could no longer be ignored. Gouré needed 
to be removed. RAND president Frank Collbohm sent 
analyst Gus Shubert to Saigon to take over the ARPA 
contract. Gouré was relieved of his duties while the Viet 
Cong Motivation and Morale Project continued on. By 1968, 
RAND analysts had conducted more than 2,400 interviews 
related to Vietcong fighters, which were typed up into 
62,000 pages of text and compiled into more than fifty ARPA 
reports. 

Leon Gouré was not alone in his downfall. William Godel, 
the man responsible for Project Agile to begin with, was 
arrested by the FBI in August 1964 on charges that he had 
siphoned ARPA monies into his own personal bank account. 
On December 16, a federal grand jury indicted Godel and 
two former Pentagon colleagues for defrauding the U.S. 
government and embezzling a total of $57,000 in Defense 
Department funds. Godel and his attorney worked hard to 
clear Godel’s name. Depositions were taken on his behalf 
from U.S. ambassador to Vietnam general Maxwell Taylor 


and others. A judge granted Godel permission to travel to 
Vietnam to take depositions from a Vietnamese general and 
Thai prince, but to no avail. At trial, the government 
produced 150 exhibits and a large number of eyewitnesses 
to testify against him. After eight days of testimony and ten 
hours of jury deliberation, William Godel was convicted on 
two counts of embezzlement and conspiracy to mishandle 
government funds. The judge ordered that he _ serve 
concurrent five-year prison terms on both counts. 

William Godel, war hero, spy, diplomat, and the architect 
of many of ARPA’s most controversial programs in Vietnam, 
including its counterinsurgency efforts and the Agent 
Orange defoliation campaign, was sent to a low-security 
federal correctional institution in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. 
His personal financial benefit from the embezzlement 
scheme was determined to have been $16,922, roughly 
$135,000 in 2015. 


CHAPTER ELEVEN 


The Jasons Enter Vietnam 


During the Vietnam War, the RAND Corporation handled 


soft science programs for the Advanced Research Projects 
Agency. For hard science programs, in fields characterized 
by the use of quantifiable data and methodological rigor, 
ARPA looked to the Jason scientists. The Jasons were an 
elite, self-selected club mostly of physicists and 
mathematicians interested in solving problems that seemed 
unsolvable to the rest of the world. All throughout the 
1960s, their only client was ARPA, which meant that all of 
their reports—the majority of which were classified secret, 
top secret, or secret restricted data (involving nuclear 
secrets)—wound up on the desk of the secretary of defense. 
The Jasons were quintessential defense scientists, following 
in the footsteps of John von Neumann, Ernest Lawrence, 
and Edward Teller. The core group, including Murph 
Goldberger, Murray Gell-Mann, John Wheeler, and William 
Nierenberg, had been closely intertwined, academically, 
since the Manhattan Project during World War II. In the 
early 1960s, the Jasons began expanding, bringing some of 
their Ph.D. students on board, including a young 
geophysicist named Gordon MacDonald. 

In the Jason scientists’ first four years they had 
performed scientific studies for ARPA covering some of the 
most esoteric problems facing the Pentagon, including high- 


altitude nuclear’ explosions, electromagnetic pulse 
phenomena, and particle beam lasers. Their reports had 
titles like “The Eikonal Method in Magnetohydrodynamics” 
(1961), “Radar Analysis of Waves by Interferometer 
Techniques” (1963), and “The Hose Instability Dispersion 
Relation” (1964). 

“We were interested in solving defense problems 
because they were the most challenging problems to solve,” 
Murph Goldberger explained in 2013 in an interview for 
this book, and for the first several years this was generally 
the case. Then came Vietnam. “The high goals set by the 
originators of the Jason concept were being met when the 
Vietnam War intervened,” said Gordon MacDonald, who 
joined the Jasons in the summer of 1963. “Murray Gell- 
Mann called to ask if I’d like to join Jason. I respected 
Murray a great deal,” and said yes to joining. The first year 
as a Jason, MacDonald recalled, “my contribution was 
principally related to [nuclear effects]—what happens to 
the ionosphere when you set off nuclear explosions, things 
of that sort.” But as individual Jasons became interested in 
Vietnam, so did the group. The first Jason to be very 
interested was Murray Gell-Mann. 

Gell-Mann was one of the most respected thinkers in the 
Jason group, and one of the most esoteric. In 1969 he would 
win the Nobel Prize in physics for his discovery of quarks, a 
subatomic particle the nature of which is far beyond the 
grasp of most people. But Gell-Mann’s areas of interest 
were also incredibly plebeian; he liked to think about things 
common to all men, including mythology, prehistory, and the 
evolution of human language. During the 1961 summer 
study in Maine, Gell-Mann led a seminar called “White 
Tiger.” It addressed the growing counterinsurgency 
movement in Vietnam from the standpoint of “tribal 
warfare.” This was well before any of the other Jason 
scientists were thinking about the Vietnam problem, 
Goldberger recalled. 


Gell-Mann had unsuccessfully tried to get the California 
Institute of Technology, where he was a professor, to open a 
department of behavioral sciences. To Gell-Mann, guerrilla 
warfare was a topic well worth examining. “Because he was 
intrigued, the Jasons became _ intrigued,” Goldberger 
recalled. “We thought, well, if the Jasons can understand 
the sociology behind counterinsurgency, perhaps the 
Vietnam problem” could be solved. And so in the summer of 
1964, ARPA asked the Jasons to conduct a formal summer 
study on Vietnam. William Nierenberg, a former Manhattan 
Project scientist, was chosen to lead the study, which was 
conducted in La Jolla. This was not the first time the Jasons 
examined what Goldberger called “the Vietnam problem,” 
but it was the first time they wrote a report about it. 

Murray Gell-Mann invited the revered war 
correspondent and political scientist Bernard Fall to come 
and speak to the Jason scientists that summer in La Jolla. In 
1964 Fall was considered one of the most knowledgeable 
experts on Southeast Asia. His book Street Without Joy, 
published in 1961, chronicled the brutal eight-year conflict 
between the French army and the Vietnamese communists, 
ending with the staggering defeat of the French at Dien 
Bien Phu. “Street Without Joy” was the name given by 
French troops to the communist-held stretch of road 
between the villages of Hue and Quang Tri. 

Fall had personal experience with insurgency and 
counterinsurgency groups. A Jew born in Vienna in 1926, 
he fled with his parents to Paris after the Nazis annexed 
Austria. Fall’s father joined the French resistance but was 
captured, tortured, and murdered by the Gestapo. Fall’s 
mother was deported to Auschwitz, then murdered in the 
gas chamber there. An orphan by the age of sixteen, Fall 
joined the French resistance and learned firsthand what a 
resistance movement was about. After France was liberated 
in 1944 he joined the French army, and after the war he 
worked as an analyst for the Nuremberg war crimes 


tribunals. Fall won a Fulbright scholarship and moved to 
America, where he was initially known as a scholar and 
political scientist. But wanting to see the guerrilla war in 
Indochina up close, he became a war reporter. Still a 
French citizen in the 1950s, he was allowed to travel 
behind enemy lines with French soldiers and reported from 
the battlefield. Bernard Fall knew what it was like to be a 
soldier. Soldiers and scholars alike admired him. He 
became a U.S. citizen and was one of the few Americans 
ever invited to Hanoi to interview Ho Chi Minh. 

Fall believed in and advocated for U.S. development of 
counterinsurgency tactics in Vietnam. Asymmetrical 
warfare was a formidable foe; Fall had seen it in person. At 
Dien Bien Phu, French forces had far more sophisticated 
weaponry, but the communist Viet Minh won the battle with 
the crafty use of shovels, a Stone Age tool. The communists 
literally dug a trench around French forces and encircled 
them. Then they brought in the heavy artillery and 
bombarded the French soldiers trapped inside. The battle 
of Dien Bien Phu marked the climactic end of the French 
occupation of Vietnam, and with the signing of the Geneva 
Accords, Vietnam was divided at the seventeenth parallel. 
Control of the North went to Ho Chi Minh, and control of 
the South went to Emperor Bao Dai, with Ngo Dinh Diem as 
prime minister. 

Fall believed that unless the Americans wanted to repeat 
what had happened to the French in Vietnam, their efforts 
had to match guerrilla warfare tactics in ingenuity. After 
Fall’s briefing, the Jasons wrote a report titled “Working 
Paper on Internal Warfare.” It has never been declassified 
but is referred to in an unclassified report for the Naval Air 
Development Center as involving a “tactical sensor system 
program.” The information in this report—the Jasons’ 
seminal idea of using “tactical sensors” on the battlefield in 
a counterinsurgency war—would soon become central to 
the war effort. In 1964 this was considered just too long- 


term an idea and it was shelved. 

Two and a half years after he participated in the Jason 
summer study in La Jolla, educating physicists and 
mathematicians about counterinsurgency warfare in 
Vietnam, Bernard Fall was killed by a land mine in Vietnam. 
With terrible irony, the place where Fall was killed was the 
same stretch of road that had given his book its title, Street 
Without Joy. Fall’s book would become one of the most 
widely read books among U.S. officers during the Vietnam 
War. In 2012 General Colin Powell, now retired, told the 
New York Times Book Review that Fall’s book was one that 
deeply influenced his thinking over the course of his career 
from a young soldier to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 
to secretary of state. “Street Without Joy, by Bernard Fall, 
was a textbook for those of us going to Vietnam in the first 
wave of President Kennedy’s advisors,” Powell said. 


The Jason scientists were expanding their work and 
commitment to the Vietnam War, and in the process, there 
was growing discord among them about how to proceed, 
specifically in the scientific gray area called social science. 
Some, like Murray Gell-Mann, saw _ promise _ in 
understanding human motivation. Others believed that 
using advanced technology was the only way to win the war. 
In Gordon MacDonald’s opinion, ingenuity needed to be 
applied across the board, including the use of weather as a 
weapon. Climate change is, and always has been, “a driver 
of wars,” he believed. Drought, pestilence, flood, and 
famine push people to the limits of human survival, often 
resulting in war for control over what few resources 
remain. With war escalating in Vietnam, the Pentagon 
sought new ways to use weather as a weapon. As a Jason 
scientist, MacDonald had a rare front-row seat at these 
events. Most of what occurred remains classified; but some 
facts have emerged. They come from the story of Gordon 


MacDonald, one of the most influential and _ least 
remembered defense science advisors of the twentieth 
century. 

Gordon MacDonald was born in Mexico in 1929. His 
father, a Scotsman, was an accountant at a Canadian bank 
in Mexico City. His mother, a secretary, worked in the 
American embassy down the street. His first passion was 
rocks, which he embraced as a child with the enthusiasm of 
a geologist until his childhood was shattered by illness. In 
the second grade, MacDonald contracted a mysterious 
disease that left him temporarily paralyzed in both legs and 
one arm. He had polio, an acute, virulent infectious disease 
that was not immediately diagnosable in Mexico in the 
1930s. He was transported by railcar to Dallas, where, like 
so many child polio sufferers, he was left alone in a hospital, 
feeling abandoned. This was “not a pleasant experience,” 
he confided to a fellow scientist in 1986, in a rare discussion 
about his childhood trauma. From _ tragedy springs 
inspiration. While recovering in the ‘Texas _ hospital, 
MacDonald developed two skills that would shape his life: 
reading everything made available to him, then discussing 
and debating the contents with a person of equal or greater 
intellect. 

“One very positive thing that came out of that 
[experience] was an uncle, Dudley Woodward,” who lived 
not far away from the hospital, MacDonald recalled. “He 
made it a practice of virtually every day coming by to see 
me.” Dudley Woodward was a man of many interests, an 
attorney who also served as chairman of the Board of 
Regents at the University of Texas. “He subscribed to the 
Dallas Morning News for me,” said MacDonald. “I would 
read the paper and be ready to discuss world events with 
him every morning. We did this every single day.” Gordon 
MacDonald was just nine years old. 

The young boy returned home to Mexico, but with an 
acute physical disability. For seven long years he could not 


attend school. “There was a gap in my education,” as he put 
it. “From second to ninth grade... I had taken my first years 
[of schooling] in a Mexican school, a church school, and 
then I had no formal education. I did a great deal of reading 
at home.” What his uncle Dudley Woodward had taught him 
in the hospital in Texas had sharpened his ability to learn 
without formal teaching. His mother also helped, through 
tutoring. Finally he was well enough to attend school again 
and “made the leap into high school.” In an understatement 
he added, “And I was able to do very well.” 

He left home for a military boarding school, San Marcos 
Baptist Academy, in rural Mexico, a day and a half away 
from Mexico City by train. School “was difficult with the 
disability.” He explained, “I still continued to suffer from 
physical deficiency, [while] trying to maintain standing with 
the corps of cadets.” San Marcos was a religious school, but 
it also had a football team. “My principal ambition was to 
overcome my physical defect, and so in the last year I was 
there, I played football, became a member of their starting 
team, and that I regarded as a very great achievement.” 
During summer vacations he worked at the American 
Smelting and Refining Company plant in San Luis Potosi, by 
the sea, where it was his job to collect ore samples in the 
field to bring back for study in the lab. During this time, he 
refined his interest in rocks to specific minerals and 
crystals. To keep current with world events, he listened to 
shortwave radio while he worked. In his junior year in high 
school, he decided to apply to Harvard University, and was 
accepted—on a football scholarship. 

The year was 1946, and Gordon MacDonald had never 
been out of Mexico, except when he was in the hospital in 
Texas. He took the train up from San Luis, stopping for a 
short stay with an aunt in New York City, never before 
having visited a city outside Mexico or ridden on a subway. 
Finally, he arrived at the Harvard University campus in 
Cambridge, Massachusetts. “By a very good fortune I had 


been placed in Massachusetts Hall, which is the oldest of 
the dormitories at Harvard, and my room was right over the 
room of Jim Conant, who was president [of Harvard].” Jim 
Conant was James Conant, the famous American chemist 
who had just returned from working on the Manhattan 
Project. “I got to know [Conant] very well later in life,” 
MacDonald said, but their first meeting was far more 
commonplace. “He made a point of letting [me] know I was 
living over his office, and to be appropriately quiet during 
the daytime hours.” 

MacDonald chose physics as a course of study but soon 
decided that Harvard had “miserable” physics teachers. “I 
began to see the difference between memory and 
understanding when it comes to difficult subjects,” he said, 
meaning that to learn facts by rote was one thing, but to 
understand concepts on a fundamental level required 
serious intellectual discipline. After six months of physics, 
he decided to shift his concentration to geology and math. 
Socially he struggled. Many students had matriculated from 
exclusive boarding schools—St. Paul’s, Andover, and Exeter 
—and coming from a Bible school in Mexico, he felt 
outclassed. Playing on the football team proved almost 
impossible, but he refused to give up and_ instead 
persevered. 

In his second year at Harvard, his interest in weather 
peaked during a confrontation with a visiting professor. The 
venerable Dr. Walter Munk, one of the world’s greatest 
oceanographers, was giving a seminar on the variable 
rotation of the earth and, as Munk later recalled, “how that 
was associated with a seasonal change in the high-altitude 
jet stream that had just been discovered.” So, “feeling 
reasonably secure that no one in the audience knew 
anything about this, I was surprised when a student in the 
first row interrupted [me] with rude comments about 
neglect of tides, variable ocean currents, and such like.” Dr. 
Munk was not amused and dismissed the student’s 


questions as inconsequential. The student was Gordon 
MacDonald. “Four years later I gave a much-improved 
account at MIT; there he was again sitting in the front row, 
complaining that I had not answered his questions of four 
years ago.” 

In 1950 MacDonald graduated summa cum laude from 
Harvard, the first ever to do so in the geology department. 
Despite his physical limitations, he managed to play football 
and row crew in intercollegiate scull racing. He was 
granted membership in Harvard’s legendary Society of 
Fellows, making him one of twenty-four scholars from 
around the world who were given complete freedom to do 
what they wanted to do, all expenses paid, for three years. 
He was the youngest fellow on record, and remains so to 
date. MacDonald traveled around the country and the 
world, returning to Harvard for a master’s degree in 1952 
and a Ph.D. in geology and geophysics in 1954. Some of his 
fondest memories of that period in his life were the so- 
called Monday night sherry dinners hosted by the Society of 
Fellows. During them, he enjoyed long discussions with 
physics giants like Enrico Fermi, with whom he discussed 
the earth’s rotation, its core, and its crust—still rather 
mysterious concepts in 1959. “And with Adlai Stevenson, 
who was a candidate for president, I talked about science 
policy,” said MacDonald. “I became aware that there was 
this much larger world, other than the world of rocks, 
minerals, and thermodynamic relationships.” Suddenly it all 
“sort of fitted together.” He wanted to learn everything he 
could about the geophysical world, but also about how 
those who inhabited it used science for their own benefit. 

His academic output was phenomenal. MacDonald was 
able to see, in ways other scientists before him had not, how 
elements of the earth were connected. “Paleontology is not 
distinct from astronomy,” he said. In an award from the 
American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1959, he was 
praised for his groundbreaking studies. His work, the 


academy declared, “brought together very distinct parts of 
geophysics: meteorology, oceanography, the interior of the 
earth, and astronomical observations about the earth’s 
rotation.” In 1958 he appeared on Walter Cronkite’s 
program The World Tomorrow, in the first-ever public 
discussion on American television about how man would 
soon be able to explore the moon. Then he became a 
consultant for the Pentagon, for ARPA, and for NASA. “I was 
very enthusiastic,” he said. “I felt we could learn a great 
deal about the earth by looking at the moon, and so I was 
eager to participate.” 

As passionate as MacDonald could become about earth 
sciences, he could also lose interest in a subject as quickly. 
By 1960, he said, “I was becoming more interested in the 
atmosphere, working on climate problems.” The University 
of California, Los Angeles, was developing a program in 
atmospheric science, and he accepted a position there as 
director of the Atmospheric Research Laboratory. At UCLA 
he found himself working on weather and the ionosphere. 
This led him to become interested in climate control. In 
1962 he was appointed to the National Academy of 
Sciences and its Committee on Atmospheric Sciences. In 
1963 MacDonald was elected chairman of the Panel on 
Weather and Climate Modification, which was part of the 
National Academy of Sciences. 

In 1963, weather modification was still legal. The job of 
the panel, MacDonald wrote, was “to take a deliberate and 
thoughtful review of the present status and activities in this 
field, and of its potential and limitations for the future.” The 
public was told that the National Academy of Sciences was 
investigating weather modification for “benign purposes 
only,” in areas that included making rain by seeding clouds. 
“There is increasing but somewhat ambiguous evidence 
that precipitation from some types of clouds and storm 
systems can be modestly increased and redistributed by 
seeding techniques,” MacDonald wrote in a 1963 report. 


At the same time, in his classified work, Gordon 
MacDonald was becoming deeply interested in weather 
modification. He told the Journal of the American Statistical 
Association: “I became increasingly convinced that 
scientists should be more actively engaged in questions of 
environmental modification, and that [the] federal 
government should have a more organized approach to the 
problem. While research could take place in both the public 
and the private sector, the government should take the lead 
in large-scale field experiments and monitoring, and in 
establishing appropriate legal frameworks for private 
initiatives.” 

At the Pentagon, where the uses of weather weapons 
were being explored, MacDonald had an additional job: 
serving as a scientific consultant. In the winter of 1965 
there was a feeling of “hesitancy” at the Pentagon about 
how to proceed in Vietnam, and by late fall, the feeling was 
moving toward what he called “complexity.” Secretary of 
Defense McNamara and his colleagues “were searching, 
almost desperately, for a means to contain the war,” 
MacDonald told an audience of fellow Jasons in 1984. In 
December 1965, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary 
of defense authorized ARPA to research and develop “forest 
fire as a military weapon” in Vietnam. 

The secret program, called Project EMOTE, was 
developed by ARPA, ostensibly to study the use of 
“environmental modification techniques.” It was conducted 
in partnership with the Department of Agriculture’s Forest 
Service, under ARPA Order 818. The central premise of the 
program was to determine how to destroy large areas of 
jungle growth by firestorm. Jungles are inherently damp 
and nonflammable. In order to modify the jungle’s natural 
condition to “support combustion,” ARPA scientists 
discovered that the lush jungle canopy had to be destroyed 
with chemicals before it would effectively burn to the 
ground. ARPA already had the arsenal of chemicals to do 


this, from its ongoing Project Agile defoliant campaign. The 
herbicides, varied in composition, were now being called 
Agent Orange, Agent Purple, Agent Pink, and other colors 
of the rainbow. Project EMOTE called for millions of gallons 
of Agent Orange to be sprayed in the forests as one element 
of the “weather modification campaign.” 

Since the earliest days of recorded history, forest fire has 
been used as a weapon, and the authors of the ARPA study 
quoted from the Bible to make this point. “The battle was 
fought in the forest of Ephraim; and the forest devoured 
more people that day than the sword,” they wrote, citing 2 
Samuel 18. In Vietnam, forests provided cover for the 
enemy, as they had since time immemorial. “Forests were a 
haven and refuge for bandits, insurgents and rebel bands,” 
the report stated. Leaders from “Robin Hood [to] Tito to 
Castro had learned to conduct’ successful military 
operations from forest lairs.” Chairman Mao boasted that 
insurgents were like “fish who swim in the sea of peasants,” 
but to the ARPA scientists working on weather modification, 
the insurgents were more like jungle cats, hiding in the 
forest to prey on unsuspecting villagers. “A recent study of 
VC [Vietcong] bases showed that 83 percent were located 
in the dense forest,” the report noted. Forests had served 
the enemy throughout history. Now, modern technology was 
working to put an end to that. 

In late March 1965, the 315th Air Commando Group 
conducted a firebombing raid, code-named Operation 
Sherwood Forest, “against” the Boi Loi Forest, twenty-five 
miles west of Saigon. Aircraft loaded with 78,800 gallons of 
herbicide sprayed Agent Orange over the jungle, after 
which B-52 bombers dropped M35 incendiary bombs. But it 
had rained earlier in the day and the experiment did not 
result in “appreciable destruction of forest cover,” as was 
hoped. ARPA postponed the next test until the height of the 
dry season, ten months later. Operation Hot Tip, on January 
24, 1966, mimicked the earlier raid but with slightly better 


results, mostly because there was no rain. 

The first full-scale operation occurred a year later, again 
at the height of the dry season, and was code-named 
Operation Pink Rose. This time, U.S. Air Force crews, flying 
specially modified UC-123B and UC-123K aircraft, sprayed 
defoliants on a first pass, then sprayed a chemical drying 
agent on a second pass. Next, the Air Force flew B-52 
bombers that dropped cluster bombs to ignite the 
chemicals. Targets included “known enemy base areas” and 
also village power lines. Short of “killing” the jungle and an 
unknown number of its inhabitants, and starting localized 
fires, no “self-sustaining firestorm” occurred. There were 
simply too many environmental factors at issue, ARPA 
scientists concluded. Rain and humidity consistently got in 
the way. 

One year later a secret operation, code-named Operation 
Inferno, was launched against the U Minh Forest, the 
Forest of Darkness. Instead of using defoliants, the Air 
Force flew fourteen C-130s low over the jungle canopy, 
pouring oil from fifty-five-gallon drums over each target 
area, four times. A forward air controller then ignited the 
fuel by sending white phosphorus rockets to each target. An 
intense inferno ignited and burned. But as soon as the fuel 
was consumed, the fire died down and went out. 

ARPA’s final 170-page report, originally classified secret, 
is kept in the Special Collections of the U.S. Department of 
Agriculture in Maryland. The report indicates that forest 
flammability depended primarily on two elements. One was 
weather, which could not be controlled. The other was “the 
amount of dead vegetation on or near the ground surface,” 
which scientists determined could be controlled. “Forest 
flammability can be greatly increased by killing all shrub 
vegetation, selecting optimum weather conditions for 
burning, and igniting fires in a preselected pattern,” ARPA 
scientists wrote. But to kill all shrub vegetation was too big 
a task even for ARPA, and the idea of using forest fire as a 


military weapon was shelved. 


As war in Vietnam widened, the Jason scientists were 
continuously consulted for hard science ideas about how to 
defeat the communist insurgents. In 1965 they were asked 
to focus on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Pentagon’s name for 
that system of 1,500 miles of roads and pathways that 
stretched from North Vietnam, through Laos and 
Cambodia, and down into South Vietnam. Some of the roads 
were wide enough for trucks and oxcarts; others were 
meant for bicycles and feet. The Defense Intelligence 
Agency (DIA) determined that each day some two hundred 
tons of weapons and supplies made their way down 
communist supply routes, from the North to the South, by 
way of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The trail contained storage 
depots, supply bunkers, underground command and control 
facilities, even hospitals. A top secret report by the National 
Security Agency, declassified in 2007, described the trail as 
“one of the great achievements in military engineering of 
the twentieth century.” 

Cartographers, geographers, and map designers briefed 
the Jason scientists on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and its terrain. 
The Jasons read the RAND prisoner of war transcripts, 
originally compiled by Joe Zasloff and John Donnell, to learn 
more about how things worked on the trail. ARPA’s Seymour 
Deitchman, still overseeing Project Agile at the Pentagon, 
sent the Jason scientists dozens of reports on the trail, 
Classified and unclassified. To Jason scientist William 
Nierenberg, the trail seemed almost alive, “an anastomosed 
structure,” he wrote, like a human body or a tree, a 
“network of interconnected channels,” like blood vessels or 
branches, which depended on one another to flow. The 
Pentagon wanted the Jasons to figure out how to sever the 
trail’s arteries. 

ARPA doubled the Jasons’ annual budget, from $250,000 


to $500,000, roughly $3.7 million in 2015, and the scientists 
began working on tactical technologies they thought might 
be useful in obstructing movement along the trail. At least 
three studies the Jasons performed during this time period 
remain classified as of 2015; they are believed to be titled 
“Working Paper on Internal Warfare, Vietnam,” “Night 
Vision for Counterinsurgents,” and “A Study of Data Related 
to Viet Cong/North Vietnamese Army Logistics and 
Manpower.” Because the contents are still classified, it is 
not known how they were received by Secretary 
McNamara. But according to Murph _ Goldberger, 
McNamara felt the ideas the Jasons were proposing would 
take too long to implement. “We did our studies based on 
the assumption of a relatively long war lasting several 
years,” he said, and the secretary of defense wanted more 
immediate results. So McNamara asked the Jason scientists 
to determine if it would be effective to use nuclear weapons 
to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail. 

The Jasons’ top secret restricted data report “Tactical 
Nuclear Weapons in Southeast Asia” remained classified 
until 2003, when the Nautilus Institute in Berkeley, 
California, obtained a copy under the Freedom of 
Information Act. “The idea had been discussed at the 
Pentagon,” said Seymour Deitchman in 2003, in response to 
the outrage the report created. Deitchman recalled that 
Secretary McNamara believed the Jason scientists were 
best equipped to decide if using nuclear weapons was a 
wise idea. “Mr. McNamara would have said, “There has 
been some talk about using tactical nuclear weapons to 
close the passes into Laos; tell me what you think of the 
idea,’” according to Deitchman, who says the Jasons were 
asked to determine “whether it made sense to think about 
using nuclear weapons to close off the supply routes [along] 
the Ho Chi Minh trail through Laos over which the supplies 
and people moved.” 

For a possible nuclear target, the Jasons focused on the 


Mu Gia Pass, a steep mountain roadway between Vietnam 
and Laos. Thousands of Vietcong, as well as weapons and 
supplies, moved through this pass, which the Jasons 
described as “a roadway carved out of a steep hillside, 
much like the road through Independence Pass southeast of 
Aspen, Colorado.” If nuclear weapons were to be used 
against the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the Jasons concluded, they 
should be tactical nuclear weapons, lightweight and 
portable like the Davy Crockett nuclear weapon, a mockup 
of which Herb York had transported from California to 
Washington, D.C., in his carry-on luggage aboard a 
commercial flight in 1959. 

But the Jason scientists calculated that use of nuclear 
weapons to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail would not be as 
easy as one might think. Indeed, “the numbers of TNW 
[tactical nuclear weapons] required will be very large over 
a period of time,” the Jason scientists wrote. “At least one 
TNW is required for each target, and the targets are mostly 
small and fleeting. A reasonable guess at the order of 
magnitude of weapons requirements... would be ten per 
day or 3000 per year.” The Vietcong were tenacious, the 
Jasons said, and it was likely that even if the pass were 
destroyed in a nuclear strike, the  battle-hardened 
communist fighters would simply create a new pass and 
new supply trails. As an alternative, the Jason scientists 
proposed dropping radioactive waste at certain key choke 
points along the trail, thereby rendering it impassable. But 
radioactivity decays, they explained, and the window of 
impassability would also pass. In the end, the Jasons argued 
against using tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam and Laos. 
They warned that if the United States were to use them, 
China and the Soviet Union would be more likely to provide 
similar tactical nuclear weapons from their own arsenals to 
the Vietcong and to the government of North Vietnam. “A 
very serious long-range problem would arise,” the Jasons 
warned, namely, “Insurgent groups everywhere in the 


world would take note and would try by all means available 
to acquire TNW [tactical nuclear weapons] for themselves.” 

The study was read by many at the Pentagon. Dropping a 
few thousand nuclear bombs was not an option, and the 
Jasons were told to come up with another idea to solve the 
Ho Chi Minh Trail problem. “We put our thinking caps on,” 
recalled Murph Goldberger, and got to work. Their next 
idea would totally revolutionize the way the U.S. military 
conducts wars. 


CHAPTER TWELVE 


The Electronic Fence 


Lieutenant Richard “Rip” Jacobs had a terrible nickname 


for someone who flew on combat missions in a war zone. 
“Rip” made many of the other fliers and crewmembers in 
VO-67 Navy squadron think of RIP “Rest in peace,” a 
phrase used after a person is dead. 

The real reason Jacobs was called Rip was because of a 
mishap in high school, just a few years before, in Georgia. “I 
stepped on this girl’s dress at a high school dance and I 
accidentally tore it,” Rip Jacobs explains. “Then I kind of got 
the nickname.” 

Now it was February 27, 1968, and Rip Jacobs, age 
twenty-four, stood on the tarmac of the Nakhon Phanom 
Royal Thai Air Base in Thailand, eighteen miles from the 
border with Vietnam. Jacobs was preparing for a highly 
Classified mission he knew very little about, other than that 
it involved dropping high-technology sensors mounted on 
racks beneath an OP-2E Neptune armed reconnaissance 
aircraft onto the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He was part of Lucky 
Crew Seven, and today’s assigned target was in 
Khammouane Province, in Laos, about fifteen miles 
southwest of the Ban Karai Pass. This was deeply held 
enemy territory. Jacobs had been on twelve missions like 
this, but recently things had gotten bad. 

Six weeks before, on January 11, 1968, Crew Two was 


lost. Nine men KIA. Killed in action. Bodies not recovered. 
They had left early in the morning on a sensor-dropping 
mission. Their aircraft lost radio and radar contact at 9:57 
a.m., and they never returned to base. “It didn’t cross my 
mind they wouldn’t come back,” Jacobs remembered in 
2013. The men had left on an ordinary mission that 
morning, same as they always did. They even had the Crew 
Two mascot with them, a black-and-white puppy everyone 
called Airman Snoopy Seagrams. “It got somewhat routine. 
Then word spread. ‘Crew Two down.’ No parachutes, no 
beeper. No Jolly Greens,” meaning search and rescue 
Crews. 

On February 17, a similar thing had happened. Crew 
Five was lost. They had completed the first target run. 
During the second run, one of the escort aircraft reported 
the OP-2E Neptune’s starboard engine had been hit and 
was on fire. During the last radio transmission, one of the 
Neptune pilots was heard saying, “We’re beat up pretty 
bad.” Then nothing after that. Nine men KIA. Bodies not 
recovered. No beepers, no parachutes, no Jolly Greens. The 
area was filled with Vietcong. 

On this morning, February 27, 1968, Crew Seven 
consisted of nine men—eight crew and a commander. Navy 
captain Paul L. Milius would be flying the aircraft. Navy 
airmen like Rip Jacobs knew well enough to stay focused 
and cheerful, but at times a foreboding crept in. This was 
mission number thirteen. Jacobs checked his flight suit. 
Checked his gear. Checked the rack of technology that was 
the centerpiece of the mission. 

Each mission was different, depending on the technology. 
Sometimes the OP-2E Neptunes had to fly in low and level 
over the trail, as was the case when crews were dropping 
listening devices called acoubuoys. Each sensor was 
jettisoned from the aircraft with its own small parachute 
attached. Aircraft needed to fly low on these missions 
because too much altitude raised the likelihood that the 


parachute lanyards would get tangled up in too much air 
and fail to emplace themselves in the canopy of trees. But 
flying low and level made them an easy target for the 
Vietcong antiaircraft guns that were so prevalent along the 
trail. 

Other missions involved sensors that had to be dropped 
from a higher altitude, around five thousand feet. This was 
the case with Crew Seven’s mission today. They would be 
dropping Air Delivered Seismic Intrusion Detectors, or 
ADSIDs. The seismic devices were made by Sandia weapons 
laboratory for ARPA and were based on_ technology 
developed for an earlier ARPA program, Vela Hotel, which 
involved ground sensors for detecting nuclear tests. The 
ADSID sensors were approximately two and a half feet long 
and five inches in diameter. Each one looked like a 
miniature missile, or a large dart, with tail spikes that were 
released outward once the ADSID was lodged firmly in the 
ground. ADSIDs were designed to penetrate the earth from 
a high speed and to be deployed from the OP-2E without a 
parachute. 

Standing on the tarmac preparing for the mission, Rip 
Jacobs was ready. He double-checked his parachute. Then 
he climbed aboard the aircraft. 

Crew Seven left the tarmac on time. Roughly an hour 
into the mission, Captain Milius reported his position not far 
from the Ban Karai Pass. Rip Jacobs was standing near the 
deck hatch, observing ordnance drops. Ensign Tom Wells 
was seated in a well-armored chair, with his face in the 
Norton bombsite, calling out coordinates when suddenly 
the aircraft was engulfed in flames. “That’s how it 
happens,” Wells explained in 2013. “You’re flying fine, then 
wham, you're hit.” 

An antiaircraft projectile fired by the Vietcong had come 
up through the bottom skin of the airplane and exploded in 
the radar well. “Now everything was on fire,” Wells 
recalled. “I grabbed the fire extinguisher next to the 


hydraulic panel, but it was on fire. It burned the skin off my 
hands.” In a matter of seconds the flight deck area was 
filled with dense, dark smoke. 

Lieutenant Barney Walsh, the co-pilot, climbed out of his 
seat and started to make his way to the back. “We couldn’t 
control anything” in the cockpit, he says. “I’m yelling ‘Get 
out!’ That was the only choice. That was it.” Someone else 
hollered, “Hatch open, parachutes ready to go!” 

There was blood everywhere. In the chaos, Rip Jacobs 
tried to ascertain what was going on. Then he realized Petty 
Officer John F. Hartzheim, an avionics technician, had been 
hit badly. 

“He wasn’t wearing his parachute,” Wells says. 

“He had taken it off because it was so hot,” Jacobs 
explains. “He was bleeding badly. Mortally wounded. I 
thought about trying to get a parachute on him. The smoke 
and flames were so intense. The G-forces. I was standing in 
a pool of [Hartzheim’s] blood and I slipped and fell down on 
the floor. The plane was going down. In your mind you’re 
saying, ‘With the last crew, nobody got out.’” 

Someone hollered again. “Parachutes, get ready. Go!” 

Rip Jacobs turned to the deck hatch. He jumped out of 
the burning airplane and began to fall. He pulled his 
ripcord. The chute opened. What happened after that he 
can’t get his memory to recall. Time passed. Was he dead? 
After a while he realized he had landed in a tree. 

“T was alive. Everything hurt. Back. Legs. I looked down 
and I was covered in blood.” The way he had landed in the 
tree canopy, his body was parallel to the ground. The 
parachute lanyards had wrapped around him in a way that 
made it impossible for him to wriggle free. “Did I remember 
to hit my locator button when I was falling through the air?” 
He asked himself this question again and again. 

He tried to reach the button with his chin. It was out of 
reach. 

“T was pretty sure I’d set off my locator button,” Jacobs 


recalls. “But what if I didn’t? What if I hadn’t activated the 
locator? I’d die up here. What if no one knows where I am?” 

Then a worse thought. He heard sounds. The 
unmistakable sound of gunfire. Single shots. One after the 
next. Getting closer. There were Vietcong on the ground 
looking for VO-67 crewmembers who had made it out of the 
burning airplane they had just shot down. More gunfire. 
What if the Vietcong spotted him up here in this tree? 

“T had to be real quiet,” Jacobs recalls. “Every time I 
tried to move at all, all the dead stuff around me fell to the 
ground.” During missions, there were F-4 Phantom fighter 
jets that protected the OP-2E Neptunes from any 
approaching enemy MiGs. “One [F-4] flew over the top of 
my head. Did he see me?” Three, maybe four hours passed. 
“Tt felt like eternity.” 

Suddenly, Rip Jacobs heard the faint sound of a 
helicopter. Or was he imagining things? Then he was 
certain. He was hearing the unmistakable sound of 
helicopter blades. A Jolly Green. He saw it in the distance. A 
rescue team. Then a crushing thought. “What if it didn’t see 
me? What if it was out searching a wide area?” If he hadn’t 
hit his locator button, no one would know he was here in 
this tree. 

And then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the 
helicopter slow down. Slower. Closer. The Jolly Green was 
hovering overhead. 

Out of the helicopter came a Pararescue crewman. The 
man was sitting on a little seat attached to a metal cable. 
The cable got longer and the man got closer as he was 
lowered down to where Rip Jacobs was tangled up in the 
tree. 

“He reached out to me. I saw his two arms. Then he 
folded down this little seat next to his seat. He pulled out a 
knife and cut me from the shroud lines.” 

Rip Jacobs climbed onto the seat beside the Pararescue 
crewman. “I never talked to him. The helicopter was 


deafening. We were extremely high up. Adrenaline was 
pumping through my body. I was covered in blood.” Jacobs 
was pulled into the Jolly Green. “There were medical people 
inside. They told me I was bleeding badly, but mostly I was 
covered in Hartzheim’s blood.” 

The Jolly Green made its way back to Nakhon Phanom Air 
Base. Once the helicopter touched down, hundreds of 
people swarmed out onto the tarmac. It seemed like 
everyone from the VO-67 Navy squadron was there. It was 
overwhelming, Jacobs recalled. “To go from that terrified to 
that relieved.” He was taken into a room for a debriefing. 
Hartzheim had died in the aircraft. Captain Milius was MIA, 
missing in action. Everyone else made it out alive and was 
rescued by now. “An Air Force officer started asking me a 
lot of questions. It took a moment to register that he was 
asking about the sensor devices. The devices were laid out 
in a string, with timing. He kept asking about the devices. I 
kept thinking I could care less about where those things 
went right now. But he kept talking about the devices. It 
was absurd.” 

At the time, Rip Jacobs had no idea that the sensor 
technology program he was part of was the highest-priority 
program of the war. He had no idea that the top secret 
program had cost well over $1 billion to bring from 
conception to fruition. Or that it was the brainchild of the 
Jason scientists—an idea they had come up with less than 
two years before, during a Jason summer study in Santa 
Barbara in 1966. 

The Jasons called their idea the “Anti-Infiltration Barrier.” 
The Pentagon gave it a series of code names as it 
transitioned from theory to reality. First it was called 
Project Practice Nine, then Illinois City, then Dyer Marker, 
then Igloo White and Muscle Shoals. After the war was over 
and parts of the program were made public, it would 
become known—and often ridiculed—as McNamara’s 
electronic fence. 


The electronic fence idea was born in the summer of 1966, 
shortly after the Jason scientists completed the study about 
whether or not the Pentagon should use nuclear weapons to 
cut off weapons traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The 
Defense Department was desperately seeking new ways to 
win the Vietnam War. The bombing campaigns were failing. 
ARPA’s Project Agile was having no effect on the communist 
insurgency. Weather warfare wasn’t working. Nuclear 
weapons were not an option. Soon there would be 385,000 
U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam. And yet despite 
these numbers and the efforts of so many involved, Ho Chi 
Minh’s men and matériel kept pouring down the Ho Chi 
Minh Trail in a steady, unrelenting stream. 

Secretary McNamara wanted an unassailable solution, 
and he looked to the Jason scientists to help figure out a 
way to sever the trail’s arteries. Their idea involved 
creating a series of electronic barriers across major access 
routes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, so-called “denial fields,” 
running through central and eastern Laos, into Vietnam. 
The Jasons proposed to bug the battlefield so as to be able 
to “hear” what was happening on the trail, then send in 
strike aircraft to bomb Vietcong troops and truck convoys 
on the move. 

As ARPA’s’ head of counterinsurgency, Seymour 
Deitchman organized the Jason summer study and then 
flew out to Santa Barbara to oversee efforts. Secretary 
McNamara personally made sure that General Maxwell 
Taylor and William Sullivan, the U.S. ambassadors to 
Vietnam and Laos, traveled to Santa Barbara to brief the 
Jasons on the Pentagon’s electronic barrier idea. The 
ambassadors’ presence that summer underscored just how 
badly the Pentagon needed the concept to work, even if the 
diplomats thought privately that the fence was a foolish 
idea. “Secretary McNamara asked me if I would go out with 
General Taylor, to talk to the Jason group out at Santa 
Barbara, where they were working on some electronics,” 


Ambassador Sullivan later recalled. “Neither Taylor nor | 
thought very much of it. My expectations of it were never 
very high.” 

The electronic fence had two faces, one public and one 
classified. The program that the public would be told about 
was a physical fence or barrier that was being constructed 
by the Pentagon to disrupt traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. 
This fence would be built by Army engineers and guarded 
by Army soldiers. “A mechanical barrier built of chain link 
fencing, barbed wire, guard towers, and a no-man’s land,” 
as Jason scientist William Nierenberg later described it. But 
the secret fence the Jason scientists were to design 
required no soldiers to keep guard. Instead, high- 
technology sensors would be covertly implanted along the 
trail. 

Since their creation in 1960, the Jason scientists had 
been involved in many of the most classified sensor 
programs ARPA initiated, including the Navy’s development 
of sonobuoys and magnetic detectors, Sandia’s 
development of seismic sensors, and the Army’s 
development of infrared sensors. Now, during the 1966 
summer study, the Jason scientists developed a plan to fuse, 
or merge, various sensor technologies and to make them 
work together as a system, borrowing anti-submarine 
warfare tactics used by the Navy. Except instead of listening 
for Soviet submarines in a vast ocean expanse, the anti- 
infiltration barrier would listen for Vietcong fighters in a 
sea of jungle trails. 

The prototype for the Santa Barbara summer study was 
ARPA Study No. 1, also called Project 137, which had taken 
place at the National War College at Fort McNair in 
Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1958. This time, in 
Santa Barbara, the scientists lived in University of 
California dormitories looking out over the Pacific Ocean. In 
the mornings, they gathered in a university lecture hall for 
daily briefings. They wrote reports in the afternoon and 


gathered together again in the evening for dinner and to 
share ideas. They studied history’s great barriers and walls 
built over the previous two thousand years, from the walls 
around Jerusalem, to the Great Wall of China, to the Nazis’ 
Siegfried Line. During breaks, Murph Goldberger recalled 
playing tennis. The particle physicist Henry Kendall surfed 
in the Pacific waves. The nuclear physicist Val Fitch and the 
experimental physicist Leon Lederman took long walks 
around the campus grounds. It was an interesting idea, this 
electronic fence. But could it be done? 

The Jasons produced a classified study called Air- 
Supported Anti-Infiltration Barrier. In it, they concluded 
that an electronic fence could in fact be built across and 
along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The barrier would be 
constructed of the most advanced sensors available in the 
United States, including audio and seismic sensors, but also 
thermal, electromagnetic, and chemical sensors designed to 
detect fluctuations in body heat, engine heat, and even 
scent. Initially, these sensors would be implanted along the 
trail by being dropped out of aircraft, like the OP-2E 
Neptune, flying low over the trail. Some of the small, 
camouflaged sensor packages would be carried down to the 
ground by small parachutes, while others would be 
jettisoned into the earth like spears. The idea was that 
enemy troops moving down the trail would trigger these 
sensors with movement or sound. The sensors would in turn 
relay the information to overhead reconnaissance and 
surveillance aircraft, which would in turn relay the 
information to the “brain” of the program—a room full of 
computers inside a highly classified Infiltration Surveillance 
Center, most likely at a U.S. air base in Thailand. 

Computers would play a key role, the Jason scientists 
imagined. The machines would analyze and interpret the 
sensor data. Technicians would then use the information to 
pinpoint the exact locations of communist fighters, trucks, 
and other transport vehicles, including bicycles and oxen 


carts. Military commanders would then dispatch aircraft to 
drop SADEYE cluster bombs on jungle fighters moving 
down the trails. These unguided, or “dumb,” bombs each 
carried a payload of 665 one-pound tennis-ball-sized BLU- 
26B fragmentation, or “frag,” bombs, each with a delay fuse 
that allowed the submunitions to blow up just above the 
ground, spraying razor-sharp steel shards in a kill radius of 
roughly eight hundred feet. Jason scientist Richard Garwin, 
a nuclear physicist and ordnance expert who, years before, 
helped design the Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb, held a 
seminar on the SADEYE cluster bomb and other munitions 
that would be most effective when accompanying the 
sensors on the trail. The Jason scientists determined that 
the trail should be seeded with button bomblets, small, 
“aspirin-size” mini-bombs designed to make a firecracker- 
like noise when stepped on, thereby triggering the air- 
dropped acoustic sensors. Two anti-truck bombs were also 
included in the design, coin-sized “Gravel mines,” and 
larger land mines called Dragontooth mines, so named 
because they looked like giant teeth. These anti-truck 
bombs were designed to damage vehicle tires, which would 
slow convoys down and give strike aircraft more time to hit 
their targets. When stepped on they were powerful enough 
to remove a person’s foot. 

The electronic fence concept was a colossal undertaking 
with many moving parts. The Jason scientists were very 
specific regarding the numbers of bombs it required: “20 
million Gravel mines per month; possibly 25 million button 
bomblets per month; 10,000 SADEYE-BLU-26B clusters per 
month,” the sum total of which made up “by far the major 
fraction [of what] has been estimated to be about $800 
million per year” in operational costs alone. “It is difficult to 
assess the likely effectiveness of an air-supported barrier of 
this type,” the Jasons concluded in their written report. “We 
are not sure the system will make the [trail] nearly 
impenetrable, but we feel it has a good claim of being the 


foundation of a system that will, over the years.” Finally, a 
prescient warning: “We see the possibility of a long war.” 

With the work complete, the summer study came to an 
end. On September 1, 1966, Goldberger, Deitchman, and 
several other Jasons flew to the Pentagon to brief Secretary 
McNamara on their final proposal for an electronic fence. 
The projected costs had risen to roughly one billion to get 
the fence up and running, they said, and it could be 
constructed in about a year and a half. McNamara was 
impressed. 

Meanwhile, that same summer, Secretary McNamara 
had assembled a second group of scientists on the east 
coast—made up of Jason scientists and non-Jason scientists 
from Harvard and MIT—also working on the electronic 
fence idea. This group, called Jason East, conducted its 
work on the campus of Dana Hall, a girls’ school in 
Wellesley, Massachusetts. The two study groups were given 
similar information, classified and unclassified, and came up 
with likeminded ideas about what would work best on this 
fence project and why. Pleased with both sets of results, 
McNamara merged the two studies into one. 

A second briefing took place on September 6, 1966, this 
time at the Cape Cod summer home of Jason East member 
Jerrod Zacharias. Secretary McNamara, Assistant 
Secretary of Defense John McNaughton, and Director of 
Defense Department Research and Engineering John 
Foster (who, like his predecessors Herb York and Harold 
Brown, had served as director of the Livermore laboratory 
before working at the Pentagon as the liaison between 
ARPA and the secretary of defense) helicoptered in to the 
meeting on Cape Cod. Gordon MacDonald represented the 
Jason group at the secret briefing. “The occasion was highly 
informal,” he remembered, in one of the only known written 
recollections of the meeting. “Maps were spread out on the 
floor, drinks were served, a dog kept crossing the 
demilitarized zone as top secret matters were discussed. 


Even though the subject was the Jason study, I was the only 
Jason present.” Seymour Deitchman did most of the talking. 
“It was, you know, a typical social occasion,” MacDonald 
recalled, except the participants were “just... deciding the 
next years of the Vietnam War.” 

But at the Pentagon, McNamara’s electronic fence idea 
was belittled by most of the generals. When McNamara 
sent the final Jason study to General Earle Wheeler and the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff for review, they rejected the idea. 
General Wheeler thought it was too expensive and feared it 
would pull valuable resources away from the front lines. 
“The very substantial funds required for the barrier system 
would be obtained from current Service resources thereby 
affecting adversely important current programs,” General 
Wheeler wrote in his response. Admiral Ulysses Sharp, 
commander in chief of the Pacific Command (CINCPAC), 
saw the entire construction effort as “impractical.” The 
Joint Chiefs felt that McNamara’s electronic fence idea 
would require too much time and treasure, and relied too 
heavily on technology, some of which did not yet exist. “It 
[is] CINCPAC’s opinion that maintenance of an air 
supported barrier might result in a dynamic ‘battle of the 
barrier,’ and that the introduction of new components into 
the barrier system would depend not only on R&D and 
production capability, but would also depend on the 
capability to place the companions in the right place at the 
right time.” It was simply too complicated—not just to 
implement but to create. “CINCPAC concluded that even if 
the US were to invest a great deal of time, effort, and 
resources into a barrier project, it was doubtful that such a 
barrier would improve appreciably the US position in RVN 
[the Republic of Vietnam].” The commander of Military 
Assistance Command, Vietnam, kept his opinion succinct: 
“It is necessary to point out that I strongly oppose 
commitment to create and man a barrier.” 

On September 15, 1966, McNamara reviewed the 


negative opinions from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the 
commander in chief of the Pacific, and others, and 
overruled them. The secretary of defense had the authority 
to move ahead with the electronic fence with or without the 
support of his military commanders, and he did, with the 
classification of top secret. That same day McNamara 
appointed Lieutenant General Alfred D. Starbird head of 
Joint Task Force 728. Starbird, an Army officer, was a 
favorite of the secretary of defense. He knew how to handle 
highly classified, highly sensitive military projects that 
involved thousands of people and billions of dollars. 
Starbird had overseen the nuclear detonations in space, 
code-named Checkmate and Bluegill Triple Prime, during 
the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now he was in 
charge of developing the barrier and overseeing its 
deployment in the war theater. He had an impossible 
deadline of one year. 

General Starbird was a master bureaucrat, soldier, 
government advisor, and engineer. Fast and thorough, he 
was a consummate athlete with a brilliant mind. He’d 
competed in Hitler’s Olympics in 1936, in the pentathlon. 
After serving in World War II, Starbird had served in 
Europe as director of the Army’s Office of the Chief of 
Engineers. During the development of the hydrogen bomb, 
he served as director of Military Applications for the Atomic 
Energy Commission, acting as liaison between the Defense 
Department and the AEC. He had a photographic memory 
and never lost his cool. 

Joint Task Force 728, also called the Defense 
Communications Planning Group, was in charge of 
planning, preparing, and executing the electronic fence. 
Starbird got to work immediately, acquiring space at the 
U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., as_ his 
headquarters in the United States. He began outlining 
projects, designating assignments, and creating schedules. 
For his Scientific Advisory Committee, Starbird hired seven 


of the fifteen Jason scientists who had worked on the 
original Santa Barbara summer study, including Murph 
Goldberger and Gordon MacDonald. A skillful diplomat, 
Starbird pulled together leaders from the four services. He 
had an enormous task in front of him, just the kind of 
operation he was used to. Technology, munitions, aircraft, 
ground systems, and “high-speed” computers. In October, 
McNamara and Starbird traveled to Vietnam to meet with 
field commanders. When McNamara returned, he briefed 
President Johnson on the barrier program, officially, for the 
first time. On January 12, 1967, the classified National 
Security Action Memorandum No. 358 gave the top secret 
electronic fence, then code-named Project Practice Nine, 
the “highest national priority” for expenditures and 
authorization. For reasons not explained, Walt Rostow 
signed for the president of the United States. Starbird had 
a billion dollars at his disposal and the authority to get the 
electronic fence up in one year’s time. The program was the 
single most expensive high-technology project of the 
Vietnam War. It is nothing short of astonishing that the VO- 
67 Navy squadron was actually flying combat missions one 
year later, in January 1968. 


A few months before the sensor-dropping missions began, 
General Starbird decided that he needed a liaison in 
Saigon, someone who could keep an ear to the ground 
inside CIA prisons and detention facilities to determine if 
the Vietcong had gotten word about what the U.S. military 
was planning on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was hard to find a 
qualified person. Starbird asked around at ARPA and was 
referred to RAND’s George Tanham, who in turn referred 
Starbird to Leon Gouré. After having been embarrassed 
during congressional hearings on the spurious nature of 
ARPA’s Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Project, Gouré had 
been keeping a low profile at RAND. Now General Starbird 


wanted Gouré to take the lead on an important new ARPA 
study for the Defense Communications Planning Group, this 
time related to the highly classified electronic fence project. 
With a new contract in place, in August 1967 Gouré 
returned to Saigon to conduct interviews with Vietcong 
prisoners being held in secret CIA prisons. According to 
Gouré, the enemy had not heard a thing about Americans 
building a high-technology fence. 


McNamara’s electronic fence, which the Jasons called an 
“anti-infiltration barrier,” was constructed along the Ho Chi 
Minh Trail, at a cost of $1.8 billion, roughly $12 billion in 
2015. It had very little effect on the outcome of the Vietnam 
War and did not help the United States achieve its aim of 
cutting off enemy supplies. Most of the failures were 
technology-based. Sensors were temperature sensitive, and 
in the extreme heat of the jungle, batteries drained quickly 
and sensors went dead. The VO-67 aircrews were often 
unable to place sensors accurately along the trail. In 1968 
there was no such thing as advanced laser-guided 
technology. Rip Jacobs and his fellow Navy airmen relied on 
an electrical device called a “pickle switch” to release 
sensors from the OP-2E Neptunes, hoping they would land 
where they were supposed to along the trail. Instead, many 
sensors landed hundreds, sometimes thousands, of feet 
away. But far-reaching seeds were sown. 

Gradually, commanders changed their opinions about 
McNamara’s electronic fence. In 1969, speaking to 
members of the Association of the U.S. Army at a luncheon 
at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., retired 
four-star general William Westmoreland, former 
commander of U.S. military operations in Vietnam, spoke of 
the power of the electronic fence. “We are on the threshold 
of an entirely new battlefield concept,” Westmoreland told 
his audience of former soldiers. “I see battlefields on which 


we can destroy anything we locate through instant 
communications and the almost instantaneous application 
of a lethal firepower.” 

In 1985, during a banquet to celebrate the twenty-five- 
year anniversary of the Jason program, Gordon MacDonald 
discussed how profound a moment in history the 
development of the barrier concept had been. “The most 
important element of the barrier study was its definition of 
a system concept,” he said. Tiny sensors covertly placed in a 
war zone acted like eyes, ears, and fingertips on the 
ground, then relayed information back to a computer 
system far away, which filtered and analyzed it for a 
commander who would in turn decide what tactical action 
to take next. This was the first time anyone thought of 
creating a “system of systems,” MacDonald observed. It 
gave birth to the “basic concept of unmanned sensors 
gathering tactical intelligence to be used for managing the 
delivery of munitions.” As John von Neumann first 
imagined, and J. C. R. Licklider later discussed, this was the 
first truly symbiotic relationship between man and machine 
and the battlefield. 

The electronic fence had initially been dismissed by a 
majority of defense officials, who saw it as newfangled 
gadgetry. But by the 1980s, the concept of the fence would 
be reinterpreted as visionary. And by the 1990s, the 
electronic battlefield concept would begin _ its 
transformation into the most revolutionary piece of military 
technology of the twentieth century, after the hydrogen 
bomb. 

In a summary of the work performed by VO-67 Navy 
squadron, whose crewmembers dropped electronic sensors 
along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, U.S. Air Force colonel Warren 
H. Peterson wrote a top secret cable and a sixty-four-page 
report for the commander in chief. “It is worth observing 
that the program itself was visionary,” Colonel Peterson 
said. “From its outset, [the electronic battlefield concept] 


combined extremes of the technically sophisticated with the 
amazingly primitive. How would an ordinary, reasonably 
educated layman, for instance, be likely to react when told 
of a system that proposed to detect enemy troops moving 
along jungle trails, but using modern electric acoustic 
detectors, which had to be activated by the detonations of 
firecrackers which the troops were expected to step on? Yet 
it must be remembered that this report covers only the 
stone age of what may be a long era of development.” 

Colonel Peterson could have been speaking about ARPA 
as a whole, about what it was doing and what it would do. 
The agency was growing used to taking old technologies 
and accelerating them into future ways of fighting wars. By 
the twenty-first century the electronic battlefield concept 
would be ubiquitous. 


CHAPTER THIRTEEN 


The End of Vietnam 


The downfall of the Jason scientists during the Vietnam 


War began with a rumor and an anonymous phone call to 
Congress. On February 12, 1968, Carl Macy, the staff 
director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 
received a tip saying that the committee should look into 
why the Pentagon had sent a nuclear weapons expert, Dr. 
Richard Garwin of Columbia University, to Vietnam. The 
battle of Khe Sanh was raging, the tipster said, and rumor 
had it that the Pentagon was considering the use of nuclear 
weapons against the Vietcong. 

“Within a week the rumor had gone around the world 
and involved the President of the United States, the Prime 
Minister of Britain and leaders of Congress in a discussion 
over whether or not the United States was considering 
using tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam,” reported the 
New York Times. The White House expressed outrage, 
calling the accusations “false,” “irresponsible,” and “unfair 
to the armed services.” But there was truth behind the 
allegation. The tipster was likely alluding to the highly 
classified Jason report “Tactical Nuclear Weapons in 
Southeast Asia,” in which the Jason scientists advised 
against such use. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee 
was not convinced and convened a closed-door meeting 
where senators echoed similar concerns. The New York 


Times reported that one senator “said he had also picked 
up rumors that the Administration was considering the use 
of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam, perhaps in defense 
of Khesanh if necessary to save the Marine Corps garrison 
there.” 

The Pentagon issued a statement saying that Dr. Garwin 
and other scientists had been sent to Vietnam to oversee 
“the effectiveness of new weapons,” ones that “have no 
relationship whatsoever to atomic or nuclear systems of any 
kind.” This was true. Although the statement did not reveal 
the classified program itself, the “new weapons” the 
Pentagon was referring to were essential to McNamara’s 
electronic fence. 

Jason scientists Richard Garwin, Henry Kendall, and 
Gordon MacDonald were in Vietnam to problem-solve issues 
related to the sensor technology. The Tet Offensive was 
under way, and the Vietcong were in the process of cutting 
off access to the Marine base at Khe Sanh. There were 
fears at the Pentagon that what had happened to the 
French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 could now happen to the 
Marines at Khe Sanh. The similarities were striking, 
including the fact that the Vietnamese general who had led 
the communists to victory at Dien Bien Phu, General Vo 
Nguyen Giap, was again leading communist fighters in the 
battle for Khe Sanh. 

VO-67 Navy squadron crewmembers were called upon to 
assist. More than 250 sensors were dropped in a ring 
around the Marine outpost at Khe Sanh in an effort to help 
identify when and where the Vietcong were closing in. The 
target information officer at Khe Sanh, Captain Harry Baig, 
was having trouble with the technology, and so Richard 
Garwin, Henry Kendall, and Gordon MacDonald were flown 
to the classified Information Surveillance Center at Nakhon 
Phanom, Thailand, to help. Unable to solve the problem 
from Thailand, MacDonald offered to be helicoptered in to 
the dangerous Marine outpost at Khe Sanh. 


“It was a scary place,” MacDonald later recalled, 
“because you knew you were isolated. There were 
something on the order of four thousand Marines and to 
many [it seemed as if] there was little hope of getting them 
out. It was a dreadful situation.” What was remarkable was 
that MacDonald offered to be inserted into the middle of 
the battle in the first place. A polio survivor and now a 
presidential advisor, he could easily have chosen to stay in 
the safety of neighboring Thailand with Kendall and Garwin. 

The nuclear physicist and ordnance expert Richard 
Garwin later stated that he was likely the source of the 
information leak that set off the downfall of the Jasons. “I 
had probably told people I was going to Vietnam, which I 
shouldn’t have,” Garwin told Finn Aaserud, director of the 
Niels Bohr Archive, in 1991. “Colleagues with overheated 
imaginations and a sense of mission thought someone 
should know about this,” he surmised. 

As reporters began digging into Garwin’s backstory, the 
connection with the Jason scientists and the Advanced 
Research Projects Agency emerged. The classified report 
on barrier technology did not surface at this time, but the 
title of the Jasons’ report, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons in 
Southeast Asia,” did. For antiwar protesters, this 
information—that the Pentagon had actually considered 
using nuclear weapons—led to outrage. Many of the Jason 
scientists held positions at universities, and they were now 
targeted by antiwar protesters for investigation and 
denunciation. 

A powerful antiwar coalition called the Mobilization 
Committee to End the War in Vietnam, or “the Mobe,” had 
been organizing massive demonstrations across. the 
country. The previous spring, hundreds of thousands of 
people had attended an antiwar march in New York City, 
walking from Central Park to the United Nations building, 
where they burned draft cards. The march, which was led 
by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., made news around the world. 


The Mobe’s March on the Pentagon, in the fall of 1967, had 
turned violent when protesters clashed with U.S. marshals 
and heavily armed military police assigned to protect the 
building. Six hundred and eighty-two people were arrested, 
including the author Norman Mailer and two United Press 
International reporters. Now, after it was revealed that 
many university professors were discreetly working on 
classified weapons projects as defense scientists, the 
Mobe’s underground newspaper, the Student Mobilizer, 
began an investigation that culminated in a report called 
“Counterinsurgency Research on Campus, Exposed.” The 
article contained excerpts from the minutes of a Jason 
summer study, reportedly stolen from a_ professor’s 
unlocked cabinet. It contained additional excerpts from 
Classified documents written for ARPA’ Combat 
Development and Test Center in Bangkok, Thailand, also 
allegedly stolen. 

In March 1968, students at Princeton University learned 
that the Jasons’ advisory board was the Institute of Defense 
Analyses, or IDA, the federally funded think tank that 
served the Department of Defense—and that IDA 
maintained an “ultra secret think-tank” on the Princeton 
campus, inside Von Neumann Hall (named in honor of John 
von Neumann). Further investigation by student journalists 
revealed that the windows of this building were made of 
bulletproof glass. Student journalists broke the story in the 
Daily Princetonian, reporting that inside this Defense 
Department-funded building, and using state-of-the-art 
computers, “mathematicians worked out problems in 
advanced cryptology for the National Security Agency” and 
did other “war research work.” University records showed 
that the computer being used was a 1.5-ton CDC-1604, the 
“first fully transistorized supercomputer” in the world. 
When it arrived at the university in 1960, the 
supercomputer had a “staggering 32K of memory.” The 
journalists also revealed that at Princeton, IDA was working 


on “long range _ projects with ARPA—The Defense 
Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency... in the 
field of communication.” 

The student journalists discovered, too, that Princeton 
University president Robert F. Goheen was also a member 
of IDA’s twenty-two-man board of trustees and_ that 
numerous current and former Princeton physics professors, 
including John Wheeler, Murph Goldberger, Sam Treiman, 
and Eugene Wigner, had worked on IDA-ARPA projects 
related to war and weapons. As a result of these 
revelations, the antiwar group Students for a Democratic 
Society staged a sit-in, demanding that IDA be kicked off 
campus. The faculty voted that Princeton should terminate 
its association with IDA, and when university trustees 
overruled the demand, students chained the front doors of 
Von Neumann Hall shut, preventing anyone from getting in 
or out for several days. The issue died down until the 
following year. When students learned IDA was still 
operating on campus, protestors initiated a five-day siege of 
Von Neumann Hall, spray painting anti-Nixon graffiti across 
the front of the building, engaging with police officers, and 
chanting, “Kill the computer!” 

Still, there was very little public mention of the Jason 
scientists and their position as the elite advisory group to 
the Pentagon, or that all their consulting fees were paid for 
by ARPA. But what happened at Princeton and elsewhere, 
as links between university professors and the Department 
of Defense became known, was just the tip of a very large 
iceberg that would take until June 13, 1971, to be fully 
revealed. 


For the Pentagon, the antiwar protests were a command 
and control nightmare. For ARPA it meant the acceleration 
of a “nonlethal weapons” program to research and develop 
ways to stop demonstrators through the use of painful but 


not deadly force. There was a sense of urgency at hand. Not 
only were the protesters gaining support and momentum in 
their efforts, but also they were now controlling the 
narrative of the Vietnam War. “The whole world is 
watching!” chanted activists at an antiwar rally outside the 
Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August 1968. 
The phrase spread like wildfire and drew attention to 
National Guardsmen, in Chicago and elsewhere, as 
protesters were threatened with guns and fixed bayonets. 
In these antiwar protests, and also in civil rights protests 
across the nation, state police, military police, and the 
National Guard used water cannons, riot batons, electric 
prods, horses, and dogs to control and intimidate crowds. 

ARPA’s research into nonlethal weapons was classified 
and highly controversial. To keep this research secret, 
laboratories were set up abroad under an innocuous 
program name, Overseas Defense Research. This research 
took place at the Combat Development and Test Center 
(CDTC) in Bangkok, which had been renamed the Military 
Research and Development Center. Progress reports were 
delivered to ARPA program managers with a cover letter 
that stated, “This document contains information affecting 
the National Defense of the United States within the means 
of the Espionage Laws.” The program was overseen by 
defense contractor Battelle Memorial Institute, in 
Columbus, Ohio, and was considered part of Project Agile’s 
Remote Area Conflict program. A rare declassified copy of 
one such report, from April 1971, was obtained through the 
Freedom of Information Act. 

“Nonlethal weapons are generally intended to prevent an 
individual from engaging in undesirable acts,” wrote E. E. 
Westbrook and L. W. Williams, the authors of the report. 
“Apart from the moral arguments in the present and future 
use of nonlethal weapons, public officials find it prudent to 
examine nonlethal force using a framework that it was 
keeping ‘innocent bystanders’ from being hurt.” At the 


overseas CDTCs, ARPA chemists examined a variety of 
incapacitating agents for future use against protesters, 
including dangerous chemical agents with a wide range of 
effects, from vomiting to skin injury to temporary paralysis. 

Possible irritants for use against demonstrators included 
“CN (tear gas)... CS (riot control agent)... CX (blister 
agent),” also called phosgene oxide—a potent chemical 
weapon that causes temporary blindness, lesions on the 
lungs, and rapid local tissue death. CS was seen as a viable 
option: more than 15 million pounds of CS had already been 
used in Vietnam to flush Vietcong out of underground 
tunnels on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. CX was _ also 
recommended for crowd control. It “produced a corrosive 
injury to the skin, including tissue injury,” but because the 
worst damage was inside the lungs, the harm would be 
disguised. Anticholinergics were considered, chemicals that 
cause physical collapse. “Probably the most promising of 
the anticholinergics (agents which block passage of 
impulses through parasympathetic nerves),” wrote the 
chemists, were compounds that produced “rapid heart rate, 
incoordination, blurred vision, delirium, vomiting, and in 
cases of higher doses, coma.” Emetic agents, chemicals that 
induce vomiting, were also recommended. 

A second program involved’ delivery systems. 
Mechanisms for delivery included liquid stream projectors, 
able to shoot a twelve-inch-diameter stream of liquid across 
a distance of up to forty feet, as well as grenades thrown by 
hand or discharged from a small rocket. A more powerful 
option was the E8-CS man-portable tactical launcher and 
cartridge, which could be fired electrically or manually into 
rioting crowds at a distance of up to 750 feet. “It is 
nonlethal in the impact area, but its high muzzle velocity 
creates a lethal hazard at the muzzle during firing,” the 
scientists wrote. 

Poison darts were discussed as a possible “means for 
injecting an enemy [i.e., a protester] with an incapacitating 


agent.” Also recommended were tranquilizing darts, 
historically effective in subduing wild or frightened animals. 
The problem, the ARPA chemists cautioned, was that “using 
these kinds of darts was not entirely safe as accurate 
dosage was based on the weight of the animal.” One 
advantage was that the “use of a dart allows selection of an 
individual target, perhaps the leader of a group or a 
particularly destructive person, without injuring others 
around him.” Further, the darts “possess a psychological 
advantage not shared by many other systems,” noted the 
scientists. “The victim may wonder what he has been hit 
with and whether or not it is essential that he find an 
antidote.” This benefit needed to be weighed against 
another danger, however, which was that if someone was hit 
in the head or neck, it could be fatal. “Darts are not 
regarded by many as an ‘acceptable’ weapon,” the 
scientists wrote. Following the dart discussion was a long 
treatise on whether or not the use of the electric cattle prod 
against human protesters would be defensible. 

The 130-page report offered hundreds of additional 
development ideas about how _ to _ incapacitate 
demonstrators without killing them, programs that were 
currently being researched for battlefield use but had not 
yet been deployed in Vietnam. “Photic driving” was a 
phenomenon whereby the application of stroboscopic light 
within a certain frequency range could cause a person’s 
brain waves “to become entrained to the same frequency as 
the flashing light.” But early studies showed that this kind 
of flickering light was effective in only about 30 percent of 
the population. Laser radiation was suggested as a 
potential way of temporarily blinding people, also called 
flash blindness. One drawback, the ARPA scientists noted, 
was that “the laser must be aimed directly at the eye,” 
which “diminishes its practicality in a confrontation 
situation.” Microwaves could potentially be used _ to 
incapacitate individuals by burning their skin, but the 


science had not yet been adequately advanced. “Surface 
skin burns using microwaves would not form soon enough 
to create tactical advantage,” the scientists wrote. Also, 
trying to burn someone with a microwave beam would be 
“ineffective against a person who is wearing heavy clothing 
or who is behind an object,” the scientists wrote. 

Another series of tests researched “the use of loud noises 
to scare people or to interfere with communications.” But 
the ARPA scientists cautioned that sound would have to be 
“so offensive and repugnant that hearers leave the scene,” 
meaning a volume so high that it presented the danger of 
permanent hearing loss. “Most subjects experience pain at 
about 140 db [decibels], and at about 160 db, the eardrum 
is torn.” 

Tagging was an option, to help police make arrests after 
a demonstration. “The marking of people for later 
apprehension is another technique which has been tried in 
some situations,” the scientists wrote, suggesting specific 
materials including “invisible markings which were 
sensitive to ultraviolet light” and “odor identifying 
markings, sensed by dogs or gas chromatographs.” 

Crowd control had long been an engineering challenge 
at the Pentagon. To be effective, nonlethal weapons need to 
deliver enough power to produce a dispersal effect but not 
enough power to cause serious injury or harm. Most 
historical accounts of the use of nonlethal weapons in the 
United States cite the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe 
Streets Act of 1968 as a turning point. The act established 
the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), a 
federal agency within the U.S. Department of Justice 
designed to assist state police forces across the nation in 
upgrading their riot control hardware and officer-training 
programs. The act also provided $12 billion in funding over 
a period of ten years. Police forces across America began 
upgrading their military-style equipment to include riot 
control systems, helicopters, grenade launchers, and 


machine guns. The LEAA famously gave birth to the special 
weapons and tactics concept, or SWAT, with the first units 
created in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. “These units,” says 
an LAPD historian, “provided security for police facilities 
during civil unrest.” But what has not been established 
before this book is that much of this equipment was 
researched and developed by ARPA in the jungles of 
Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War. 


In America, antiwar protests raged on. Not even computers 
could escape the hostility between the Pentagon and the 
antiwar establishment. In early 1970, a _ Defense 
Department computer at the University of Illinois at 
Urbana-Champaign, called the ILLIAC IV, came under fire. 
ILLIAC IV was the fastest computer on earth at the time. 
The scientist in charge of the project for ARPA was 
Professor Daniel L. Slotnick, a mathematician and computer 
architect. A former student of John von Neumann, Slotnick 
had worked with von Neumann on MANIAC, at the Institute 
for Advanced Study at Princeton, starting in 1952. It was 
there that Slotnick developed his first thoughts about 
centrally controlled parallel computers. A pioneer in his 
field, Slotnick was one of the first to develop the concept of 
parallel computing, a form of computation in which multiple 
calculations are carried out simultaneously by separate 
computers and solved concurrently. Slotnick co-authored 
the first paper on the subject, in 1958. His goal with ILLIAC 
IV was to build a machine that could perform a billion 
instructions per second. Although it used the same 
architecture conceived by John von Neumann, ILLIAC IV 
was a far cry from MANIAC in terms of computing power. 
ILLIAC IV was fifty feet long, ten feet tall, and eight feet 
wide. The machine’s power supply units were so massive 
they had to be moved with a specially designed forklift. The 
supercomputer was made up of a group of sixty-four 


processor elements, with a potential for up to 256—a 
groundbreaking number of processing units at the time. 
The machine was designed to cut down exponentially on the 
time it took to complete basic computational science and 
engineering tasks. Approximately two-thirds of the 
computer’s time was designated for work on Department of 
Defense weapons programs, including “computational 
requirements for ballistic missile defense.” Specifically, the 
calculations sought to differentiate a missile from the 
background noise, the problem that had been plaguing the 
Jason scientists since they first began studying the topic in 
1960. ILLIAC IV was also used for climate modeling, and for 
weather modification schemes, as part of a still-classified 
ARPA program called Nile Blue. Not until July 1972 would 
the U.S. government renounce the use of climate 
modification techniques for hostile purposes. In May 1977 
an international treaty, the Convention on the Prohibition of 
Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental 
Modification Techniques, would be signed, in Geneva, by 
forty-eight nations. Until then, weather modification 
schemes were pursued. 

Slotnick and his team called the ILLIAC IV “the ultimate 
number cruncher.” ARPA officials believed that if they had 
two of these computers, their capability would cover “all the 
computational requirements on planet earth.” The building 
of ILLIAC IV, most of which was done by graduate students, 
was the largest and most lucrative Defense Department 
contract in the history of the University of Illinois. By late 
1969, the university had received more than $24 million in 
funds, roughly $155 million in 2015. Plans for a fancy new 
facility to house the machine were in place, with 
groundbreaking ceremonies to begin sometime during the 
following year. The specifics of the arrangement between 
Slotnick and ARPA were classified, but it was not a secret 
that a supercomputer was being built at the university. 

What it would be used for was obscure until January 5, 


1970, when the Illinois Board of Higher Education met for a 
budget review and a student reporter managed to attend. 
The following day, on January 6, 1970, a headline in the 
Daily Illini declared, “Department of Defense to employ UI 
[University of Illinois] computer for nuclear weaponry.” 

The revelation that the university was working with the 
Defense Department on nuclear weapons work had an 
explosive effect on an already charged student body. “The 
University has proven that it is not a neutral institution,” 
declared the antiwar group Radical Union, “but is actively 
supporting the efforts of the military-industrial complex.” 
One article after the next alleged malevolent intentions on 
the part of Professor Slotnick and the dean of the Graduate 
College, Daniel Alpert, in having tried to conceal from the 
student body the true nature of the computer. “The horrors 
ILLIAC IV may loose on the world through [the] hands of 
military leaders of this nation” could not’ be 
underestimated, the Daily Illini editorialized. “We fear the 
military... will use the computer to develop more ways to 
kill people and spend the people’s money.” In another 
article, a group of concerned students wrote, “Considering 
the evil demonstrated by our military in recent years, we 
would rather have seen the University resistant to the evil... 
than complicit with it.” 

Professor Slotnick tried to justify the Pentagon funding 
by pointing out that other institutions were unwilling to 
fund such an important but far-sighted program as building 
this supercomputer. “If I could have gotten $30 million from 
the Red Cross, I would not have messed with the DoD,” 
Slotnick said. ARPA took offense, calling Slotnick a “volatile 
visionary.” The board tried to throw a blanket over the fire 
by declaring the “more important” parts of the computer 
“non-military.” Despite attempts to humanize the machine, 
the debate only grew. A teach-in was organized against 
ILLIAC IV. Students wanted the machine gone. 

On February 23, 1970, the protests took a violent turn 


when unknown persons firebombed the campus armory, 
causing $2,000 worth of damage. Then on March 2, five 
hundred protesters disrupted a job-recruiting session with 
General Electric, the defense contractor that helped build 
ILLIAC IV. Windows were broken and three people were 
injured. Officers who tried to arrest people were pummeled 
with mud balls. The crowd grew to as many as three 
thousand. When antiwar demonstrators broke windows in 
the chancellor’s office, state police wearing full riot gear 
appeared on the scene. Not until late that night was peace 
restored. ‘Twenty-one students were arrested, eight 
seriously injured. On March 9, the university’s faculty 
senate took a vote to oppose ILLIAC IV; it failed. Two days 
later, the Air Force recruiting station in Urbana was 
firebombed, the sixth local arson attack of the month. 

The spring of 1970 was a tempestuous time on college 
Campuses across America. On April 30, 1970, President 
Nixon went on national television to announce the U.S. 
invasion of Cambodia, yet another expansion of the Vietnam 
War. Nixon’s disclosure that 150,000 more soldiers would 
now be drafted sparked major protests across the nation. 
Four days later, on May 4, four students at Kent State 
University in Ohio were shot dead by the National Guard. 

The following day, the ILLIAC IV protests at the 
University of Illinois ratcheted up even further when two 
thousand demonstrators stoned police vehicles parked on 
campus. On the morning of May 6 the National Guard 
moved in, and on May 7, ten thousand students and faculty 
held a peace rally. When the university refused to fly flags 
at halfmast for the victims of the Kent State shootings, 
students pulled down the American flag that had been 
flying on the university fire station flagpole and set it on 
fire. On May 9, demonstrators staged a sit-in in front of the 
building that housed the ILLIAC IV. Protests and arrests 
continued until May 12. 

In June, university officials told ARPA that they could no 


longer guarantee the safety of its supercomputer. ARPA 
began looking for a new facility to house the ILLIAC IV and 
in 1971 entered into a new contract with a federal research 
facility in California. Each side—the protesters and the 
government—believed strongly in the legitimacy of its 
position. Students at the University of Illinois and elsewhere 
across the nation continued to protest against war; the 
Department of Defense continued its weapons research and 
its war in Vietnam. 

The supercomputer was packed up and taken to 
California. By the spring of 1972, ILLIAC IV was up and 
running at NASA’s Institute for Advanced Computation at 
the Ames Research Center. This was adjacent to the U.S. 
Navy’s west coast facility where highly classified 
antisubmarine warfare work was taking place. ILLIAC IV 
began making calculations for the Navy’s Project Seaguard, 
a classified program to track submarines using acoustics, 
another ARPA program, with research taking place at 
ARPA’s’ classified Acoustic Research Center, deep 
underwater in a lake in northern Idaho. 

The submarine research facility was one of ARPA’s best- 
kept secrets, an underwater test site located at the south 
end of a small resort community on Lake Pend Oreille in 
Bayview, Idaho. The forty-three-mile-long lake is 1,150 feet 
deep in places, making it the perfect locale to conduct 
secret submarine research. Acoustic sensors placed on the 
floor of the lake recorded and processed data which were 
then fed into ILLIAC IV, allowing for major Cold War 
advances in antisubmarine warfare. 


The ILLIAC IV controversy coincided with a major turning 
point in the history of the Advanced Research Projects 
Agency. Public opposition to the Vietnam War, coupled with 
rising inflation, put an unwelcome spotlight on ARPA when 
Senator Mike Mansfield, an antiwar Democrat from 


Montana, introduced a bill that barred the Defense 
Department from using funds “to carry out any research 
project or study unless the project or study had a direct 
relationship to [a] specific military function.” The Mansfield 
Amendment, introduced in late 1969 as an amendment to 
the Military Authorization Act, focused “the public’s desire 
for practical outcomes” against the idea that not only was 
the Pentagon failing to end the war in Vietnam, but also its 
spending was out of control. The amendment put military 
research and development under intense scrutiny and had 
a direct impact on ARPA. Because most of its work was 
speculative, looking ten to twenty-five years into the future, 
directors of the agency would now have to present much 
more detailed information to Congress before their budgets 
could be passed. 

Then in February 1970 came another devastating blow 
for ARPA. The secretary of defense authorized a decision 
that the entire agency was to be removed from its coveted 
office space inside the Pentagon to a lackluster office 
building in the Rosslyn district of Arlington, Virginia, two 
and a half miles away. Desks, chairs, file cabinets, and 
furniture were all boxed up and moved. 

The Pentagon was the seat of military might, the locus of 
power. Moving even a short distance away was, as one 
insider put it, “the epitome of the Agency’s downgrading.” 
The underlying message being sent to staff was that the 
Advanced Research Projects Agency might just fold. Even 
the ARPA director at the time, the electrical engineer and 
telecommunications expert Eberhardt Rechtin, appeared to 
have lost confidence in the agency he was in charge of. 
Rechtin confided to a colleague, “It wouldn’t surprise me 
that all of a sudden [a secretary of defense] would decide to 
kill ARPA.” Since its inception in 1958, ARPA had been a 
place where there was always more money than ideas. 
Suddenly, “the dollar situation was so bad, [the agency] had 
far more ideas than money,” Rechtin said. Without money, 


there was less power, and without power, there was greater 
tension. 

To many on the ARPA staff, it seemed as if Rechtin did not 
particularly care whether the agency survived. “The staff 
just didn’t know what was going to happen next,” one 
program manager told a government historian in 1974. 
“They didn’t know who was boss. They didn’t know who to 
follow. They didn’t know whether anyone cared.” The staffer 
continued: “At least if you kill something[,] you know. You 
line it up against the wall, you take aim, you spend five 
minutes at the job and you kill it right. But to let it wither 
away by not even allowing it to have a Director [who cared] 
is almost [worse]. The feeling was: he [Rechtin] doesn’t 
care anymore... he is selling us down the river... we’ve 
become the pawn, and we are moving away from the 
center.” An “apocalyptic feeling” overwhelmed the ARPA 
staff. “We had terrible feelings that this [was] the end,” said 
another unidentified staffer. 

As ARPA director, Rechtin believed he knew why the 
agency had run into so many difficulties during the Vietnam 
War. He called it the “chicken-and-egg problem” in 
congressional testimony related to the Mansfield 
Amendment. When asked by a committee member if it was 
appropriate to describe the Advanced Research Projects 
Agency as a “premilitary research organization within the 
Defense Department,” Rechtin said that if the word 
“military” were replaced with the word “requirement,” then 
that assessment would be correct. Unlike the regular 
military services, Rechtin said, ARPA was a “pre- 
requirement” organization in that it conducted research in 
advance of specific needs. “By this I mean that the military 
services, in order to do their work, must have a very formal 
requirement based on specific needs,” Rechtin said, “and 
usually upon technologies that are understood.” ARPA 
existed to make sure that the military establishment was 
not ever again caught off guard by a Sputnik-like 


technological surprise. The enemy was always eyeing the 
future, he said, pursuing advanced technology in order to 
take more ground. And ARPA was set up to provide the 
Defense Department with its pre-requirement needs. 

“There is a kind of chicken-and-egg problem in other 
words, in requirements and technology,” Rechtin explained. 
“The difficulty is that it is hard to write formal requirements 
if you do not have the technology with which to solve them, 
but you cannot do the technology unless you have the 
requirements.” The agency’s dilemma, said Rechtin, was 
this: if you can’t do the research before a need arises, by 
the time the need is there, it’s clear that the research 
should already have been done. 


Rechtin had defended ARPA’s mission but wasn’t long for 
the job and would soon move on to a more powerful position 
higher up the ladder at the Department of Defense. In 
December 1970 he resigned his post at ARPA and returned 
to the Pentagon, to take over as principal acting deputy of 
Defense Department Research and Engineering (DDR&B), 
the person to whom the ARPA director reports. The rest of 
the agency employees waited for the other shoe to drop. 
Drop it did. On June 13, 1971, the first installment of the 
Pentagon Papers appeared on the front page of the New 
York Times. The classified documents had been leaked to 
the newspaper by former Pentagon employee and RAND 
Corporation analyst Daniel Ellsberg. The papers unveiled a 
secret history of the war in Vietnam—three thousand 
narrative pages of war secrets accompanied by four 
thousand pages of classified memos and_ supporting 
documents, organized into forty-seven volumes. Back in 
1967, when he was secretary of defense, Robert McNamara 
had commissioned the RAND Corporation to write a 
Classified “encyclopedic history of the Vietnamese War,” 
neglecting to tell the president he was undertaking such a 


project. The Pentagon Papers covered the U.S. involvement 
in Vietnam since the end of World War II. Revealed in the 
papers were specifics on how every president from Truman 
to Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon had misled the 
public about what was really going on in Vietnam. The 
classified documents were photocopied by Ellsberg, with 
the help of RAND colleague Anthony Russo, the individual 
who had worked extensively with Leon Gouré on the Viet 
Cong Motivation and Morale Project. Both Ellsberg and 
Russo had originally supported the war in Vietnam but later 
came to oppose it. 

The papers revealed secret bombing campaigns, the role 
of the United States in the Diem assassination, the CIA’s 
involvement with the Montagnards, and so much more. 
With respect to ARPA, the papers revealed the extensive 
role of the Jason scientists throughout the war—specifically 
that they had designed sensors, strike aircraft retrofits, and 
cluster bombs for the electronic fence. The scientists had 
first been brought into the spotlight back in February 1968 
when the scandal broke over the possible use of tactical 
nuclear weapons against the Mu Gia Pass. Like so many 
controversies during the war, that scandal came and went. 
But now, with the revelations of the Pentagon Papers, the 
Jason scientists were caught in a much harsher spotlight. In 
the words of former ARPA director Jack Ruina, the Jason 
scientists were now portrayed as “the devil.” 

All across the country, and even overseas, the Jason 
scientists became targets for antiwar protesters. The words 
“war criminal” were painted on the pavement outside 
Kenneth Watson’s house in Berkeley. Gordon MacDonald’s 
Santa Barbara garage was set on fire. Herb York got a 
death threat. The Jasons’ summer study office in Colorado 
was vandalized. In New York City, a consortium of 
professors at Columbia demanded that the scientists resign 
from Jason or resign from the university. In Paris, Murray 
Gell-Mann was booed off a stage. Riot police were called to 


a physics symposium in Trieste where Jason scientist 
Eugene Wigner was speaking as an honored guest. In New 
York City, Murph Goldberger was getting ready to deliver a 
lecture to the American Physical Society when a huge 
crowd interrupted his talk in a very public way. Goldberger 
had recently led the first-ever State Department- 
sanctioned delegation of American scientists to communist 
China, but as he began to speak, the demonstrators raised 
huge placards reading “War Criminal!” He tried to keep his 
composure and continue his talk about China, but the 
protesters kept interrupting him, shouting out questions 
about the Jason scientists and their role as weapons 
designers for the Vietnam War. 

“Look, I'll talk about China or I won’t talk about 
anything,” Goldberger told the crowd, but his voice was 
drowned out by boos. He tried a different tactic and said 
that he would discuss Jason and Vietnam after his speech if 
the protesters were willing to secure a venue where they 
could have a conversation somewhere nearby after he was 
done. The protesters agreed. As soon as Goldberger 
finished giving his lecture about China, he walked over to 
the East Ballroom of the New York Hilton hotel and politely 
took questions from a crowd of what was now more than 
two hundred people, including lots of reporters. 

“Jason made a terrible mistake,” Goldberger said in a 
voice described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “anguished” 
and fraught with moral guilt. We “should have told Mr. 
McNamara to go to hell and not become involved at all,” 
said Goldberger. 

No Jason scientist was spared defamation. A group of 
antiwar protesters learned the home address of Richard 
Garwin in upstate New York and showed up on his front 
lawn with hate signs. Another time, when Garwin was on an 
airplane, a woman sitting in the seat next to him recognized 
him, stood up, and declared, “This is Dick Garwin. He is a 
baby killer!” 


An Italian physicist at the Institute of Theoretical Physics 
in Naples, Bruno Vitale, spearheaded an international anti- 
Jason movement. Vitale saw the revelations in the Pentagon 
Papers about the Jason scientists as a “perfect occasion to 
see bare the hypocrisy of the establishment physicists; their 
lust for power, prestige; their arrogance against the 
people.” In a monograph titled “The War Physicists,” he 
charged that the scientific world had become divided into 
insiders and outsiders. “Jason people are insiders,” Vitale 
wrote. “They have access to secret information from many 
government offices.” On the opposite side of the coin, 
“those who engage in criticism of government policies 
without the benefit of such inside access are termed 
outsiders.” Vitale argued that scientists needed to stand 
together in their outrage and not accept what he called 
phony arguments. “When a debate arises between insiders 
and outsiders, invariably the argument is used that only the 
insiders know the true facts and that therefore the 
outsiders’ positions should not be taken seriously.” 

Vitale’s crusade garnered international support, and in 
December 1972 a group of European scientists, three of 
whom were Nobel Prize winners, wrote a very public letter 
to the Jason scientists, which was published in the Bulletin 
of the Atomic Scientists. The land mines that formed part of 
the electronic fence “have caused terrible wounds among 
Vietnamese civilians,” they charged, and asked the Jasons 
to respond. In the weeks that followed, in letters to the 
editor, other scientists demanded that the Jason 
researchers “explain how they could justify to their 
consciences” the work they had done designing land mines. 
Famed British physics professor E. H. S. Burhop wrote: 
“The scientists became, to some extent, prisoners of the 
group they had joined.... At what point should they have 
quit?” In Science, a reader wrote in to say that the Jasons 
“should be tried for war crimes.” The Jasons did not 
collectively respond. Looking back in 2013, Goldberger said 


of the group he co-founded, “We should never have gotten 
involved in Vietnam.” 


By 1973, ARPA’s new director, Stephen Lukasik, felt it was 
time for the agency to distance itself from the Jason 
scientists. For years the group had been at the “intellectual 
forefront of everything we were trying to do to prevent 
technological surprise,” Lukasik later remarked. But he also 
felt that the Jason scientists suffered from an intellectual 
superiority complex. “The word ‘arrogant’ [was] associated 
with Jason,” Lukasik acknowledged. He had worked with 
the Jasons for a decade, going back to the time when he 
was head of ARPA’s Nuclear Test Detection Office, which 
handled the Vela program. On more than one occasion, 
Lukasik felt that the Jasons had displayed a “pattern of 
arrogance.” That they were a self-congratulating group. 
“They picked their members. And so they had in 1969 the 
same members they had in 1959.” Lukasik wanted new 
blood. The Jasons still “didn’t have any computer scientists. 
They didn’t have any materials scientists. They weren’t 
bringing in new members.” Lukasik notified the Jason 
scientists, through their oversight committee at IDA, that it 
was time for them to move on. “I probably was seen as an 
enemy of the Jasons,” Lukasik admitted. In the winter of 
1973, without any resistance, the Jasons departed IDA for 
the Stanford Research Institute, in California. “It was an 
agreeable move,” Goldberger recalled. Before leaving IDA, 
the Jason scientists had had only one client, the Advanced 
Research Projects Agency. Now, said Goldberger, the Jasons 
were free to work “for whomever we pleased.” 

Not all those affiliated with ARPA were feeling liberated. 
In their new office building away from the Pentagon, ARPA 
employees were at a crossroads. Feeling banished from the 
center of power and with budgets slashed, they feared that 
the future of ARPA was more uncertain than it had ever 


been. Who could have imagined this precarious time would 
give way to one of the most prosperous, most influential 
eras in the history of the Advanced Research Projects 
Agency? 


PART Ill 





OPERATIONS OTHER THAN 
WAR 


CHAPTER FOURTEEN 


Rise of the Machines 


During the Korean War, when Allen Macy Dulles left the 


trench at Outpost Bunker Hill and headed down to check 
the fence, he was doing what soldiers have done for 
millennia. He was going out on patrol. The moment when 
Dulles saw someone had cut the fence, he likely sensed 
danger was near. But before he had time to notify anyone of 
the incursion, the twenty-two-year-old soldier took enemy 
shrapnel to the head, suffered a traumatic brain injury, and 
was rendered amnesic. Like millions and millions of soldiers 
before him, he became a war casualty. The Vietnam 
electronic fence, conceived and constructed hastily during 
the war, created the opportunity to change all that. 
Technology could do what humans had been doing all along: 
patrol and notify. The fence required no human guard. It 
guarded itself. From ARPA’s research and development 
standpoint, the concept of the electronic fence was a sea 
change. It set in motion a fundamental transformation of 
the battlefield. This change did not happen overnight. By 
2015 it would be irreversible. 

By the winter of 1973, almost no one in America wanted 
anything more to do with the Vietnam War. On January 27, 
the Paris Peace Accords were signed and U.S. troops began 
fully withdrawing from Vietnam. On February 12, hundreds 
of long-held American prisoners of war began coming 


home. And in keeping with the Mansfield Amendment, 
which required the Pentagon to research and develop 
programs only with a “specific military function,” the word 
“defense” was added to ARPA’s name. From now on it would 
be called the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, 
or DARPA. 

If the agency was going to survive and prosper, it needed 
to reinvent itself, beginning with the way it was perceived. 
Any program associated with the Vietnam War would be 
jettisoned. Project Agile became the scapegoat, the 
punching bag. In internal agency interviews, three former 
ARPA directors, each of whom had overseen Project Agile 
during the Vietnam War, spoke of it in the most disparaging 
terms. “We tried to work the counter-insurgency business,” 
lamented Eberhardt Rechtin, “and found we couldn’t. All 
the things we tried—radar systems and boats and 
whatever”—didn’t work. “Agile was an abysmal failure; a 
glorious failure,” said Charles Herzfeld. “When we fail, we 
fail big.” Even William Godel, now freed from federal prison 
for good behavior, spoke candidly about failure. “We never 
learned how to fight guerrilla warfare and we never really 
learned how to help the other guy,” Godel said in a rare 
recorded interview, in July 1975. “We didn’t do it; we left no 
residue of good will; and we didn’t even explain it right.” 
Still, Godel insisted that the problem of counterinsurgency 
was real, was multiplying, and was not going to go away 
anytime soon. “We did a goddamn lousy job of solving those 
problems, and that did happen on my watch,” he said. 

But for DARPA, Vietnam was far from a failure; it could 
not be spoken of in any one way. The enormous sums of 
money, the volumes of classified programs, the thousands of 
scientists and technicians, academics, analysts, defense 
contractors, and businessmen, all of whom worked for 
months, years, some more than a decade, to apply their 
scientific and industrial acumen to countless programs, 
some tiny, some grand, some with oversight, others without 


—the results of these efforts could by no means be 
generalized as success or failure any more than they could 
be categorized as good or bad. Granted, the results of the 
Viet Cong Motivation and Morale Project, with its thousands 
of hours of interviews of prisoners, peasants, and village 
elders—allegedly to determine what made the Vietcong tick 
—amounted to zero, that mysterious number one arrives at 
when everything gained equals everything lost. The 
Strategic Hamlet Program, the Rural Security System 
Program, the COIN games, the Motivation and Morale 
studies: it is easy to discount these as foolhardy, wasteful, 
colonialist. But not all the ARPA Vietnam programs could or 
would be viewed by DARPA as failures. Among the 
hardware that was born and developed in those remote 
jungle environs, there was much to admire from a Defense 
Department point of view. 

Testifying before Congress in 1973, director Stephen 
Lukasik said that DARPA’s goal was to refocus itself as a 
neutral, non-military service organization, emphasizing 
what he called “high-risk projects of revolutionary impact.” 
Only innovative, groundbreaking programs would be taken 
on, he said, programs that should be viewed as “pre-mission 
assignments” or “pre-requirement” research. The agency 
needed to apply itself to its original mandate, which was to 
keep the nation from being embarrassed by another 
Sputnik-like surprise. At DARPA, the emphasis was on hard 
science and hardware. 

Project Agile was abolished, and in its place came a new 
office called ‘Tactical Technology. Inside this office, 
components of the electronic fence were salvaged from the 
ruins of the war. The program, with its obvious applications 
in the intelligence world, was highly classified. When asked 
about the sensor program in an agency review in 1975, 
acting director Dr. Peter Franken told colleagues that even 
he was not cleared to know about it. “It was most difficult to 
understand the program,” Franken told the interviewer, 


attributing the inscrutable nature of sensor research to the 
fact that “special clearance requirements inhibited even his 
access to the sensor program.” In keeping with the 
mandate to develop advanced technology and then turn it 
over to the military for implementation, sensor programs 
were now being pursued by all of the services and the 
majority of the intelligence agencies. All born of the 
Vietnam War. 

DARPA’s early work, going back to 1958, had fostered at 
least six sensor technologies. Seismic sensors, developed 
for the Vela program, sense and record how the earth 
transmits seismic waves. In Vietnam, the seismic sensors 
could detect heavy truck and troop movement on the Ho 
Chi Minh Trail, but not bicycles or feet. For lighter loads, 
strain sensors were now being further developed to 
monitor stress on soil, notably that which results from a 
person on the move. Magnetic sensors detect residual 
magnetism from objects carried or worn by a person; 
infrared sensors detect intrusion by beam interruption. 
Electromagnetic sensors generate a radio frequency that 
also detects intrusion when interrupted. Acoustic sensors 
listen for noise. These were all programs that were now set 
to take off anew. 

In the early 1970s, the Marine Corps took a lead in 
sensor work. The success of the seismic sensors placed on 
the ground during the battle for Khe Sanh had altered the 
opinions of military commanders about the use of sensors 
on the battlefield. Before Khe Sanh, the majority opposed 
sensor technology; after the battle, it was almost 
unanimously embraced. Before war’s end, the Marines had 
their own sensor program, Project STEAM, or Sensor 
Technology as Applied to the Marine Corps. STEAM made 
room for sensor platoons, called SCAMPs, or Sensor Control 
and Management Platoons. Within SCAMP divisions there 
were now Sensor Employment Squad Sensors, called SES, 
and Sensor Employment Teams, called SETs. The Marines 


Saw enormous potential in sensor technology, not just for 
guard and patrol, but for surveillance and intelligence 
collection. These programs would develop, and from the 
fruits of these programs, new programs would grow. 

Two other technologies that would greatly impact the 
way the United States would fight future wars also 
emerged from the wreckage of Vietnam. Night vision 
technology expanded into a broad multi-tiered program as 
each of the services found great strategic value in being 
able to see at night while the enemy remained in the dark. 
So did stealth technology, a radical innovation originally 
developed by the CIA for reconnaissance purposes, starting 
in 1957, when the agency first tried to lower the radar 
cross-section of the U-2 spy plane. ARPA’s original work in 
audio stealth began in 1961 with William Godel’s sailplane 
idea, one of the four original Project Agile gadgets, along 
with the AR-15, the riverboat, and the sniffer dogs. During 
the course of the Vietnam War, Project Agile’s sailplane had 
developed successfully into the Lockheed QT-2 “quiet 
airplane,” a single-engine propeller plane that flew just 
above the jungle canopy and was acoustically undetectable 
from the ground. Dedicated to surveillance and packed with 
sensor technology, the QT-2 would glide silently over 
Vietcong territory with its engine off. In 1968 ARPA turned 
the program over to the Army, which made modifications to 
the aircraft, now called the Lockheed YO-3 Quiet Star. After 
the war, DARPA sought to expand its stealth program from 
acoustically undetectable sailplanes to aircraft that were 
undetectable even by the most sophisticated enemy radar. 
In 1974 DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office began work on 
a highly classified program to build “high-stealth aircraft.” 
The following year, DARPA issued contracts to McDonnell 
Douglas and Northrop, considered by DARPA to be the two 
defense contractors most qualified for the stealth job. 

There was a fascinating twist. By the mid-1970s, 
Lockheed had already achieved major milestones in stealth 


technology, having developed the highly classified A-12 
Oxcart spy plane for the CIA. (The A-12 later became the 
unclassified SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft, flown by the Air 
Force.) Knowledge of the CIA’s classified stealth program 
was so tightly controlled that even DARPA director George 
Heilmeier did not have a need to know about it. In 1974, 
when management at Lockheed Skunk Works learned of 
DARPA’s “high-stealth aircraft” efforts—and that they had 
not been invited to participate—they asked the CIA to allow 
them to discuss the A-12 Oxcart with Heilmeier. After the 
discussion, Lockheed was invited to join the competition 
and eventually won the DARPA stealth contract. 

The first on-paper incarnation of what would become the 
F-117 stealth fighter was called the Hopeless Diamond, so 
named because it resembled the Hope Diamond and 
because Lockheed engineers were not initially certain it 
would fly. “We designed flat, faceted panels and had them 
act like mirrors to scatter radar waves away from the 
plane,” remembers Edward Lovick, who worked as a lead 
physicist on the program. After the Hopeless Diamond went 
through a number of drafts, the project became a classified 
DARPA program code-named Have Blue. Two aircraft were 
built at the Lockheed Skunk Works facility in Burbank, 
California, and test flown at Area 51 in Nevada in April 
1977. Satisfied with the low observability of the aircraft, the 
U.S. Air Force took over the program in 1978. Stealth 
technology was a massive classified endeavor involving 
more than ten thousand military and civilian personnel. The 
power of this secret weapon rested in keeping it secret. To 
do so, the Air Force set up its own top secret facility to fly 
the F-117, just north of Area 51 outside Tonopah, Nevada. 
The base was nicknamed Area 52. 

The 1970s were a formative time at DARPA from a 
historical perspective. Away from the Pentagon, DARPA 
came into its own. Congress remained averse to ARPA‘s 
former herd of social science programs, which it criticized 


in post-Vietnam oversight committees as having been 
egregiously wasteful, foolhardy, and without oversight. Any 
mention of the phrase “hearts and minds” in the Pentagon 
made people wince. To avoid the “red flag” reaction from 
Congress, ARPA programs that touched on behavioral 
sciences were renamed or rebranded. 

ARPA’s social science office (which actually existed during 
the Vietnam War) was called Human Resources Research 
Office, or HumRRO. But in the post-Vietnam era, HumRRO 
programs focused on improving human performance from a 
physiological and psychological standpoint. Two significant 
ideas emerged. The first was to research the psychological 
mechanisms of pain as related to military injuries on the 
battlefield. ARPA scientists sought to understand whether 
soldiers could suppress pain in combat, and if so, how. The 
second major project was a research program on “self- 
regulation” of bodily functions previously believed to be 
involuntary. The general, forward-thinking question was, 
how could a soldier maintain peak performance under the 
radically challenging conditions of warfare? 

It was a transformative time at DARPA. The agency 
already had shifted from the 1950s space and _ ballistic 
missile defense agency to the 1960s agency responsible for 
some of the most controversial programs of the Vietnam 
War. And now, a number of events occurred that eased the 
agency’s transition as it began to change course again. 
Under the direction of the physicist Stephen Lukasik, in the 
mid-1970s the agency would take a new turn—a new 
“thrust,” as Lukasik grew fond of saying. In this mid-1970s 
period of acceleration and innovation, DARPA would plant 
certain seeds that would allow it to grow into one of the 
most powerful and most respected agencies inside the 
Department of Defense. 


“The key to command and control is, in _ fact, 


communication,” said Stephen Lukasik shortly after he took 
over the agency. Command and control, or C2, had now 
expanded into command, control, and communication, or 
C3, and this concept became the new centerpiece of the 
DARPA mission under Lukasik. The advancement of 
command, control, and communication technology relied 
heavily on computers. Since 1965 the power of microchips, 
then called integrated electronic circuits, had been 
doubling every year, a concept that a computer engineer 
named Gordon E. Moore picked up on and wrote about in 
Electronics magazine. In “Cramming More Components 
into Integrated Circuits,” Moore predicted that this 
doubling trend would continue for the next ten years, a 
prescient notion that has since become known as Moore’s 
law. Doubling is a powerful concept: 10 x 10 = 100; 100 x 
100 = 10,000; 10,000 x 10,000 = 100 million. In 2014, 
Apple put 2 billion transistors into its iPhone 6. 

In 1974, DARPA’s supercomputer, ILLIAC IV, now up and 
running at the Ames Research Center in California, was the 
fastest computer in the world. Its parallel processing power 
allowed for the development of technologies like real-time 
video processing, noise reduction, image enhancement, and 
data compression—all technologies taken for granted in the 
twenty-first century but with origins in DARPA science. And 
Lukasik’s C3 program also relied heavily on another 
emerging DARPA technology, the ARPANET. 

It had been more than a decade since J. C. R. Licklider 
sent out his eccentric memo proposing the Pentagon create 
a linked computer network, which he called the 
“Intergalactic Computer Network.” Licklider left the 
Pentagon in 1965 but hired two visionaries to take over the 
Command and Control (C2) Research office, since renamed 
the Information Processing Techniques Office. Ivan 
Sutherland, a computer graphics expert who had worked 
with Daniel Slotnick on ILLIAC IV, and Robert W. Taylor, an 
experimental psychologist, believed that computers would 


revolutionize the world and that a network of computers 
was the key to this revolution. Through networking, not 
only would individual computer users have access to other 
users’ data, but also they would be able to communicate 
with one another in a radical new way. Licklider and Taylor 
co-wrote an essay in 1968 in which they predicted, “In a 
few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively 
through a machine than face to face.” By 2009, more 
electronic text messages would be sent each day than there 
were people on the planet. 

Sutherland and Taylor began asking DARPA contractors 
at various university research laboratories around the 
country what they thought about the networked computer 
idea. The feedback was unanimous in favor of it. In general, 
scientists and engineers were frustrated by how little 
access to computers they had. This got Sutherland and 
Taylor thinking. Why not try linking several of these 
university computers together so the DARPA contractors 
could share resources? To do so would require building a 
system of electronic links between different computers, 
located hundreds of miles apart. It was aé_ radical 
undertaking, but Sutherland and Taylor believed it could be 
done. 

Bob Taylor went to DARPA director Charles Herzfeld to 
request enough money to fund a networked connection 
linking four different university computers, or nodes. 
Herzfeld told Taylor he thought it sounded like a good idea 
but he was concerned about reliability. If all four computers 
were linked together, Herzfeld said, when there was a 
problem, it meant all four computers would be down at the 
same time. Thinking on his feet, Taylor said he intended to 
build a concept into the system called network redundancy. 
If one connection went down, the messages traveling 
between the computers would simply take another path. 
Herzfeld asked how much money Taylor thought be needed. 
Taylor said a million dollars. 


Herzfeld asked, “Is it going to be hard to do?” 

“Oh, no. We already know how to do it,” Taylor said, 
when really he was guessing. 

“Great idea,” said Herzfeld. “You’ve got a million dollars 
more in your budget right now.” Then he told Taylor to get 
to work. 

Taylor left Herzfeld’s office and headed back to his own. 
He later recalled the astonishment he felt when he looked 
at his watch. “Jesus Christ,” he thought. “That only took 
twenty minutes.” Even more consequential was the idea of 
network redundancy—making sure no single computer 
could take the system down—that emerged from that 
meeting. It is why in 2015, no one_ organization, 
corporation, or nation can own or completely control the 
global system of interconnected computer networks known 
as the Internet. To think it came out of that one meeting, on 
the fly. 

The first four university sites chosen were Stanford 
Research Institute in northern California; the University of 
California, Los Angeles; the University of California, Santa 
Barbara; and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. In 
1969, ARPA contractor Bolt, Beranek and Newman became 
the first east coast node. By 1972 there were twenty-four 
nodes, including the Pentagon. The person largely 
responsible for connecting these nodes was an electrical 
engineer named Robert Kahn. At the time, Kahn called 
what he was working on an “internetwork.” Soon it would 
be shortened to Internet. 

This network of ARPA nodes was growing, and Kahn 
wanted to devise a common language, or protocol, so that 
all new nodes could communicate with the existing nodes in 
the same language. To do this, Kahn teamed up with 
another DARPA program manager named Vint Cerf, and 
together the men invented the concept of Transmission 
Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), which 
would allow new nodes seamless access to the ARPANET. 


Today, TCP/IP remains the core communications protocol of 
the Internet. By 1973 there were thirty-six ARPANET nodes 
connected via telephone lines, and a thirty-seventh, in 
Hawaii, connected by a satellite link. That same year the 
Norwegian Seismic Array became connected to the 
ARPANET, and J. C. R. Licklider’s vision for an “Intergalactic 
Computer Network” became an international reality. 

In 1975 DARPA transferred its ARPANET system over to 
the Defense Communications Agency, and in 1982 
standards for sending and receiving email were put in 
place. In 1983 the Pentagon split off a military-only 
network, called MILNET. Today the ARPANET is often 
referred to as “the most successful project ever undertaken 
by DARPA.” 


Between the advances in computer technology, networking 
power, and the ARPANET, DARPA was primed for the 
development of an entirely new C3-based weapons system. 
Sometime in 1974, DARPA commissioned several classified 
studies on how the Pentagon could best prepare itself for a 
Soviet invasion of western Europe. The strategist leading 
one analysis was the former RAND mathematician Albert 
Wohlstetter, author of the nuclear second-strike doctrine, or 
NUTS. Wohlstetter, now a professor at the University of 
Chicago, sought “to identify and characterize” new military 
technologies that would give the president a variety of 
“alternatives to massive nuclear destruction.” Wohlstetter 
assembled a study group, called the Strategic Alternatives 
Group, to assist him in his analytic efforts. In February 1975 
the group completed the generically titled “Summary 
Report of the Long Range Research and Development 
Planning Program.” 

In the report, Wohlstetter concluded that several 
Vietnam-era DARPA projects merited renewed attention. 
Topping the list was the effectiveness of laser-guided bombs 


and missiles. In the last year of the Vietnam War, the U.S. 
Air Force sent 10,500 laser-guided bombs into North 
Vietnam. Roughly one-half of these bombs, 5,100 in total, 
achieved a “direct hit,” with another 4,000 achieving “a 
circular error probable (CEP) of 25 feet.” Compared to the 
success rate of unguided “dumb” bombs of previous wars, 
including World War II, Korea, and most of Vietnam, these 
statistics were to be interpreted as “spectacularly good,” 
wrote Wohlstetter. The best example was the bombing of 
the Thanh Hoa Bridge, a 540-foot steel span across the 
Song Ma River, roughly seventy miles south of Hanoi. The 
bridge was an important supply route for the North 
Vietnamese during the war, and they kept it defended with 
garrison-like strength. The bridge was surrounded by a 
ring of three hundred antiaircraft systems and eighty-five 
surface-to-air missile systems. A wing of Soviet-supplied 
MiG fighter jets was stationed nearby. For years in the late 
1960s, the Air Force and the Navy tried to destroy the 
bridge but could not. By 1968, eleven U.S. aircraft had been 
shot down trying to bomb the bridge. Then, in May 1972, 
after a four-and-a-halfyear bombing halt, fourteen F-4 
fighter bombers equipped with newly developed laser- 
guided bombs were sent on a mission to bomb the bridge. 
With several direct hits, the bridge was destroyed. “It 
appears that non-nuclear weapons with near-zero miss may 
be feasibly and militarily effective,” Wohlstetter wrote in 
praise of these new “smart” weapons. 

Also of interest to Wohlstetter were DARPA’s early efforts 
with mini-drones, which had played a major role in 
advancing laser-guided weapons technology—a fact largely 
underreported in military history books. DARPA’s Vietnam 
drone program had grown out of DDR&E John Foster’s love 
of model airplanes and remote control. Two of the mini- 
drones, called Praerie and Calere, caught Wohlstetter’s eye. 
Praerie and Calere were exceptionally small at the time, 
each weighing seventy-five pounds, including a twenty- 


eight-pound payload that could be a camera, a small bomb, 
or an “electronic warfare payload.” Each was powered by a 
lawnmower engine and could fly for up to two hours. 
Praerie carried a TV camera and used laser target 
technology. It was the first drone to direct a cannon- 
launched guided projectile to a direct hit on a tank, a 
milestone achieved at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, during an 
undated field test. The Calere drone was_ equally 
groundbreaking. It carried forward-looking infrared, or 
FLIR, another Vietnam-era invention, which allowed the 
drone to “see” at low altitudes in the dark of night. 

DARPA also developed another, much larger, “more 
complicated” drone that interested Wohlstetter, as revealed 
in an obscure 1974 internal DARPA review. Nite Panther 
and Nite Gazelle were helicopter drones, “equipped with a 
real time day-night battlefield reconnaissance capability 
including armor plate and self-sealing, extended-range fuel 
tanks.” The drone helicopters were deployed into the 
battlefield, starting in March 1968, in response to an 
urgent operational request from the Marine Corps. To 
create the Nite Panther drone, DARPA modified a Navy QH- 
50 DASH antisubmarine helicopter—originally designed to 
fire torpedoes at submerged submarines—and added a 
remotely controlled television system, called a 
“reconnaissance-observation system,” which could transmit 
real-time visuals back to a moving jeep, acting as a ground 
station. The jeep was loaded with racks of telemetry and 
television equipment, antennae, and a power supply. The 
drone operator sitting in the jeep was able to operate and 
monitor the drone helicopter from takeoff to touchdown. 
Images captured by the drone, flying over enemy territory, 
were recorded by the equipment on the jeep, then relayed 
back to a shipboard control station, where commanders 
could send high-performance strike aircraft to bomb 
targets identified by the drone. This was groundbreaking 
technology during the war. In 1974 Wohlstetter recognized 


its future potential. Conceivably, as computers got smaller 
and were able to process data faster, a drone could be sent 
deep behind enemy lines to photograph targets and send 
the images to commanders in real time. 

Another significant DARPA technology that allowed these 
Vietnam-era systems to converge was a Satellite-based 
navigation technology called Global Positioning Systems, or 
GPS. GPS began as a classified military program, the 
purpose of which was to direct weapons to precise targets. 
DARPA’s pioneering GPS program was called TRANSIT. It 
began in 1959, when ARPA contracted with the Johns 
Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory to create the first 
satellite positioning system, using six satellites, three for 
positioning and three as spares. 

After several failed launches, TRANSIT finally took up 
residence in space in June 1963. To deny enemy access to 
this kind of precise targeting information, the system was 
originally designed with an offset feature built in, called 
selective availability (SA). If an individual were able to 
access the GPS system with a private receiver, the 
information would be offset by several hundred feet. 

Over the next ten years, the Navy and the Air Force 
developed their own satellite-based navigational systems, 
but each system was incompatible with the other. In 1973 
the Pentagon ordered DARPA to create a single system 
Shared by all the military services, and a new DARPA 
program called NAVSTAR Global Positioning System 
emerged. It was a herculean effort filled with technical 
stumbling blocks and failed rocket launches. Finally, 
starting in 1989 a constellation of twenty-four satellites, 
each fitted with atomic clocks to keep them in sync, was 
sent aloft and began orbiting the earth. The U.S. military 
now had precise navigational coverage of the entire world, 
in all weather conditions, in real time. 

During the 1990s, interest in satellite-based global 
positioning technology grew, and European companies 


began developing GPS-like systems for civilian use. In an 
effort to keep the United States at the forefront of the 
burgeoning new industry, in May 2000 President Clinton 
discontinued the selective availability feature on GPS, 
giving billions of people access to precise GPS technology, 
developed by DARPA. 


To Albert Wohlstetter, working on the DARPA analysis in the 
mid-1970s, the fusion of various Vietnam-era technology 
systems—sensors, computers, laser-guided weapons, the 
ARPANET, drones—offered great promise and potential in 
the development of what he called a “system of systems.” 
The following year, on the basis of suggestions made in the 
“Summary Report of the Long Range Research and 
Development Planning Program,” DARPA initiated a new 
weapons program called Assault Breaker. A series of once 
disparate technologies could come together to fulfill 
Lukasik’s vision to “command, control, and communicate.” 
Using technologies that also included radar tracking and 
camera confirmation, Assault Breaker would one day allow 
commanders to precisely strike targets—even moving 
targets—deep behind enemy lines. Imagining a system in 
which this kind of weaponry and technology could work 
together was unprecedented. All of it had emerged from 
the Vietnam War. 

In the 1970s, the Soviets were notorious for maintaining 
a network of spies in and around Washington, D.C., and it 
did not take long for the Russians to learn about DARPA’s 
classified Assault Breaker plans. When they did, the Soviet 
military brass began studying the concept and planning 
countermeasures. In 1978 an article about Assault Breaker 
appeared in the classified Soviet military journal Military 
Thought. That the Soviets knew about DARPA’s “system of 
systems” might have gone unnoticed had it not been for the 
sharp eyes of Andrew W. Marshall, a former RAND analyst 


and Wohlstetter protégé who now had his own office inside 
the Pentagon. Marshall served as director of the Office of 
Net Assessment, created by the Nixon White House in 1973 
and dedicated to forecasting future wars. At RAND, 
Marshall had secured his reputation as a master game 
theorist, and at the Pentagon, his wizardry in prognosis and 
prediction earned him the nom de guerre Yoda, or the Jedi 
Master. It also put him in regular contact with DARPA 
directors and program managers, as he continued to be for 
over forty years. 

Part of Andrew Marshall’s job in the 1970s was to 
monitor what Soviet generals were writing in their 
classified journals. In reading Military Thought, Marshall 
learned that the Soviets felt so threatened by the prospects 
of an Assault Breaker-like system of systems that they were 
running exercises to practice countermeasures against one. 
Soviet fears of DARPA’s Assault Breaker concept did not 
stop there but made their way to the top of the Soviet 
military chain of command. In 1984 Marshall Nikolai 
Ogarkov, chief of the general staff of the armed forces of the 
Soviet Union, worried in a classified memo that Assault 
Breaker gave the Americans the ability to conduct 
“automated reconnaissance-and-strike complexes,” a 
capability that must be regarded as a “military-technical 
revolution.” Marshall renamed the Russian pronouncement 
a “revolution in military affairs,” which had since become a 
celebrated Pentagon maxim. The saying defines what 
happens when one country or fighting force creates a 
technology or tactic that makes everything else subordinate 
to it and makes many of the other side’s earlier weapons 
systems obsolete. 

Just a decade before, in the wake of the Vietnam War and 
with his agency’s budget slashed, Stephen Lukasik had 
appealed to Congress to allow DARPA to pursue “high-risk 
projects of revolutionary impact.” Lukasik told Congress 
that in the modern world, the country with the most 


powerful weapons would not necessarily have the leading 
edge. He argued that as the _ twenty-first century 
approached, the leading edge would belong to the country 
with the best information—with which it could quickly plan, 
coordinate, and attack. Eleven years later, his vision proved 
correct. The Soviets felt deeply threatened by DARPA’s C3- 
based revolution in military affairs. 

Technology continued to advance at a radical new pace. 
In 1977 Harold Brown became President Carter’s secretary 
of defense, making Brown the first nuclear scientist to lead 
the Department of Defense. Brown believed that 
technological superiority was imperative to military 
dominance, and he also believed that advancing science 
was the key to economic prosperity. “Harold Brown turned 
technology leadership into a national strategy,” remarks 
DARPA historian Richard Van Atta. Despite rising inflation 
and unemployment, DARPA’s’ budget was_ doubled. 
Microprocessing technologies were making stunning 
advances. High-speed communication networks and Global 
Positioning System technologies were accelerating at 
whirlwind speeds. DARPA’s highly classified, high-risk, high- 
payoff programs, including stealth, advanced sensors, laser- 
guided munitions, and drones, were being pursued, in the 
black. Soon, Assault Breaker technology would be battle 
ready. From all of this work, entire new industries were 
forming. 


In the fall of 1978, Captain (later Colonel) Jack A. Thorpe, a 
thirty-four-year-old Air Force officer with a Ph.D. in 
psychology, was sitting inside a flight simulator at the Flying 
Training Division of Williams Air Force Base in Arizona 
when he got a radical idea. The flight simulator here at the 
Human Resources Laboratory was one of two of the most 
advanced simulators in the country—and the most 
expensive, having cost more than $25 million to build, 


roughly $100 million in 2015. The computer-driven 
simulator was mounted on a hydraulic motion system that 
moved like a carnival ride. The simulator Captain Thorpe 
was sitting inside was connected to a second computer, 
which made the pair state of the art and one of a kind. 

“The other flyer’s aircraft appeared in the corner of my 
screen like a small cartoonish icon,” Thorpe remembers. 
“What this meant in 1978 was that this flight simulator was 
the only one in America where two pilots could engage in 
flight training research operations together, at the same 
time.” 

Thorpe was struck with an idea. What if an Air Force 
pilot could sit inside a small room like the one he was sitting 
in now, but instead of looking at cartoonish icons moving 
across a computer screen, he saw the world in front of him 
in three dimensions? What if it felt like he was actually 
inside the airplane, with his wingman flying alongside? Jack 
Thorpe had a name for what he imagined. It was a “high- 
fidelity simulator,” a virtual world. 

Back at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., 
where he was stationed, Thorpe put his thoughts down on 
paper. In “Future Views: Aircrew Training, 1980-2000,” 
Thorpe described a flight-training situation in which a 
whole squadron of pilots could prepare for combat 
readiness together, training on individual but networked 
flight simulators. Each airman would be flying a separate 
aircraft but in the same battle space. In this virtual reality, 
pilots would be in visual contact with one another and in 
audio contact with a commander, who would work from a 
remote information center, imagined as a real place, which 
Thorpe called a Tactical Development Center. Thorpe’s 
Tactical Development Center would have “a_ three 
dimensional, holographic, electronic sand table,” he wrote, 
“a place where tacticians and strategists could see what the 
pilots in their simulators were doing.” In this computer- 
generated environment, a commander would be able to 


“see” what was happening in the battle space, in real time, 
thanks to an overhead satellite source delivering data. In 
this new virtual world, pilots would train and _ their 
commanders would strategize. 

These simulators would allow for “real-time dress 
rehearsals,” Thorpe wrote, teaching pilots how to train in 
groups, with the immediacy of real battle situations but 
without the lethal consequences. On the basis of the 
outcomes of various simulations, commanders could quickly 
decide what course of action each pilot should take. Without 
having access to any information about DARPA programs, 
and certainly not being privy to newly formulated classified 
details of the Assault Breaker program, Thorpe had 
envisioned almost the same thing that Wohlstetter saw. Only 
Thorpe’s high-fidelity simulator was a training tool for war, 
played in a virtual world, and Assault Breaker was a billion- 
dollar weapons system to be developed and deployed in a 
real war. 

Thorpe was invited to present his thoughts to a group of 
senior officials. “They were all command pilots, each with 
thousands of hours of flight time,” Thorpe recalls. “Here I 
am, this clown with no wings, proposing to take away flight 
training time from air officers. I did not articulate myself 
very well. I got my lunch handed to me.” The senior officials 
chuckled at his idea. 

Thorpe figured he was missing a key piece of this puzzle 
he was designing, but he just did not know what it was yet. 
“There is nothing like getting yelled at to make you think 
harder, to really reflect,” Thorpe says. “I figured out you 
can’t take away flight training time. The simulator would be 
a better place to practice certain combat skills that can 
never be practiced except in battle,” he says. “For example, 
you could practice with equipment like jammers, which you 
would never turn on in peacetime, [which] an opponent 
could [potentially] see. As soon as I had the ‘ah-hah’ 
moment, that the real value of the simulator was to teach 


and practice skills you could not practice until the first day 
of real combat, that’s when the way to design the simulator 
became clear to me.” 

Thorpe ran the idea by a few senior officers, but it was 
just too difficult a concept for most people to visualize. 
Then, “by happenstance,” says Thorpe, “I was offered the 
services of a graphic artist in the Pentagon, and he 
illustrated the key components of the proposed concept.” 
Thorpe’s paper, which now included elegant drawings, was 
reviewed by senior Pentagon staff. “Everyone said, ‘Hey, 
that’s cool,’” Thorpe recalls. “But they also said, “The fact is, 
the technology isn’t there yet.’” Most colleagues who looked 
at Thorpe’s drawings said to him, “We don’t even know how 
to start building something like that yet.” 

One of the greatest stumbling blocks to Thorpe’s vision in 
1978 was how these simulators could possibly be connected 
to one another. “The idea of networks connecting distant 
military installations was not yet imagined,” says Thorpe. 
“The ARPANET experiments connecting a small number of 
computers between different universities were under way, 
but the results were not well known.” Mostly they were still 
classified. With his vision for the future seeming more 
science fiction than science, Thorpe’s paper was shelved. 

Thorpe went back to school, to the Naval War College in 
Newport, Rhode Island, and in January 1981 he was 
assigned to DARPA, on loan from the Air Force. He was 
made a program manager in the Systems Science Division, 
next door to the Information Processing Technology Office 
that was being run by Bob Kahn, the man who, together 
with Vint Cerf, had invented the Transmission Control 
Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). Thorpe recalls what an 
exciting time it was at DARPA, “the center of the universe 
for gadgets.” DARPA was located at 1400 Wilson Boulevard 
in Arlington, Virginia, and the Systems Science Division had 
its own demonstration facility across the street, “a place to 
try out all the new gadgets, take them apart, put them back 


together again, or maybe integrate one with another 
system.” Thorpe remembers one such example when one of 
the world’s first compact disc players arrived in America, at 
DARPA, in 1981 or 1982. It had been sent from a small 
electronics company in Japan. “There were only a few CDs 
in the world at the time,” Thorpe recalls, “and they had 
music on them. Our director wasn’t interested in listening 
to music, but we were interested in thinking about using 
the technology for data storage.” The CD player was the 
size of a suitcase. 

In the DARPA building, down the hallway from Thorpe’s 
office, was the Cybernetics Technology Office, where 
DARPA’s artificial intelligence work was under way. One day 
Thorpe’s boss, Craig Fields, the former program director of 
cybernetics technology, asked Thorpe if he had any bright 
ideas. 

“T pulled out the old high-fidelity simulator drawings,” 
recalls Thorpe. “Fields, a brilliant guy, and later the director 
of DARPA, says, ‘I like that.’ He suggested we go talk to the 
director, Larry Lynn.” Thorpe explained his idea to Lynn, 
who said he liked it, too. 

“How much to build this synthetic world?” Thorpe recalls 
Lynn asking. 

“Seventeen million,” Thorpe told him. 

“Let’s do it,” Larry Lynn said. 

“So we went ahead and started the program,” says 
Thorpe. 

Captain Jack Thorpe’s paper was now a DARPA program 
called Simulator Networking, or SIMNET. Broadly 
speaking, the goal of SIMNET was to add a new element to 
command and control (C2), namely training. C2 would 
eventually become C2U, “with a ‘U’ for university,” says 
Thorpe. 

In April 1983, SIMNET was just another DARPA 
program. Nothing like it had ever been attempted before, 
and like other blue-sky science endeavors at DARPA, 


SIMNET was given room to succeed or to fail. “DARPA, 
unlike most agencies, is allowed to fail some fraction of the 
time,” says Joe Mangano, a former DARPA program 
manager. 

“In the early 1980s, most people in the defense 
community accepted the notion that building an affordable, 
large-scale, free-play, force-on-force worldwide networked 
war-fighting system was impossible,” retired colonel Neale 
Cosby recalled in 2014. Cosby served as a SIMNET 
principal investigator for DARPA for five years. But SIMNET 
would astonish everybody, not only for its military 
application but for the multibillion-dollar industry it would 
help create. “William Gibson didn’t invent cyberspace,” 
Wired magazine reported in 1997, referring to the science 
fiction author who coined the term in 1982, “Air Force 
captain Jack Thorpe did.” SIMNET was the first realization 
of cyberspace, and it was the world’s first massively 
multiplayer online role-playing game, or MMORPG—more 
commonly known as an MMO. 

MMOs first became popular in the gaming community in 
the late 1990s, and by 2003 they had entered the 
mainstream. MMOs are now able to support enormous 
numbers of game players simultaneously, with each 
individual gamer connected to the game by the Internet. 
One of the most popular MMOs is World of Warcraft, which 
sold more than $2.5 billion worth of subscriptions in its first 
ten years. Each month, some 10 million monthly World of 
Warcraft subscribers explore fantastic virtual landscapes, 
fight monsters, and complete quests using an avatar. 

MMO users became so great in number that in 2008, the 
CIA, the NSA, and DARPA launched a covert data-mining 
effort, called Project Reynard, to track World of Warcraft 
subscribers and discern how they exist and interact in 
virtual worlds. To do so, CIA analysts created their own 
avatars and entered the virtual world of World of Warcratt. 
That the CIA was spying on MMO users was classified and 


remained unknown until 2013, when former National 
Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden disclosed 
top secret documents detailing the program, which also 
involved British intelligence agencies. “Although online 
gaming may seem like an innocuous form of entertainment, 
when the basic features and capabilities are examined, it 
could potentially become aé_ target-rich communication 
network,” reads one top secret report, “WoW [World of 
Warcraft] may be providing SIGINT [signals intelligence] 
targets a way to hide in plain sight.” 

But back in 1983, SIMNET was just getting started. 
MMOs were far in the future and still a figment of the 
imagination. SIMNET was about training warfighters for 
battle. And Jack Thorpe had more than a decade of work 
ahead of him. 


CHAPTER FIFTEEN 


Star Wars and Tank Wars 


On the evening of March 23, 1983, a long black limousine 


pulled up to the south gate of Ronald Reagan’s White 
House. In the back sat Edward Teller, now seventy-five 
years old. Teller was not exactly sure why he was here. He 
had just flown in from California, where he lived, because 
the aide who called him three days earlier said President 
Reagan thought it was important that he be at the White 
House on this night. 

Walking with a limp and a cane, Teller made his way 
through the White House foyer, up the stairs, and into the 
Blue Room. There he was greeted by Admiral John 
Poindexter, the Military Assistant to the President for 
National Security Affairs. Poindexter suggested Teller have 
a seat. Thirty-six chairs had been set up in neat rows. Teller 
sat down and waited. In another seat was the Jason 
scientist and Nobel laureate Charles H. Townes, the 
principal inventor of the laser. 

At 8:00 p.m., in a nationally televised address, President 
Reagan announced to the world his decision to launch a 
major new research and development program to intercept 
Soviet ICBMs in various stages of flight. The program, the 
Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), would require numerous 
advanced technology systems, the majority of which were 
still in the development stage. DARPA would be the lead 


agency in charge until SDI had its own organization. 

President Reagan said that the reason for this radical 
new initiative was simple. When he first became president, 
he was shocked to learn that in the event of a Soviet 
nuclear strike, his only option as commander in chief was to 
launch an all-out nuclear attack against the Soviets in 
response. Reagan said he was not willing to live in the 
Shadow of nuclear Armageddon—mutual assured 
destruction. The United States needed the capability to 
strike down incoming Soviet missiles before they arrived. 
This bold new SDI program would allow for that. 

For decades, defense scientists like the Jason scientists 
had been grappling with this conundrum of ballistic missile 
defense and had concluded that there was no way to defend 
against an onslaught of incoming ICBMs. Now, Reagan 
believed that technology had advanced to the point where 
this could be done sometime in the not-so-distant future. 

The Strategic Defense Initiative involved huge mirrors in 
Space, space-based surveillance and tracking systems, 
space-based battle stations, and more. But the element that 
got the most attention right away was the x-ray laser, which 
scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 
had been working on since the 1970s. Very few people 
outside the Livermore group understood the science behind 
an x-ray laser, and even fewer knew that x-ray lasers were 
powered by nuclear explosions. 

Several days after Reagan’s speech, Secretary of 
Defense Caspar Weinberger was leaving the Pentagon to 
brief Congress on SDI. Walking alongside him was 
Undersecretary Richard D. DeLauer, a ballistic missile 
expert. Secretary Weinberger was having trouble grasping 
the science behind SDI and DeLauer was trying to explain it 
to him. 

“But is ita bomb?” Secretary Weinberger asked. 

DeLauer was candid. As the former executive vice 
president of the missile company TRW, Inc., and with a 


Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering, DeLauer understood the 
science behind the x-ray laser. “You’re going to have to 
detonate a nuclear bomb in space,” he told the secretary of 
defense. “That’s how you’re going to get the x-ray.” 

This put Secretary Weinberger in an untenable position. 
President Reagan had assured the public that his new 
program would not involve nuclear weapons in space. “It’s 
not a bomb, is it?” Weinberger asked a second time. 

DeLauer chose his words carefully. He said that the x-ray 
laser didn’t have to be called a bomb. It could be described 
as involving a “nuclear event.” 

In a 1985 interview for the Los Angeles Times, DeLauer 
relayed this story verbatim. He said that the secretary of 
defense “didn’t understand the technology,” adding, “Most 
people don’t.” 

The laser was invented in the late 1950s by Charles 
Townes, who in 1964 was awarded the Nobel Prize in 
physics. In the most basic sense a laser is a device that 
emits light. But unlike with other light sources, such as a 
lightbulb, which emits light that dissipates, in a laser the 
photons all move in the same direction in lockstep, exactly 
parallel to one another, with no deviation. To many, the laser 
is something straight out of science fiction. In a 2014 
interview for this book, Charles Townes, then age ninety- 
eight, confirmed that he had been inspired to create the 
laser after reading Alexei Tolstoi’s 1926 science-fiction 
novel The Garin Death Ray. “This idea of a flashing death 
ray also has a mystique that catches human attention,” said 
Townes, “and so we have Jove’s bolts of lightning and the 
death rays of science fiction.” A half century after Tolstoi 
wrote about the Garin death ray, George Lucas modernized 
the concept with Luke Skywalker’s light saber in the 
science-fiction film Star Wars. 

One of the first sets of experiments involving lasers, 
mirrors, and space took place in 1969 and has been largely 
lost to the history books. The experiment began on July 21 


of that year, said Townes, when, for the first time in history, 
two men walked on the moon. While on the lunar surface, 
“astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin [Buzz] Aldrin set up 
an array of small reflectors on the moon and faced them 
toward the Earth.” Back here on earth—which is 240,000 
miles from the moon—two teams of astrophysicists, one 
team working at the University of California’s Lick 
Observatory, on Mount Hamilton, and the other at the 
University of Texas’s McDonald Observatory, on Mount 
Locke, took careful notes regarding where, exactly, the 
astronauts were when they set down the mirrors. “About 
ten days later, the Lick team pointed the telescope at that 
precise location and sent a small pulse of power into the 
tiny piece of hardware they had added to the telescope,” 
said Townes. Inside the telescope, a beam _ of 
“extraordinarily pure red light” emerged from a crystal of 
synthetic ruby, pierced the sky, and entered the near 
vacuum of space. A laser beam. 

Traveling at the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second, 
the laser beam took less than two seconds to hit the mirrors 
left behind on the moon by Armstrong and Aldrin, and then 
the same amount of time to travel back to earth, where the 
Lick team “detected the faint reflection of its beam,” 
explained Townes. The experiment delivered volumes of 
scientific data, but one set was truly phenomenal. “The 
interval between launch of the pulse of light and its return 
permitted calculation of the distance to the moon within an 
inch, a measurement of unprecedented precision,” said 
Townes. The laser beam was able to measure what 
stargazers and astronomers have wondered since time 
immemorial: Exactly how far away from earth is the moon? 

While the astrophysicists were using laser technology for 
peaceful purposes, the Defense Department was already 
looking at using lasers as directed-energy weapons (DEW). 
In 1968 ARPA had established a classified laser program 
called Eighth Card, which remains classified today, as do 


many other laser programs, the names of which are also 
classified. Directed-energy weapons have many advantages, 
none so great as speed. Traveling at the speed of light 
means a DEW could hit a target on the moon in less than 
two seconds. 


After hearing Reagan’s historic announcement from a front- 
row seat in the White House Blue Room, Edward Teller and 
Charles Townes had decidedly different reactions. Teller 
embraced the idea and would become a leading scientist on 
the Strategic Defense Initiative and the follow-up program, 
called Brilliant Pebbles. Charles Townes did not believe 
Reagan’s SDI concept could work. 

“For a president who doesn’t know the technology one 
can see why [it] might be appealing,” said Townes. “It 
doesn’t really seem very attractive to me, or doable. But 
you can see how from a matter of principle it sounded good 
to Reagan. It’s like an imaginary story of what might be 
done.” 

The day after the speech, Senator Edward Kennedy 
criticized the president’s initiative, calling it a “reckless 
‘Star Wars’ scheme.” The name stuck. From then on, the 
president’s program became known around the world as 
“Star Wars.” Science fiction and science had crossed paths 
once again. For the general population, real-world lasers, 
death rays, and directed-energy weapons were scientifically 
impossible to grasp. Science fiction was not so hard. 

Congress worried that SDI was not technically feasible 
and that it was politically irresponsible. That even if the 
technology were successful, it could trigger a dangerous 
new arms race with the Soviets. But after debating the 
issue, Congress gave the Reagan White House the go-ahead 
for the Strategic Defense Initiative, and over the next ten 
years, nearly $20 billion was spent. It is often said that the 
Clinton administration canceled the SDI program, when in 


fact it canceled only certain elements of the Strategic 
Defense Initiative. SDI never really went away. In 2012 the 
Fiscal Times reported that more than $100 billion had been 
spent on SDI technologies in the three decades since 
Reagan first proposed the idea, $80 billion of which had 
been spent in the past decade. 


Space remains a domain where domination has long been 
sought but where all-out war has never been fought. For 
scientists and engineers working on DARPA’s SIMNET 
program, the focus would remain on land. There had been 
steady progress with the SIMNET program in the year 
since director Larry Lynn gave it the go-ahead, including 
the fact that the Army was now involved. Which is how, in 
the spring of 1984, Jack Thorpe, now a major, found himself 
maneuvering a sixty-ton M1 Abrams tank up over a muddy 
hill deep in the pine-forested back lot of the legendary 
armor school at Fort Knox, Kentucky. 

“When we started SIMNET, the threat was on Soviet 
armor warfare,” says Thorpe, “meaning tanks.” This meant 
that simulating tank warfare was SIMNET’s first priority. 
The desired goal was to create a virtual reality that felt real. 
So Thorpe and the DARPA team were at Fort Knox, driving 
through the mud, attempting to “capture the sense of 
tankness,” says Thorpe. DARPA had big plans for SIMNET, 
with a goal of building four SIMNET centers to house a 
total of 360 simulators, roughly 90 per site. At the time, 
Thorpe and the DARPA team were working on the first two 
simulators, which would be models of M1 Abrams tanks. 

Because there would be no motion in these simulators, 
the emphasis was placed on sound. Science Applications 
International Corporation (SAIC) of La Jolla was in charge 
of working with field units at instrumented training ranges 
and collecting data. The defense contractor Perceptronics 
Corporation of California was hired to design the fiberglass 


and plywood simulators and wire them for sound. “For 
someone on the outside, the sound of the hundred-and-five- 
millimeter tank gun firing at a target downrange is 
incredibly loud, but for a person inside the tank the 
experience is totally different,” says Thorpe. Because of the 
overpressure, there is almost no noise. “It’s incredibly 
quiet.” What there is inside is movement, which, Thorpe 
says, “is a totally different kind of sound.” The audio 
specialists with Perceptronics replicated the sound inside 
the tank by simulating the loose parts that vibrate when the 
gun fires. “Coins in the glove box,” recalls Thorpe, “loose 
bolts, anything that’s not tied down.” Back in the laboratory, 
to convey that rattling sound, audio engineers filled a metal 
pie plate with nuts and bolts, then glued the pie plate to the 
top of a subwoofer which they hid behind the fiberglass in 
the tank simulator. Then Bolt, Beranek and Newman of 
Boston, which had been a principal contractor on ARPANET, 
developed the networking and graphics technology for the 
simulators. 

The 1986 annual armor conference at Fort Knox was a 
milestone in SIMNET history, the first test run of two 
DARPA SIMNET simulators. General Frederic “Rick” Brown 
and another general would test the systems, and there was 
a lot resting on what they thought of a simulated war game. 
Thorpe recalls the first two simulators as being “about 
eighty percent [complete], made of fiberglass and plywood, 
with one hand control to control the turret.” The two 
SIMNET tank simulators had been set up roughly twenty 
feet apart. The generals took their seats and the DARPA 
team piled inside. 

“Neither general had any experience in the virtual 
world,” says Thorpe. “Here’s General Brown looking at a 
screen in front of him with an icon of the other tank. I say, 
‘There in that tank, that is the [opposing] general.’ He 
doesn’t get it. So I say, ‘Turn the turret and point it toward 
the other tank.’ The turret turns. General Brown got a little 


giddy. He gets it, I think,” Thorpe recalls. “I tell him to load 
a sabot [round]. ‘Sir,’ I say, ‘if you trigger here, you can 
shoot the general.’” 

General Brown fired the virtual weapon. On the screen, 
General Brown watched the other general’s tank blow up. 
“Everything went dark,” Thorpe recalls, in the virtual 
world, “the general and his crew were ‘dead.’” From the 
other tank, in the other fiberglass and plywood box, Thorpe 
heard the other general call out, “‘Reinitialize!’” Inside his 
simulator, the second general’s tank came back to life. He 
swung his turret around, put General Brown in his sights, 
and fired at him. 

In that “reinitialize” moment, Thorpe says, he became 
convinced that both generals were sold on SIMNET. “The 
behavior in a virtual world is the same behavior as the 
behavior in the real world,” Thorpe says. 

After its initial trials, and with the endorsements from 
two U.S. Army generals, the SIMNET project had 
considerable momentum, and the DARPA teams went into 
production mode. In nine months, DARPA had constructed a 
building at Fort Knox the size of a small Costco. Inside there 
were roughly seventy tank simulators, each made of 
fiberglass, and each with the approximate dimensions of an 
M1 Abrams tank or a Bradley fighting vehicle. “The building 
was designed like a hockey rink,” Thorpe says. Power and 
networking cables dropped from the ceiling. “Entire tank 
battalions would enter the SIMNET center and begin 
training together, as if they were in a real tank battle.” 
Real-world problems had been built into the system. “If you 
left your virtual electricity on overnight, in the morning 
your battery would be dead,” Thorpe recalls. “If you didn’t 
pay attention to landmarks and disciplined map reading, 
you got lost in the virtual battle terrain. It was force on 
force. One group against another.” Competition drove the 
training to a whole new level. “The desire to win forced 
people to invent new concepts about how to beat their 


opponents.” 

A second SIMNET center was built at Fort Benning, 
Georgia, then another at Fort Rucker, in Alabama, for 
attack helicopter training. In 1988 a fourth SIMNET center 
went up at the U.S. Army garrison in Grafenwoehr, 
Germany, also for armor vehicles. In DARPA’s SIMNET, the 
U.S. Army saw a whole new way to prepare for war. Then an 
unexpected new center was requested by the Department 
of Defense. 

“The high rankers at the Pentagon wanted a simulation 
center of their own,” recalls Neale Cosby, who oversaw the 
engineering on this center. The facility chosen as the host 
was DARPA’s longtime partner the Institute for Defense 
Analyses, just down the street from DARPA in Alexandria. 
The IDA offices were located in a collegiate-looking yellow- 
brick and glass building located at 1801 North Beauregard 
Street. In 1988, Cosby recalls, much of the ground floor, 
including the cafeteria, was taken over by DARPA so an IDA 
simulation center could be built there for Pentagon brass. 
Cosby recalls the production. “We covered all the windows 
with camouflage, laid down a virtual tarmac made of foam, 
set up fiberglass helicopters, tanks, and aircraft cockpits, 
then networked everything and wired it for sound.” Finally, 
a mysterious feature was added, one that no other SIMNET 
center had. For reasons of discretion, Cosby and Thorpe 
called the feature a “flying carpet.” 

“Tt was a way for [participants] to put themselves into the 
virtual world not as a pilot or a tank driver or a gunner, but 
anywhere” in flight, says Cosby. “It was as if you were 
invisible.” At the time, the details of the invisible component 
were classified because the flying carpet feature was a way 
for Pentagon officials with high clearances to experience 
what it would be like to fly through a virtual battle in a 
stealth fighter jet. These were the results of DARPA’s “high- 
stealth aircraft” program, which began in 1974. 

Over a ten-year period, DARPA and the Army spent $300 


million developing simulation technology. In the summer of 
1990 the SIMNET system was transferred over to the U.S. 
Army. Its first large-scale use was to simulate a war game 
exercise undertaken by U.S. Central Command 
(CENTCOM), in Tampa, Florida. For years CENTCOM had 
sponsored a biennial war game exercise called Operation 
Internal Look, based on a real-world contingency plan. The 
Internal Look war games trained CENTCOM’s combatant 
commander and his staff in command, control, and 
communications techniques. The exercises involved a pre- 
scripted war game scenario in which U.S. forces would 
quickly deploy to a location to confront a hypothetical 
Soviet invasion of a specific territory. In the past, the war 
games had taken place in Cold War settings like the Zagros 
Mountains in Iran and the Fulda Gap in Germany. 

In the summer of 1990 the Cold War climate had 
changed. The Berlin Wall had come down eight months 
before, and CENTCOM commander in chief General 
Norman Schwarzkopf decided that for Internal Look 90, 
U.S. forces would engage in a SIMNET-based war game 
against a different foe, other than the Soviet Union. A 
scripted narrative was drawn up involving Iraqi president 
Saddam Hussein and his military, the fourth largest in the 
world. In this narrative, Iraq, coming off its eight-year war 
with Iran, would attack the rich oil fields of Saudi Arabia. In 
response, U.S. armed forces would enter the conflict to help 
American ally Saudi Arabia. Because new SIMNET 
technology was involved, realistic data on Saudi Arabia, 
Iraq, and neighboring Kuwait were incorporated into the 
war game scenario, including geography, architecture, and 
urban populations, this for the first time in history. In 
playing the war game, CENTCOM battle staff drove tanks, 
flew aircraft, and moved men across computer-generated 
Middle Eastern cities and vast desert terrain with the 
astonishing accuracy and precision of SIMNET simulation. 

“We played Internal Look in late July 1990, setting up a 


mock headquarters complete with computers’ and 
communications gear at Eglin Air Force Base,” General 
Schwarzkopf wrote in his memoir. And then to everyone’s 
surprise, on the last day of the simulated war game 
exercises, on August 4, 1990, Irag invaded its small, oil-rich 
neighbor Kuwait—for real. It was a bizarre turn of events. 
Science and science fiction had crossed paths once again. 

Months later, after the Gulf War began and ended, 
General Schwarzkopf commented on how strangely similar 
the real war and the simulated war game had been. 

“As the exercise [i.e., the Gulf War] got under way,” 
General Schwarzkopf said, “the movements of Iraq’s real- 
world ground and air forces eerily paralleled the imaginary 
scenario of the game.” 


CHAPTER SIXTEEN 


The Gulf War and Operations 
Other Than War 


Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney sat in his office in the E- 


Ring of the Pentagon eating Chinese food. It was shortly 
after 6:00 p.m. on January 16, 1991. On the round table in 
front of him there were paper cartons of food: steamed 
vegetables, egg rolls, and rice. On a television set mounted 
on the wall, CNN war correspondents were reporting from 
Baghdad, Irag, where it was the middle of the night. 
Secretary Cheney listened carefully as he ate his dinner. He 
would later say that what struck him as odd, even surreal, 
as he watched the news feed was just how ignorant the 
reporters and everyone else in Baghdad were regarding 
the reality that was about to unfold. Tomahawk land attack 
missiles, the engines of which were created by DARPA, and 
F-117A stealth fighter aircraft, also a DARPA-born program, 
were on their way to destroy parts of the city. The 
Tomahawks could not be recalled. War was less than an 
hour away. 

Below the office of the secretary of defense, just one floor 
down, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General 
Colin Powell, sat reviewing target lists. The missiles and 
bombs were set to strike and destroy Saddam Hussein’s 
military command centers, communication towers, 


electrical plants, radar sites, and more. The plan was to 
“give them the full load the first night,” Cheney later 
observed. Any kind of gradual escalation carried the stench 
of Vietnam. It was an ambitious strategy. Baghdad had a 
sophisticated air defense network and was the second most 
heavily air-defended city in the world, after Moscow. 

It was a little after 2:30 a.m. Baghdad time and the 
moonless sky over the city was dark as Major Greg “Beast” 
Feest prepared to drop the first bomb of the Persian Gulf 
War. Piloting his F-117A stealth fighter toward the target, 
Major Feest was overwhelmed by a wave of apprehension. 

“Two thoughts crossed my mind,” Feest later recalled. 
“First, would I be able to identify the target? Second, did 
the Air Force want me to drop this bomb?” But the doubts 
were fleeting and lasted only a few seconds. “As | 
approached the target area, my adrenaline was up and 
instinct took over. My bomb was armed.” 

Major Feest’s target was the Information Operations 
Center at the Nukayb Airbase, southwest of Baghdad, a key 
link between Iraq’s radar network and its air defense 
headquarters. Destroying this target would allow other, 
non-stealth aircraft to enter Iraq undetected. Feest looked 
down at the display panel in front of him. “My laser began 
to fire as I tracked the target,” he said. “All I had to do was 
play, what I called, a highly sophisticated video game, and in 
30 minutes I would be back in Saudi Arabia.” 

At precisely 2:51 a.m. local time, the weapons bay doors 
opened on Feest’s F-117A and a two-thousand-pound laser- 
guided GBU-27 dropped from the fighter aircraft, headed 
for the target. On the display in front of him Feest watched 
what happened next. “I saw the bomb go through the cross- 
hairs and penetrate the bunker. The explosion came out of 
the hole the bomb had made and blew out the doors of the 
bunker.” Feest’s bomb hit and destroyed one-half of the 
Iraqi air defense center at Nukayb. 

“The video game was over,” Feest recalled thinking. 


Except this was not a video game. This was war, and Major 
Feest had just dropped the first bomb. 

Precisely one minute later, a second laser-guided bomb 
from a second F-117A took out the remaining half of the 
building at Nukayb. As Feest headed back to the base in his 
stealth aircraft, he was stunned by what he saw. The sky 
was filled with a barrage of antiaircraft artillery shooting 
blindly at him. “I watched several SAMs [surface-to-air 
missiles] launch into the sky and fly through my altitude 
both in front [of] and behind me,” as Feest later described 
it. But not a single missile was guided to hit him. The F- 
117A was invisible to radar. DARPA’s stealth technology 
program had created a revolution in warfare. 

Ten additional F-117As were on their way to drop bombs 
on targets in downtown Baghdad. In the first twenty-four 
hours of the war, a total of forty-two stealth fighters, which 
accounted for only 2.5 percent of the U.S. airpower used in 
the campaign, destroyed 31 percent of Iraqi targets. This 
was technology in action, and it gave the United States not 
only a tactical advantage but a psychological one as well. 
Stealth was like a silver bullet. It had allowed U.S. fighter 
jets to sneak into Iraqi airspace, destroy the country’s air 
defense system, and leave without a loss. Still, Iraqi 
president Saddam Hussein declared, “The great showdown 
has begun! The mother of all battles is under way.” 

The U.S. air campaign against Baghdad devastated 
Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party military infrastructure. 
Between the laser-guided bombs, the infrared night- 
bombing equipment, and the stealth fighter aircraft, the 
Iraqi air force never had a chance to engage. In retaliation, 
the Iragis launched Scud missiles at Israel and Saudi 
Arabia, but almost immediately, a U.S. Patriot missile shot 
down an Iraqi Scud missile, making the Patriot the first 
antimissile ballistic missile fired in combat. The Pentagon 
promoted the Patriot as having near-perfect performance. 
But in classified communications a different story was 


unfolding. There were twenty-seven Patriot missile 
batteries in Saudi Arabia and Israel, and each battery was 
shooting nearly ten missiles at each incoming Iraqi Scud. At 
first the numbers did not make any sense, certainly not to 
U.S. Army vice chief of staff General Gordon R. Sullivan. 
How could it take ten U.S. Patriot antimissile missiles to 
shoot a single Iraqi Scud out of the sky? A classified 
investigation revealed that because of poor-quality 
engineering, the Iraqi Scuds were breaking apart in their 
terminal phase, shattering into multiple pieces as they 
headed back down to earth. These multiple fragments were 
confusing Patriot missiles into thinking that each piece was 
an additional warhead. Shoddy workmanship had 
inadvertently created a poor man’s version of the highly 
sophisticated MIRV—multiple independently targetable 
reentry vehicle—the deceptive penetration aid originally 
dreamed of by the Jason scientists thirty years before. 

For the U.S. military, the Gulf War was an opportunity to 
demonstrate what its system of systems was capable of. 
While the stealth fighter aircraft received most of the 
attention, as far as high technology was concerned, there 
were other DARPA systems flying over Iraq that were 
equally revolutionary, just not as visible or as sleek. Drones 
played a prominent role in the system of systems, largely 
unreported. Remotely piloted vehicles, small and large, 
collected mapping information that helped _ steer 
Tomahawks to their targets. Some 522 drone sorties were 
flown, totaling 1,641 hours, many of them based on DARPA 
technology going back to the Vietnam War. Equipped with 
infrared sensors, the drones’ cameras easily located ground 
troops and vehicles hidden behind sand berms or covered 
in camouflage. The drones relayed back the information, 
which was then used to take out the targets. In one 
instance, a group of Iraqi soldiers stepped out from a hiding 
place and waved the white flag of surrender at the eye of a 
television camera attached to a drone that was hovering 


nearby. This became the first time in history that a group of 
enemy soldiers was recorded surrendering to a machine. 

Another DARPA technology workhorse was the four- 
engine Boeing 707-300 lumbering 42,000 feet above the 
battlefield. This was DARPA’s JSTARS, or Joint Surveillance 
Target Attack Radar System, a command, control, and 
communication center flying overhead in _ racetrack 
formation, managing much of the action going on down 
below. JSTARS, run jointly by the Air Force and the Army, 
involved aircraft equipped with a forty-foot-long canoe- 
shaped radar dome mounted under the front of the 
fuselage. Inside the dome, a radar antenna the height of a 
two-story house was able to send precise target information 
to Army ground stations below. The radar could detect, 
locate, and track vehicles moving deep behind enemy lines, 
making JSTARS the first and only airborne platform in 
operation that could maintain “real time surveillance over a 
corps-sized area of the battlefield.” The system software on 
board JSTARS was so complex it required almost 600,000 
lines of code, roughly three times more than any other C3 
system previously developed by the U.S. military. Sixteen 
years earlier, DARPA had begun developing this system of 
systems concept with Assault Breaker. Now it was in play in 
the war theater. 

JSTARS was like an all-seeing commander in the sky. It 
could “see” some 19,305 square miles of terrain below, and 
it could detect moving targets 200 to 250 miles away. It 
could “see” in darkness and bad weather, including clouds 
and sandstorms. Two of these prototype JSTARS were flown 
in the Gulf War, providing what DARPA historical literature 
describes as a “real-time tactical view of the battlefield 
never seen before in the history of warfare.” When, on 
February 1, a ten-mile-long column of Iraqi armored tanks 
headed into Saudi Arabia, JSTARS saw it and sent coalition 
aircraft to destroy the column. As bombing continued from 
the air, sorties passed the forty thousand mark—ten 


thousand more missions than the U.S. Army Air Force flew 
against Japan in the last fourteen months of World War II. 
The Pentagon began releasing mind-numbing statistics on 
what its system of systems had destroyed: 1,300 of Iraq’s 
4,280 tanks, 1,100 of Iraq’s 3,110 artillery pieces, and 800 
of Iraq’s 2,870 armored tanks. 

Next came the ground war, which began on Sunday, 
February 24, at 4:00 a.m. Saudi time. Saddam Hussein 
delivered a radio broadcast telling his troops to kill “with all 
your might.” The decisive battle that ended the Gulf War 
two days later would become known as the Battle of 73 
Easting, the last great tank battle of the twentieth century. 
But unlike so many of history’s great tank battles, which 
were named after the cities in which they were fought, the 
Battle of 73 Easting was named after a GPS coordinate, or 
gridline. 

On February 25, eight hundred M1A1 Abrams tanks 
lined up on Irag’s southern border with Saudi Arabia, and 
the following morning, the initial attack against Saddam 
Hussein’s Republican Guard Tawakalna tank division began 
with an assault by the Second Armored Cavalry Division. 
Spearheading the attack were three troops: Ghost, Eagle, 
and Iron. The Second Armored Cavalry Division had been 
stationed in Grafenwoehr, Germany, and had trained on 
DARPA’s SIMNET simulators before deploying to the 
Persian Gulf. The M1 Abrams tanks that Jack Thorpe and his 
DARPA team had driven around at Fort Knox had since 
been outfitted with a powerful new weapons system: night 
vision thermal imaging. 

On the day of the battle that ended the Gulf War, there 
had been terrible weather all morning. After a night of rain, 
the flat, trackless desert remained encumbered by thick fog 
and clouds. Around 3:30 p.m. the sun briefly emerged, but 
then a sandstorm kicked in. Between the bad weather and 
the thick black smoke moving across the desert from the 
burning Kuwaiti oil fields, visibility was reduced to nil. The 


gunners in the Iragi Tawakalna tank division were blind. 
Not so the Second Armored Cavalry. Equipped with thermal 
imaging systems, the M1A1 tanks made it possible for U.S. 
soldiers to see in the dark. Night vision was a science 
DARPA had been advancing since 1961, when ARPA wrote 
the first handbook on the subject, the Handbook of Military 
Infrared Technology. Infrared vision was developed in 
Vietnam to help soldiers see through dense jungle canopies. 
Now it was being used in the desert. 

“We had thermal imagery,” says Major Douglas 
Macgregor, who saw action in the Battle of 73 Easting as 
commander of Cougar Squadron, and “the Iraqis did not. 
Yes, our firepower was extremely accurate, pinpoint 
accurate, but we could see what we were firing at and they 
could not.” When the Second Armored Cavalry’s Eagle 
Troop launched its attack around 4:10 p.m., it caught the 
Iragi Republican Guard unawares. In less than half an hour, 
Eagle Troop destroyed twenty-eight T-72 Iraqi tanks, 
sixteen armored personnel carriers, and thirty-nine trucks, 
with no losses of its own. “The battle took twenty-three 
minutes to win,” retired four-star general Paul Gorman told 
Congress. “The U.S. alone enjoyed the advantage of satellite 
navigation and imagery, and of thermal-imaging fire 
control.” 

The Iraqi army was overpowered. Iraqi soldiers started 
to give up and abandon their posts en masse. During a vast 
exodus of Iraqi troops from Kuwait City, JSTARS pinpointed 
thousands of fleeing vehicles for coalition attack aircraft to 
bomb. The stark photographs of destroyed vehicles along 
Iraq’s Highway 80 provided a striking visual image of how a 
system of systems worked. Between JSTARS, stealth 
aircraft, GPS satellite navigation, bomber aircraft, laser- 
guided bombs, and night vision, the United States and its 
technological firepower wrought mega-death. Between 
1,500 and 2,000 charred and abandoned vehicles were left 
littering the road, including Iraqi tanks, Mercedes-Benz 


sedans, stolen Kuwaiti fire trucks, and minivans. There 
were charred bodies and loose flip-flops, suitcases, and fruit 
crates. Some of the victims had been flash-heated to death 
in crawling and stretching motions, like the famous bodies 
from Pompeii. The international press called the four-lane 
stretch of highway between Irag and Kuwait the “Highway 
of Death.” 

Concerned about the negative narrative unfolding in the 
press, Colin Powell met with General Schwarzkopf to 
discuss the matter. 

“The television coverage,” said Powell, is “starting to 
make us look as if we engaged in slaughter for slaughter’s 
sake.” 

“T’ve been thinking the same thing,” Schwarzkopf told 
him. 

Powell asked General Schwarzkopf what he wanted to 
do. 

“One more day should do it,” Schwarzkopf said, 
indicating he was authorizing one more day of bombing. 

Late the following day, on February 27, President George 
H. W. Bush declared “suspension of offense combat” in the 
Persian Gulf and laid out conditions for a permanent cease- 
fire with Iraq. The Gulf War had lasted one month and 
twelve days. 


One week after the cease-fire, back in Washington, D.C., 
DARPA director Victor Reis met with General Gordon 
Sullivan, vice chief of staff of the Army, for lunch. General 
Sullivan had formerly served as the deputy commander of 
the Armor Center at Fort Knox and was a fan of SIMNET. To 
this lunch General Sullivan carried with him a copy of the 
Stars and Stripes newspaper. Pointing to a headline, “Ghost 
Troops Battle at the 73 Easting,” General Sullivan asked 
Reis if DARPA could put the Battle of 73 Easting in reverse 
simulation, as a training tool. Reis said he would see what 


he could do. 

Reis brought the idea to Neale Cosby at the IDA SIMNET 
Center. “I told Vic it was a great idea,” Colonel Cosby 
recalled in 2014. “I said, we can do it and we should do it.” 
Reverse simulation of the Battle of 73 Easting, he thought, 
would be “the ultimate after-action report.” There was 
much to learn from technology. 

In a matter of days, a team from DARPA, led by Colonel 
Gary Bloedorn, flew to Iraq to interview soldiers who had 
fought in the battle. Bloedorn and the DARPA team heard 
varying accounts, read notes and radio transcripts, and 
listened to an audiotape made by a soldier in one of the 
command vehicles. The team traveled to the GPS gridline at 
73 Easting, where they walked around the battlefield, 
recorded forensic evidence, and measured distances 
between U.S. firing positions and destroyed Iraqi vehicles. 
Then they returned to IDA to input data and reconstruct 
the battle down to fractions of seconds. The process took six 
months. 

With a draft version complete, the reconstruction team 
traveled to Germany, where most of the battle’s participants 
were stationed. The DARPA team showed the soldiers the 
SIMNET version of the battle, took notes, and made final 
adjustments for accuracy. Back at IDA the team worked for 
another six months, then met with the key leaders of the 
battle one last time for a final review. They proved that 
“capturing live combat” after the fact could be done, says 
Cosby. Now it was time to take the show to Congress. 

On May 21, 1992, members of the Senate Armed 
Services Committee were shown the DARPA simulation of 
the Battle of 73 Easting. Retired general Paul Gorman led 
the opening remarks. But before playing the SIMNET 
simulation, Gorman pointed to the simulator and introduced 
the machine. 

“This somewhat daunting graphic apparatus before you 
is an instrument of war,” Gorman told the committee 


members, “a mechanism designed to enable humans to 
understand the complexity, the kinetics, the chaos of 
battle.” Gorman reminded his audience what General 
Patton once said, “that it is men, not machines, who fight 
and win wars.” But the world had changed, Gorman said, 
and now machines were there to help. In the past, war 
stories were the only record of battle. Computer simulation 
had now changed that. 

“T am here to urge [you] that all must recognize that 
simulation is fundamental to readiness for war,” Gorman 
said. With that, he played the twenty-three-minute 
simulation of the Battle of 73 Easting. Congress, Cosby 
recalled, was “wowed.” The military services would begin 
moving toward computer simulation as a primary training 
tool for war. 

DARPA’s Assault Breaker concept had delivered results in 
the Gulf War, and at the Pentagon, renewed excitement was 
in the air. Ever since the Vietnam War, the Defense 
Department had struggled with a public perception of the 
military rooted in impotency and distrust. The Gulf War had 
changed that. The Pentagon was potent once again. The 
Gulf War was over fast, the death toll remarkably low: 390 
Americans died, with 458 wounded in action. There were 
510 casualties from all allied forces. President George H. W. 
Bush even triumphantly declared, “By God, we’ve licked the 
Vietnam Syndrome once and for all!” 

But the optimism would not last long. 


It was the early afternoon of October 3, 1993, in 
Mogadishu, Somalia, a lawless, famine-stricken city run by 
armed militias and warlords. What had begun as a 
peacekeeping mission ten months prior had devolved into a 
series of quick-action Special Forces operations. On this 
particular day, a joint special operations task force named 
Task Force Ranger, made up of elite U.S. military personnel 


including Army Rangers, Navy Seals, and Delta Force, 
embarked on a mission to capture two high-level Somali 
lieutenants working for the warlord and president-elect 
General Mohamed Farrah Aidid. A group of Aijidid’s 
lieutenants were holed up in a_ two-story building 
downtown, not far from the Olympic Hotel. 

It was fifteen minutes into the mission and everything 
was going according to plan. Ground forces had arrived at 
the target location and were loading twenty-four captured 
Somali militants into convoy trucks when a series of deadly 
events began to unfold. A Black Hawk helicopter, call sign 
Super 61, was heading toward the target building with a 
plan in place to transport U.S. soldiers back to base, when 
suddenly a group of Somali militants scrambled onto a 
nearby rooftop, took aim at the helicopter, and fired a 
rocket-propelled grenade. 

Norm Hooten, one of the Special Operations team 
leaders, watched in horror. The Black Hawk “took a direct 
hit toward the tail boom and it started a slow rotation” 
down, Hooten recalled. “It was a catastrophic impact.” 
Super 61 began spinning out of control. It crashed in the 
street below, killing both pilots on impact. In a videotape 
recording of the crash released by the Defense Department 
in 2013, a voice can be heard shouting over the military 
communications system, “We got a Black Hawk going down! 
We got a Black Hawk going down!” 

A fifteen-man combat search and rescue team and an 
MH-6 Little Bird helicopter raced to the crash site to assist. 
But hundreds of angry Somalis were gathering in the 
surrounding streets, creating barricades made of burning 
tires and garbage, inhibiting access. A firefight ensued, 
trapping the Americans and pitting them against a violent 
mob. The situation grew dramatically worse when a second 
Black Hawk, call sign Super 64, was shot down. Another 
mob of Somalis charged to the second crash site, where 
they killed everyone except one of the pilots, Michael 


Durrant. Ranger and Delta Force teams took to the streets 
in an attempt to provide search and rescue, and cover to 
their trapped fellow soldiers. A chaotic, deadly battle 
ensued, lasting all through the night and into the morning. 
By the time it was over, eighteen Americans, one Pakistani, 
and one Malaysian soldier were dead and eighty were 
injured. An unknown number of Somalis, estimated to be 
roughly three thousand, had been killed. 

This was asymmetric warfare—a battle between two 
groups with radically different levels of military power. The 
superior military force, the United States, killed a far 
greater number of the opposition while its own losses were 
played out on television screens around the _ world. 
Videotaped images of mobs of Somalis dragging the semi- 
naked, bloodied bodies of the dead American pilots and 
soldiers through the streets were shocking. 

It was a watershed moment and a turning point in 
modern U.S. military affairs. The might and morale of the 
United States military, made evident in the Gulf War, had 
been weakened. Every war planner, going back at least 
2,000 years, knows better than to fight a battle in a 
crowded place. “The worst policy,” wrote Sun Tzu, “is to 
attack cities.” The battle of Mogadishu was not part of any 
plan. There was no rehearsal for what happened. U.S. 
forces were drawn into a hellish situation, and the result 
was more lives lost than in any other combat situation since 
Vietnam. 

“The Americans were not supermen,” commented Somali 
clan leader Colonel Aden. “In these dusty streets, where 
combat was reduced to rifle against rifle, they could die as 
easily as any Somali.” Technologically advanced weaponry 
had been disabled by sticks, stones, AK-47s, and a few 
rocket-propelled grenades. 

After the battle of Mogadishu, DARPA convened a senior 
working group (SWG) to analyze what had happened in 
Somalia and make recommendations for how the Pentagon 


could best prepare for future conflicts of a similar nature— 
situations called Military Operations Other Than War, or 
OOTW. The group, led by General Carl W. Stiner, former 
commander in chief of the U.S. Special Operations 
Command, focused on solutions that would require new 
technologies to be developed. The group involved itself in 
ten study sessions over two months and spent six months 
preparing a written report. 

The opening lines read like a salvo. “The world is no 
longer bipolar,” the Senior Working Group wrote. “The 
post-Cold War strategic environment is ill-defined, dynamic 
and unstable.” During the Cold War, America knew who the 
enemy was. Not so anymore. Terrorist organizations, 
paramilitary groups, and militia were destined to emerge 
from multiple chaotic urban environments around the 
globe. Third World instability, ideological and religious 
extremism, and intentional terrorism and narco-terrorism 
meant that the whole world was the new battlefield. In 
future military operations other than war, irregular enemy 
forces would include a “diverse range of adversaries 
equipped with an ever increasing array of sophisticated 
weapons,” including some that were atomic, chemical, and 
biological in design. The United States was not properly 
prepared to deal with these emerging new threats, the 
SWG warned. DARPA needed to refocus its attention on 
urban warfare. It needed to research and develop new 
weapons systems to deal with this threat, now growing 
across the Third World. 

In one part of the report, the group listed dangerous 
insufficiencies that DARPA had to shore up at once: 
“Inadequate nuclear, BW, CW [biological weapon, chemical 
weapon] detection; inadequate underground bunker 
detection; limited secure, real-time command and control to 
lower-echelon units [i.e., getting the information to soldiers 
on the ground]; limited ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and 
reconnaissance] and dissemination; inadequate mine, 


booby trap and explosive detection capabilities; inadequate 
non-lethal capabilities [i.e., incapacitating agents]; 
inadequate modeling/simulation for training, rehearsal and 
operations; no voice recognition or language translation; 
inadequate ability to deal with sniper attacks.” The SWG 
proposed that DARPA accelerate work in all these areas and 
also increase efforts in robotics and drones, human tagging 
and tracking, and nonlethal weapons systems for crowd 
control. 

DARPA had its work cut out. The agency had been 
leading military research and development for decades 
against a different enemy, one with an army of tanks and 
heavy weaponry. The new focus was on urban warfare. 
What happened in Mogadishu was a cautionary tale. 
“Military operations that were of little consideration a 
decade ago are now of major concern,” the study group 
warned. 

The following year, DARPA asked RAND to study OOTW 
and write an unclassified report. The RAND report was 
called “Combat in Hell: A Consideration of Constrained 
Urban Warfare.” It began with the prescient words: 
“Historical advice is consistent. Sun Tzu counseled that ‘the 
worst policy is to attack cities.’” Accordingly, avoid urban 
warfare. 


CHAPTER SEVENTEEN 


Biological Weapons 


On December 11, 1991, a mysterious forty-one-year-old 


Soviet scientist named Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov arrived in 
Washington, D.C., one of a thirteen-man Soviet delegation. 
The group was part of a trilateral mission that also involved 
scientists from the United States and Great Britain. The 
purpose of this visit was allegedly to allow each delegation 
to inspect the other countries’ military facilities that had, 
decades earlier, been involved in biological weapons 
programs. But really there was a lot more than just that 
going on. Back in 1972, the Biological Weapons Convention 
Treaty had made germ weapons illegal, and all three 
countries had pledged to renounce biological warfare. But 
recently American intelligence officers had discovered that 
the Soviets had not given up bioweapons work and instead 
had created a far more nefarious and frightening program 
than any military scientist in the Western world had 
imagined. This information was first learned two years 
earlier, in October 1989, and the Americans and the British 
had been puzzling out what to do about it ever since. This 
trilateral mission was a piece of that puzzle. 

In December 1991 the Soviets did not know that 
American and British intelligence officers were aware of 
their covert bioweapons program, which was called 
Biopreparat. Nor did the Soviets realize that American 


intelligence officers knew that the mysterious Dr. Kanatjan 
Alibekov was deputy director of Biopreparat, meaning he 
was second in command of a program that involved roughly 
forty thousand employees, working in forty facilities, twelve 
of which were used solely for offensive biological weapons 
work. 

That the Soviet delegation was in the United States at all 
was a highly sensitive issue. Secretary of Defense Cheney 
did not want the details made public, and to ensure secrecy, 
his office issued a press blackout around the mission. The 
only people outside the Defense Department cleared on the 
Soviet scientists’ whereabouts were individuals with the 
U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases 
(USAMRIID), who served as escorts. 

The group traveled to Dugway Proving Grounds, in Utah, 
where deadly pathogens had once been tested in the open 
air, but whose Cold War-era buildings had since been 
abandoned. They traveled to Pine Bluffs Arsenal, in 
Arkansas, where the United States had once manufactured 
biological weapons on an industrial scale, but where there 
was now nothing left but weedy fields and rusting railroad 
tracks. They went to Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Maryland, 
the former locus of U.S. bioweapons research and 
development, where USAMRIID now had its headquarters. 

Years later Dr. Alibekov would write a memoir, and in it 
he described the 1991 trip as one on which he was less 
interested in what he saw at the former weapons facilities 
than in the lifestyle of abundance that so many Americans 
seemed to enjoy. He regarded with wonderment “the well- 
paved highways, the well-stocked stores, and the luxurious 
homes where ordinary Americans lived.” Democracy, he 
concluded, offered more to its citizens than communism 
ever did. 

The trip to America in 1991 was Dr. Alibekov’s first. He 
spoke not a word of English and had met just thirteen 
Westerners in his lifetime, all members of this same 


trilateral mission who had visited the Soviet Union earlier 
that same year. During that visit, Dr. Alibekov had acted as 
one of the tour guides. The Soviets were producing germ 
weapons, and it was Alibekov’s job to make sure that the 
Western scientists were steered clear of any sights that 
might belie the Soviets’ illegal weapons work. 

Born in Kazakhstan in 1950, Alibekov had trained as an 
infectious disease physician, specializing in microbiology 
and epidemiology. At the age of twenty-four, he joined the 
military faculty at the Tomsk Medical Institute in Siberia 
and began working inside what he later described as “a 
succession of secret laboratories and installations in some 
of the most remote corners of the Soviet Union.” With each 
job came financial privilege, which was unusual for a non- 
Russian. Kazakhs were generally considered second-class 
citizens during the Cold War. But Alibekov was a talented 
microbiologist and a hard worker, which served him well 
and paid off. By the 1990s, “with the combined salary of a 
senior bureaucrat and high-ranking military officer,” he 
wrote, “I earned as much as a Soviet government minister.” 

As the tour of the American facilities was taking place, 
Russia was in a state of pandemonium. The Berlin Wall had 
come down two years earlier, but the red flag of the Soviet 
Union still flew over the Kremlin. The geopolitical landscape 
between the superpowers was in flux. “It wasn’t so clear 
the [Soviet leaders] weren’t going to re-form,” remembers 
Dr. Craig Fields, DARPA’s director at the time. “There was a 
lot of anxiety about the fact that they might re-form.” The 
two nations had been moving toward normalized relations, 
but for the Pentagon this was a time of great instability. 
While the world rejoiced over the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 
Defense Department had been coping with a myriad of 
national security unknowns. Would a unified Germany join 
NATO? How to handle troop reductions throughout 
Europe? What about all the nuclear weapons the Soviets 
possessed? The Soviet Union had spent the past five 


decades building up its weapons of mass destruction, in a 
shoulder-to-shoulder arms race with the United States. 
Who, now, would control the Soviet arsenals of WMD? At 
any given moment the Russians had more than eleven 
thousand nuclear warheads aimed at carefully selected 
targets inside the United States, as well as an additional 
fifteen thousand nuclear warheads stored in facilities across 
the sprawling Russian countryside, including mobile 
systems fitted onto railway cars. 

One person uniquely familiar with these kinds of 
questions, numbers, and threats was Lisa Bronson, the 
Pentagon official leading the delegation of Soviet scientists 
on their tour. Still in her thirties, Bronson was a lawyer and 
a disarmaments expert. As deputy director for multilateral 
negotiations with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, 
Bronson had helped conceive and design the visit by the 
Soviet team. She had also accompanied the U.S. and British 
scientists on their tour around Soviet facilities earlier in the 
year. She was one of the thirteen Westerners Dr. Alibekov 
had met before this trip. Now, with the facilities visited and 
the mission coming to a close, Lisa Bronson took the 
Russian scientists on a walking tour of the nation’s capital. 

It was during this part of the trip that a fortuitous 
exchange of words between Dr. Alibekov and Lisa Bronson 
occurred. Alibekov recalled the conversation in his memoir. 
“At various stops along the way, she had challenged us 
about the Soviet biological weapons program,” he wrote. 
“Naturally, we denied we had one. But I admired her 
persistence.” 

Standing on Pennsylvania Avenue, just down the road 
from the White House, one of Alibekov’s colleagues asked 
Bronson how much money an American scientist could earn 
in a year. 

“That depends on your experience,” she answered. “A 
government scientist can make between fifty thousand and 
seventy thousand dollars, but a scientist in the private 


sector could earn up to two-hundred thousand dollars a 
year,” about $350,000 in 2015. 

Alibekov was astonished. Throughout the trip he 
remained impressed by how much better everything was in 
America, from public infrastructure to personal living 
conditions. He thought of his own life in Moscow. How hard 
he worked and how littl he had to show for it in 
comparison. And most of all how grim the future looked 
now that the wall was down. “At the time,” he wrote, “a top- 
level Russian scientist could make about one hundred 
dollars a month.” Emboldened, Alibekov decided to speak 
up. Through an interpreter he asked Bronson a question of 
his own. 

“With my experience could I find a job here?” he asked. 

Bronson gently told Dr. Alibekov that he would have to 
learn English first. 

Through the translator, Alibekov thanked his Pentagon 
host. Then he made a joke. “Okay,” he said, “if I ever come 
here, I’ll ask for your help.” 

Lisa Bronson just smiled. 

“Everyone started to laugh,” Alibekov recalled, 
“including me.” 


Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov returned to Moscow with the Soviet 
delegation. Just a few days later, on December 25, 1991, 
President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned. On New Year’s Eve, 
the red flag of the Soviet Union, with its iconic hammer and 
sickle beneath a gold star, was taken down from the 
flagpole at the Kremlin. The tricolored flag of the newly 
formed Russian Federation was raised in its place. The 
Soviet Union ceased to exist. 

Two weeks later, Dr. Alibekov handed the director of 
Biopreparat, General Yury Kalinin, his resignation papers in 
Moscow. Then, using an intermediary, Alibekov reached out 
to Lisa Bronson to let her know that he wanted to defect to 


the United States. This was a military intelligence coup for 
the Pentagon. For two years now, all the intelligence on 
Biopreparat—including the revelation that it existed in the 
first place—had come from a single source, a former senior- 
level Soviet scientist named Vladimir Pasechnik, now in 
British custody. The Pentagon wanted its own high-level 
defector. Soon they would have Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov. 

As for Vladimir Pasechnik, his defection had come out of 
the blue. In October 1989 Pasechnik had been sent to 
France on an official business trip, to purchase laboratory 
equipment. Instead, he called the British embassy from a 
phone booth and said he was a Soviet germ warfare 
scientist who wanted to defect to England. British Secret 
Intelligence Service agents picked him up in a car, flew him 
to England, and took him to a safe house in the countryside. 

The handler assigned to Pasechnik was a_ senior 
biological warfare specialist on _ Britain’s defense 
intelligence staff named Christopher Davis. Pasechnik 
stunned Davis with a legion of extraordinary facts. The fifty- 
one-year-old Pasechnik had worked under Dr. Alibekov in a 
Biopreparat facility in Leningrad called the Institute of 
Ultra-Pure Biological Preparations. As a senior scientist at 
Ultra-Pure, Pasechnik had made_ such _ significant 
contributions that he was given the honorary military title 
of general. At Biopreparat, scientists weaponized classic 
pathogens like anthrax, tularemia, and botulinum toxin, 
standard operating procedure in a bioweapons program. 
But at Ultra-Pure, scientists had been working to 
genetically modify pathogens so they were resistant to 
vaccines and antibiotics. Pasechnik told Davis that at Ultra- 
Pure, he had been assigned to work on a strategic 
antibiotic-resistant strain of the mother of all pathogens, 
bubonic plague. 

The Soviets called their laboratory-engineered version of 
history’s most prolific killer Super Plague. In the thirteenth 
century, the bubonic plague killed off roughly every third 


man, woman, and child in Europe; but it lost its potency in 
the twentieth century, when scientists discovered that the 
antibiotic streptomycin was effective against the infectious 
disease. When Christopher Davis learned that the Soviets 
were developing a genetically modified, antibiotic-resistant 
strain of plague, he interpreted it to mean one thing. “You 
choose plague because you’re going to take out the other 
person’s country,” Davis said. “Kill all the people, then move 
in and take over the land. Full stop. That’s what it is about.” 

For months, Christopher Davis and an MI6 colleague 
spent long hours debriefing Pasechnik. The information was 
then shared with American intelligence counterparts. In the 
first month alone, Vladimir Pasechnik provided the British 
government with more information about the Soviet 
biological weapons program than all the British and 
American intelligence agencies combined had been able to 
piece together without him over a period of more than 
twenty-five years. The United States’ vast network of 
advanced sensor technology had proved useless in 
detecting biological weapons. Bioweapons can _ be 
engineered inside laboratories hidden in buildings or 
underground. Unlike work on missiles, which require 
launch tests from proving grounds that are easily 
observable from overhead satellites or aircraft, biological 
weapons work can continue for decades undetected. And at 
Biopreparat it did. 

Despite hundreds of billions of dollars spent by U.S. 
military and _ intelligence agencies’ on _ high-tech 
reconnaissance and surveillance systems, on the ground, in 
the air, and in space, collecting SIGINT, MASINT, OSINT, 
GEOINT, and other forms of technology-based intelligence, 
a single human being had delivered so much that was 
unknown simply by opening his mouth. Pasechnik provided 
HUMINT, human intelligence. 

“The fact that Vladimir [Pasechnik] defected was one of 
the key acts of the entire ending of the Soviet Union and 


the end of the Cold War,” says Davis. “It was the greatest 
breakthrough we ever had.” Once Davis briefed his U.S. 
counterparts on Pasechnik’s information, things moved 
quickly. The United States sent the Nobel Prize-winning 
microbiologist Dr. Joshua Lederberg to England on a secret 
mission to interview Pasechnik. Lederberg came home 
unnerved. That the Soviets were working on Super Plague 
was shocking. But Lederberg also learned that scientists at 
Biopreparat had been working to weaponize smallpox, 
which was duplicitous. In the late 1970s the international 
health community, including doctors from the Soviet Union, 
had worked together on a worldwide effort to eradicate the 
killer virus. In 1980 the World Health Organization 
declared smallpox dead. That the Soviets would weaponize 
smallpox by the ton was particularly nefarious. 

Lederberg confirmed for the Pentagon that Vladimir 
Pasechnik was credible, level-headed, and blessed with an 
impeccable memory. “He never, ever stretched things,” says 
Christopher Davis. Using classified CIA satellite data, 
including photographs going back decades, the Pentagon 
located, then confirmed, the multiple biological weapons 
facilities revealed in Pasechnik’s debriefings. Many of the 
key photographs were from ARPA satellites that had been 
sent aloft in the earliest days of the technology. With 
confirmation in place, it was now time to tell President 
George H. W. Bush about the Soviets’ prodigious, illegal 
biological weapons program. 

The wall had been down for only a few months, and from 
the perspective of the Pentagon, it was a precarious time as 
far as international security was concerned. There was a 
growing worry that President Mikhail Gorbachev was losing 
control of the Russian military. With this in mind, in the 
winter of 1990, President Bush decided it was best to keep 
the Soviets’ biological weapons program a secret. To reveal 
it, Bush decided, would make Gorbachev appear weak. 
Gorbachev was being hailed internationally as a reformer. 


He needed credibility to keep moving his country out of a 
Cold War mentality and into the twentieth century. The 
world could not allow Russia to fall into chaos. The 
revelation of the Soviet bioweapons program could 
backfire. It needed to stay hidden, at least for now. 

The single greatest unknown at this juncture was how 
much, if anything, did President Gorbachev actually know? 
Vladimir Pasechnik could not say with authority. The 
Pentagon needed a second source. Back in the fall of 1989 
and the winter of 1990, no such second source existed. 
Pasechnik had been reticent at first but gradually became 
more comfortable with his British handlers. Then he started 
to name names, including that of Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov, 
deputy director of Biopreparat. 

The Pentagon got to work setting in motion the trilateral 
mission—which is how Alibekov and twelve colleagues 
wound up at Fort Detrick in December 1991. After the U.S. 
trip, Alibekov had been back in Russia for just three weeks 
when he made up his mind to defect to the United States. 
Arrangements were made. In the dead of night, Alibekov 
left Russia with his wife and children, never to return. 

By the time Gorbachev was set to leave office, U.S. 
intelligence had confirmed that he had in fact been aware 
of the Soviet bioweapons program. Gorbachev had received 
classified memos regarding operations, including how to 
deceive U.S. inspectors during trilateral mission facilities 
tours. The CIA also confirmed that Russia’s new president, 
Boris Yeltsin, had been made aware of the program—and 
that he was allowing it to move forward. On January 20, 
1992, British ambassador Rodric Braithwaite and Foreign 
Secretary Douglas Hurd met with President Yeltsin in 
Moscow. Since  Pasechnik’s defection, Ambassador 
Braithwaite had been trying, to no avail, to get the Russians 
to admit that they had a biological weapons program, which 
would be the first step toward its safe dissolution. This time, 
when the subject was brought up, Yeltsin stunned the 


British diplomats by acknowledging that he knew about 
Biopreparat. 

“T know all about the Soviet biological weapons 
program,” Yeltsin confessed. “It’s still going ahead.” He also 
said that the Russian scientists who ran the program were 
determined to continue their work. “They are fanatics, and 
they will not stop voluntarily,” Yeltsin said. He vowed to put 
an end to it. “I’m going to close down the institutes,” he 
promised, to “retire the director of the [Biopreparat] 
program.” 

“We were stunned,” Braithwaite recalled in his memoir, 
“and we could do no more than thank him.” 

Boris Yeltsin had admitted what every other Soviet 
leader, including Gorbachev, had been lying about for 
twenty-three years. With the information now public, the 
U.S. Congress got involved. So did the American press. 
Countering biological weapons was poised to become a 
massive new industry, expanding and proliferating at a 
phenomenal rate. DARPA would lead the way. 


In America, Dr. Alibekov changed his name to sound more 
American. He was Dr. Ken Alibek now. He moved his family 
into a home in the suburbs outside Washington, D.C. This 
was the Soviet scientist who, over decades, had weaponized 
the bacterial infection glanders, orchestrated test trials of 
Marburg hemorrhagic fever, overseen the creation of the 
Soviet Union’s first tularemia bomb, and created a “battle 
strain” of anthrax, Strain 836, hailed as “the most virulent 
and vicious strain of anthrax known to man.” He was 
working for the U.S. government now. 

Each day Alibek drove along the well-paved highways, 
past the big homes and the well-stocked stores, to an office 
building in Virginia just twenty minutes outside the nation’s 
capital, where he now worked. There, inside a secure room 
on the second floor, he answered questions asked of him by 


individuals from a wide variety of U.S. intelligence agencies, 
military agencies, and civilian organizations about Russia’s 
biological weapons programs. 

Alibek confirmed what Vladimir Pasechnik had told 
British intelligence about Soviet advances in biotechnology 
and the development of Super Plague. But as deputy 
director of Biopreparat, Alibek had had access to many 
more classified programs than Pasechnik did, including 
delivery systems for the germ bombs. This work, Alibek 
said, took place inside a top secret unit of Biopreparat 
called the Biological Group, located inside the Soviet 
General Staff Operations Directorate. Here, weapons 
designers crafted specially designed missiles that would be 
used in a biological warfare attack against the United 
States. Weaponized pathogens are, for the most part, 
fragile microbes. They generally cannot withstand extreme 
temperature fluctuations, as happens in flight. The Soviets 
had solved this problem, Alibek said, by retrofitting long- 
range ICBM missiles with mini-space capsules, like the ones 
astronauts rode in. The missile was a MIRV, a multiple 
independently targetable reentry vehicle, meaning each 
ICBM was capable of carrying ten warheads over a range of 
six thousand miles. Its NATO reporting name was SS-18 
Satan. 

Alibek also provided chilling details about a Soviet 
bioweapons programs called Chimera, whereby genetic 
material from two or more different organisms was 
combined to produce more virulent germs. Alibek told his 
handlers they should be very worried about this program, 
and said he had direct knowledge of a trial developed in the 
late 1980s in which a chimera, or hybrid, strain was created 
by inserting Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis genes 
into smallpox. One of the ultimate goals of Chimera, Alibek 
said, was to create a monster hybrid of smallpox and Ebola. 
Alibek warned his handlers that the Soviets had sold 
secrets about genetically modified bioweapons to Libya, 


Iran, Iraq, India, Cuba, and former Soviet bloc countries in 
eastern Europe. U.S. officials took notes and listened. 
Alibek’s greatest frustration, he would later say, was that 
these officials did not seem to comprehend the potentially 
catastrophic consequences of the Soviet program. 

“They did not care about our genetic work,” Alibek 
lamented. “When it came to strategic questions,” his 
interrogators told him that they were uninterested in what 
he had to say. “We are only interested in what you know,” 
they said, “not what you think could happen.” The Pentagon 
was happy to learn what he knew about the inner workings 
of Biopreparat. Alibek’s information was useful, he was told, 
but his opinions were unwelcome. Soon, this too would 
change. 

There had been a blind spot at the Pentagon and at 
DARPA since the earliest days of the Cold War, an aloof 
indifference to the opinions of biologists. Officials at the 
White House and the Defense Department were much more 
interested in what the hard scientists, like the Jason 
scientists, had to say. Back in 1968 Nobel laureate Joshua 
Lederberg pointed out this disadvantage in a science 
column he wrote regularly for the Washington Post, 
accusing the federal government of “blindness to the pace 
of biological advance and its accessibility to the most 
perilous genocidal experimentation.” Lederberg was 
referring to biological weapons. Starting in 1945, with the 
advent of the atomic bomb, the Pentagon had largely relied 
on the advice and counsel of physicists and mathematicians 
as far as advanced weaponry was concerned, but rarely 
biologists. 

If World War I had been the chemists’ war and World 
War II the physicists’ war, now, given the threats facing the 
Pentagon, would World War III be the biologists’ war? 

Briefed on Alibek’s revelations about the Soviet 
bioweapons program, DARPA was quick to note this blind 
spot and to take action. “DoD had very little capability in 


biology” in the early 1990s, recalls Larry Lynn, DARPA’s 
director from 1995 to 1998. Now DARPA recognized just 
how worrisome it was that biology, and the life sciences in 
general, could lead the next revolution in military affairs, 
and recognized, too, that the Department of Defense was 
behind the curve. The Pentagon needed its own core group 
of advisors, American scientists at the leading edge of 
biology. The Jason scientists were contacted. 

Since leaving the Institute of Defense Analyses in 1973, 
the Jason scientists had had several homes. For the first 
eight years they received their defense contracts through 
the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California. 
SRI was a longtime ARPA contractor and an information 
technology pioneer, and had been one of the first four 
nodes on the ARPANET. Under the SRI in the 1970s, the 
Jasons brought several computer scientists and electrical 
engineers into their ranks. And because they no longer 
served ARPA alone, their client list had expanded. Under 
the SRI banner, the Jasons conducted studies and wrote 
reports for the CIA, the Navy, NASA, the Department of 
Energy, the Defense Nuclear Agency, the National Science 
Foundation, and others. 

In 1981 the Jason scientists moved their headquarters to 
the east coast once again, this time under the MITRE 
Corporation banner. There, Gordon MacDonald, himself a 
Jason scientist, served as MITRE’s chief scientist. Business 
continued to grow, with the Jasons still conducting most of 
their work as summer studies. 

In 1986, defense contractor General Dynamics gave the 
Jason scientists their own room, back in California again, on 
its sprawling 120-acre La Jolla campus, which they still used 
as of 2014. “It’s a SCIF,” Murph Goldberger explained in a 
2014 interview, referring to a “sensitive compartmented 
information facility” meaning it was built to Defense 
Department security specifications and ringed by a barbed- 
wire perimeter. The room at General Dynamics was not 


exactly a college dormitory with a view of the ocean, but as 
Goldberger noted, “times have changed.” 

After the Berlin Wall came down and the bioweapons 
threat ratcheted up, Jason “was told it was wise to bring 
biologists into the ranks,” said Goldberger. DARPA director 
Larry Lynn reached out personally to Joshua Lederberg. 
After decades of forewarning, Lederberg was_ finally 
brought on board as a defense scientist. He would now 
serve as chairman of DARPA’s science advisors for biology. 
In 1994, DARPA director Larry Lynn and a team traveled to 
Moscow, laying plans for how to use technology to keep 
track of what was going on there. The details of this trip 
remain classified. 

Biological weapons were the new national security 
concern, and in the fall of 1995, in an effort to have 
sanctions against his country relieved, Iraqi president 
Saddam Hussein disclosed to the United Nations that Iraq 
had been producing biological weapons by the _ ton, 
including botulinum toxin, camelpox, and hemorrhagic 
conjunctivitis. Iraq admitted it had hundreds of scientists 
working in at least five separate facilities, a number of 
which were located underground, and which had survived 
destruction in the Gulf War. In 1996, the CIA provided 
President Clinton with reports on the biological weapons 
programs believed to be in existence inside North Korea, 
Iran, Irag, Libya, and Syria—all still classified in 2015. In 
1997, the Jasons were asked to conduct a summer study on 
biological weapons threats. The group had a new scientist 
in their ranks, the microbiologist Stephen M. Block, who, 
several years later, published some of the unclassified 
findings of this Jason summer study. 

The most significant threat, noted Block, was the 
accelerated pace at which discoveries in molecular biology 
were being made. “Recent advances in life sciences have 
changed the nature and scope” of microbiology, he wrote, 
revealing “inevitably, a dark side.” The Jason scientists 


warned just how dangerous the threat of genetically 
engineered pathogens had become. Modern bioscience has 
made “possible the creation of entirely new WMD, endowed 
with unprecedented power to destroy,” Block wrote. “Was 
[this alarmist] hype, or largely warranted?” he asked. Block 
said the Jason scientists had concluded “the latter.” In 
Block’s opinion, “it seems likely that such weapons will 
eventually come to exist, simply because of the lamentable 
ease with which they may be constructed.” They were 
cheap, easy to make, and, if you knew what you were 
looking for and could find out how to create them, freely 
available in the public domain. 

The ability to genetically engineer pathogens had raised 
the threat level. For use as a weapon, the possibilities were 
limitless. “If you were to mix Ebola with the 
communicability of measles to create a pathogen that would 
continue to alter itself in such a way to evade treatment,” 
wrote Block, the rate of Ebola’s transmission and infectivity 
would skyrocket. These stealth viruses, which Alibek called 
chimeras, were even more menacing from a psychological 
perspective, Block said. 

“The basic idea behind a stealth virus is to produce a 
tightly regulated, cryptic viral infection, using a vector that 
can enter and spread in human cells, remaining resident for 
lengthy periods without detectable harm,” Block wrote, 
calling this a “silent viral load.” One example that exists 
naturally is herpes simplex, or the common cold sore. The 
virus lies dormant until it is one day triggered by what is 
believed to be an environmental assault on the body, like 
sunburn or stress. Similarly, an unwitting population could 
be “slowly pre-infected with a stealth virus over an 
extended period, possibly years, and then synchronously 
triggered,” Block wrote. This wicked concept had enormous 
potential in the realm of psychological warfare. As far as 
using a stealth virus as a weapon, the Jasons were dually 
concerned. Stealth viruses carried with them “a _ utility 


yw 


beyond that of traditional bioweapons,” they concluded. 
“For example they could be disseminated and used to 
blackmail a population based on their activation.” 

If the notion of a stealth virus, or silent load, sounded 
improbable, Block cited a little-known controversy involving 
the anti-polio vaccination campaign of the late 1950s and 
early 1960s. According to Block, during this effort millions 
of Americans risked contracting the “cryptic human 
infection” of monkey virus, without ever being told. “These 
vaccines,” writes Block, “were prepared using live African 
green monkey kidney cells, and batches of polio vaccine 
became contaminated by low levels of a monkey virus, 
Simian virus 40 (SV40), which eluded the quality control 
procedures of the day. As a result, large numbers of people 
—probably millions, in fact—were inadvertently exposed to 
SV40.” Block says that two possible outcomes of this 
medical disaster remain debated. One side says the 98 
million people vaccinated dodged a bullet. The other side 
believes there is evidence that the vaccine did harm. “A 
great deal of speculation occurs about whether [simian 
virus] may be responsible for some disease” that manifests 
much later in the vaccinated person’s life, says Block, 
including cancer. The subject remains highly contentious, 
with vaccine makers and the National Institutes for Health 
engaged in acrimonious debate with scientists who have 
found the SV40 monkey virus in cancerous human tumors. 

The 1997 Jason report on biological weapons remains 
Classified. Shortly after it was completed, President Clinton 
issued two Presidential Decision Directives, PDD 62 and 
PDD 63, both of which addressed the biological weapons 
threat and both of which also remained classified as of 
2015. Biological warfare defense was now a “very high 
DARPA priority.” In 1996, DARPA opened a new office called 
the Unconventional Countermeasures Program. Congress 
quickly funded this “high-priority initiative” with $30 million 
for its first fiscal year. “DARPA is seeking partnerships with 


the research community and the biotechnology and 
pharmaceutical industries to develop innovative new 
treatment, prevention and diagnostic strategies for 
biological warfare threats,” read one of the earliest 
program overview memos. 

Initially, DARPA’s primary focus was on protecting U.S. 
soldiers. An internal memo noted, “Troops, ports, airfields, 
supply depots, etc. are vulnerable to biological attacks,” 
and yet, paradoxically, “most likely first use [of bioweapons] 
will be against population centers of ours or our allies.” 
DARPA had a mission to develop “broad strategies to 
counter the threat.” This effort explored four areas: 
sensing, protection, diagnosis, and countermeasures. But 
DARPA as an agency was dedicated to advanced research 
and development, and the first three areas, sensing, 
protection, and diagnosis, were “only marginally 
protective.” DARPA wanted its scientists and researchers to 
strive for revolutionary goals, to focus on innovative 
countermeasures that did not yet exist. Larry Lynn told 
program managers that he wanted to create the “Star Wars 
of biology,” a reference to President Reagan’s Strategic 
Defense Initiative. Lynn challenged DARPA scientists to 
push existing biotech boundaries and to come up with a 
vaccine, gene, or chemical that could allow the human body 
to “incapacitate or debilitate” a biological agent on its own, 
before the pathogen made its host sick. It was a brilliant, 
bold idea. But could it work? Was there time? 


The 1994 international nonfiction best-seller The Hot Zone, 
by Richard Preston, is about the origins of, and incidents 
involving, the Ebola virus. Three years later, in 1997, 
Preston wrote a fictional account of a bioterrorism attack in 
New York City, titled The Cobra Event. Preston’s genetically 
engineered biological weapon, a chimera virus called 
Cobra, is imaginary, but his information was based on real 


reporting. He had interviewed Christopher Davis, the Royal 
Navy surgeon who had been Vladimir Pasechnik’s original 
handler, as well as Ken Alibek and many top scientists at 
USAMRIID. 

President Clinton read The Cobra Event shortly after it 
was published and was alarmed. He asked Secretary of 
Defense William Cohen to read the book and have an 
intelligence analysis of the viability of a real-life Cobra event 
written up. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna 
E. Shalala also read The Cobra Event and included a plot 
summary in a journal article she authored for the Centers 
for Disease Control and Prevention. The following year, in 
1998, Richard Preston testified before Congress in Senate 
hearings on the question “Threats to America: Are We 
Prepared?” 

“Biopreparat was like an egg,” Preston said of the Soviet 
program. “The outside part was devoted to peaceful 
medical research. The hidden inner part, the yolk, was 
devoted to the creation and production of sophisticated 
bioweapons powders—smallpox, black plague, anthrax, 
tularemia, the Marburg virus, and certain brain viruses.” In 
this public forum, Preston outlined Russia’s capacity to 
launch a biological weapons attack on the United States. 
Using smallpox as an example, Preston said that as recently 
as a few years prior, Soviet-era ICBMs fitted with specially 
loaded MIRV warheads stood ready and able to launch. 
Those warheads, Preston said, carried “twenty tons of 
freeze-dried small-pox powder” and “probably... an equal 
number of Black Death [plague] warheads.” Before the 
Berlin Wall came down, Preston summarized, if the Soviets 
had decided to launch a biological weapons attack against 
the United States, his research indicated that they “could 
have easily hit the one-hundred largest cities in the United 
States with devastating combined outbreaks of strategic 
smallpox and Black Death, an attack that could easily kill as 
many people as a major nuclear war.” The Soviet Union no 


longer existed, but the warheads and their contents did. 
The congressional hearings supported the idea _ that 
biological warfare was an apocalyptic nightmare waiting to 
happen. Something radical had to be done. The bioweapons 
defense industry was like a sleeping giant, now awakened. 


Ken Alibek had been in the United States for six years. He 
spoke English now, had friends, held lucrative defense 
contractor jobs, and was primed to enter the public domain. 
In February 1998 Alibek made his first television 
appearance on the ABC News program Primetime Live. In 
planning for World War III, Alibek said, the Russians had 
prepared “hundreds of tons” of bioweapons. Now, even with 
the wall down, Alibek said, the Russians “continue to do 
research to develop new biological agents.” In March, 
Richard Preston profiled Dr. Alibek for the New Yorker 
magazine. Copies of the article were distributed to 
members of Congress through the Congressional Record. 
Before the Primetime Live airing, Ken Alibek was not a 
public figure. He had been moving quietly in USS. 
government, military, and intelligence circles, sharing 
information with individuals who held national security 
clearances similar to his own. Now, his opinions found a 
much wider audience. American citizens were interested in 
what he had to say and so were the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In 
May 1998 Alibek testified before a congressional committee 
hearing on terrorism and intelligence. He even had a 
private meeting at the Pentagon, in the E-Ring, where he 
briefed General Joseph W. Ralston, the vice chairman of the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff and the second-highest-ranking military 
officer in the United States. The narrative of the biological 
weapons threat was gaining traction in the mainstream 
press. In June 1998, President Clinton asked Congress to 
provide $294 million in funding for anti-bioterrorism 
programs. In October, Alibek was featured in the PBS 


Frontline documentary “Plague War.” 

In the six years since his defection, Ken Alibek had been 
a busy man professionally. For the first few years of his new 
life in America, he held various research and consulting 
positions at the National Institutes of Health and the CIA 
and with private defense contractors. Notably, he developed 
a relationship with Dr. Charles Bailey, former chief scientist 
at USAMRIID. “I helped to build Alibek’s reputation with 
the military,” said Bailey. “A lot of people were impressed 
with Alibek. I was impressed.” When Bailey went to work 
for a defense contractor in Huntsville, Alabama, he brought 
Dr. Alibek along. Later, from 1996 to 1998, Alibek served as 
program manager at SRS Technologies, an information 
technology company based in California. In 1998 he and 
Bailey both worked as program managers for Battelle 
Memorial Institute, the defense contractor that handled 
ARPA’s Vietnam-era Project Agile reports. In April 1999, 
Alibek became president of a defense contractor called 
Hadron Advanced Biosystems, Inc., located in Manassas, 
Virginia, whose mission was to “develop innovative solutions 
for the intelligence community... including intelligent 
weapons systems and biological weapons defense.” Dr. 
Bailey served as vice president. Hadron became a go-to 
place for several former Soviet bioweapons engineers, 
microbiologists Alibek had formerly worked with at 
Biopreparat. Among them was Sergei Popov. 

Popov was an expert in synthetic bioweapons and had 
been a member of the Biopreparat team that worked on the 
nefarious Chimera program in the Soviet Union, 
recombining genes to make stealth viruses. At Biopreparat, 
Popov had helped create a class of bioweapons with “new 
and unusual properties, difficult to recognize, difficult to 
treat,” Popov told the PBS program Nova in 1998. 
“Essentially I arranged the research towards more virulent 
agents causing more death and more _ pathological 
symptoms.” Like Alibek, Popov had defected to the United 


States after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. 

At Hadron Advanced Biosystems, Alibek, Popov, and 
Bailey expressed their determination to find a cure-all 
against bioweapons, a broad-spectrum antidote that could 
shoot down dangerous pathogens in the body before they 
were able to infect a human host. This was similar to what 
DARPA director Larry Lynn was seeking when he asked his 
program managers to create a “Star Wars of biology” 
program. On Nova, Popov described what the doctors were 
working on as a countermeasure with the ability to “induce 
so-called ‘unspecific immunity,’ which would be efficient in 
protecting people against quite a big range of different 
diseases.” Alibek called the concept an “immune booster.” 
Other military research scientists called the idea 
impossible. 

One noteworthy skeptic was Dr. Phillip K. Russell, the 
former commanding general of the Army Medical Research 
and Development Command. Dr. Russell told the Wall Street 
Journal that searching for a booster for the immune system 
was “complex and fraught with risk. Turn it on, and it does 
things that can be detrimental as well as protective.” Dr. 
Russell also stated that Dr. Alibek was better at theorizing 
than at experimenting, and that the former Soviet 
bioweapons engineer was “as much an enigma as a scientist 
as he is as an individual.” 

Alibek stayed focused on his research goals. In 1999 he 
approached DARPA. Here was an agency that was willing to 
take risks. And with a recent infusion of money from 
Congress, there were many new contracts to be had in 
biological warfare defense. As the chief scientist at defense 
contractor Hadron, Dr. Ken Alibek was in a prime position 
to receive DARPA contracts. 

In the fall of 1999, Hadron Advanced Biosystems was 
awarded its first one-year DARPA contract, for $3.3 million, 
roughly $4.6 million in 2015. Alibek issued a _ press 
statement reading, “We hope this [DARPA] program is just 


the beginning of new, innovative research, funded by 
government agencies.” Alibek told colleagues that one day 
he hoped to build a drug manufacturing plant in the former 
Soviet republic of Ukraine. He also told colleagues that if 
terrorists got their hands on biological weapons, all of 
America would be at risk. 

In October 1999, DARPA invited Dr. Alibek to testify 
before the House Committee on Armed _. Services’ 
Subcommittee on Research and Development and 
Subcommittee on Procurement. In his opening statement, 
Alibek told members of Congress in no uncertain terms 
what they should be afraid of. “What we need to expect,” 
Alibek said, is biological weapons in the hands of “some 
terrorist organization.” 

Which is exactly what may or may not have happened 
two years later, in October 2001. 


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN 


Transforming Humans for War 


Retirea four-star general Paul F. Gorman recalls first 


learning about the “weakling of the battlefield” as a young 
soldier in the 1950s. This was before Gorman fought in 
Vietnam, before he served as special assistant to the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff, before the Department of Defense detailed 
him to the CIA, and before he completed his uniformed 
service and became commander in chief of the US. 
Southern Command. 

“Soldiers get tired and soldiers get fearful,” said 
Gorman, age eighty-nine in 2014, in an interview for this 
book. “Frequently, soldiers just don’t want to fight. 
Attention must always be paid to the soldier himself.” Since 
its inception in 1958, DARPA’s focus has been on the 
research and development of vast weapons systems of the 
future. Starting in 1990, and owing to individuals like 
General Gorman, a new focus was put on soldiers, airmen, 
and sailors. On transforming humans for war. 

General Gorman learned about the weakling of the 
battlefield while reading S. L. A. Marshall, the U.S. Army 
combat historian during World War II. After interviewing 
soldiers who participated in the Normandy beach landings, 
Marshall concluded, “On the field of battle man is not only a 
thinking animal but a beast of burden.” It was fatigue that 
was responsible for an overwhelming number of casualties, 


Marshall learned. 

“T didn’t know my strength was gone until I hit the 
beach,” Sergeant Bruce Hensley told Marshall. “I was 
carrying part of a machine gun. Normally I could run with 
it... but I found I couldn’t even walk with it.... So I crawled 
across the sand dragging it with me. I felt ashamed of my 
own weakness, but looking around I saw the others 
crawling and dragging the weights they normally carried.” 

And Staff Sergeant Thomas B. Turner told Marshall, 
“Under fire we learned what we had never been told—that 
fear and fatigue are about the same in their effect on an 
advance,” such as storming a beach. 

Reading these soldiers’ accounts of exhaustion from the 
sheer weight of what they carried into battle planted an 
idea in Paul Gorman’s brain. Decades later, in the 1970s, 
Gorman was at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New 
Mexico, “working on a sensitive program,” when he got an 
idea about how to strengthen the weakling of the 
battlefield. It could be done, he thought, with a strength- 
amplifying mechanical suit. 

“Los Alamos was developing a suit for people who had to 
be encapsulated because they were working in a 
radioactive environment,” Gorman recalls. The suits were 
lead-lined, heavy, and cumbersome. “Much of the science 
focused on how to lighten the load.” But Gorman noticed 
something else as well. “The [people] inside the suits 
struggled with sensory deprivation,” he says, “and when 
deprived of sensory inputs, a person cannot function at 
capacity for very long.” Soldiers need strength and 
endurance, which led to Gorman’s pioneering idea for a 
battle suit of the future: the “quintessential man-machine 
interface [for] the soldier who fights on foot.” 

General Gorman retired from the Army in 1985 and 
began working for DARPA. In 1990 he wrote a paper 
describing an “integrated powered exoskeleton” that could 
transform the weakling of the battlefield into a veritable 


super-soldier. Gorman’s SuperTroop concept would make 
the soldier stronger and give him enhanced command, 
control, communication, and intelligence capabilities. This 
was the origin of the now famous DARPA exoskeleton. 

The exoskeleton Gorman proposed offered protection 
against chemical, biological, electromagnetic, and ballistic 
threats, including direct fire from a .50 caliber bullet. It 
“incorporated audio, visual and haptic [touch] sensors,” 
Gorman explains, including thermal imaging for the eyes, 
sound suppression for the ears, and fiber optics from head 
to fingertips. Its interior would be climate controlled, and 
each soldier would have his own physiological specifications 
embedded on a chip within his dog tags. “When a soldier 
donned his ST [SuperTroop] battledress,” Gorman wrote, 
“he would insert one dog-tag into a slot under the chest 
armor, thereby loading his personal program into the battle 
suit’s computer,” giving the twenty-first-century soldier an 
extraordinary ability to hear, see, move, shoot, and 
communicate. “The exoskeleton would require a very 
powerful computer,” Gorman surmised. Since’ the 
technology did not yet exist, he proposed that the 
SuperTroop concept be fielded first through SIMNET 
simulators. A program called the Soldier System Model and 
Simulation was born, and work on the DARPA exoskeleton 
began. 

DARPA had spent the previous three decades focusing on 
advancing weapons platforms. Now the agency would 
research and develop technologies for the dismounted 
soldier. The biological weapons threat caused DARPA to 
bring biologists into its ranks, and with the life sciences at 
the fore, DARPA began to look inside the human body, 
toward a scientific capability that could transform soldiers 
from the inside out. 

Throughout the 1990s, the exponential progress of three 
technologies made this possible: biotechnology, information 
technology, and nanotechnology. In 1999 DARPA created 


the Defense Sciences Office (DSO) and made Michael 
Goldblatt its director. With twenty-eight program managers 
under his control, Goldblatt would be overseeing the single 
largest number of program managers at DARPA, an agency 
that in 1999 had 140 program managers in total. 

Michael Goldblatt came to DARPA with a radical vision. 
He believed that through advanced technology, in twenty or 
fifty years’ time, human beings could be the “first species to 
control evolution.” In an interview for this book in 2014, 
Goldblatt described the climate at DARPA when he arrived. 
“Biology was an area where the Defense Department was 
underserved. War was shifting. The pattern of warfare was 
shifting. So was the thinking.” The turn of the century “was 
a radical time to be at DARPA,” Goldblatt says, and in this 
time of momentous change he saw great opportunity. 
“Suddenly, there were zoologists in the office.” As director 
of DSO at DARPA, Goldblatt believed that defense sciences 
could demonstrate that “the next frontier was inside of our 
own selves.” In this way, at DARPA, Goldblatt became a 
pioneer in military-based transhumanism—the notion that 
man can and will alter the human condition fundamentally 
by augmenting humans with machines and other means. 

When Goldblatt arrived at DARPA in 1999, the Biological 
Warfare Defense Program was two and a half years old. 
“The threat was growing far faster than the solutions were 
coming in. It was a hard problem,” Goldblatt recalls. 
“[President] Clinton gave lots of money to _ the 
countermeasures program for unconventional pathogens,” 
he says. “There was lots of money for biology programs at 
DARPA.” Goldblatt saw the creation of the super-soldier as 
imperative to twenty-first-century warfare. “Soldiers having 
no physical, physiological, or cognitive limitation will be key 
to survival and operational dominance in the future,” 
Goldblatt told his program managers just a few weeks after 
arriving at DARPA. 


How did Michael Goldblatt, a biologist and venture 
capitalist from the Midwest, end up running what would be 
one of the most consequential defense sciences programs of 
the early twenty-first century? 

“In the mid-1990s I had not heard of DARPA,” Goldblatt 
insists. But as chief science officer and vice president of 
research, development, and nutrition at McDonald’s, the 
world’s largest fast food restaurant chain, Goldblatt had his 
finger on the pulse of food-related national health scares. 
When, in 1993, four children died and 623 people fell 
seriously ill after eating FE. coli-infected hamburgers sold at 
Jack in the Box restaurants, Goldblatt became hyper-aware. 
All of a sudden, a previously unknown bacterium, 0157:H7, 
“was on everybody’s radar,” says Goldblatt. Every person in 
the fast food business “was on pathogen alert.” 

Goldblatt, the venture capitalist, got an idea. “In an effort 
to identify ways to enhance food safety and eliminate 
unwanted pathogens, a guy I was working with, Alvin Chow, 
and I came up with a technology for self-sterilizing 
packages—packages that sterilized products in the field.” 
McDonald’s decided not to use the technology that 
Goldblatt and Chow had developed, so the two men sought 
out a different buyer. “We thought this technology would be 
useful to the government,” Goldblatt says. “We did some 
research and found this group called DARPA. I called them. 
No response. I wrote to them. No response. I called again. I 
said, “This is Michael Goldblatt from McDonald’s. I’d like to 
speak with Larry Lynn,’” the director of DARPA. “After a 
short while, he called me back. He thought I was with 
McDonnell Aircraft. I said, ‘No, McDonald’s hamburgers.’ 
There was riotous laughter,” Goldblatt recalls. “I told Larry 
about the self-sterilizing packages. How they could be used 
in field hospitals or on the battlefield. Larry was blown 
away. He said, ‘We want you to come to DARPA.’ And I did.” 

At DARPA, Goldblatt realized that almost anything that 
could be imagined could at least be tried. In the Defense 


Sciences Office, programs were initiated to develop 
technologies that would make _ soldiers, also _ called 
warfighters, stronger, smarter, more capable, and would 
give them more endurance than other humans. One 
program, called Persistence in Combat, addressed three 
areas that slowed soldiers down on the battlefield: pain, 
wounds, and excessive bleeding. 

Goldblatt hired a biotechnology firm to develop a pain 
vaccine. “It works with the body’s inflammatory response 
that is responsible for pain,” Goldblatt explained in 2014. 
The way the vaccine would work is that, if a soldier got shot, 
he would experience “ten to thirty seconds of agony then no 
pain for thirty days. The vaccine would reduce the pain 
triggered by inflammation and swelling,” allowing the 
warfighter to keep fighting so long as bleeding could be 
stopped. To develop new ways to try to stop bleeding, 
Goldblatt initiated another program that involved injecting 
millions of microscopic magnets into a person, which could 
later be brought together into a single area to stop 
bleeding with the wave of a wand. The scientist in charge of 
that program, Dr. Harry T. Whelan, worked on several 
“rapid healing” programs under the banner “DARPA Soldier 
Self Care.” 

Another idea regarding ways to allow wounded soldiers 
to survive blood loss and avoid going into shock involved 
figuring out a way to get a human to go into a kind of 
hibernation, or suspended animation, until help arrived. 
Achieving this goal would give a soldier precious hours, or 
even days, to survive while awaiting evacuation or triage. 
Bears hibernate. Why can’t man? DARPA DSO scientists 
asked these and other questions, including, could a 
chemical compound like hydrogen sulfide produce a 
hibernation-like state in a man? 

Sleep was another field of intense research at DSO. In 
the Continually Assisted Performance program, scientists 
worked on ways to create a “24/7 soldier,” one who 


required little or no sleep for up to seven days. If this could 
be achieved, the enemy’s need for sleep would put them at 
an extreme disadvantage. Goldblatt’s program managers 
hired marine biologists studying certain sea animals to look 
for clues. Whales and dolphins don’t sleep; as mammals, 
they would drown if they did. Unlike humans, they are 
somehow able to control the lobes of their left and right 
brains so that while one lobe sleeps, the opposite lobe stays 
awake, allowing the animal to swim. While some DARPA 
scientists ruminated over the question of how humans 
might one day control the lobes of their own brains, other 
scientists experimented with drugs like Modafinil, a 
powerful medication used to counter sleep apnea and 
narcolepsy, to keep warfighters awake. 

To address strength and endurance issues, Goldblatt 
initiated a program called the Mechanically Dominant 
Soldier. What if soldiers could have ten times the muscle 
endurance of enemy soldiers? What if they could leap seven 
feet and be able to cool down their own body temperature? 
What if the military benchmark of eighty pull-ups a day 
could be raised to three hundred pull-ups a day? “We want 
every war fighter to look like Lance Armstrong as far as 
metabolic profile,” program manager Joe Bielitzki told 
Washington Post reporter Joel Garreau a decade before 
Armstrong resigned from athletics in disgrace. 

Under the DSO banner, in a program called the Brain- 
Machine Interface, DARPA scientists studied how brain 
implants could enhance cognitive ability. The program’s 
first goal was to create “a wireless brain modem for a freely 
moving rat,” said DARPA’s Dr. Eric Eisenstadt in 1999. The 
scientists would implant a chip in the rat’s brain to see if 
they could remotely control the animal’s movements. “The 
objective of this effort,” Eisenstadt explained, “is to use 
remote teleoperation via direct interconnections with the 
brain.” DARPA’s bigger vision for its Brain-Machine 
Interface program was to allow future “soldiers [to] 


communicate by thought alone.” 

Dr. Eisenstadt asked his program managers to “picture a 
time when humans see in the UV [ultraviolet] and IR 
[infrared] portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, or 
hear speech on the noisy flight deck of an aircraft carrier.” 
What might sound like science fiction elsewhere in the 
world at DARPA was future science. “Imagine a time when 
the human brain has its own wireless modem so that 
instead of acting on thoughts, warfighters have thoughts 
that act,” Eisenstadt suggested. Fifteen years later, the 
Brain-Machine Interface program would astound. But turn- 
of-the-millennium critics cried foul, and a spotlight was 
turned on DARPA’s super-soldier pursuits. Critics said that 
the quest to enhance human performance on the battlefield 
would lead scientists down a morally dangerous path. 
Michael Goldblatt disagreed. 

“How is an exoskeleton or a brain implant different from 
a pacemaker or a cochlear implant or a_ prosthetic?” 
Goldblatt asked in a 2014 interview. For Goldblatt, the 
scientific exploration into transhumanism is personal. His 
daughter Gina was born with cerebral palsy, a group of 
permanent physical disorders related to movement that get 
worse over time, never better. Goldblatt believes that the 
physically impaired or weak have every right to compete 
with their fellows, and if science allows them a way and a 
means to do so, that science should be pursued. “When we 
learned Gina had cerebral palsy,” said Goldblatt, “I called 
the smartest person I knew. He said to me, ‘It’s permanent. 
Now accept that.’” Goldblatt could still recall the long, dark 
silence that followed that statement until finally the smart 
person on the other end of the phone said to him, “Now ask 
yourself, what are you going to do about it?” 

For Goldblatt, the answer was clear. He would provide 
his daughter with every opportunity to compete with other 
children, through performance enhancements like a 
motorized wheelchair and the best computers available, 


with everything in her bedroom remotely controlled. This 
vision carried over to DARPA, where, as director of DSO, 
Goldblatt would oversee performance enhancements for 
the warfighter on a national scale, spending over $100 
million on programs to reengineer the twenty-first-century 
soldier fighting on foot. 

Asked about that morally dangerous path, Goldblatt 
rephrases his question, “How is having a cochlear implant 
that helps the deaf hear any different than having a chip in 
your brain that could help control your thoughts?” When 
questioned about unintended consequences, like controlling 
humans for nefarious ends, Goldblatt insists, “There are 
unintended consequences for everything.” 


It was June 2001 and the new president, George W. Bush, 
had been in office for six months. The biological weapons 
threat continued to interest the public and was regularly 
featured in the news. And war games, including the 
computer-based SIMNET, had become an integral part of 
national security strategizing. But in some arenas, old 
school role-playing prevailed. In the third week of June, a 
group of fifteen former senior officials and two journalists 
assembled at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., 
to carry out a script-based, asymmetrical attack simulation 
called Dark Winter. In the fictional game scenario, the 
nation has been pummeled into chaos after terrorists attack 
Oklahoma with a biological weapon containing smallpox. 
The Dark Winter exercise involved three National Security 
Council meetings taking place over a period of two weeks. 
In the war game, the National Security Council members 
were role-played by former officials. The onetime U.S. 
senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services 
Committee, Sam Nunn, played Dark Winter’s fictional 
president; the former special counselor to the president 
and White House communications director, David Gergen, 


played the national security advisor; a former vice chief of 
staff of the U.S. Army, General John. H. Tilelli, played the 
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the former director of 
the CIA, James Woolsey, played Dark Winter’s fictional CIA, 
director; and the sitting governor of Oklahoma, Frank 
Keating, played the fictional governor of Oklahoma. Dark 
Winter’s war game plot revolved around how the players 
would respond to a hypothetical biological weapons attack. 

First, the game players were “briefed” on background 
events. “Last month Russian authorities, with support from 
the FBI, arrested Yusuuf Abdul Aziiz, a known operative in 
Al-Qaida and a close personal friend and suspected senior 
lieutenant of Usama bin Laden,” read the Dark Winter 
script. “Yusuuf was caught in a sting operation that had 
been developing during the last year. He was attempting to 
acquire 50 kilograms of plutonium and was also attempting 
to arrange the purchase of several biological pathogens 
that had been weaponized by the Soviet Union.” 

The war game scenario also involved Iraq. Dark Winter 
game players were told that two days earlier, “Iraqi forces 
in the South of Iraq moved into offensive positions along the 
Kuwaiti border,” just as they had done in real life in 1990, 
which set the Gulf War in motion. Also on background, the 
war gamers learned about domestic conditions: “US 
Economy is in good shape. Polls show a slim majority of 
Americans oppose a major deployment of US troops to the 
Persian Gulf. Most Americans agree that Saddam’s Iraqi 
regime represents a real threat to stability in the region 
and to American interests.” It is worth noting that in real 
life, the first two fictional statement were based in fact, but 
the third one, that most Americans saw Saddam’s Iraq as a 
threat, was not a fact. What was factual was that the man 
who had been secretary of defense during the Gulf War, 
Dick Cheney, was now the vice president of the United 
States, and he saw Saddam’s Irag as a threat. As for Dark 
Winter the game began when the fictional governor of 


Oklahoma informed the National Security Council that his 
state has been attacked with a smallpox weapon. 

Over the course of the fourteen days, for the game 
players, the scenario went from bad to worse to calamitous. 
Entire states shut down, chaos reigned, massive traffic jams 
ensued, civil liberties were suspended, many banks and 
post offices closed. As vaccines ran out, “angry citizens 
denounce[d] the government’s failure to stop the smallpox 
epidemic.” Civilians started shooting policemen. The 
National Guard started shooting civilians. Finally, a fictional 
“prominent Iraqi defector claim[ed] that Iraq arranged the 
bioweapons attack on the US through intermediaries,” most 
likely Yusuuf Abdul Aziiz, the fictional deputy of the real 
Osama bin Laden. 

In the Dark Winter war game, 3 million Americans died 
of smallpox. As a result, a fictional CNN-Gallup poll 
revealed that 48 percent of Americans wanted the 
president to consider using nuclear weapons in response. 
The game ended there. 

One month later, on July 23, 2001, former chairman of 
the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn—the man 
who played Dark Winter’s fictional president—told 
Congress during a House hearing on combating biological 
terrorism that the real emergency revealed in the war 
game was just how unprepared America was to handle an 
actual biological weapons attack. 

“IT was honored to play the part of the President in the 
exercise Dark Winter” Nunn told Congress. “You often 
don’t know what you don’t know until you’ve been tested,” 
he said. “And it’s a lucky thing for the United States that, as 
the emergency broadcast network used to Say, ‘this is just a 
test, this is not a real emergency.’ But Mr. Chairman, our 
lack of preparation is a real emergency.” 

No one said, “But Dark Winter was only a game.” 

Lines were being blurred. Games were influencing 
reality. Man was merging with machine. What else would 


the technological advances of the twenty-first century 
bring? 


In August 2001, scientists from Los Alamos and the 
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory—renamed in 
honor of its founder, Ernest O. Lawrence—traveled to the 
West Desert Test Center at Dugway Proving Ground in 
Utah. There, inside the Special Programs Division, the 
scientists tested a new sensor system designed to detect 
killer pathogens such as anthrax and botulinum toxin. The 
name of the program was the Biological Aerosol Sentry and 
Information Systems, or BASIS. It was hailed as a plan for 
“guarding the air we breathe.” In truth, all BASIS could do 
was “detect to treat.” Unlike chemical weapons, the 
presence of which could now be identified before release 
through an advanced technology called acoustic detection, 
biological weapons could be detected only after the fact. 
Even worse, the sensor systems were notorious for giving 
false alarms; the filter system was flawed. In open 
literature, Livermore acknowledged that false alarms were 
a serious concern but did not admit that their own problem 
was widespread. “Any technology that reports a terrorist 
incident where none exists may induce the very panic and 
social disruption it is intended to thwart. Therefore, the 
rate of false-positive alarms must be zero or very nearly so.” 

By the summer of 2001, Vice President Cheney was 
becoming increasingly concerned about a_ possible 
biological weapons attack directed at the White House. 
Plans were put in place to install Livermore’s BASIS system 
throughout the White House and its grounds. 

In the summer of 2001, DARPA’s biological weapons 
defense initiative was one of the fastest-growing programs 
in the defense sciences world. A decade earlier, before the 
defection of the Soviet scientists, the threat was not even 
known to exist. Now the industry was a several-hundred- 


million-dollar-a-year field. 

Programs were largely speculative: as of yet, in a 
conundrum that ran parallel to ARPA’s first quandary, 
ballistic missile defense, there was no way to defend against 
a biological weapons attack. Only if there were a terrorist 
attack involving the release of a deadly pathogen on 
American soil could biological weapons defense truly be put 
to the test. Defensive programs and countermeasure 
programs would then skyrocket. Which is exactly what 
happened next. 


PART IV 





THE WAR ON TERROR 


CHAPTER NINETEEN 


Terror Strikes 


Early on the morning of September 11, 2001, twenty-four- 


year-old David A. Bray was in Atlanta, at the U.S. Centers 
for Disease Control (CDC), for a _ briefing with the 
Laboratory Response Network for Bioterrorism. Bray was 
the information technology chief for the Bioterrorism 
Preparedness and Response Program at CDC, a program 
established by President Clinton under his U.S. policy on 
counterterrorism. It was Bray’s job to make sure people got 
good information when and as they needed it. There was so 
much information out there, filtering out the important 
information was key. A man cannot drink from a fire hose. 
The meeting on September 11 was supposed to start at 
9:00 a.m. 

“When I signed up for work in bioterrorism I thought to 
myself, what kind of world requires my job?” asks Bray. That 
spring, he says, “we had received a memo that said, ‘Be on 
alert for Al Qaeda activity June through August 2001.’ It 
specifically ended in August.” 

It was September now, and Bray and his team were 
getting ready for the Bioterrorism Preparedness and 
Response team briefing when an airplane hit the North 
Tower of the World Trade Center. “We got the news. Details 
were Sketchy.” At 9:03, he recalls, “when the second 
airplane hit, we definitely knew it was a terrorism event.” 


Many of the CDC employees were dispatched elsewhere. 
“A large group started piling computers into cars and were 
sent to an undisclosed off-site bunker,” says Bray, 
explaining, “We were concerned that a second event would 
involve bioterrorism.” 

David Bray has always been a remarkably focused 
person. His area of expertise is informatics, the science of 
how information is gathered, stored, and retrieved. The son 
of a minister and a teacher, Bray started winning national 
science prizes in middle school. By age fifteen, he had his 
first job with the federal government, with the Department 
of Energy at its Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator 
Facility in Newport News, Virginia. 

“T was trying to understand the universe, and the lab was 
looking for new energy sources,” Bray says of his youth, 
when he had to get a special permit to work for the 
Department of Energy so as to comply with federal laws 
regarding child labor. By the time Bray was sixteen, he had 
been written up in the Washington Post for inventing a 
prizewinning computer program that predicted how best to 
clean up an oil spill. At age seventeen Bray was working for 
the Department of Defense. Before he had turned twenty- 
one, he had added jobs with the National Institutes of 
Health and the Department of Agriculture to his résumé. In 
between jobs he attended college, studying science, biology, 
and journalism. One summer he worked in South Africa as a 
health reporter for the Cape Argus News. What interested 
Bray most was information. How people get information 
and what they do with the information they have. 

As a reporter covering the AIDS crisis in South Africa, 
Bray observed how informed people were still willing to 
ignore dangers right in front of them. In 1997 more than 
one out of six people in South Africa had the AIDS virus, 
and the epidemic was spreading out of control. Bray went 
around the countryside talking to South African students 
about the risks they faced, and how easily they could 


protect themselves with prophylactics. “They knew that 
they should wear protection,” Bray says, “but I asked them 
if they would wear protection, and they said they would 
not.” This was hardly shocking. Bray said many Americans 
had the same attitude: “It’s not going to happen to me.” He 
began thinking about how to get people to follow the best 
course of action, certainly as far as public health goes, 
based on the information they have. At the Centers for 
Disease Control, he found a place where he could focus on 
this idea. 

The terrorist attacks on the morning of September 11 
created what Bray calls a “hyper-turbulent environment.” 
In this kind of fear-fueled setting, “knowledge is the most 
strategically significant resource of an organization,” says 
Bray. Not more knowledge but better knowledge. Good, 
clear, factual information. Data about what is going on. 
Immediately after 9/11, says Bray, “we began reaching out 
to fifty states. We worked from the idea that the second 
event would be a biological event. We wanted to have 
information channels [open] with all fifty states” in the 
event that a bioterrorism attack were to occur. 

DARPA had been sponsoring a surveillance program 
called Bio-ALIRT, for Bio-Event Advanced Leading Indicator 
Recognition Technology, an information-based technology 
program designed to enable computers to quickly 
recognize a bioweapons attack. To get a computer to 
“recognize” a bioweapons attack from the data was an 
extraordinary enterprise, and the program wasn’t capable 
enough by 9/11. 

Originally designed to protect troops on foreign soil, the 
program had recently expanded with plans for a national 
surveillance program of U.S. civilians, using an individual’s 
medical records. The ramifications for collecting medical 
information on Americans for purposes of national security, 
but without their knowledge or consent, were profound. 
The Bio-ALIRT program fell under an emerging new 


industry called “biosurveillance,” a contentious concept that 
has largely avoided public scrutiny. DARPA’s military 
partner in this effort was the Walter Reed Army Institute of 
Research. Its civilian partners were the Johns Hopkins 
Applied Physics Laboratory, the University of Pittsburgh and 
Carnegie Mellon University, and the Stanford University 
Medical Informatics group. DARPA’s defense contractor 
partners were General Dynamics Advanced Information 
Systems and the IBM Corporation. 

The science behind Bio-ALIRT was intended to determine 
whether or not “automated detection algorithms” could 
identify an outbreak in either a bioweapons attack or a 
naturally occurring epidemic, like bird flu. Never mind the 
people—the doctors, nurses, and clinicians—reporting from 
the field. The idea behind Bio-ALIRT was to take human 
“bias” out of the equation and allow computers to do the job 
faster. As part of Bio-ALIRT, supercomputers would scan 
vast databases of medical records, in real time, as doctors 
entered data. Simultaneously, and also as part of Bio-ALIRT, 
supercomputers would scan sales at pharmacies of both 
prescription and nonprescription drugs, in real time. A 
privately held company called Surveillance Data, Inc., was 
hired to provide “de-identified” outpatient data, meaning 
that Surveillance Data, Inc., would “scrub” the medical 
information of personal details, such as names, social 
security numbers, and home addresses. It is unclear how 
much medical history was considered personal and how 
much the’ Bio-ALIRIT supercomputers needed _ to 
differentiate between chronic medical conditions and new 
symptoms. 

There were many flaws in the system, privacy issues 
among them, but one flaw rendered the program all but 
worthless. Bio-ALIRT’s automated detection algorithms— 
the software that told the supercomputers what to look for 
—were based on data from the World Health Organization’s 
International Classification of Diseases, ninth revision, 


known as ICD-9. But the biological weapons that were the 
most deadly—the chimera viruses and the recombinant 
pathogens like the ones the Soviet defectors Ken Alibek, 
Vladimir Pasechnik, Sergei Popov, and others had been 
working on at Biopreparat—were neither listed in nor 
identifiable by ICD-9. If Bio-ALIRT programs had been 
further along than in their earliest stages, the CDC could 
potentially have benefited from the system. But on 9/11, the 
biosurveillance industry was still in its infancy, and the 
Laboratory Response Network for Bioterrorism, which Bray 
led as information chief, had to rely on humans in all fifty 
states for receiving information. Bray and his team had an 
overwhelming amount of work cut out for themselves in this 
hyper-turbulent environment. Bray welcomed _ the 
challenge. 

“Tt was a very long day,” recalls Bray, who was personally 
doing the work that one day a computer might do. 


On the morning of September 11, 2001, when the first 
airplane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, at 
8:46 a.m., Vice President Dick Cheney was sitting in his 
office in the West Wing of the White House. He immediately 
focused his attention on the television screen. “It was a 
clear day, there were no weather problems, and then we 
saw the second airplane hit,” Cheney recalled in his 
memoir. “At that moment, you knew this was a deliberate 
act. This was a terrorist act.” 

Vice President Cheney called President Bush, who was in 
Sarasota, Florida, visiting an elementary school. Vice 
President Cheney was on the phone with a presidential aide 
in Florida when his door burst open and a Secret Service 
agent rushed in. “He grabbed me and propelled me out of 
my office, and into the underground shelter in the White 
House,” Cheney told CNN’s John King. Later that same 
night, the Secret Service transferred the vice president to a 


more secure underground location outside the capital. En 
route from the White House in a helicopter, Cheney asked 
to view the damage to the Pentagon, which had been struck 
by a third plane at 9:37 a.m. “As we lifted off and headed up 
the Potomac, you could look out and see the Pentagon, see 
that black hole where it’d been hit,” Cheney recalled. For 
the first time in the Pentagon’s history, the very symbol of 
American military power stood broken and exposed with a 
huge gash in one of its five sides. 

Cheney was helicoptered to an “undisclosed location,” 
which was Site R, the underground bunker facility inside 
the Raven Rock Mountain Complex seventy-five miles from 
the White House, near Camp David. The location was 
disclosed in 2004 by journalist James Bamford. This was the 
Cold War-era underground command center that had 
caused President Eisenhower so much grief back in 1956, 
during the heated post-Castle Bravo debate over civil 
defense. Site R was originally designed to be the place 
where the president would be taken in the event of a 
nuclear attack. Eisenhower had struggled with the concept 
throughout his presidency, mindful that it was designed to 
provide safety for the president and his close advisors 
during a time when the very population the president was 
sworn to protect would be most vulnerable, exposed, and 
unaware. 

At Raven Rock, Vice President Cheney began laying plans 
for war. 


Also on the morning of September 11, 2001, shortly before 
9:40 a.m., Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was 
sitting in his office on the third floor of the Pentagon 
listening to a prescheduled briefing by the CIA. Rumsfeld 
took notes on a small, round wooden table once used by 
General William Tecumseh Sherman, famous for his 
scorched earth and total war policies, and for saying, “War 


is hell.” Earlier that same morning, terrorists had hijacked 
four airplanes and had, by now, flown two of them into the 
North and South towers of the World Trade Center in New 
York. Outside the door of the office of the secretary of 
defense, a Pentagon police officer named Aubrey Davis was 
standing guard. 

“There was an incredibly loud ‘boom,’” Davis later told 
British journalist Andrew Cockburn. Terrorists had just 
crashed an American Airlines commercial jet into the 
Pentagon. Secretary Rumsfeld emerged from his office and 
asked Davis what was going on. Davis, relaying information 
that was coming over his portable radio, told the secretary 
of defense that he was getting reports that an airplane had 
hit the Pentagon. Rumsfeld listened, then hurried down the 
corridor. Davis followed after him. The smell of smoke filled 
the air. People were running down the hallways, yelling and 
screaming. “They’re bombing the building, they’re bombing 
the building!” someone hollered. After several minutes of 
walking, Rumsfeld, Davis, and others who had joined the 
group arrived at what looked like a wall of fire. 

“There were flames, and bits of metal all around,” Davis 
recalled. A woman was lying on the ground right in front of 
him, her legs horribly burned. “The Secretary picked up 
one of the pieces of metal,” Davis remembered. “I was 
telling him that he shouldn’t be interfering with a crime 
scene when he looked at the inscription on it and [it read], 
‘American Airlines.’” Amid the chaos and smoke, there were 
shouts and cries for help. Someone passed by with an 
injured person laid out on a gurney. Secretary Rumsfeld 
helped push the gurney outside. 

By 10:00 a.m. Rumsfeld was back inside the Pentagon. 
After calling the president from his office in the E-Ring, he 
was moved to a secure location elsewhere in the building, 
likely underground. From there, Rumsfeld spoke with Vice 
President Cheney, who was still in the bunker beneath the 
White House. At 12:05 p.m. Rumsfeld received a call from 


an) 


CIA director George Tenet, who reported that the National 
Security Agency had just intercepted a call between one of 
Osama bin Laden’s deputies and a person in the former 
Soviet Republic of Georgia discussing the “good news,” a 
clear reference to the terrorist strikes. Osama bin Laden 
and Al Qaeda were responsible for the attacks, the CIA 
director told the secretary of defense. 

A little after 2:00 p.m. Rumsfeld gathered a core group of 
military advisors and Pentagon staff and began discussing 
what steps he wanted taken next. The people in the room 
included General Richard Myers, acting chairman of the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff; Stephen Cambone, Rumsfeld’s 
undersecretary for intelligence; Victoria Clarke, a Pentagon 
spokeswoman; and a Pentagon lawyer. Cambone and Clarke 
took notes with pen and paper. During the meeting, 
Rumsfeld discussed the possibility of going after Saddam 
Hussein and Iraq as a response to that morning’s terrorist 
attack. The notes of the undersecretary for intelligence, 
later reviewed by the 9/11 Commission, revealed that 
Rumsfeld asked for “Best info fast... judge whether good 
enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] @ same time—not 
only UBL [Usama bin Laden].” Rumsfeld asked the lawyer 
in the room to discuss with Deputy Secretary of Defense 
Paul Wolfowitz “connection with UBL [Usama bin Laden]” 
and Iraq. 


Two days later, on September 13, Vice President Dick 
Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary 
of State Colin Powell, and national security advisor 
Condoleezza Rice gathered for dinner at Holly Lodge, Camp 
David, which is located just a few miles from the Site R 
underground command center. The topic. discussed, 
according to matching accounts in three of the four 
advisors’ memoirs, was how America would respond to the 
9/11 attacks. 


“We all knew the outcome would be a declaration of war 
against the Taliban,” Rice wrote. “But the discussion was 
useful in teasing out the questions the President would 
need to address.” 

“We were embarking on a fundamentally new policy,” 
Cheney wrote in his memoir. “We were not simply going to 
go after individual cells of terrorists responsible for 9/11. 
We were going to bring down their networks and go after 
the organizations, nations, and people who lent them 
support.” 

“T argued that our strategy should be to put them on the 
defensive,” wrote Rumsfeld. “The emphasis on a global 
Campaign was important, I believed.” Preemption was the 
new way forward. Thwarting the enemy before he made his 
next move. 

On September 16, CIA director George Tenet sent out a 
memo to CIA staff. In the “Subject” line he wrote, “We’re at 
war.” Tenet told his CIA staff that in order to successfully 
“wage a worldwide war against al-Qa’ida and other 
terrorist organizations... [t]here must be absolute and full 
sharing of information, ideas, and capabilities.” For George 
Tenet, information was the way to win this war. 

At the CDC in Atlanta, David Bray and his colleagues 
continued to work around the clock, keeping channels open 
between the CDC and health professionals in all fifty states. 
Each day that passed without receiving health-related 
information that might suggest a bioterrorism event was 
under way meant another day of relief. “On October first we 
were told to stand down,” Bray recalls. On October 3, he 
flew to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. There, inside 
the George H. W. Bush Center for Intelligence, Bray gave 
the Interagency Intelligence Committee on Terrorism a 
briefing about what the CDC’s Laboratory Response 
Network would do in the event of a bioterrorism attack. It 
was a seminal moment for Bray, only twenty-four years old 
and with considerable responsibility, and there was 


something he learned at CIA headquarters that still amazed 
him fourteen years later. 

“The agency didn’t know we existed,” says Bray. He was 
the chief technology officer for the CDC team that would 
handle a biological weapons event were it to happen, and 
yet, according to Bray, no one in the audience at CIA 
headquarters seemed to know anything about it. For Bray, 
it was a revelatory moment. 

“We were created by public law, Presidential Decision 
Directive Thirty-nine,” Bray explains. “But they [the CIA] 
did not have that information.” If knowledge is the most 
strategically significant resource of an organization, as 
David Bray believes and as George Tenet stated in his 
“We’re at war” memo, the U.S. bioterrorism defense 
community had a very long way to go. For Bray, bridging 
the gap between having good information and effectively 
disseminating good information would become a 
professional crusade. He would continue this work over the 
next decade as an information specialist for DARPA in 
Afghanistan, for James Clapper in the Office of the Director 
of National Intelligence in Washington, D.C., and as the 
chief information officer for the Federal Communications 
Commission, starting in 2013. The lessons learned in the 
hyper-turbulent environment would shape his career. 


The day after David Bray briefed an auditorium full of 
intelligence officials at CIA headquarters in Langley, he 
traveled back to the CDC’s Atlanta offices, where he 
learned about a serious new development. Bray was told 
that a_ sixty-three-year-old Florida man had _ been 
hospitalized in Boca Raton with inhalation anthrax. 

“You’re joking,” Bray remembers saying. The man was 
Bob Stevens, and he was a photo editor with American 
Media, Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer. Twenty- 
four hours later, Bob Stevens was dead. 


Things very quickly went from bad to worse. The FBI was 
now involved. On October 12, an NBC employee in New 
York City tested positive for anthrax. On October 15, Senate 
majority leader Tom Daschle told reporters that anthrax 
had been found in his Senate office. The Hart Senate Office 
Building was evacuated and put under quarantine. 
Hundreds of people lined up for anthrax tests. The Capitol 
itself was swept clear of vehicles and nonessential visitors. 
A bunker mentality took hold. “A war of nerves is being 
fought in Washington,” a senior White House official told 
the New York Times, “and I fear we’re not doing as well as 
we might be.” 

Over the next few days, more individuals tested positive 
for anthrax poisoning after letters containing the substance 
were mailed to ABC, CBS, and the U.S. State Department. 
People were beginning to die. When the 1,271,030-square- 
foot Hart Building needed to be decontaminated, DARPA 
was asked to provide science advisors to help with the 
enormous undertaking. A team of DARPA scientists 
reviewed decontamination technologies and _ delivered 
“quick turn-around testing on three separate candidates to 
determine efficacy.” The test that proved most effective 
happened to be the “chlorine dioxide approach.” This 
approach was based on technology that DARPA’s Defense 
Sciences Office director, Michael Goldblatt, together with 
scientist Alvin Chow, had created for self-sterilizing 
packages in the wake of the E£. coli Jack in the Box scandal. 
“We'd created it in a solid-state form to be triggered by 
light or humidity,” Goldblatt explains. “My interpretation 
was a human scale; [DARPA’s] solution was a huge scale.” 
For this, says Goldblatt, he feels “a little bit of pride.” 


Three days after Senator Daschle told reporters that 
anthrax had been found in his office, Vice President Cheney 
paid a visit to ground zero, his first visit to the World Trade 


Center site since the 9/11 attacks. It was a little after 1:00 
p.m. on October 18, 2001, when Cheney boarded Air Force 
Two and headed to New York City. He had been airborne for 
just a short time when his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” 
Libby, received a telephone call. 

“There had been an initial positive test result indicating a 
botulinum toxin attack on the White House,” Cheney 
revealed in his memoir. “If the result was confirmed, it 
could mean the president and I, members of the White 
House staff, and probably scores of others who had simply 
been in the vicinity had been exposed to one of the most 
lethal substances known to man.” Botulinum toxin was a 
deadly neurotoxin for which there was no reliable antidote 
or cure. It kills by attacking the central nervous system and 
causing death by paralysis. 

The positive hits had come from the BASIS sensor system 
that had been installed throughout the White House 
complex shortly after the Dark Winter bioterrorism attack 
war game. Livermore and Los Alamos had promoted the 
BASIS system as being able to deliver “a virtually zero rate 
of false-positive detection.” Cheney also knew that “a single 
gram of botulinum toxin, evenly dispersed and inhaled, can 
kill a million people.” He needed to call the president but 
decided to have Scooter Libby get a second set of test 
results first. 

In the interim, the vice president stuck to his schedule. 
He met with Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Governor George 
Pataki for a briefing on New York City affairs. He toured 
ground zero. He shook hands with recovery workers who 
were sorting through rubble at the crash site. When he 
returned to his hotel room at the Waldorf Astoria later that 
afternoon, he discovered Libby waiting for him there, with 
very bad news. “He told me there had been two positive hits 
for botulinum toxin on one of the White House sensors,” 
wrote Cheney. More tests were being run and results would 
be available at noon the following day. It was time to call the 


president. 

Cheney was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at 
the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner 
that evening in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom. Wearing white 
tie and tails, he sat down in front of a secure video screen in 
his hotel room and called President Bush, who was 
attending a summit in Shanghai. Accompanying the 
president were Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. All 
three had been in the White House complex; all three could 
have been exposed to botulinum toxin. 

“Mr. President,” Vice President Cheney said, “the White 
House biological detectors have registered the presence of 
botulinum toxin, and there is no reliable antidote. We and 
many others may well have been exposed,” Cheney recalled 
telling the president. 

President Bush turned to Condoleezza Rice, who was 
standing beside him in Shanghai. In her memoir, Rice 
recalls hearing the president say, “Go call Hadley and find 
out what the hell is going on.” Stephen Hadley was the 
president’s deputy national security advisor. Hadley told 
Rice that lab mice were now being tested. 

“Let’s put it this way,” said Hadley, who could also have 
been exposed. “If the mice are feet down tomorrow, we are 
fine. If they’re feet up, we’re toast.” 

In New York City, Vice President Cheney headed 
downstairs. During his speech, he talked about the bravery, 
generosity, and grace shown to him by average Americans 
digging through the rubble at ground zero that day. “I 
promised to deliver justice to the people responsible,” 
Cheney said. He talked about the dilemma that America 
would now face with this new enemy, the terrorist. “We are 
dealing here with evil people who dwell in the shadows, 
planning unimaginable violence and destruction,” he said. 
The banquet hall at the Waldorf Astoria erupted into 
resounding applause. 

The following day, the results of the BASIS sensor system 


were returned. The $50 million system had delivered a false 
positive. There had been no biological weapons attack. No 
terror strike on the White House. If knowledge is the most 
strategically significant resource in a _ hyper-turbulent 
environment, scientists at Lawrence Livermore and Los 
Alamos national laboratories had failed. Still, in his 2003 
State of the Union address, President Bush announced he 
was “deploying the nation’s first early warning network of 
sensors to detect biological attack.” BASIS sensors would 
now be set up in more than thirty cities around the country, 
at an initial cost of roughly $30 million, with another $1 
million per city, per year, estimated in maintenance costs. 
Between 2003 and 2008, newspapers reported more than 
fifty false alarms from BASIS sensors in public spaces. The 
full details of BASIS, including its locations, operational 
costs, and precise number of false positives, as well as 
emergency response efforts, if any, to those false positives, 
remain classified. 

But in Shanghai, in October 2001, Condoleezza Rice 
happily received the good news. 

“Feet down, not up,” she told President Bush. “The 
President smiled,” she wrote in her memoirs. “I’m sure the 
Chinese thought it was some kind of coded message.” 

The president, vice president, secretary of state, national 
security advisor, and others had dodged a bullet. A photo 
editor, two postal workers, a female hospital employee, and 
a ninety-four-year-old woman from Connecticut were dead 
from anthrax. As of 2014, the mystery of who killed them 
has yet to be definitively solved. 


At the end of October, ABC News reported that the anthrax 
mailed to Senator Daschle’s office could be tied to the Iraqi 
bioweapons program through an additive called bentonite. 
The White House denied the link. A few nights later, ABC 
News reported that the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers, 


Mohammed Atta, “had met at least once with a senior Iraqi 
intelligence agent in Prague.” The report kicked off a 
firestorm of related news articles, including some that 
confirmed the story of the Iraq link, some that discredited 
the story, and some that blamed the CIA for engaging in a 
disinformation campaign. 

Congress asked DARPA director Anthony Tether to brief 
the House Armed Services Committee on efforts currently 
being undertaken by DARPA with regard to its Biological 
Warfare Defense Program. Tony Tether had been DARPA 
director for only three months when the airplanes hit the 
buildings, but he had decades of experience in the 
Department of Defense and the CIA. Tether had a Ph.D. in 
electrical engineering from Stanford University, and a long 
career at the Pentagon and in the intelligence world. Since 
1978 he had been working in both intelligence and defense, 
serving as the director of the national intelligence office in 
the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1978 to 1982, 
and from 1982 to 1986 as the director of DARPA’s Strategic 
Technology Office, the agency’s liaison to the CIA. The 
specifics of his job remain classified, but as an indication of 
his significance, at the end of his tenure in 1986, Director of 
Central Intelligence Bill Casey honored him with the 
National Intelligence Medal, while his superior at the 
Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, 
presented him with the Department of Defense Civilian 
Meritorious Service Medal. 

In information submitted to Congress, ‘Tether 
categorized biological weapons defense according to what 
DARPA considered to be the five stages of a biological 
weapons attack, in chronological order. “Prior to a BW 
attack” involved the development of vaccines. “During an 
attack” focused on cutting-edge sensor and biosurveillance 
technologies. “In the minutes and hours after an attack” 
included developing immediate ways to protect people. “In 
the hours and days after an attack” involved more efficient 


ways to get information out to first responders and better 
management of medical systems. “In the days and perhaps 
years after an attack” focused on decontamination 
technology, Tether said. 

In February 2002, just four months after the first U.S. 
murder by anthrax, Congress approved a $358 million 
budget for biological warfare defense for the next year, 
nearly three times what it had been the year before the 
9/11 terror attacks. That same month, George Mason 
University announced it would be building a Center for 
Biodefense “to address issues related to _ biological 
terrorism and the proliferation of biological weapons.” A 
press release stated, “Kenneth Alibek, former first deputy 
chief of the civilian branch of the Soviet Union’s Offensive 
Biological Weapons Program, and Charles Bailey, former 
commander for Research at the U.S. Army Medical 
Research Institute of Infectious Diseases,” would serve as 
executive administrators of the center. “Alibek was now in 
charge of finding solutions to problems he helped create,” 
says Michael Goldblatt, who oversaw some of Alibek’s work 
for DARPA. 

In May, DARPA awarded Alibek’s company an additional 
$2 million to create “prototype biodefense products,” the 
silver bullet DARPA was still looking for. Alibek spoke to 
reporters about the exciting prospects that lay ahead. The 
goal was to create a product that could “enhance the body’s 
innate immune response against a wide variety of biological 
weapons threats,” Alibek said. “Our research continues to 
yield promising results, and we are pleased that DARPA has 
awarded us additional funding to develop advanced 
protection against biological threat agents.” Ken Alibek also 
used the opportunity to talk about future business 
prospects for his new corporate ventures. “At the 
appropriate time, our Company intends to explore potential 
opportunities to license its developing technology to, or 
seek a joint venture with, a partner to complete the 


necessary Clinical trials, regulatory approvals, and the 
development, manufacturing, and marketing of any future 
products that might arise from this work.” Some months 
later, another company run by Alibek began selling pills on 
the Internet with labels that read “Dr. Ken Alibek’s Immune 
System Support Formula.” The pills claimed to help the 
body’s innate immune system defend against a wide variety 
of harmful pathogens. They could be purchased for $60 a 
bottle at a website called DrAlibek.com. 


In government, it is a generally accepted rule that someone 
has to take the blame when government fails. For DARPA, 
whose job it was to safeguard the nation from technical 
surprise, there was no clear mission failure on 9/11, at least 
not in the public eye. The weapons used by the terrorists 
were fixed-blade utility knives, invented during the Great 
Depression. The flint knife, prehistory’s utility blade, is 
roughly 1.4 million years old. Al Qaeda used American 
technology against America, hijacking four fully fueled 
aircraft and successfully piloting three of them, as missiles, 
to their targets. It is believed that Al Qaeda spent less than 
$500,000 planning and executing the attacks. 

The public’s perception, generally, was that the 
intelligence community was to blame for 9/11, a surprise 
attack that rivaled Pearl Harbor in its death toll and future 
consequence. Most fingers were pointed at the CIA and the 
FBI. Because the National Security Agency maintained a 
lower public profile at the time, it was not held accountable 
to the same degree. History has made clear, however, that 
errors by the NSA were indelible. On September 10, 2001, 
it intercepted from terrorists, already being monitored by 
the NSA, two messages in Arabic. 

“The match is about to begin,” read one message. 

“Tomorrow is zero hour,” read the other message. 

The sentences were not translated until September 12. 


“In fact these phrases [might] have not been translated 
with such a quick turnaround had the horrific events not 
happened,” in-house DARPA literature notes. DARPA is 
responsible for much of the technology behind advanced 
information collection as well as real-time translation 
capabilities. In the wake of 9/11, DARPA rapidly began to 
advance these technologies, and others related to them, so 
its partner, NSA, could do its job better. 

Despite all the advanced technology at the disposal of the 
U.S. government, the national security establishment did 
not see the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack coming. 
Nor was its arsenal of advanced technology able to stop the 
attack once it began. As a consequence, the American 
military establishment would begin a hyper-militarization 
not seen since the explosion of the 15-megaton Castle 
Bravo hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll in 1954. 


CHAPTER TWENTY 


Total Information Awareness 


The nuclear physicist John Poindexter is rarely noted for 


his prowess in nuclear physics. Instead he is almost always 
referred to as the retired Navy admiral and former national 
security advisor to President Ronald Reagan during the 
Iran-Contra affair who was convicted on five felony counts 
of lying to Congress, destroying official documents, and 
obstructing congressional investigations. 

The day after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Poindexter 
was pulling his car out of the quiet suburban subdivision 
where he lived outside Washington, D.C., when he was 
struck with an idea for DARPA. He had worked for the 
agency before, as a defense contractor in the late 1990s. By 
then Poindexter’s Iran-Contra notoriety had died down, and 
he was able to return to public service. A U.S. court of 
appeals had reversed all five of Poindexter’s felony 
convictions on the grounds that his testimony had been 
given under a grant of immunity. 

In the decade after the scandal, Poindexter put his focus 
into computer technology. Because he had retained his full 
Navy pension after Iran-Contra, he did not have to look for 
a job. Fascinated by computers, Poindexter began teaching 
himself computer programming languages, and soon he 
could write code. In 1995, through a defense contractor 
called Syntek, Poindexter began working on a DARPA 


project called Genoa. The goal of Genoa was to develop a 
complex computer system—an_ intelligent machine— 
designed to reach across multiple classified government 
computer databases in order to predict the next man-made 
cataclysmic event, such as a terrorist attack. Poindexter, a 
seafaring man, especially liked Genoa’s name. A genoa is a 
boat’s jib, or foresail, typically raised on a sailboat to 
increase speed. 

Poindexter’s boss on the project, the person in charge of 
all “next-generation” information-processing ideas at 
DARPA in the late 1990s, was a man named Brian Sharkey. 
After a litthe more than a year working on the project, 
Syntek’s contract ended. Poindexter and Sharkey had 
gotten along well during phase one of Genoa and kept each 
other’s contact information. The way Poindexter tells the 
story, on the morning after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he 
was struck with the idea that the time had come to 
revitalize the Genoa program. He pulled his car to the side 
of the road and began scrolling through contacts on his cell 
phone until he found Brian Sharkey’s number. 

“That’s funny,” Poindexter recalls Sharkey saying to him. 
“T was just thinking about calling you.” 

Both men agreed that it was time to accelerate the 
Genoa program. Sharkey had left DARPA to serve as senior 
vice president and chief technology officer for the 
California-based defense contracting giant Science 
Applications International Corporation, or SAIC. With so 
many surveillance-related defense contracts on its roster, 
SAIC was often jokingly referred to as NSA West. Another 
one of SAIC’s prime clients was DARPA. Brian Sharkey 
knew the current DARPA director, Tony Tether, quite well. 

“We need to talk to Tony,” Poindexter told Sharkey. 


In Washington, Tony Tether was well regarded as a top 
innovator. Someone who saw the future and made it 


happen. When he was serving as director of DARPA’s 
Strategic Technology Office, back in the 1980s, he 
advocated maximizing technology for _ surveillance 
capabilities. Now, two decades later, these kinds of 
technologies had advanced exponentially. In this post-9/11 
environment, Tether’s enthusiasm for, and experience in, 
surveillance collection would prove invaluable in his role as 
DARPA director. 

Brian Sharkey and Tony Tether knew each other from 
SAIC. In the 1990s, after leaving government service for 
defense contracting, Tether had served as vice president of 
SAIC in its advanced technology sector. Now Sharkey was a 
senior vice president at SAIC. During the September 12 
phone call between Sharkey and Poindexter, the men 
agreed that Sharkey would set up a meeting with Tether to 
discuss Genoa. 

Since 1995, DARPA had spent roughly $42 million 
advancing the Genoa concept under the Information 
Systems Office. The program was part of a concept DARPA 
now called Total Information Awareness (TIA). But the 
existing Genoa program was nowhere near having the 
“intelligence” necessary to recognize another 9/11-style 
plot. Poindexter and Sharkey aimed to change that. 

The following month, on October 15, 2001, Sharkey and 
Tether met at a seafood restaurant in Arlington, Virginia, 
Gaffney’s Oyster and Ale MHouse, to _ discuss Total 
Information Awareness. Tether embraced the idea, so much 
so that he asked Brain Sharkey to leave his job at SAIC and 
return to DARPA to lead the new effort. But Sharkey did not 
want to leave his job at SAIC. The corporation was one of 
the largest employee-owned companies in America, and 
Sharkey had accumulated considerable stock options. If he 
were to return to government service, he would have to let 
go of profit participation. John Poindexter was the man who 
should serve as the director of the Total Information 
Awareness program, Sharkey said. SAIC could act as 


DARPA’s prime contractor. 

A few days later, Sharkey and Poindexter went sailing on 
Poindexter’s yacht, Bluebird, to discuss next steps. 
Poindexter later recalled feeling excited. He had big ideas. 
He believed he knew exactly how extensive this program 
had to be to succeed. Poindexter knew what the subtitle of 
the program should be. In his pitch to Tether, his opening 
slide would read “A Manhattan Project on Countering 
Terrorism.” Artificially intelligent computers were the 
twenty-first century’s atomic bomb. 

Tether had Poindexter come to his office at DARPA and 
present the slide show. Poindexter’s background was in 
submarines, and there was an analogy here, he told Tether. 
Submarines emit sound signals as they move through the 
sea. The 9/11 hijackers had emitted electronic signals as 
they moved through the United States. But even if the NSA 
had been listening, its system of systems was not intelligent 
enough to handle the load in real time. The hijackers had 
rented apartments, bought airplane tickets, purchased box 
cutters, received emails and wire transfers. All of this could 
have been looked at as it was happening, Poindexter said. 
Terrorists give out signals. Genoa could find them. It would 
take enormous sums of time and treasure, but it was worth 
it. The 9/11 attacks were but the opening salvo, the White 
House had said. The time was right because the climate was 
right. People were terrified. 

Tony Tether agreed. If John Poindexter was willing to run 
the Information Awareness Office, DARPA would fund it. In 
January 2002 the Information Awareness Office was given 
the green light to proceed, with a colossal initial start-up 
budget of $145 million and another $183.3 million 
earmarked for the following year. John Poindexter was now 
officially DARPA’s Total Information Awareness czar. 


“In our view, information technology is a weapon,” says Bob 


Popp, the former deputy director of the Information 
Awareness Office, John Poindexter’s number two. Popp is a 
computer scientist with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, a 
prolific author and patent holder. He rides a motorcycle and 
is an active participant in and lifetime member of HOG, or 
Harley Owners Group. His areas of expertise include anti- 
submarine warfare and ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and 
reconnaissance). When he was a younger man, Popp 
welded Trident nuclear submarines for General Dynamics. 

Before 9/11, “information technology was a _ huge 
unexploited weapon for analysts,” Popp says. “They were 
using it in a very limited capacity. There were a lot of bad 
guys out there. No shortage of data. Analysts were 
inundated with problems and inundated with data. The 
basic hypothesis of TIA was to create a system where 
analysts could be effective. Where they were no longer 
overwhelmed.” 

It was Bob Popp’s job as John Poindexter’s deputy to 
oversee the setting up of multiple programs under the TIA 
umbrella. The Evidence Extraction and Link Discovery 
program (EELD) was a big office with a large support staff. 
Its function was to suction up as much electronic 
information about people as possible—not just terror 
suspects but the general American public. The electronic 
information to be gathered was to include individual 
people’s phone records, computer searches, credit card 
receipts, parking receipts, books checked out of the library, 
films rented, and more, from every military and civilian 
database in the United States, with the hope of determining 
who were the terrorists lurking among ordinary Americans. 
The primary job of the EELD office was to create a 
computer system so “intelligent” it would be able to review 
megadata on 285 million people a day, in real time, and 
identify individuals who might be plotting the next terror 
event. 

In 2002, DARPA senior program manager Ted Senator 


explained how EELD would work. The plan, Senator said, 
was to develop “techniques that allow us to find relevant 
information—about links between people, organizations, 
places, and things—from the masses of available data, 
putting it together by connecting these bits of information 
into patterns that can be evaluated and analyzed, and 
learning what patterns discriminate between legitimate and 
suspicious behavior.” It was not an easy task. Using the 
needle-in-the-haystack metaphor, Senator explains just how 
hard it was. “Our task is akin to finding dangerous groups 
of needles hidden in stacks of needle pieces. This is much 
harder,” he points out, “than simply finding needles in a 
haystack: we have to search through many stacks, not just 
one; we do not have a contrast between shiny, hard needles 
and dull, fragile hay; we have many ways of putting the 
pieces together into individual needles and the needles into 
groups of needles; and we cannot tell if a needle or group is 
dangerous until it is at least partially assembled.” So, he 
says, “in principle at least, we must track all the needle 
pieces all of the time and _ consider all possible 
combinations.” 

Because terrorists do not generally act as lone wolves, a 
second program would be key to TIA’s success, namely, the 
Scalable Social Network Analysis. The SSNA would monitor 
telephone calls, conference calls, and ATM withdrawals, but 
it also sought to develop a far more invasive surveillance 
technology, one that could “capture human activities in 
surveillance environments.” The Activity Recognition and 
Monitoring program, or ARM, was modeled after England’s 
CCTV camera. Surveillance cameras would be set up across 
the nation, and through the ARM program, they would 
capture images of people as they went about their daily 
lives, then save these images to massive data storage banks 
for computers to examine. Using state-of-the-art facial 
recognition software, ARM would seek to identify who was 
behaving outside the computer’s’§ pre-programmed 


threshold for “ordinary.” The parameters for “ordinary” 
remain classified. 

Facial recognition software expert Jonathan Phillips was 
brought on board to advance an existing DARPA program 
called Human Identification at a Distance. Computer 
systems armed with algorithms for the faces of up to a 
million known terrorists could scan newly acquired 
surveillance video, captured through the ARM program, 
with the goal of locating a terrorist among the crowd. 

TIA was a many-tentacled program. The problem of 
language barriers had also long been a thorn in the 
military’s side. DARPA needed to develop computer-based 
translation programs in what it called “the war languages,” 
Arabic, Pashto, Urdu, Dari, and other Middle Eastern and 
South Asian dialects. Charles Wayne was brought on board 
to run two programs, TIDES and EARS, to develop 
computer programs that could convert foreign languages to 
English-language text. There would be a war games effort 
inside TIA, too, called War Gaming the Asymmetric 
Environment, and led by Larry Willis. In this office, 
terrorism experts would create fictional terror networks, 
made up of individual characters, like avatars, who would 
begin plotting fake terror attacks. The point was to see if 
TIA’s myriad of surveillance programs, working in concert, 
could identify the avatar-terrorists as they plotted and 
planned. To further this effort, a group inside the group was 
formed, called the Red Team, headed by former DARPA 
director Stephen Lukasik. Red teaming is a role-playing 
exercise in which a problem is examined from an 
adversary’s or enemy’s perspective. 

Finally there was Genoa II, the centerpiece of the 
program, the software that would run the system of 
information systems. Its director, Thomas P. Armour, 
described Genoa II as a “collaboration between two 
collaborations.” One group of collaborators were the 
intelligence analysts, whose goal was “sensemaking,” 


Armour said. These collaborators had the tricky job of 
collaborating among themselves, across multiple 
organizations, including the CIA, NSA, DIA, and others. It 
was the job of the sensemakers to construct models or 
blueprints of how terrorists might act. This group would 
then collaborate with “policymakers and operators at the 
most senior level,” who would evaluate the intelligence 
analysts’ work and develop options for a U.S. response to 
any given situation. Genoa II, Armour told his team, “is all 
about creating the technology to make these collaborations 
possible, efficient, and effective.” 

To Armour, there was hardware, meaning the machinery, 
software, meaning the computer programs, and wetware, 
meaning the human brain. Armour saw the wetware as the 
weakest link. The challenge was that intelligence agencies 
historically preferred to keep  high-target terrorist 
information to themselves. “The ‘wetware’ whose 
limitations I mentioned is the human cognitive systems,” 
Armour told defense contractors who were bidding on the 
job. “Its limitations and biases are well documented, and 
they pervade the entire system, from perception through 
cognition, learning, memory, and decision,” Armour told his 
team. In this system of systems, which was based on 
collaborative efforts between humans and their machines, 
Armour believed that the humans represented the point 
where the system was most vulnerable. “These systems,” 
said Armour, referring to human brains, “are the product of 
evolution, optimized by evolution for a world which no 
longer exists; it is not surprising then that, however capable 
our cognitive apparatus is, it too often fails when 
challenged by tasks completely alien to its biological roots.” 

Unlike so many of the new technologists working on TIA, 
Tom Armour was a Cold Warrior. He was also a former spy. 
After flying combat missions during Vietnam as a U.S. Air 
Force navigator on the AC-119K gunship, he began a long 
career with the CIA, starting in 1975. Armour was an 


expert on Soviet nuclear weapons systems, missile 
technology, and strategic command and control. At the CIA, 
under the Directorate of Intelligence, he served as chief of 
computing and methodological support, bringing the 
agency into the twenty-first century with computers for 
intelligence analysis. 

But when the Berlin Wall came down, Armour saw new 
threats cropping up everywhere. “People then were talking 
giddily about a ‘peace dividend,’” he told a group of DARPA 
technologists at a conference in 2002, but reminded the 
audience that his former boss at the CIA, James Woolsey, 
knew better. “Woolsey pointedly said that while the ‘big bad 
bear’ was gone, the woods were still filled with lots of 
poisonous snakes,” Armour said. The terrorists had since 
emerged as the new snakes, “what we now call the 
asymmetric threat.” Armour believed that the job of the 
twenty-first-century intelligence analyst was to find the 
snakes, using computers. 

Humans were frail. As technical collectors, they could be 
manipulated either by assets trying to give them bad 
information or by their own biases and mental blocks. This 
weakness “has long been called ‘deception and denial’ in 
intelligence circles,” Armour said. Genoa II’s predecessor, 
Genoa, was about making the machines smarter. Each 
machine had been overseen by what was called a “Lone 
Ranger,” a single intelligence analyst. With Genoa II, 
Armour wanted to get “smarter results.” He wanted 
“cognitive amplification.” Smarter machines and smarter 
humans. 

Armour created what he called “bumper sticker phrases” 
that captured Genoa II’s automation goals, phrases that 
read like words George Orwell could have written in the 
dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four because’ they 
sounded like doublethink. “Read everything without 
reading everything,” Armour told Genoa II analysts. “There 
is too much that must be read to actually read.” Armour 


also said that TIA analysts would need to “begin the trip to 
computers as servants, to partners, to mentors,” meaning 
that analysts needed first to view their computers as 
assistants and eventually view them as advisors. Ultimately, 
Genoa II’s computers would know more than a human could 
know. 

As John von Neumann had predicted on his deathbed in 
“The Computer and the Brain,” the “artificial automaton” 
would one day be able to think. TIA was a system of 
information systems that could read everything without 
reading everything. It was a system of systems that could 
observe and then connect everything the human eye could 
not see. 


On January 14, 2002, the Information Awareness Office 
opened its doors, temporarily, on the fourth floor of the 
DARPA office building at 3710 North Fairfax Drive in 
Arlington, while John Poindexter worked to secure an 
independent facility where TIA analysts could settle 
permanently. One of the first people Poindexter would visit 
was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Over lunch in 
Rumsfeld’s office in the Pentagon, the two men discussed 
TIA. It was agreed that DARPA would build the system, then 
help its customers get the system up and running. The 
customers were the CIA, FBI, and NSA, but also the service 
agencies. Tether felt that the best place to house the new 
Total Information Awareness system was at Fort Belvoir, 
Virginia, a division of the Army’s Intelligence and Security 
Command, INSCOM. 

Tony Tether set up a meeting with INSCOM’s 
commanding officer, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander. At 
Fort Belvoir, Alexander ran his operations out of a facility 
known as the Information Dominance Center, with an 
unusual interior design that deviated significantly from 
traditional military decor. The Information Dominance 


Center had been designed by Academy Award-winning 
Hollywood set designer Bran Ferren to simulate the bridge 
of the Starship Enterprise, from the Star Trek television 
and film series. There were ovoid-shaped chairs, computer 
stations inside highly polished chrome panels, even doors 
that slid open with a whooshing sound. Alexander would sit 
in the leather captain’s chair, positioned in the center of the 
command post, where he could face the Information 
Dominance Center’s twenty-four-foot television monitor. 
General Alexander loved the science-fiction genre. INSCOM 
staff even wondered if the general fancied himself a real-life 
Captain Kirk. 

An arrangement was made between DARPA and 
INSCOM whereby General Alexander gave John Poindexter 
and his team an area to work out of inside the Information 
Dominance Center. “The initial TIA experiment was done at 
INSCOM, worldwide command,” says Bob Popp. “The plan 
was to have attachments, or nodes, across the world. 
Multiple agencies would work on multiple problems.” 
Poindexter began inviting other agencies to work alongside 
TIA as collaborators. One by one they joined, including the 
CIA, NSA, and FBI. 

Poindexter believed that another attack was already well 
along in its planning phase. It could happen at any time. 
Many other senior officials were motivated by the same 
fear. 

“We felt as if we were really battling terrorism,” says 
Popp. “The network grew. We set up another node in 
Germany.” The future of TIA seemed bright. Then suddenly, 
as Bob Popp recalls, “we had our own battle, with 
Congress.” 


In August 2002, John Poindexter unveiled TIA at the 
DARPATech conference in Anaheim, California. This 
technology conference marked the beginning of the 


program’s public end. In November 2002, a New York 
Times headline read “Pentagon Plans a Computer System 
That Would Peek at Personal Data of Americans.” Reporter 
John Markoff wrote that the Department of Defense had 
initiated a massive computer-based domestic surveillance 
program, “a vast electronic dragnet, searching for personal 
information as part of the hunt for terrorists around the 
globe—including the United States... without a search 
warrant.” Markoff named DARPA as the agency in charge, 
and reported that the computer system was called Total 
Information Awareness. The logo of the Information 
Awareness Office became the focus of much ire. It featured 
the Eye of Providence icon—the same as the one on the 
back of the dollar bill—casting a searchlight over a globe. 
DARPA’s Latin motto, Scientia Est Potentia, or “Knowledge 
Is Power,” fueled its own comparisons to George Orwell’s 
Nineteen Eighty-Four. 

Several days later, columnist William Safire wrote about 
TIA, focusing on the fact that John Poindexter, of the Iran- 
Contra affair scandal, was its director. The Pentagon had 
given a “disgraced admiral... a $200 million budget to 
create computer dossiers on 300 million Americans,” Safire 
wrote, listing the myriad of electronic transactions a person 
makes in any day, week, or year: “Every purchase you make 
with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy 
and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit 
and e-mail you send or receive.” If DARPA got its way, the 
TIA program would be able to monitor them all. “This is not 
some far-out Orwellian scenario,” Safire wrote. “It is what 
will happen to your personal freedom in the next few weeks 
if John Poindexter gets the unprecedented power he seeks.” 

When Safire’s column ran, TIA’s existence had been a 
matter of public knowledge for seven months but no one 
had paid much attention to it. In the thirty days after 
Safire’s column appeared, there were 285 stories about 
TIA, the majority of which were overwhelmingly negative. 


Many of the articles focused on the $200 million figure cited 
by Safire. In a press conference on November 20, 
Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Logistics and 
Technology Edward “Pete” Aldridge stated that the budget 
for the TIA system was $10 million through the 2003 fiscal 
year. This was highly inaccurate. According to records from 
the Defense Technical Information Center comptroller’s 
office, the actual budget for the Information Awareness 
Office through fiscal year 2003 was $586.4 million. The true 
numbers had been concealed inside other DARPA Research, 
Development, Test and Evaluation budgeting. Although the 
numbers controversy wouldn’t be revealed for months, the 
privacy concerns took center stage. 

Americans wanted answers. Lawmakers sent a list of 
questions for DARPA. John Poindexter was sent to Capitol 
Hill, where he was expected to clarify details about TIA to 
roughly fifty members of Congress and their staff. Bob Popp 
went too. “Me, Poindexter, Tony [Tether], and our Hill 
liaison went to the Hill to brief the House and Senate,” Popp 
recalled in 2014. Their meeting with the House Permanent 
Select Committee on Intelligence “went well,” Popp says. 
“Questions, answers, fine.” Then they moved on to the 
Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. 

At the Senate, Poindexter began his testimony with a 
background of his own personal history, starting with his 
early education at a military academy. After roughly fifteen 
minutes, a Senate staffer shouted out, “Hey, when are you 
going to start talking about the reason you’re here?” 

“Poindexter said, ‘If you'll just give me a chance—’” Popp 
recalls. 

At which point, Poindexter was interrupted by another 
staffer. 

“What’s all this invasion of privacy!” someone else yelled. 

Popp says, “John Poindexter was polite, but stern.” 

“Get to the data mining!” the staffer yelled, which 
infuriated Poindexter. 


yw 
! 


The staffer shouted, “We want answers now 

Which is when John Poindexter lost his composure. “Will 
you sit down!” he shouted back, far too loudly. Then, “I’m 
not going to let you drive the agenda!” 

Poindexter gave the rest of his presentation, but word of 
what had happened was already making its way back to the 
Pentagon. It was the beginning of the end of TIA. Secretary 
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was brought into the loop. 
What was DARPA to do? Rumsfeld issued an order. John 
Poindexter was not to speak to anyone. No interviews with 
anyone from Congress. No interviews with the press. 

Poindexter’s second fall from grace happened quickly. 
With him went the program, at least as far as the public was 
told. A multitude of newspaper articles generated a further 
wave of public outcry, including over the fact that the 
Pentagon had allocated a quarter of a billion dollars for TIA 
through 2005. Poindexter was portrayed as a villain and 
DARPA was cast as a surveillance machine. 

A reporter asked Secretary Rumsfeld about TIA. “I don’t 
know much about it,” Rumsfeld answered. Poindexter 
“explained to me what he was doing at DARPA,” he said, 
“but it was a casual conversation. I haven’t been briefed on 
it; I’m not knowledgeable about it. Anyone who is 
concerned ought not be.” When asked about Poindexter the 
man, Rumsfeld said he didn’t “remember him much.” 
Rumsfeld told the reporter that, as was often the case with 
the American public, there was far too much “hype and 
alarm.” Of the surveillance program Rumsfeld said, “Anyone 
with any concern ought to be able to sleep well tonight.” 
TIA was a research program, he clarified, not an 
intelligence-gathering operation. 

In the wake of the scandal, the Total Information 
Awareness program was briefly renamed the Terrorism 
Information Awareness program, but the public controversy 
did not die down. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld 
made it clear that John Poindexter would resign or be fired. 


Ultimately, Poindexter offered his resignation to Tony Tether 
and told reporters he was leaving DARPA and _ looking 
forward to spending more time sailing on the Chesapeake 
Bay. Secretary Rumsfeld then went back to making plans to 
invade Iraq. 

Months later, in the fall of 2003, Congress eliminated 
funding for the Total Information Awareness program, 
saying it was “concerned about the activities of the 
Information Awareness Office.” The House and Senate 
jointly directed “that the Office be terminated immediately.” 

But “the [TIA] programs did not end,” Bob Popp 
explained in 2014. Instead, many of the clandestine 
electronic surveillance programs were classified and 
transferred to NSA, DHS, CIA, and the military services. 
Program names were changed. Certain members of 
Congress were cleared to know about some of them, but 
not all of them. Major elements of DARPA’s Evidence 
Extraction and Link Discovery (EELD) and Genoa II 
programs, including the physical nodes that already existed 
at INSCOM and in Germany, were folded into a classified 
NSA system called PRISM—a massive covert electronic 
surveillance and data-mining program that would create an 
international uproar in 2013 after NSA _ whistleblower 
Edward Snowden leaked thousands of pages of classified 
documents to the press. 

Some DARPA programs with public faces were 
transferred to the Department of Homeland Security, 
including the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening 
System (CAPPS), Activity Recognition and Monitoring 
(ARM), and Human Identification at a Distance (HumanID). 
These programs, managed by the Office of Biometric 
Identity Management and the TSA, oversaw _ identity 
recognition software systems at airports and borders, and 
in public transportation systems and other public spaces. 

For use abroad, other TIA programs were transferred to 
the Army for its Biometrically Enabled Intelligence 


programs, meant ultimately to collect biometrics on foreign 
individuals using eye scans, fingerprint scans, and facial 
scans. And the CIA initiated a program called Anonymous 
Entity Resolution, based on TIA’s Scalable Social Network 
Analysis (SSNA), examining links between individuals 
through electronic systems like ATM withdrawals and hotel 
reservations. 

For use in future war zones, DARPA recycled some of the 
most invasive TIA surveillance and _  data-mining 
technologies into a program designed for video collection, 
pattern analysis, and targeting acquisition for use in 
military operations in urban terrain. This program was 
called Combat Zones That See. 


Any future invasion strategy needed a “new strategic 
context,” according to Secretary Rumsfeld. Future wars 
would be fought according to DARPA’s system of systems 
concept—advanced weapons platforms linked by a network 
of advanced computer systems. In 2003 this could not 
exactly be sold to the American people as “Assault Breaker 
Warfare,” which would require a paragraph of explanation 
and sounded dull. Rumsfeld had been thinking about 
articulating a new strategic context for the Department of 
Defense ever since he took office, and shortly after the 9/11 
attacks he tasked the job of choosing a name to retired vice 
admiral Arthur Cebrowski, director of the Office of Force 
Transformation. 

The Office of Force Transformation was an in-house 
Pentagon think tank personally created by Rumsfeld in the 
wake of 9/11. The mandate of this new office was “to 
challenge the status quo with new concepts for American 
defense to ensure an overwhelming and _ continuing 
competitive advantage.” The name that the Office of Force 
Transformation came up with for this new way of waging 
war was “network-centric warfare.” It was a phrase DARPA 


had been using for years, based on its Assault Breaker 
concept back in 1974. Soon the whole world would start 
hearing about network-centric warfare. When Secretary 
Rumsfeld presented the Pentagon’s “Transformation 
Planning Guidance” to the president in the winter of 2003, 
he summed up the way forward as “drawing upon 
unparalleled Command, Control, Communications, 
Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance 
(C4ISR) capabilities.” So much had changed since the days 
of command and control. 

Arthur Cebrowski was a decorated Navy pilot who had 
flown 154 combat missions during the Vietnam War. He had 
also served in Operation Desert Storm, commanding a 
carrier air wing, a helicopter carrier, and an aircraft 
carrier. He retired from the Navy in August 2001. 
Regarding this naming issue, in internal documents sent to 
Rumsfeld in 2003 Cebrowski simplified why the concept of 
network-centric warfare would work. It offered a “New 
Theory of War based on information age principles and 
phenomena,” Cebrowski wrote. And _ network-centric 
warfare offered a “new relationship between operations 
abroad and homeland security,” meaning the lines between 
homeland security and fighting foreign wars would become 
intentionally blurred. Finally, Cebrowski wrote, network- 
centric warfare would provide a “new concept/sense of 
security in the American citizen.” Cebrowski was an avowed 
American patriot, and he believed that everyone else should 
be too. Network-centric warfare “had great moral 
seductiveness,” Cebrowski said. 

With the doctrine of network-centric warfare in place, on 
March 19, 2003, the United States and its allies launched 
Operation Iraqi Freedom and invaded Iraq. After the U.S. 
military completed its so-called “major combat operations” 
in just twenty-one days of “shock and awe,” Cebrowski told 
PBS how pleased he was. “The speed of that advance was 
absolutely unheard of,” he said. He attributed this “very 


high-speed warfare” to “network-centric warfare.” He 
espoused the idea that a war that relied on advanced 
technology was a morally superior war. America did not 
have to resort to “wholesale slaughter” anymore, 
Cebrowski said. We did not have to “kill a very large 
number of them,” meaning Iraqis, or “maim an even larger 
number,” because advanced technology now allowed the 
Defense Department to target specific individuals. This, said 
Cebrowski, was a good and moral thing. 

“There’s a temptation to say that to develop that sense in 
the minds of an enemy that they are in fact defeated, you 
have to kill a very large number of them, maim an even 
larger number, destroy a lot of infrastructure and key 
elements of their civilization, and then they will feel 
defeated. I think that’s wrong,” Cebrowski said. “I think we 
are confronted now with a new problem, in a way the kind 
of problem we always wanted to have, where you can 
achieve your initial military ends without the wholesale 
slaughter. Because, remember,” he said, “this always cuts 
two ways. You have a moral obligation not just to limit your 
own casualties and casualties of nonparticipants but also 
those of the enemy itself. So we’re moving in the more 
moral direction, which is appropriate.... We need to come to 
grips with this reality.” 

History would reveal that Arthur Cebrowski spoke too 
soon. All the technology in the world could not win the war 
against terrorists in Iraq or Afghanistan. Local populations 
did not see network-centric warfare and targeted killing by 
drones, in their neighborhoods, as morally superior. And a 
new wave of terrorist organizations would emerge, form, 
and terrorize. 


CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE 


IED War 


On May 26, 2003, Private First Class Jeremiah D. Smith, a 


twenty-five-year-old soldier from Missouri, was driving in an 
Army vehicle outside Baghdad when the convoy he was 
traveling in came upon a canvas bag lying in the road. It 
was Memorial Day, which meant that back in the United 
States this was a day to remember the millions of American 
soldiers who died while serving in the armed forces. Private 
Smith had been a proud member of the U.S. Army for a 
little over a year. 

Three and a half weeks earlier, on May 1, 2003, 
President George W. Bush had stood on the deck of the USS 
Abraham Lincoln and announced that major combat 
operations in Irag were over. “In the battle of Irag, the 
United States and our allies have prevailed,” he declared. 
The invasion, which began on March 21, had been swift. 
Baghdad fell on April 9. Standing on the deck of the aircraft 
carrier in a dark suit and a red tie (he’d more memorably 
arrived on board wearing a flight suit), the president 
exuded confidence. A banner behind him, designed by the 
White House art department, read “Mission Accomplished.” 
At one point during his speech, the president gave the 
thumbs-up. 

Now it was Memorial Day, and Private Smith was 
heading into dangerous territory. His convoy was escorting 


heavy equipment out of Baghdad, traveling west. Smith was 
a gunner and was sitting on the passenger side of the 
Humvee. As the vehicle approached the canvas bag lying in 
the road, not far from the Baghdad International Airport, 
the driver had no way of knowing it contained an 
improvised explosive device, or IED, and he simply drove 
over it. As the vehicle passed over the bag, the device 
exploded, killing Private Smith. In his death, Smith became 
the first American to be killed by an IED in the Irag war. 

The blast could be heard for miles. Twenty-two-year-old 
Specialist Jeremy Ridgley was one of the first people to 
come upon the inferno. “I was a gunner in the Eighteenth 
Military Police Brigade,” recalled Ridgley in a 2014 
interview. “We were driving about five hundred yards 
behind, in a totally separate convoy. The explosion was 
extremely loud. We’d been informed that people were 
dropping things off overpasses, so every time we went 
under one, we sped up and came out in a different lane. 
Someone threw something at our vehicle, then I heard the 
explosion. I swung my gun around. It all happened so fast.” 
The explosion Ridgley heard was the IED detonating as 
Private Smith’s vehicle drove over it. 

Ahead of him, Ridgley saw the burning Humvee in the 
road. Two bloodied soldiers emerged from the thick black 
smoke and staggered toward his vehicle, dazed. “One of the 
guys was trying to push something up his arm,” recalls 
Ridgley, “like he was trying to fix his sleeve. When he got 
closer I saw it was skin. Skin was just falling off of his arm.” 
A second bloodied soldier followed behind. “He asked me if 
he had something on his face,” Ridgley recalls. “Most of his 
face was missing. It was horrible. He was horribly, horribly 
burned.” 

Ridgley’s team leader, Sergeant Phillip Whitehouse, ran 
toward the burning vehicle. Whitehouse discovered Private 
First Class Jeremiah Smith unconscious, trapped inside. 
“He pulled Smith out. That’s when the vehicle started to 


cook off,” Ridgley remembers. “All the ammo inside started 
to catch on fire. There were massive explosions going off all 
around. I caught some shrapnel. A little burn near my 
sleeve. I was sitting on the gun platform thinking, I need to 
call in a report.” 

Ridgley called for a Medevac and remembers looking 
around. “There were these Iraqi kids playing soccer in a 
field,” Ridgley recalls, “and I told the Medevac the 
helicopter could land there. Everything seemed like slow 
motion.” Ridgley had never seen mortally wounded people 
before, and he was having trouble focusing. “The Medevac 
arrived and the soldiers were loaded onboard. From the 
time I called it in until the time the helicopter took off was 
about twenty minutes,” recalls Ridgley. “But it sure seemed 
like it lasted all day,” he says. “Time stood still.” Later, 
Jeremy Ridgley learned that Private First Class Jeremiah 
Smith had died. 

On May 28, the Department of Defense identified Private 
Smith as having been killed in Iraq while supporting 
Operation Iragi Freedom. The Pentagon attributed Smith’s 
death to “unexploded ordnance,” as if what had killed him 
had been old or forgotten munitions left lying in the road. 
Two weeks later, in an article in the New York Times titled 
“After the War,” a Defense Department official conceded 
that the unexploded ordnance that killed Smith might have 
been left there deliberately. 


An IED is made up of five components: the explosive, a 
container, a fuse, a switch, and a power source, usually a 
battery. It does not require any kind of advanced 
technology. With certain skills, an IED is relatively easy to 
make. The primary component of the IED is the explosive 
material, and after the invasion, Iraq was overflowing with 
explosives. 

“There’s more ammunition in Iraq than any place I’ve 


ever been in my life, and it’s not securable,” General John 
Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command 
(CENTCOM), told the Senate Appropriations Committee in 
September 2003. “I wish I could tell you we had it all under 
control, but we don’t.” 

The month after Private Smith was killed by an IED, the 
casualty toll from IED attacks began to climb. In June there 
were twenty-two incidents. By August the number of 
soldiers killed by IEDs in Iraq was greater than the number 
of fatalities by direct fire, including from guns and rocket- 
propelled grenades. By late 2003, monthly IED fatalities 
were double that of deaths by other weapons. In a press 
conference, General Abizaid stated that American troops 
were now fighting “a classical guerrilla-style campaign” in 
Iraq. This kind of language had not been used by the 
Defense Department since the Vietnam War. 

“A new phenomenon [was] at work on the battlefield,” 
says retired Australian brigadier general Andrew Smith, 
who also has a Ph.D. in political studies. “IEDs caught 
coalition forces off guard. ‘Surprise’ is not a word you want 
to hear on the battlefield.” Smith was one of the first NATO 
officers to lead a counter-IED working group for Combined 
Joint Task Force 7, in Baghdad. Later, in 2009, Brigadier 
General Smith oversaw the work of 350 NATO officials at 
CENTCOM, all dealing with countering IEDs. “The sheer 
volume of unsecured weapons in Iraq was staggering,” 
Smith says, “a whole lot of explosives left over from 
Saddam.” In 2003, there were an estimated 1 million tons 
of unsecured explosives secreted around the country in 
civilian hands. These were former stockpiles once 
controlled by Saddam Hussein’s security forces, individuals 
who quickly abandoned their guard posts after the invasion. 
A videotape shot by a U.S. Army helicopter crew in 2003 
shows the kind of explosive material that was up for grabs 
across Iraq. In the footage, an old aircraft hangar is visible, 
stripped of its roof and its siding. From the overhead 


perspective, row after row of unguarded bombs can be 
seen. One of the men in the helicopter says, “It looks like 
there’s hundreds of warheads or bombs” in there. 

The IEDs kept getting more destructive. Three months 
after Private First Class Jeremiah Smith was killed, a truck 
bomb was driven into the United Nations headquarters in 
Baghdad, killing twenty-two people, including the UN 
special envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The Pentagon 
added a new IED classification to the growing roster. This 
was called the VBIED, or vehicle-borne improvised 
explosive device, soon to be joined by the PBIED, a person- 
borne improvised explosive device, or suicide bomber. 
When Al Qaeda in Irag claimed responsibility for the IEDs, 
the resounding psychological effects were profound. Before 
the invasion, there had been no Al Qaeda in Iraq. 

DARPA’s long-term goals were now subordinated to this 
immediate need inundating the Pentagon. Initial counter- 
IED efforts involved Counter Radio-Controlled Electronic 
Warfare (CREW) systems, or jamming devices, that were 
installed on the dashboards of Army vehicles and cost 
roughly $80,000 each. The triggering mechanism on most 
IEDs consisted of simple wireless electronics, including 
components found in cell phones, cordless telephones, 
wireless doorbells, and key fobs. Early jammers were 
designed to interrupt the radio signals insurgents relied on 
to detonate their IEDs. First dozens, then hundreds of 
classified jamming systems made their way to coalition 
forces in Iraq, with code names like Jukebox, Warlock, 
Chameleon, and Duke. At the same time, DARPA worked on 
a next generation of jammers, developing technology that 
could one day locate IEDs by sensing chemical vapors from 
the relative safety of a fast-moving vehicle. The program, 
called Recognize IED and Report, or RIEDAR, would work 
from a distance of up to two miles away. The ideal device 
would be able to search 2,700 square meters per second, 
could be small and portable, and able to alert within one 


second of detection. But these were future plans, and the 
Pentagon needed ways to counter the IED threat now. By 
February 2004, IED attacks had escalated to one hundred 
per week. The five hundred jammers already in Iraq were 
doing only a little good. In June, General Abizaid sent a 
memo to Secretary Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff Richard Meyers, sounding an alarm. The 
Pentagon needed what Abizaid called a “Manhattan-like 
project” to address the IED problem. 


In Washington, Congress put DARPA in the hot seat when, 
in the spring of 2004, in a research study report for 
Congress, the concept of network-centric warfare was 
taken to task. Congress asked whether the Department of 
Defense had “given adequate attention to _ possible 
unintended outcomes resulting from over-reliance on high 
technology,” with the clear suggestion being that it had not. 
The unintended consequence that had Congress most 
concerned was the IED, presently killing so many American 
soldiers in Iraq. In its report, Congress wondered if, while 
the Pentagon had been’ pursuing “networked 
communications technology,” the terrorists were gaining 
the upper hand by using “asymmetric countermeasures.” 
Congress listed five other areas of concern: “(1) suicide 
bombings; (2) hostile forces intermingling with civilians 
used as shields; (3) irregular fighters and close-range 
snipers that swarm to attack, and then disperse quickly; (4) 
use of bombs to spread ‘dirty’ radioactive material; or (5) 
chemical or biological weapons.” 

To the press, Arthur Cebrowski claimed that he had been 
misunderstood. The so-called godfather of network-centric 
warfare complained that Congress was misinterpreting his 
words. “Warfare is all about human behavior,” said 
Cebrowski, which contradicted hundreds of pages of 
documents and memos he had sent to Secretary Rumsfeld. 


“It’s a common error to think that transformation has a 
technology focus. It’s one of many elements,” Cebrowski 
said. Even the Defense Department’s own Defense 
Acquisition University, a training and_ certification 
establishment for military personnel and _ defense 
contractors, was confused by the paradox and sent a 
reporter from its magazine Defense AT&L to Cebrowski’s 
office to clarify. How could the father of network-centric 
warfare be talking about human behavior, the reporter 
asked. “Network-centric warfare is first of all about human 
behavior, as opposed to information technology,” Cebrowski 
said. “Recall that while ‘a network’ is a noun, ‘to network’ is 
a verb, and what we are focusing on is human behavior in 
the networked environment.” 

It seemed as if Cebrowski was stretching to make sense, 
or at least resorting to semantics to avoid embarrassing the 
secretary of defense. Nowhere in Secretary Rumsfeld’s 
thirty-nine-page monograph for the president, a summation 
of Cebrowski’s vision titled “Transformation Planning 
Guidance,” was human behavior mentioned or even alluded 
to. While Cebrowski did television interviews addressing 
congressional concerns, the Office of Force Transformation 
added four new slides to its “Transforming Defense” 
PowerPoint presentation. One of the two new slides now 
addressed “Social Intelligence as a key to winning the 
peace,” and the other addressed “Social Domain Cultural 
Awareness” aS a way to give warfighters a “cognitive 
advantage.” 

On PBS NewsHour, Cebrowski defended network-centric 
warfare and again reminded the audience that the United 
States had, he believed, achieved operational dominance in 
Irag, completing major combat operations in just twenty- 
one days. “That speed of advance was absolutely unheard 
of,” Cebrowski said. But now, “we’re reminded that warfare 
is more than combat, and combat’s more than shooting.” It 
was about “how do people behave?” To win the war in Iraq, 


Cebrowski said, the military needed to recognize that 
“warfare is all about human behavior.” And that was what 
network-centric warfare was about: “the behavior of 
humans in the networked environment... how do people 
behave when they become networked?” 

If Cebrowski could not convincingly speak of human 
behavior, he found a partner in someone who could. Retired 
major general Robert H. Scales was a highly decorated 
Vietnam War veteran and recipient of the Silver Star. As the 
country sought a solution to the nightmare unfolding in 
Irag, Scales proposed what he called a “culture-centric” 
solution. “War is a thinking man’s game,” Scales wrote in 
Proceedings magazine, the monthly magazine of the United 
States Naval Institute. “Wars are won as much by creating 
alliances, leveraging nonmilitary advantages, reading 
intentions, building trust, converting opinions, and 
Managing perceptions—all tasks that demand an 
exceptional ability to understand people, their culture, and 
their motivation.” As if reaching back in time to the 
roundtable discussions held by JFK’s Special Group and 
Robert McNamara’s Pentagon, Scales was talking about 
motivation and morale. 

In 2004, amid the ever-growing IED crisis, Scales 
proposed to Cebrowski that the Pentagon needed a social 
science program to get inside how the enemy thought. The 
United States needed to know what made the enemy tick. 
Cebrowski agreed. “Knowledge of one’s enemy and his 
culture and society may be more important than knowledge 
of his order of battle,” Cebrowski wrote in Military Review, 
a bi-monthly Army journal. The Office of Force 
Transformation now publicly endorsed “social intelligence” 
as a new warfighting concept, the idea that in-depth 
knowledge of local customs in Iraq and elsewhere would 
allow the Pentagon to better determine who was friend and 
who was foe in a given war theater. “Combat troops are 
becoming intelligence operatives to support stabilization 


and counterinsurgency operations in Irag,” Cebrowski’s 
office told Defense News in April 2004. It was hearts and 
minds all over again, reemerging in Iraq. 


With chaos unfolding across Iraq, all the agencies and 
military services attached to the Pentagon were scrambling 
to find solutions. At DARPA, the former deputy director of 
the Total Information Awareness program, Bob Popp, got an 
idea. “I was the deputy director of an office that no longer 
existed,” said Popp in a 2014 interview. The Information 
Awareness Office had been shut down, and Poindexter’s 
Total Information Awareness program was no more, at least 
as far as the public was concerned. “Some of the TIA 
programs had been canceled, some were transitioned to 
the intelligence community,” says Popp with an insider’s 
knowledge available to few, most notably because, he says, 
“the transitioning aspects were part of my job.” Popp was 
now serving as special assistant to DARPA director Tony 
Tether. “Tony and I met once a month,” recalls Popp. “He 
said, ‘Put together another program,’ and I did.” 

Working with DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office, Popp 
examined data on what he felt was the most important 
element of TIA, namely, “information on the bad guys.” After 
thinking through a number of ideas, Popp focused on one. “I 
started thinking, why do certain areas harbor bad guys?” 
He sought counsel within his community of Defense 
Department experts, including strategists, economists, 
engineers, and field commanders. Popp was surprised by 
the variety of answers he received, and how incongruous 
the opinions were. “They were not all right and they were 
not all wrong,” Popp recalls. But as far as harboring bad 
guys was concerned, Popp wanted to know who was 
harboring them, and why. He wanted to know what social 
scientists thought of the growing insurgencies in Iraq and 
Afghanistan. “I looked around DARPA and realized there 


was not a single social scientist to be found,” Popp says, so 
he began talking to “old-timers” about his idea of bringing 
social scientists on board. “Most of them were cautious. 
They said, ‘Oh, I don’t know. You should listen to the 
commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq.’” Then someone 
suggested to Bob Popp that he talk to an anthropologist 
named Montgomery McFate. 

When Bob Popp first spoke with McFate in 2004, she was 
thirty-eight years old and worked as a fellow at the Office of 
Naval Research. Before that, McFate worked for RAND, 
where she wrote an analysis of totalitarianism in North 
Korean society. A profile in the San Francisco Examiner 
describes her as “a punk rock wild child of dyed-in-the-wool 
hippies... close-cropped hair and a voice buttery... a double- 
doc Ivy Leaguer with a penchant for big hats and American 
Spirit cigarettes and a nose that still bears the tiny dent ofa 
piercing 25 years closed.” If her personal background 
seemed to separate her from _ the _- conservative 
organizations she worked for, her ideas made her part of 
the defense establishment. 

McFate says that in addition to being approached by 
DARPA’s Bob Popp for help in social science work, she also 
received a call from a science advisor to the Joint Chiefs of 
Staff, Hriar S. Cabayan, who was calling from the war 
theater. “We’re having a really hard time out here,” McFate 
remembers Cabayan saying. “We have no idea how this 
society works.... Could you help us?” 

In 2004 the insurgency in Iraq was growing at an 
alarming rate. Criticism of the Pentagon was reaching new 
heights, most notably as_ stories of dubious WMD 
intelligence gained traction in Congress and around the 
world. For the Department of Defense, it was a tall order to 
locate anthropologists willing to work for the Pentagon. 
Academic studies showed that politically, the vast majority 
were left-leaning, with twenty registered Democrats to 
every one registered Republican. Not only was McFate rare 


for an anthropologist, but also she was enthusiastic about 
the war effort. Like many Americans, she had been 
propelled into action by 9/11. In 2004, Montgomery McFate 
decided to make it her “evangelical mission” to get the 
Pentagon to understand the culture it was dealing with in 
Irag and Afghanistan. 

In November 2004, DARPA co-sponsored a conference on 
counterinsurgency, or COIN, with the Office of Naval 
Research. For the first time since the Vietnam War, DARPA 
sought the advice of behavioral scientists to try to put an 
end to what General Abizaid called a “guerrilla-style” war. 
The DARPA conference, called the Adversary Cultural 
Knowledge and National Security Conference, was 
organized by Montgomery McFate and took place at the 
Sheraton Hotel in Crystal City, Virginia. The key speaker 
was retired major general Robert Scales. From the podium, 
the decorated Vietnam War veteran told his audience what 
he believed was the key element in the current conflict: 
winning hearts and minds. Scales was famous for his role in 
the battle of Dong Ap Bia, known as the Battle of 
Hamburger Hill because the casualty rate was so high, 
roughly 70 percent, that it made the soldiers who were 
there think of it as a meat grinder. 

An entire generation of Vietnam War officers like himself 
had retired or were in the process of retiring, Scales told 
his audience. He and his colleagues were men who had 
engaged in battle before the age of “network-centric 
warfare.” Vietnam-era officers had been replaced by 
technology enthusiasts, Scales said, many of whom “went so 
far as to claim that technology would remove the fog of war 
entirely from the battlefield.” These were the same 
individuals who said that one day soon, ground forces would 
be unnecessary. That the Air Force, the Navy, and perhaps a 
future space force would be fighting wars from above, 
seated in command centers far away from the battlefield. 
Scales said it was time to reject this idea. Guerrilla warfare 


was back, he warned. Just like in Vietnam. Technology did 
not win against insurgents, Scales said. People did. 

“The nature of war is changing,” Scales wrote that same 
fall in Proceedings magazine. “Fanatics and fundamentalists 
in the Middle East have adapted and adopted a method of 
war that seeks to offset U.S. technical superiority with a 
countervailing method that uses guile, subterfuge and 
terror mixed with patience and a willingness to die.” Scales 
warned that this new kind of warfare would allow the 
weaker force, the insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, to 
take on the stronger force, the United States, and win. 
Since the Israeli War of Independence, Scales wrote, 
“Islamic armies are 0 and 7 when fighting Western style 
and 5 and O when fighting unconventionally against Israel, 
the United States, and the Soviet Union.” 

The Pentagon moved forward with DARPA’s idea to bring 
anthropologists into the Iraq war, and McFate garnered 
exclusive permission to interview Marines coming home 
from Iraq. In July 2005 she authored a paper in Joint Force 
Quarterly, a magazine funded by the Department of 
Defense, titled “The Military Utility of Understanding 
Adversary Culture.” In it she stated clearly her opinion 
about what had gone wrong in Iraq. “When the U.S. cut off 
the hydra’s Ba’thist head, power reverted to its most basic 
and stable form—the tribe,” wrote McFate. “Once the Sunni 
Ba’thists lost their prestigious jobs, were humiliated in the 
conflict, and got frozen out through de-Ba’thification, the 
tribal network became the backbone of the insurgency.” As 
an anthropologist, McFate believed that “the tribal 
insurgency is a direct result of our misunderstanding the 
Iraqi culture.” 

Soldiers in the field had information, McFate said, but it 
was the wrong information. “Soldiers and Marines were 
unable to establish one-to-one relationships with Iraqis, 
which are key to both intelligence collection and winning 
hearts and minds.” McFate issued a stern warning to her 


Pentagon colleagues: “Failure to understand culture would 
endanger troops and civilians at a tactical level. Although it 
may not seem like a priority when bullets are flying, cultural 
ignorance can kill.” 

McFate was hired to perform a data analysis of eighty- 
eight tribes and sub-tribes from a particular province in 
Irag, and the behavioral science program she was 
proposing began to have legs. At DARPA, Bob Popp was 
enthusiastic. “It was not a panacea,” he says, “but we 
needed nation rebuilding. The social science community 
had tremendous insights into [the] serious problems going 
on [there], and a sector of DoD was ready to make serious 
investments into social sciences,” he says of DARPA’s efforts. 

Arthur Cebrowski died of cancer the following year. The 
Office of Force Transformation did not last long without him 
and within a year after his death closed down, but the social 
intelligence programs forged ahead. Montgomery McFate 
found a new advocate in General David Petraeus, 
commander of the Multi-National Security Transition 
Command, Irag, who shared her vision about the 
importance of winning hearts and minds. Petraeus began 
talking about “stability operations” and using the phrase 
“culture-centric warfare” when talking to the press. He said 
that understanding people was likely to become more 
important in future battles than “shock and awe and 
network-centric warfare.” 

The DARPA program originally conceived broadly by Bob 
Popp to bring social scientists and anthropologists into the 
war effort was fielded to the U.S. Army. Montgomery 
McFate became the lead social scientist in charge of this 
new program, now called the Human Terrain System. But 
what did that mean? The program’s stated mission was to 
“counter the threat of the improvised explosive device,” 
which seemed strangely at odds with a hearts and minds 
campaign. Historically, the battle for hearts and minds 
focused on people who were not yet committed to the 


enemy’s ideology. The Army’s mission statement made the 
Human Terrain System sound as if its social scientists were 
going to be persuading terrorists not to strap on the suicide 
vest or bury the roadside bomb after all. The first year’s 
budget was $31 million, and by 2014, the Pentagon would 
spend half a billion dollars on the program. Unlike in ARPA’s 
Motivation and Morale program during the Vietnam War, 
the social scientists who were part of the Human Terrain 
System program during the war on terror would deploy 
into the war zone for tours of six to nine months, embedded 
with combat brigades and dressed in full battle gear. Many 
would carry guns. So many elements of the program were 
incongruous, it was easy to wonder what the intent actually 
was. 

“T do not want to get anybody killed,” McFate told the 
New Yorker. “I see there could be misuse. But I just can’t 
stand to sit back and watch these mistakes happen over and 
over as people get killed, and do nothing.” Major General 
Robert Scales, the keynote speaker at the DARPA 
counterinsurgency conference organized by McFate, wrote 
papers and testified before Congress in support of this new 
hearts and minds effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the 
Armed Forces Journal Scales wrote, “Understanding and 
empathy will be important weapons of war.” Then he made 
a bold declaration. “World War I was a chemists’ war,” 
Scales said. “World War II was a physicists’ war,” and the 
war on terror was “the social scientists’ war.” 

The program quickly gathered momentum. The Human 
Terrain System was a countermeasure against IEDs, and 
counterinsurgency was back in U.S. Army nomenclature. In 
December 2006 the Army _ released its first 
counterinsurgency manual in more than twenty years, 
Counterinsurgency, Field Manual, No. 3-24. Lieutenant 
General David Petraeus oversaw the manual’s publication. 
Montgomery McFate wrote one of the chapters. “What is 
Counterinsurgency?” the manual asks its readers. “If you 


have not studied counterinsurgency theory, here it is in a 
nutshell: Counterinsurgency is a competition with the 
insurgent for the right to win the hearts, minds, and 
acquiescence of the population.” As it had done in Vietnam, 
the COIN manual stressed nation-building and cultural 
understanding as key tactics in winning a guerrilla war. 

It was as if the Vietnam War had produced amnesia 
instead of experience. On its official website, the U.S. Army 
erroneously identified the new Human Terrain System 
program as being “the first time that social science 
research, analysis, and advising has been done 
systematically, on a large scale, and at the operational level” 
in a war. 


CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO 


Combat Zones That See 


For the Pentagon, trying to fight a war in an urban center 


was like fighting blind. From the chaotic marketplace to the 
maze of streets, there was no way of knowing who the 
enemy was. DARPA believed that superior technology could 
give soldiers not just sight but omnipotence. Their new 
effort was to create “Combat Zones That See.” 

In the second year of the Iraq war, DARPA launched its 
Urban Operations Program, the largest and most expensive 
of the twenty-first century, as of 2014. “No technological 
challenges are more immediate, or more important for the 
future, than those posed by urban warfare,” DARPA’s 
deputy director, Dr. Robert Leheny, told a group of defense 
contractors, scientists, and engineers in 2005. “What we 
are seeing today [in Iraq] is the future of warfare.” While 
the short-term priority remained the IED, the long-term 
solution required a larger vision. It was less about locating 
the bombs than about finding the bomb makers, Tony 
Tether told Congress in 2005. With Vietnam came the birth 
of the electronic fence, with a goal of sensing and hearing 
what was happening on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. With Iraq 
came the birth of the electronic battle space, with eyes and 
ears everywhere—on the ground, in the air, behind 
doorways and walls. DARPA needed to bolster its research 
and development programs to produce _ wide-scale 


surveillance technology for urban combat zones—total 
surveillance of an area wherever and whenever it was 
needed. This was the plan for Combat Zones That See. 

“We need a network, or web, of sensors to better map a 
city and the activities in it, including inside buildings, to sort 
adversaries and their equipment from civilians and their 
equipment, including in crowds, and to spot snipers, suicide 
bombers, or IEDs,” Tether told the Senate Armed Services 
Committee. “We need to watch a great variety of things, 
activities, and people over a wide area and have great 
resolution available when we need it.” Through information 
technology the United States could gain the upper hand 
against the terrorists in Irag and places like it. “And this is 
not just a matter of more and better sensors,” he explained, 
“but just as important, the systems needed to make 
actionable intelligence out of all the data.” Director Tether 
requested half a billion dollars to fund the first phase of 
development. 

The timing was right. Congress had eliminated funding 
for DARPA’s Total Information Awareness programs in the 
fall of 2003, citing privacy concerns. But Irag was a “foreign 
battle space.” Civil liberties were not at issue in a war zone. 
“Closely related to this [network of sensors] are tagging, 
tracking, and locating (TT&L) systems that help us watch 
and track a particular person or object of interest,” said 
Tether. “These systems will also help us detect the 
clandestine production or possession of weapons of mass 
destruction in overseas urban areas.” 

DARPA partnered with the National Geospatial- 
Intelligence Agency (NGA), a dual combat support and 
intelligence agency that had been drawing and analyzing 
military maps since 1939. With the invention of the satellite, 
NGA became the lead agency responsible for collecting 
“geospatial intelligence,” or GEOINT, interpreting that 
intelligence, and distributing its findings to other agencies. 
The NGA remains one of the lesser-known intelligence 


agencies. The majority of its operations are born classified. 
In Irag, DARPA and the NGA worked together to create 
high-resolution three-dimensional maps of most major cities 
and suspected terrorist hideouts. The mapping efforts 
became part of a system of systems, folded into a DARPA 
program called Heterogeneous Urban Reconnaissance, 
Surveillance and Target Acquisition, or HURT. Entire 
foreign civilian populations and their living spaces would be 
surveyed, observed, and scrutinized by the U.S. military and 
American allies so that individual people—insurgents— 
could be targeted, then captured or killed. In urban 
warfare situations, DARPA knew, terrorists tried to blend in 
among heterogeneous crowds, much as the Vietcong had 
done with trees on the trail. DARPAS HURT program was 
technology designed to deprive terrorists of people cover. 
To implement the terrain-based elements of the HURT 
program, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of defense 
contractors were dispatched to Iraq, capturing digital 
imagery along at least five thousand miles of streets using 
techniques similar to those used for Google Maps. Many 
details of the program remain classified, including which 
cities were targeted and in what order, but from Tether’s 
own testimony Congress learned that thousands of tiny 
surveillance cameras and other microsensing devices had 
been discreetly mounted on infrastructure, designed to 
work like England’s CCTV system. Tether described these 
surveillance cameras to Congress as “a network of 
nonintrusive microsensors.” Unclassified documents from 
the NGA described these sensors as including low- 
resolution video sensors placed close to the ground to 
monitor foot traffic; medium-resolution video sensors 
placed high on telephone poles to watch motor vehicle and 
pedestrian streams, and high-resolution video sensors 
placed at an opportune height to capture “skeletal features 
and anthropometric [body measurement] cues.” The 
resulting three-dimensional maps laid the groundwork for 


the first of many Combat Zones That See. DARPA program 
managers joked that their goal was “to track everything 
that moves.” 

One of the drones in the HURT program was the Wasp, a 
tiny unmanned aerial vehicle with a fourteen-inch wingspan 
and weighing only 430 grams, or less than a pound. 
Providing real-time overhead surveillance to soldiers on the 
ground, a fleet of Wasps took to the airspace over Iraqi 
cities and supply routes. The Wasp was one of the smartest 
drones in the drone fleet in 2005. Powered by batteries, it 
flew low and carried an exceptional payload of technology 
packed inside, including a color video camera, altimeter, 
GPS, and autopilot. The Wasps worked together in the 
system of systems, bird-sized drones flying in pairs and in 
threes. 

“The [HURT] system can get reconnaissance imagery 
that high-altitude systems can not,” says Dr. Michael A. 
Pagels, a HURT program manager who oversaw field 
operations in Irag. “It can see around and sometimes into 
buildings.” Because of the Wasp’s micro size, some could 
enter into buildings undetected, through open windows and 
doorways, then fly around inside. The drones’ capabilities 
were tailored for specific urban combat needs. If two of the 
Wasps were taking surveillance photos of the same area, 
their advanced software was able to merge the best of both 
images in a “paintbrush-like effect,” updating the images 
captured in near real time, then sending them to small 
computers carried by soldiers on the ground. At a soldier’s 
behest, the HURT system could pause, rewind, and play 
back the Wasp’s surveillance video. This was a key feature if 
a soldier was hunting a terror cell planting an IED and 
needed to know what an area looked like three minutes, or 
three hours, before. The HURT system even had several 
self-governing features. It knew when one of its drones was 
low on fuel and could coordinate refueling times to ensure 
that surveillance was maintained by other drones in the 


system. The Wasp was also designed to recognize when it 
was running low on battery power. It could transmit its 
status to an operator. “HURT is designed to be agnostic,” 
Pagels says, meaning that if one part of the system goes 
down, the other parts of the system quickly adapt to 
compensate for the loss. Mindful of what DARPA called the 
“chaotic fog of war and the mind-numbing complexity of the 
urban environment,” the system’s creators aimed to 
achieve “Persistent Area Dominance.” HURT was part of 
that domination. With HURT, humans and machines would 
work together to maintain situational awareness in 
dangerous urban environments. 

Giant unmanned blimps were also. involved in 
surveillance, in DARPA’s Tactical Aerostat program, also 
called the “unblinking eye.” Originally designed for U.S. 
border patrol surveillance, these  forty-five-foot-long 
airships were tethered to mobile launching platforms by 
reinforced fiber-optic cable. The moored balloons were then 
raised to heights of between one thousand and three 
thousand feet. They were designed to be compact and 
portable, able to go up and down before insurgents could 
shoot them out of the sky. Fiber optics allowed for secure 
communication between the classified surveillance systems 
carried inside the blimps and the operators on the ground. 
The blimps were helpful for keeping watch over 
increasingly dangerous roads, like Main Supply Route 
Tampa, a fifteen-mile stretch of road out of Baghdad, and 
Route Irish, the deadly road to the Baghdad International 
Airport. 

Unclassified DARPA literature reveals that sometimes the 
system of systems worked. Other times, elements failed. 
Sandstorms made visibility difficult, and when _ that 
happened, terrorists could sneak in and plant their IEDs 
under cover of weather. When the sandstorm cleared, it 
was often impossible to distinguish windblown trash from 
newly planted bombs. Several of the blimps and drones also 


either were shot down or crashed on their own. 

But DARPA’s defense contractors and scientists back 
home persevered. The system of systems being built by 
DARPA was long term, and had ambitious, well-funded 
goals. The ultimate objective for Combat Zones That See 
was to be able to track millions of people and cars as they 
moved through urban centers, not just in Iraq but in other 
urban areas that potentially posed a threat. Cars would be 
tracked by their license plates. Human faces would be 
tracked through facial recognition software. The 
supercomputers at the heart of the system would process 
all this information, using “intelligent computer algorithms 
[to] determine what is normal and what is not,” just as the 
Total Information Awareness office proposed. Combat Zones 
That See was similar to TIA’s needle-in-a-haystack hunt. It 
was bigger, bolder, and far more invasive. But would it 
work? 

In Combat Zones That See, DARPA’s goal was for 
artificially intelligent computers to process what it called 
“forensic information.” Computers could provide answers to 
questions like “Where did that vehicle come from? How did 
it get here?” In this manner, the computers could discover 
“links between places, subjects and times of activities.” 
Then, with predictive modeling capabilities in place, the 
artificially intelligent computers would eventually be able to 
“alert operators to potential force protection risks and 
hostile situations.” In other words, the computers would be 
able to detect non-normal situations, and to notify the 
humans in the system of systems as to which hostile 
individuals might be planning an IED or other terrorist 
attack. 


In the winter of 2005, the Washington Post reported that an 
IED attack occurred inside Iraq every forty-eight minutes. 
The primary countermeasure was still the electronic 


jamming device, designed to thwart IED activation by 
remote control. But these jammers were doing only a little 
good. In Irag, coalition forces were up against an 
electromagnetic environment that was totally unpredictable 
and impossible to control. Iraq had an estimated 27 million 
people using unregulated cell phones, cordless phones, 
walkie-talkies, and satellite phones, and DARPA jammers 
were failing to keep up. Jammers were even getting 
jammed: Al Qaeda bomb makers developed a rudimentary 
radio-controlled jamming signal decoder that the 
Americans called the “spider.” The U.S. military appeared to 
be losing control. Despite DARPA’s lofty goals of Persistent 
Area Dominance through battle space surveillance, in 
reality the Combat Zones That See concept was collecting 
lots of information but providing little dominance. 

DARPA had dozens of potential solutions in various 
stages of development. The Stealthy Insect Sensor Project, 
at Los Alamos National Laboratories, was now ready to 
deploy. As part of the animal sentinel program, going back 
to 1999, scientists had been making great progress training 
honeybees to locate bombs. Bees have sensing capabilities 
that outperform the dog’s nose by a trillion parts per 
second. Using Pavlovian techniques, scientists cooled down 
groups of bees in a refrigerator, then strapped them into 
tiny boxes using masking tape, leaving their heads, and 
most of their antennae, poking out the top. Using a sugar 
water reward system, the scientists trained the bees to use 
their tongues to “sniff out” explosives, resulting in a 
reaction the scientists call a “purr.” After training, when the 
scientists exposed the bees to a six-second burst of 
explosives, some had learned to “purr.” 

DARPA officials traveled to Los Alamos to observe the 
tests, filming the event for later review. The _ bees, 
transported in little boxes, were tested with various 
explosives, including TNT and C4. As a proof-ofconcept 
test, a van configured like a vehicle-borne improvised 


explosive device, or VBIED, was packed with explosives. 
Remarkably, the bees were able to sniff out the explosive 
material inside, their tiny tongues “purring” when they 
came in proximity. The DARPA team was excited by the 
science and the prospects. But when the Army learned that 
DARPA planned to send bees to Iraq as a countermeasure 
to the IED threat, they rejected the idea. The reality of 
depending on insect performance in a war zone was 
implausible, the Army said, so the Los Alamos bees never 
traveled to Iraq. 

On the urban battlefield the casualty rate continued to 
escalate. An even more deadly IED emerged, called the 
explosively formed penetrator, or EFP Crafted from a 
cylindrical firing tube and packed with explosives, the 
unique EFP had a front end that was sealed by a concave 
liner, usually a copper disk. When the EFP fired, the intense 
heat of the blast turned the copper disk into an armor- 
piercing molten slug, propelling itself forward on a straight 
path at 2,000 meters per second, more than double the 
speed of a .50 caliber bullet. The EFP was designed with an 
infrared trigger, which meant it was largely jammer proof. 
As for other IEDs, terrorists had created new measures to 
defeat U.S. jamming countermeasures. They were now 
engineering IEDs to be “victim activated,” triggered by a 
human foot or vehicle tire. By 2006, roughly two thousand 
jammers had been installed on the dashboards of coalition 
force vehicles in Iraq. None of these could defeat the 
dreaded “victim activated” pressure plate. 

DARPA enhanced its body armor efforts through a 
program called Hardwire HD Armor. Scientists and 
engineers developed an entirely new class of body armor 
made of a hybrid metallic-composite material that weighed 
less than steel armor but could defend better against 
armor-piercing rounds. The manufacturing company 
Hardwire LLC specialized in building blast-resistant 
bunkers before it started designing bulletproof vests. But 


the IEDs kept coming, increasing in lethality and terror. 
Armor protects the chest but leaves limbs, sexual organs, 
and the brain exposed. All across Irag, from Mosul to Najaf, 
IEDs continued to rip apart soldiers’ bodies, tearing away 
their limbs, shredding their penises and testicles, gravely 
injuring their brains. The improvised explosive device—a 
low-technology bomb constructed for as little as $25—was 
now responsible for 63 percent of all coalition force deaths. 

By 2006, the Pentagon had spent more than $1 billion on 
“defeat-the-IED” technology. Deputy Secretary of Defense 
Paul Wolfowitz recommended the creation of a permanent 
program, and on February 14, 2006, the Joint Improvised 
Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) was 
established to deal with the ever-increasing IED threat. 
With a first-year budget of $3.6 billion, JIEDDO was 
described as its own mini-Manhattan Project. Hundreds 
more electronic warfare specialists were sent to the war 
theater in Iraq. To the explosive ordnance disposal 
technicians, called EOD techs, working to defuse bombs in 
the war theater, there was something that DARPA was 
working on that could not get there fast enough: its force of 
next-generation robots. 


Master Chief Petty Officer Craig Marsh was a Master 
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician, assigned to 
the first ever Combined Joint Counter-IED Task Force, 
otherwise known as CJTF Troy. EOD techs are part of the 
Special Operations community and frequently operate 
alongside Navy Seals, Green Berets, and other Special 
Warfare units on classified missions. In 2006, Marsh 
deployed to Irag to help establish CJTF Troy as the 
Operations (J3) senior noncommissioned officer. Marsh was 
trained to respond to and dispose of bombs planted 
underwater and aboveground, including nuclear, chemical, 
and biological weapons. When he was a younger sailor, he 


served on the classified Mark 6 Marine Mammal System 
program, swimming with highly trained bottlenose dolphins 
to detect and mark the location of underwater intruders 
and explosives. 

In Iraq, the daily work of EOD techs was among the most 
crucial, most deadly, and most nerve-racking of jobs. IEDs 
were ubiquitous. Defusing these homemade bombs, and 
collecting intelligence about the bombs and the bomb 
makers, made for an extraordinarily stressful workload. In 
Hollywood, the efforts of EOD technicians would be made 
famous by the Academy Award-winning film The Hurt 
Locker. In Iraq, the work was overwhelming, and many of 
the younger technicians were largely unprepared for what 
they were up against. “We were dealing with thousands and 
thousands of IEDs,” Craig Marsh recalls. “Ninety-five 
percent of the guys had never seen an IED before.” 

At forty-two years old, Marsh had nearly twenty years of 
experience in the EOD community defusing bombs. In 
Baghdad, it was his job to oversee the work of eighty EOD 
teams spread across Irag, each composed of two or three 
technicians, and he was to coordinate the fragmentary 
orders (FRAGOs) from the Multi-National Corps-Irag three- 
star generals across the entire Joint Task Force Troy. 

At Task Force Troy, Marsh lived on the fourth floor of the 
Al Faw Palace, or Water Place, formerly inhabited by 
Saddam Hussein and his entourage. The palace had roughly 
sixty-two rooms and twenty-nine bathrooms. It was loaded 
with garish gold chandeliers and expensive marble tile. The 
Al Faw was surrounded by artificial ponds filled with large, 
hungry carp, notorious for attacking and devouring ducks 
that landed on its shimmering surface. The Americans set 
up a headquarters here and renamed the place Camp 
Victory, Iraq. Combined Joint Task Force Troy lived inside. 

Over time, Camp Victory would grow larger and come to 
be encircled in twenty-seven miles of concrete wall, making 
it the largest of a total of 505 bases operated by the United 


States in Irag. Even Saddam Hussein and his cousin Ali 
Hassan al Majeed, known as “Chemical Ali,” lived at Camp 
Victory during the war. The two men were imprisoned in a 
top secret building on an island in the center of one of the 
ponds. Accessible only by a drawbridge, the prison was 
code-named Building 114. In the mornings, Marsh would 
pass by the island on his morning jog. 

Task Force Troy was the first operational counter-IED 
task force in U.S. military history, and the unit was only a 
few months old when Marsh arrived. “In 2006, everyone 
was still running around with their hair on fire,” he recalls. 
“We were still trying to determine who the good guys were 
and who the bad guys were.” There were thousands of 
bombs to defuse. Too many to count. “All eighty teams 
would be out in the field, working eighteen, twenty hours a 
day. Some guys would clear ten locations, then come back, 
then get sent back to the same hole” after another IED had 
been planted in it. “There were snipers to deal with. The 
cost was tremendous,” Marsh says. Death was 
commonplace. “It was painful and frustrating. Within the 
first couple of months, one of the sailors I was working with 
was blown up and killed.” 

Another part of Craig Marsh’s job was to coordinate the 
work between the teams that were trying to locate bomb 
makers and the lab technicians examining evidence. At 
every location, before and after an IED blast, there was 
forensic evidence to collect, a potential means of identifying 
and capturing members of local terrorist cells. Task Force 
Troy worked in concert with a forensic counter-IED team 
called the Combined Explosive Exploitation Cell, or “sexy” 
(CEXC) for short. CEXC had an electronics shop and 
laboratory at Camp Victory where technicians worked 
around the clock examining evidence. This was home to 
some of the most technologically advanced forensic 
equipment in the world, including high-powered 
microscopes, reflective ultraviolet imaging system 


fingerprint scopes, and x-ray photographing machines. 

Task Force Troy had access to some sensor technology, 
but it did not do much good in the field. “Sensors are great 
for identifying anomalies at the bottom of the ocean,” says 
Marsh. “Technology can be very good for gathering 
intelligence. But when it comes to assessing technology, 
nothing comes close to an experienced human. The ‘ah-hah’ 
moments almost always came from a guy in the lab at 
CEXC.,” 

Human intelligence, HUMINT, offered Task Force Troy 
some of the best leads in trying to identify who might be 
building and planting the IEDs. Task Force Troy teams 
would go out in the field and talk to locals, taking paper- 
and-pen notes. “We’d follow up on these leads,” relates 
Marsh, only to discover “we were now dealing with death 
squads.” For Iraqis, working with Americans carried a high 
price. “These guys would kill entire families just for talking 
to us. It was brutal. We’d find vans stuffed with bodies. 
Villagers who talked to us would wind up dead, blindfolded, 
left by the side of the road.” Corpses went unidentified and 
lay rotting in the streets because extended family members 
were afraid to claim the bodies, fearing reprisal. As the 
violence swelled, trust disappeared. 

The psychological toll grew heavy. Marsh remembers 
being back at Camp Victory one night, longing for some 
kind of a break, when he and a colleague were watching a 
training video illustrating how a DARPA robot could allow 
first sighting of visible wires and other components of a 
partially buried IED. Marsh recalls what he saw. “The 
robot’s working the road. Then the robot blows up. The 
dust clears. Along comes another robot and it starts 
working on a second IED in the road.” EOD teams had used 
DARPA robots before, “but there were not enough of them 
to go around,” says Marsh. “The few robots [we had] were 
taking a beating due to IED blasts. DARPA was the 
momentum behind pushing the much-needed volume of 


robots into the hands of those of us who really needed 
them.” When Marsh learned more robots were coming to 
Task Force Troy, “that was a ‘thank God’ moment,” he 
recalls. 

The workhorse of all the counter-IED robots was DARPA’s 
Talon robot, first developed for DARPA by Foster-Miller, 
Inc., in 1993. The robot was originally conceived as a 
counter-mine robot, designed to work in shallow ocean 
waters, called the surf zone. In the aftermath of the Bosnian 
war, Talon robots were used to remove unexploded 
munitions. On 9/11, Talon robots were used on-site at the 
World Trade Center, searching through the rubble for 
survivors. And Talon robots were the first robots used in the 
war on terror. They accompanied Special Forces during 
action against the Taliban and Al Qaeda on a classified 
mission in Afghanistan in 2002. “Talon robots have been in 
continuous active military duty ever since,” DARPA 
literature reports. 

Now, a fleet of combat-ready, man-portable Talon robots 
was finally ready for battle in Iraq. It was 2006. This 
generation of Talon was small and squat, weighing just one 
hundred pounds. It had a robotic arm and was mounted on 
a four-wheeled platform that rolled along on two tank 
treads. The robot was operated from a portable control unit 
through a two-way radio or a fiber-optic link. 

The EOD techs gave the Talons high praise—and human 
names. 

“Sorry for the late report on Gordon the robot,” reads 
one EOD operator report. “While I was in direct control of 
Gordon, 8 deep buried IED’s were disposed of, 7 houses 
were cleared of possible HBIEDs [house-borne improvised 
explosive devices], 13 Unexploded Ordinances (UXO) found 
in houses that were to be placed as IEDs, 18 landmines. 
Approximately 300 lbs of HME [homemade explosive] was 
disposed of.” 

Several days after that report, Gordon the robot was 


launched out the back of an EOD truck and was searching 
an intersection for a deeply buried IED when a bomb 
detonated approximately ten feet from where Gordon was 
working. “Still functioning, he continued to search the 
area,” the EOD tech reported. “On the opposite side of the 
road, another IED was detonated and had turned him 
upside down. Everything was still working until a fire fight 
started. Gordon took 7 rounds to the underside and was 
done for the day.” The EOD technician took Gordon back to 
the robot shop for repair. He was fixed, returned to the 
team, and sent back out into the field. 

Not long after, Gordon was searching a gate near a 
house, looking for possible booby traps, when an IED 
detonated right next to where he was working. “Gordon 
was mangled beyond repair. Now his replacement, ‘Flash,’ 
is here to finish his job,” wrote the tech. The beauty of 
robots, says Craig Marsh, is simple to understand. “Some 
leaders say you can’t take the man out of the mine field. But 
the bottom line is, robots save lives. EOD technicians will 
choose to work smarter instead of harder when at all 
possible.” The Talon robots cost between $60,000 and 
$180,000 per unit, depending on what sensor technology 
the robot is fitted with. 

The longer-term goal of Task Force Troy was to turn the 
bomb detection and defusing technology over to the Iraqis 
themselves. “We were trying to establish a partnership with 
the Iraqi Ministry of Police, but we got a lot of pushback,” 
Marsh recalls. “We’d say, here’s how DNA works. Here’s 
how fingerprinting works. And they’d look at us like we 
were talking about magic.” In Marsh’s experience, the way 
the Iraqi police force worked in 2006 was based on a man’s 
word. “They’d ask someone, a suspect, ‘Did you build this 
IED?’ And if he said ‘no,’ that worked for them. Proof to 
them was an eyewitness. Judges would ask, ‘Are there any 
eyewitnesses to back this up?’ If the answer was no, and 
[the suspect] said he didn’t do it, he would be let go. The 


system was based on deceptions. On a lot of untruths.” 

Task Force Troy worked with CEXC to build what it called 
“targeting packages,” files of evidence that could be used 
by Iraqi police before a judge. “It made things complicated 
and frustrating. Trying to assist the Iraqi judicial system— 
we were not supposed to say ‘train’—and to prosecute the 
war.” 

There was a major turning point in cooperative science 
on February 22, 2006. Early that morning, sixty-five miles 
north of Baghdad, in the city of Samarra, a massive IED 
blast tore apart the Golden Dome of the Askariya Shrine, 
one of Shia Islam’s holiest shrines. “This is like 9/11 in the 
United States,” declared Abdel Abdul Mahdi, one of Iraq’s 
two vice presidents, a Shiite Muslim. 

When Craig Marsh learned about the bombing, he 
walked across the Al Faw Palace compound to update his 
commander, Colonel Kevin Lutz, on the other side of Camp 
Victory. The two men discussed next steps. “There was so 
much evidence to collect at the Golden Dome,” says Marsh. 
“We wanted to get eyes on the incident site and at least do 
our best to preserve the evidence for collection without 
damaging an already sensitive relationship with Iraqi 
leadership. CEXC guys were well equipped to handle that.” 
The Iraqi government in Baghdad was not. But now they 
saw how they could “benefit from the science,” says Marsh. 
For the first time since Task Force Troy had been set up, the 
government of Baghdad, which was led by Shiite Muslims, 
agreed to allow CEXC to investigate something that had 
nothing to do with coalition force deaths. A team of Task 
Force Troy CEXC technicians descended on the rubble of 
the Golden Mosque. 

In working with forensic science to identify the terrorists 
who blew up the Golden Dome, Iraqi leaders in Baghdad 
warmed to science in general, says Marsh. Then advances 
in science took a bizarre and tragic turn. Marsh learned 
that Iragi security forces were relying on a device to detect 


bombs that had no science behind it at all. Word was the 
device, called the ADE 651, “was a totally bogus piece of 
equipment,” he says. It was a small handheld black box with 
a swiveling antenna attached to the top. The Iraqi Ministry 
of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating 
Explosives had purchased more than 1,500 of the devices 
from a private company in England called ATSC. 

Craig Marsh took the problem to senior officers, who 
invited top Iraqi officials to Task Force Troy for a technology 
demonstration. “We had the Iraqis come to the laboratory 
and we had DoD guys demonstrate” that it did not work, 
Marsh recounts. The ADE 651 “did not detect explosives of 
any kind. We took it apart. We had it x-rayed. It had no 
electronic components inside.” There was also no power 
source. The Iraqis insisted the device worked on “nuclear 
magnetic resonance, or NMR.” Despite overwhelming 
evidence coming from the CEXC lab at Task Force Troy that 
the device had no scientific value whatsoever, Iraqi officials 
stood behind the ADE 651 bomb detector, which cost 
$60,000 per device. Soon, almost every Iraqi guard at every 
major checkpoint across the country was using the 
worthless device in place of any kind of physical inspection. 
It was dangerous and frustrating. “Insurgents were able to 
get dump truck bombs past checkpoints” into Baghdad, 
Marsh says. “Coalition checkpoints did not use this device 
because we had actual explosive detection systems at our 
disposal.” The ADE 651 “was nothing more than a magic 
wand.” 

“Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it 
detects bombs,” Major General Jehad al-Jabiri, head of the 
General Directorate for Combating Explosives, told the New 
York Times. “I know more about this issue than the 
Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than 
anyone in the world.” 

Years later, the maker of the phony device, ATSC 
president Jim McCormick, was arrested in England and 


convicted for fraud after a whistleblower revealed that 
McCormick knew he was selling bogus equipment. In 2011, 
Major General al-Jabiri was arrested for taking millions of 
dollars in bribes from McCormick. As of 2014 he had not 
been tried, and the bogus devices were still being used in 
Iraq. 


The same month that terrorists in Iraq blew up Shia Islam’s 
revered shrine, attacks against coalition forces numbered 
more than two an hour, or fifty a day. By 2007 that figure 
had doubled to one hundred attacks a day, or three 
thousand a month. An estimated $15 billion had been spent 
by that point on counter-IED efforts—on jammers, robots, 
surveillance systems, and more. The situation was only 
getting worse. DARPA’s Combat Zones That See program 
was having little effect on the war effort, despite a classified 
number of dollars being spent on a program that collected 
video images of Iraqi citizens walking around cities and 
driving in cars and housed them in classified data storage 
facilities for access at a later date. America was rapidly 
losing control of the war, and in response, in January 2007, 
an additional thirty thousand troops were deployed to Irag 
in what would become known as “the surge.” 

To support the tens of thousands of new soldiers heading 
into battle, Tony Tether appeared before the House Armed 
Services Committee to discuss several new technology 
programs DARPA was sending into the war zone. The 
Boomerang was DARPA’s response to sniper threats, Tether 
said. It was an acoustic sensor system made up of seven 
small microphones that attached to a military vehicle, 
listened for shooter information, and notified soldiers 
precisely where the fire was coming from, all in less than a 
second. The Boomerang system was able to detect shock 
waves from a sniper’s incoming bullets, as well as the 
muzzle blast, then relay that information to soldiers. For 


example, when a shot was detected, Boomerang might call 
out, “Shot. Two o’clock. 400 meters.” Tether told Congress 
that DARPA had fielded sixty Boomerang units to the Army, 
Marine Corps, and Special Forces, and was now working on 
a more advanced Boomerang-based technology called 
CROSSHAIRS (Counter Rocket-Propelled Grenade and 
Shooter System with Highly Accurate Immediate 
Responses). 

CROSSHAIRS was a vehicle-mounted system that fused 
radar and signal-processing technologies to quickly detect 
much larger projectiles coming at coalition vehicles, 
including rocket-propelled grenades, antitank guided 
missiles, and even direct mortar fire. A sensor system inside 
the CROSSHAIRS would be able to identify where the shot 
came from and relay that information to all other vehicles in 
a convoy. The terrorists would be able to get one shot off, 
then Boomerang and CROSSHAIRS would allow coalition 
shooters to respond by targeting and killing the enemy 
shooter—in under one second. 

To help snipers with accuracy, immediacy, and portability, 
DARPA was also fielding the smallest, lightest-weight sniper 
rifle in the history of warfare, the DARPA XM-3. 

Tether also told Congress about DARPA’s new Radar 
Scope, a tiny, 1.5-pound handheld unit that allowed U.S. 
forces to “sense” through nonmetallic walls, including 
concrete, and determine if a human was hiding inside a 
building or behind a wall. In the winter of 2007, DARPA 
fielded fifty Radar Scopes to the Army, Marines, and Special 
Forces for evaluation in the war theater. Tether hinted at 
bigger plans for this same technology, including ways to 
sense human activity underground, up to fifty feet deep. 

Broad intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance 
efforts fused with massive data collection and data-mining 
operations would continue to be DARPA’s priority in urban 
area operations, Tether told Congress. “By 2025, nearly 60 
percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas,” 


Tether said, “so we should assume that U.S. forces will 
continue to be deployed to urban areas for combat and 
post-conflict stabilization.” Tether listed numerous 
unclassified programs, each with a suitable acronym. 
DARPA’s WATCH-IT (Wide Area All Terrain Change 
Indication Technologies) program analyzed data collected 
from foliage-penetrating radar. DARPA’s LADAR (Laser 
Detection and Ranging) program sensors. obtained 
“exquisitely detailed, 3-D imagery through foliage to 
identify targets in response to these cues.” DARPA’s ASSIST 
(Advanced Soldier Sensor Information System and 
Technology) program allowed soldiers to collect details 
about specific Iraqi neighborhoods and then upload that 
information into a database for other soldiers to use. 

DARPA’s HURT (Heterogeneous Urban Reconnaissance, 
Surveillance and Target Acquisition) program was flying 
more than fifty drones in support of coalition infantry 
brigades. HURT was able to reconnoiter over hundreds of 
miles of roadways, support convoys, and EOD tech teams. 
HURT provided persistent perimeter surveillance at 
forward operating bases and was playing a role in stopping 
an ever-increasing number of suicide bombers who were 
targeting U.S. military bases. In 2007 the HURT program 
would discreetly change its name to HART (Heterogeneous 
Airborne Reconnaissance Team) after unnamed sources 
suggested that the acronym was in poor taste. 

To merge its growing number of surveillance and data- 
collection technologies, DARPA engineered a multimedia 
reporting system called TIGR (Tactical Ground Reporting) 
to be used by soldiers on the ground in Iraq. Congress was 
told that TIGR’s web-based multimedia platform “allows 
small units, like patrols, to easily collect and quickly share 
‘cop-on-the-beat’ information about operations, 
neighborhoods, people and civil affairs.” It was like a three- 
dimensional Wikipedia for soldiers in combat zones. U.S. 
soldiers told MIT Technology Review that TIGR allowed 


them to “see locations of key buildings, like mosques,” and 
to access data on “past attacks, geo-tagged photos of 
houses... and photos of suspected insurgents and 
neighborhood leaders.” In testimony the following year, the 
Armed Services Committee was told that TIGR was “so 
successful in Operation Iragi Freedom, it was [being] 
requested by brigades going to Afghanistan.” Which, in the 
fall of 2008, was where tens of thousands of additional 
coalition forces would soon be headed. 

After five years of relative stability in Afghanistan, the 
country was again spiraling into violence and chaos. Critics 
cried foul, declaring that the Bush administration had lost 
control of an insurgency force it had already defeated and 
pacified in 2002. That in diverting the great majority of 
American military resources, as well as intelligence and 
reconstruction resources, from Afghanistan into Iraq, the 
White House and the Pentagon had created a dual 
insurgency nightmare. Afghanistan and Iraq were being 
called quagmires in the press. These wars were 
unwinnable, critics said. This was Vietnam all over again. 
And, as had been the case for fifty years, DARPA was 
heading straight into the war zone. 


CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE 


Human Terrain 


At 9:20 p.m. on the night of June 13, 2008, two truck 


bombs, or vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs), pulled up to the 
gates of the Sarposa prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and 
exploded in massive fireballs, knocking down large sections 
of the mud brick walls. Taliban militants on motorcycles 
quickly swarmed into the area in a coordinated attack, 
firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles at prison 
guards, killing fifteen of them. It was a scene of carnage 
and mayhem. By the time coalition forces arrived, roughly 
an hour later, not one of the 1,200 incarcerated prisoners 
remained. In the morning, Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of 
President Hamid Karzai and the head of the provincial 
council in Kandahar, declared that “all” of the Sarposa 
prisoners had escaped, including as many as four hundred 
hard-core Taliban. 

The prison break was dangerous for the citizens of 
Kandahar and embarrassing for NATO-led coalition forces, 
officially called the International Security Assistance Force. 
The Taliban issued a press release claiming responsibility 
and stating that the freed prisoners were happy to be back 
living in their Kandahar homes. Coalition force soldiers 
conducted door-to-door searches looking for Taliban 
escapees, but there was almost no way to determine who 
had been in the prison. Fifteen prison guards were dead, 


and those still alive were not cooperating. 

As a result of the security failure, the Pentagon 
redoubled efforts regarding its biometrics program in 
Afghanistan. Thousands of Handheld Interagency Identity 
Detection Equipment (HIIDE) units were shipped to 
coalition forces with instructions on how to collect eye 
scans, fingerprints, facial images, and DNA swabs from 
every Afghan male between the ages of fifteen and sixty- 
four that coalition soldiers and Afghan security forces came 
into contact with. The wars in Irag and Afghanistan had 
given birth to a new form of U.S. intelligence exploitation 
called bio-intelligence, or BIOINT. This concept found its 
genesis in DARPA’s Information Awareness Office. The 
mission of BIOINT, bulleted out in a DARPA program memo 
from 2002, was to “produce a proto-type system to [gather] 
biometric signatures of humans.” The biometrics system 
had been fielded to the Army, with the first hardware units 
appearing in Fallujah, Irag, in December 2004. 

The U.S. commander in Irag, General David Petraeus, 
was an advocate of collecting biometrics in 
counterinsurgency operations. “This data is virtually 
irrefutable and generally is very helpful in identifying who 
was responsible for a particular device [i.e., an IED] in a 
particular attack, enabling subsequent targeting,” Petraeus 
said. “Based on our experience in Iraq, I pushed this hard 
here in Afghanistan, too, and the Afghan authorities have 
recognized the value and embraced the systems.” Over the 
next three years, coalition forces would collect biometrics 
on more than 1.5 million Afghan men, roughly one out of 
every six males in the country. In Iraq the figure was even 
higher—reportedly 2.2 million male Iraqis, or one in four, 
had biometric scans performed on them. 

The month after the Sarposa prison break, in July 2008, 
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama 
took his first official trip to the region, spending two days in 
Irag and two days in Afghanistan. Senator Obama called the 


situation in Afghanistan “precarious and urgent,” and said 
that if elected president, he would make Afghanistan the 
new “central front in the war against terrorism.” Two days 
later the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike 
Mullen, appeared on PBS NewsHour to discuss the growing 
violence in Afghanistan and the need for a ten-thousand-to 
twenty-thousand-troop surge there. 

Summer became fall, and now it was November 2008. It 
had been four years since DARPA had sponsored its first 
social science and counterinsurgency conference since the 
Vietnam War, the Adversary Cultural Knowledge and 
National Security Conference organized by Montgomery 
McFate. The results of the conference had borne fruit in 
what was now the Army’s Human Terrain System program, 
and at least twenty-six teams of social scientists and 
anthropologists had been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. On 
November 4, one of those Human Terrain Teams was a 
three-person unit stationed at Combat Outpost Hutal, 
Afghanistan, fifty miles west of Kandahar. On this day back 
home, Americans were voting for a new president, and here 
in the war theater, anthropologist Paula Loyd, security 
contractor Don Ayala, and former combat Marine Clint 
Cooper were heading out on regular patrol. 

The area around Kandahar was particularly dangerous 
and hostile to coalition forces. Kandahar had long been the 
Spiritual center of the Taliban, and now, after the prison 
break five months earlier, an unusual number of hard-core 
Taliban were living among the people, making the situation 
even more precarious. On patrol that November morning, 
Paula Loyd, Don Ayala, and Clint Cooper were accompanied 
by three local interpreters and one platoon of U.S. Army 
infantry soldiers with C Company, 2-2 Infantry Battalion. 
Paula Loyd was a dedicated anthropologist, a Wellesley 
College graduate, thirty-six years old and engaged to be 
married. Petite and striking, with long blond hair hanging 
out the back of her combat helmet, Loyd had served in the 


U.S. Army for four years after college, including a post asa 
vehicle mechanic in the DMZ in South Korea. She was 
hardworking, curious, and respected by her peers; one 
former colleague said, “An indefinable spirit defined her.” 
Nearing the central market in the village of Chehel Gazi, 
the Human Terrain Team spread out. Paula Loyd stopped in 
a dirt alleyway and started handing out candy and pens to 
local children walking to school. The alleyway was about 
twenty-five feet wide and lined on either side by tall mud 
brick walls. Running down the center of the alleyway was a 
Shallow creek, its sloping banks lined with tall leafy trees. 
As adults passed by, through an interpreter Loyd asked 
questions about the local price of cooking fuel, a key 
indicator as to whether or not the Taliban had hijacked 
supply lines. As Loyd interviewed people, she took notes in 
her notebook, information that was to be uploaded into a 
military database at the end of each day. 

A young bearded man walked up to Loyd, shooing the 
local children away. The man carried a container, like a jug. 
Loyd asked her interpreter to translate. 

“What’s in your jug?” Loyd asked the man. 

He told her it was fuel. Gasoline for his water pump at 
home. 

“How much does petrol cost in Maiwand?” Loyd asked. 

He told her it was very expensive. She asked about his 
job. He said he worked for a school. 

“Would you like some candy?” she asked. 

“T don’t like candy,” the man said. His name was Abdul 
Salam. He wore blue sweatpants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a 
blue-striped vest. Abdul Salam asked Loyd’s interpreter if 
she smoked. The conversation continued for a while, then 
tapered off. Then Abdul Salam wandered away. After a 
while he came back. The interpreter noticed he was playing 
with a plastic lighter, turning it over in one hand. In the 
other hand he held the jug of fuel. 

In a flash, Abdul Salam raised the jug and poured 


gasoline over Paula Loyd. He struck the lighter and set her 
on fire. Some witnesses described hearing a whoosh sound. 
Others described seeing Paula Loyd being consumed by an 
inferno of flames. The heat was so intense and powerful 
that no one near her could immediately help without 
catching fire as well. Loyd’s interpreter later recalled 
seeing her burning as his mind raced for a way to put the 
fire out. She called out his name. Nearby, a twenty-six-year- 
old platoon leader named Matthew Pathak shouted out that 
soldiers should get her into the creek. He filled his helmet 
with water and threw it on Loyd. People tossed dirt and 
sand on her, trying to get the fire out. Finally, soldiers 
dragged her across the alleyway and into the creek. The 
flames were not out. Loyd had third-degree burns on 60 
percent of her body. She was still conscious. 

“I’m cold,” she said. “I’m cold.” It was one of the last 
things she said. 

When Abdul Salam set Paula Loyd on fire, people started 
screaming. Human Terrain Team member Don Ayala was 
standing roughly 150 feet down the alleyway. He drew his 
pistol and raced toward the commotion. As Ayala ran 
toward Loyd, Abdul Salam was running away from the 
crime scene, toward Ayala. Soldiers pursuing Salam 
screamed, “Stop that man! Shoot him!” Ayala tackled Salam 
and, with the help of two soldiers, put him in flex cuffs. 

Don Ayala was not a social scientist or an anthropologist; 
he was a security contractor, or bodyguard. Ayala had 
previously guarded Afghan president Hamid Karzai and 
Iragi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. His job was to keep 
Paula Loyd from getting killed. Witnesses watched him 
work to immobilize Abdul Salam, who resisted detention, 
while soldiers and interpreters about 150 feet away tried to 
help the critically injured Loyd, whose clothes had melted 
into her skin and who was in terrible pain. Specialist Justin 
Skotnicki, one of the U.S. Army infantry soldiers who had 
witnessed the attack, went over to Ayala and told him what 


had happened to Paula Loyd, that Abdul Salam had thrown 
gasoline on her and set her on fire. Ayala called out for an 
interpreter. 

“Don had the interpreter inform [Abdul Salam] that Don 
thought the man was the devil,” Skotnicki later recalled. 
Then Don Ayala pulled his 9mm pistol from his belt, pressed 
it against Abdul Salam’s temple, and shot him in the head, 
killing him. 

Paula Loyd was transported to Brooke Army Medical 
Center in San Antonio, Texas. She was in the burn unit 
there for two months until she died of her injuries on 
January 7, 2009. The Taliban claimed credit for her death. 

Earlier that spring, in May, Don Ayala was tried for 
murder in a Louisiana courtroom. He pled guilty to 
manslaughter. U.S. District Senior Judge Claude Hilton 
showed leniency and gave Ayala probation and a $12,500 
fine instead of jail time. “The acts that were done in front of 
this defendant would provide provocation for anyone” who 
was present, Judge Hilton said. “This occurred in a hostile 
area, maybe not in the middle of a battlefield, but certainly 
in the middle of a war.” 

The entire situation was grotesque. An anthropologist 
handing out candy to children was set on fire by an 
emissary of the Taliban and died a horrible death. The 
security contractor hired to protect the anthropologist was 
unable to do so and instead took justice into his own hands. 
But none of this was exactly as it seemed. Why was Ayala on 
the Human Terrain Team in the first place? He had no 
qualifications in anthropology or social science. Why 
weren’t the U.S. Army infantry soldiers considered capable 
of protecting her? According to Montgomery McFate, all 
Human ‘Terrain Team members “advise brigades on 
economic development, political systems, tribal structures, 
etc.; provide training to brigades as requested; and conduct 
research on topics of interest to the brigade staff,” but 
Ayala was not qualified in any of those areas, except for the 


“etc.” part. 

Court documents revealed that Don Ayala was paid $425 
a day, each day he worked in Afghanistan, and that in Irag 
he had been paid $800 a day, which meant he earned more 
in two days than any of the soldiers in C Company made ina 
month. What service could Don Ayala perform that the C 
Company soldiers were unable to do? Over the next five 
years the Human Terrain System would cost taxpayers 
$600 million. What actual purpose did it serve? The answer 
would ultimately lead back to DARPA. 

But first there was subterfuge and misinformation, 
starting with the wide gap between how McFate and other 
social scientists presented the program to the public— 
knowingly or not—and how the program was actually 
positioned in the Defense Department hierarchy. 

To the public, the Human Terrain System was sold as a 
culture-centric program, a hearts and minds campaign. But 
in U.S. Army literature, the Human Terrain System was in 
place “to help mitigate IEDs,” and the program was funded 
by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat 
Organization (JIEDDO), with members like Paula Loyd 
working alongside EOD technicians, DARPA jammers, and 
Talon robots. In press releases, the Army was oblique. 
“Combat commanders [do] not have a good understanding 
of the cultural and social implications of military operations 
in urban environments,” said one. Anthropologists and 
social scientists were going into the battle zone “to provide 
social science support to military commanders.” The 
important word was “support.” It would take until this book 
for a fuller picture to emerge of what was being supported. 

The Human Terrain System program was controversial 
from the start. The American Anthropological Association, 
which was founded in 1902, and whose credo for 
anthropologists was “first do no harm,” denounced the 
program as “a disaster waiting to unfold.” Its executive 


a“ 


board condemned the Human Terrain System as “a 


problematic application of anthropological expertise, most 
specifically on ethical grounds,” and in a letter to Congress 
called the program “dangerous and reckless” and “a waste 
of the taxpayers’ money.” In an article for Anthropology 
Today, Roberto Gonzalez, associate professor’ of 
anthropology at San Jose State University, called the 
program “mercenary anthropology.” Catherine Lutz, chair 
of the anthropology department at Brown University, 
charged that the Defense Department was promoting a 
dangerous and false idea “that anthropologists’ ‘help’ will 
create a more humane approach on the part of the U.S. 
military towards the Iraqi people.” Lutz believed the notion 
of helping people to be “a very seductive idea,” but she 
encouraged anthropologists to step back and ask, “Help 
what? Help whom, to do what?” 

Hugh Gusterson, professor of anthropology at George 
Mason University, accused the Army of trying to convince 
anthropologists that “Americans have a mission to spread 
democracy” and that “Americans have only the well-being of 
other people in mind.” Gusterson saw that as manipulative 
and believed that once a person convinced himself or 
herself of that, “you start to think of it [war] as some kind of 
cultural miscommunication. And you start to ask naive, 
misshapen questions [like],‘If we only understood their 
culture, how could we make them like us? Why do they hate 
us so much?’” Gusterson believed the answer was simple. 
“They hate us because we are occupying their country, not 
because they don’t understand our hand signals and 
because occasionally we mistreat their women,” Gusterson 
said. “So if you ask the wrong questions you get the wrong 
answers and more people on both sides will die.” 

“T think the idea that there can be a kinder, gentler 
counterinsurgency war is a myth,” said Gonzalez. “I think 
it’s a hope that many people have. It’s a kind of dream that 
they [anthropologists] can somehow do things differently. I 
do think it’s a myth, though, and I think we have lots of 


historical evidence to back that up.” 

With the debate escalating, the Pentagon cultivated two 
succinct narratives regarding the Human Terrain System, 
as exemplified in educational courses taught at the U.S. 
Army School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort 
Leavenworth, Kansas, the U.S. Army War College in 
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Naval War College in 
Newport, Rhode Island. One narrative was that Human 
Terrain Teams helped make way for “the moral prosecution 
of warfare.” That time and again, the teams enabled 
soldiers to narrowly avert disaster. That putting 
anthropologists on the battlefield made soldiers better able 
to engage in so-called “honorable warfare.” ‘The 
experiences of Major Philip Carlson and his unit in the 
wrongful arrest of an Iraqi village elder, as taught by the 
Army, illustrate this point of view. 

“My very first time out in an HTT [Human Terrain Team] 
in Irag, we had a company airmobile to the countryside 
because of the IED threat on the road,” said Carlson. The 
Human Terrain Team was attached to a patrol fire squadron 
in the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment and was carrying 
out “random interviews and know and search operations.” 
Carlson was having problems with his local interpreters, 
whom he described as “young, gung-ho Shi'ites who were 
motivated to capture terrorists.” In one particular house, 
Major Carlson recalled, coalition forces discovered an older 
man in possession of a rifle scope and a closetful of books. 
The interpreters insisted that the books were “jihadist in 
nature and the [rifle] scope was for a sophisticated sniper 
rifle,” said Carlson. The man, Mr. Alawi, was arrested and 
“paraded through the village back to the patrol base.” 
There, a Human Terrain Team’s cultural expert, Dr. Ammar, 
questioned Alawi further and decided he was not a radical 
but a “kindly old school teacher.” His books, said Carlson, 
were textbooks from a school. The scope was from an air 
rifle that he used to shoot birds. 


According to Major Carlson, if the Human Terrain Team 
had not been present, the coalition forces would not have 
understood how important it was to restore Alawi’s honor. 
They simply would have released him and let him return to 
his house on his own. This would have been a grave 
mistake, said Dr. Ammar, who instructed the soldiers on the 
specifics of honor restoration. In the Army-sanctioned story, 
Major Carlson did not elaborate on what the specifics of 
honor restoration entail, nor did he explain what happened 
to the gung-ho Shi'ite interpreters who presented their U.S. 
Army employers with false information. According to 
Carlson, “the news [of the honor restoration] spread like 
wildfire.” Instead of having created a foe in Mr. Alawi, they 
had created a friend. The son of the village elder showed 
Major Carlson where an IED was buried and where eighty 
mortar tubes were hidden. “That is the power of 
understanding and operating appropriately within a 
culture,” said Major Carlson. 

A second Pentagon narrative, conveyed by the Navy, held 
that work done by the Human Terrain Teams sometimes 
seemed futile but had positive outcomes later on. This 
narrative is exemplified by the writings of Human Terrain 
Team advisor Norman Nigh. In “An Operator’s Guide to 
Human Terrain Teams,” written for the U.S. Naval War 
College’s Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups, 
Nigh asks, when considering counterinsurgency doctrine 
and COIN application, “Can doctrine be applied despite an 
unwilling population?” To answer the question, he tells the 
story of an Afghan village elder called Haji Malma. 

Norman Nigh was a member of a Human Terrain Team 
attached to a group of coalition forces from Canada, 
assigned to the village of Nakhonay, Afghanistan, located 
about ten miles southwest of Kandahar, in the Taliban 
heartland, not far from where Paula Loyd was set on fire. 
Most of the soldiers on Nigh’s combat patrol despised Haji 
Malma, “a stoic village elder, known Taliban judge, and 


suspected architect of countless Canadian deaths.” For 
several years, NATO forces had been trying to build a case 
against Haji Malma and other Taliban leaders like him, but 
could not. Malma reveled in the fact that there was nothing 
the coalition forces could do to him, Nigh says. “Like most 
sophisticated Taliban leaders in Afghanistan,” Nigh 
explains, “Malma was taking advantage of [America’s] 
COIN war. On the surface, he appeared to be a benign 
village elder, interested only in the well-being of the people 
of Nakhonay,” when in fact he was a “key Pakistani- 
educated Al-Qaida supporter who controlled one of the 
most dangerous and strategically important areas in 
Kandahar.” 

Haji Malma regularly sought development funds from aid 
organizations and NATO troops, and regularly received 
financial support. The same went for the rest of the 
duplicitous elders running Nakhonay village affairs. The 
Human Terrain Team found that the _ situation was 
infuriating soldiers, who were “unable to realize justice for 
the friends they’ve lost.” This, says Nigh, was dangerous for 
the broader effort in Afghanistan, since “these heightened 
emotions often blur an operator’s ability to understand the 
population and wage an effective COIN war.” 

The Human Terrain Team suggested that coalition forces, 
in this case Task Force Kandahar, “pull back and take a 
long-horizon perspective.” Nigh and _ his’ colleagues 
determined that Afghanistan was “a country that lacks a 
rule of law,” ranking 176 out of 178 on the State 
Department’s Corruption Perception Index. “Corruption 
and kickbacks of public procurement act as a necessary evil 
to mitigate risk, leverage against liabilities, and promote 
cooperation.” The Human Terrain Team also conducted a 
comprehensive ethnographic study on the topic of 
corruption, interviewing the majority of villagers and asking 
them what they thought. “Virtually the entire village agreed 
that the Western term ‘bribery’ was nothing more than 


tarrun, an Afghan word for contract or agreement,” Nigh 
explained. 

Right around this same time, Task Force Kandahar was 
preparing for what was called a “clearing operation” in the 
area—the removal of Taliban leaders and the installation of 
more coalition-friendly men. But in the opinion of the 
Human Terrain Team, “many previous clearing operations 
had resulted in little to no change.” They suggested a 
different strategy, something Nigh referred to as the “oil 
spot plan... to divide and conquer the population.” The oil 
spot COIN strategy worked analogously to the way 
cheesecloth works, writes Nigh, with each drop of oil 
representing a stability initiative, or a municipal service, or 
an offer of agricultural development assistance. “Drops of 
oil, one at a time and over time, eventually cover the entire 
cloth,” according to Nigh, “each oil spot [representing] a 
visible manifestation of the desired end state for the entire 
war.” The oil spot concept was a strategy endorsed by Dr. 
Karl Slaikeu, the psychologist and conflict resolution 
specialist who replaced Paula Loyd. The oil spot strategy 
was put into effect in Nakhonay, and in his Naval War 
College narrative Nigh writes, “The strategy appears to be 
working.” The international press did not agree. In an 
October 2010 issue of Military World Magazine, published 
in England, Nakhonay would be described as “a town now 
infamous as a killing zone.” 

The mainstream press largely disparaged the program as 
the deaths of Human Terrain Team members made headline 
news. Michael Bhatia, an anthropologist with degrees from 
Brown University and Oxford University, and who was 
working on a Ph.D. dissertation on the mujahedeen of 
Afghanistan, was killed in May 2008 while traveling through 
Khost, Afghanistan. His unit was en route to help negotiate 
a peace process between two warring tribes when his 
vehicle drove over an IED buried in the road. Witnesses say 
the explosion was loud, horrific, and all-consuming. Bhatia 


and two Army soldiers were instantly killed. As an 
Associated Press article about his death put it, “Michael 
Bhatia was on the frontlines of a Pentagon experiment.” The 
folowing month, in Iraq, Human Terrain Team member 
Nicole Suveges, a political scientist from Johns Hopkins 
University, was also killed by an IED, planted by terrorists 
inside a district council building in Sadr City. Killed 
alongside Suveges were eleven other people, military and 
civilian, including U.S. soldiers, Iraqi government officials, 
and U.S. Embassy personnel. Her team was trying to 
identify ways that ordinary Iraqi citizens could learn how to 
assist a transitioning government achieve their political 
aims, according to the Pentagon. 

The Human Terrain System continued to grow. In 2010 it 
was reported that team members earned $200,000 a year. 
Ever vilified by the press, Human Terrain Team members 
were likened to de facto intelligence agents because the 
judgments they provided to coalition forces about who was 
friend and who was foe often amounted to who would live 
and who would die. Comparisons were made to the CIA’s 
Vietnam-era Phoenix and CORDS programs, whereby the 
CIA enlisted local Vietnamese leaders to help choose 
targets for assassination. The truth about the Human 
Terrain System was hidden in plain sight. It was, truly, 
about human terrain. In the same way that cartographers 
map terrain, the U.S. Army was mapping people. The 
program supported DARPA’s technology-driven concept of 
creating Combat Zones That See. 

Each day, after going out on patrol, Human Terrain 
System members fed information into a mega-database, 
called Map-HT, or Mapping Human Terrain. Map-HT uses a 
suite of computer tools to record data gathered by Army 
intelligence officers, Human Terrain Team members, and 
coalition forces, including HUMINT and BIOINT. All the 
information is uploaded into a massive database. Some of 
the information is sent to the Human Terrain System Reach- 


Back Research Center at Fort Leavenworth. The more 
sensitive information “is stored in a classified facility at the 
National Ground Intelligence Center, outside 
Charlottesville, Virginia,” says former Army lieutenant 
colonel Troy Techau, who served as director of the 
Biometrics Program of U.S. Central Command J2X in post- 
invasion Iraq. 

When retired vice admiral Arthur Cebrowski told PBS 
News-Hour that network-centric warfare was about “the 
behavior of humans in the networked environment,” he was 
speaking factually. To fight the war on terror, the Pentagon 
would collect, synthesize, and analyze information on as 
many humans as possible, and maintain that information in 
classified and unclassified networked databases. 

“People use human networks to organize the control of 
resources and geography,” explains Tristan Reed, an 
analyst with the private intelligence firm Stratfor 
Intelligence. “No person alone can control anything of 
significance. Presidents, drug lords, and CEOs rely on 
people to execute their strategies and are constrained by 
the capabilities and interests of the people who work for 
them.” 

Afghanistan was a nation controlled by warlords. Iraq 
was a nation controlled by religious militia groups. The 
Pentagon needed to understand who was controlling what, 
and how. Mapping the terrain of individual humans was a 
means of connecting the networks’ data points. In 2012, 
coalition forces withdrew from Irag, and with them the 
Human Terrain Teams. In Afghanistan, thirty-one teams 
continued to map the human terrain. Army intelligence took 
over parts of the program from JIEDDO and retooled it for 
“Phase Zero pre-conflict,” or the phase before the next war. 

“Whether it’s counterinsurgency, or whether it’s Phase 
Zero pre-conflict, there are critical questions to ask before 
you decide on a course of action or if you decide to take any 
action,” says U.S. Army colonel Sharon Hamilton, who 


directs the program. “If we raise the level of understanding 
[among the U.S. military], we establish a context baseline of 
beliefs, values, dreams and_ aspirations, needs, 
requirements, security—if we can do all that in Phase Zero, 
we might not be talking about being somewhere else for 10 
years.” As of 2014, there are MAP-HT teams operating all 
over the globe, from Africa to Mexico. 

In Iraq and Afghanistan, by 2011 the Army had 
intrusively mapped the human terrain of at least 3.7 million 
foreigners, many of whom were enemy combatants in war 
zones. Apart from the effectiveness of any of that work— 
and as of 2015 the Islamic State controlled much of Iraq, 
while Afghanistan was spiraling into further chaos—there 
exists an important question for Americans to consider. In 
the summer of 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden 
released classified information that showed the National 
Security Agency had a clandestine data-mining surveillance 
program in place, called PRISM, which allowed the NSA to 
collect information on millions of American citizens. Both of 
these programs had origins in DARPA’s Total Information 
Awareness program. In the wake of the Snowden leak, the 
NSA admitted, after first denying, that it does collect 
information on millions of Americans but stated that none of 
the information is synthesized or analyzed without a 
warrant. But the data are all stored in classified NSA 
facilities, available for NSA reach-back. Is the NSA mapping 
the human terrain in America in this same way? 

Several data-mining surveillance programs described in 
the fiscal year 2015 budget estimate for the Defense 
Advanced Research Projects Agency raise privacy concerns. 
For its biomedical technology program, an element of “bio- 
warfare defense,” DARPA requested from Congress $112 
million to develop a technology “to allow medical 
practitioners the capability to visualize and comprehend the 
complex relationships across patient data in the electronic 
medical records system.” Specifically, the technologies 


being developed ostensibly would allow practitioners “to 
assimilate and analyze large amounts of data and provide 
tools to make better-informed decisions for patient care.” It 
is not clear under what authority patient data would be 
shared with the federal government, and DARPA declined to 
answer questions for this book. 

The Nexus 7 program, whose 2015 budget was classified, 
monitors social media networks. Specifically, Nexus 7 
“applies forecasting, data extraction and _ analysis 
methodologies to develop tools, techniques and frameworks 
for [examining] social networks.” The classified program 
was used operationally in Afghanistan by a unit called 
DARPA Forward Cell and won the Defense Department Joint 
Meritorious Unit Award. From 2007 to 2011, dozens of 
DARPA personnel traveled “far behind enemy lines... to 
ensure the latest research and technological advances 
inform their efforts,” according to DARPA literature 
associated with the award. The unit emplaced High-Altitude 
LIDAR Operations Experiment (HALOE) sensors into the 
battle space as well as Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation 
Radar (VADER) pods. How Nexus 7 is used in the United 
States is classified, and DARPA declined to answer general 
questions. 

For the Deep Exploration and Filtering of Text (DEFT) 
program, DARPA requested from Congress $28 million to 
develop computer algorithms to allow machines to scour a 
vast array of text-based messages from “free-text or semi- 
structured reports, messages, documents or databases,” so 
as to pull “actionable intelligence” out of ambiguously 
worded messages. “A key DEFT emphasis is to determine 
the implied and hidden meaning in text through 
probabilistic inference, anomaly detection and disfluency 
analysis.” The only way to determine if a person’s message 
or part of a message was anomalous or irregular would be 
to have a much larger database of that user’s messages to 
compare it to. How DEFT is used in the United States is 


Classified, and DARPA declined to answer general questions. 
These are just three out of nearly three hundred DARPA 
programs that were in development for fiscal year 2015, 
with a requested budget of $2.91 billion, not counting 
classified budgets. 

It is impossible for American citizens to know about and 
to comprehend more than a fraction of the advanced 
science and technology programs that DARPA is developing 
for the government. And at the same time, it is becoming 
more possible for the federal government to monitor what 
American citizens are doing and saying, where they are 
going, what they are buying, who they are communicating 
with, what they are reading, what they are writing, and how 
healthy they are. 

All this raises an important question. Is the world 
transforming into a war zone and America into a police 
state, and is it DARPA that is making them so? 


PART V 





FUTURE WAR 


CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR 


Drone Wars 


In May 2013, President Barack Obama gave a _ long- 


anticipated speech at the National Defense University, at 
Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., in which he said it was 
time to bring the war on terror to a close. “This war, like all 
wars, must end,” he said, and quoted the 1795 warning by 
James Madison, who stated, “No nation could preserve its 
freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” It was President 
Obama’s first war speech of his second term. 

In the context of the history of the modern American war 
machine—the advanced science and technology of which is 
spearheaded by DARPA—there was significance in the 
president’s words and symmetry in the locale. It was here 
at Fort McNair that, fifty-five years earlier, twenty-two 
defense scientists gathered to produce ARPA Study No. 1, 
the first of thousands of secret and unclassified DARPA 
studies outlining which weapons would best serve the 
United States in coming wars. 

“America is at a crossroads,” President Obama said. “We 
must define the nature and scope of this struggle”’— 
meaning the war on terror—“or else it will define us.” Much 
of the rest of the president’s speech focused on the use of 
armed drones. He mentioned drone strikes on fourteen 
separate occasions in his roughly fifteen-minute talk. The 
summary point reported across news outlets was that 


President Obama was curtailing the use of drones. 

He was doing no such thing, nor, really, did the president 
say he was. He merely said, “I’ve insisted on strong 
oversight of all lethal action,” meaning that White House 
and CIA lawyers would continue to be in the loop before 
individual terrorists were targeted for assassination by 
unmanned systems, including American citizens living 
overseas. AS commander in chief, the president had twice 
endorsed significant Department of Defense reports, 
“Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY 2011-2036” 
and “Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY 2013- 
2038,” which called for the amplification, not the 
curtailment, of the Pentagon’s pursuit of robotic warfare. 
These two reports, roughly three hundred pages in total, 
made clear that Pentagon drones were positioned to lead 
the way forward over the next twenty-five years of war. 

DARPA’s vast weapon systems of the future will involve an 
entire army of drones. They will include unmanned aerial 
vehicles (UAV), unmanned ground systems (UGS), 
unmanned surface vehicles (USV), unmanned maritime 
systems (UMS), and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), 
weapons that reach from the depths of the ocean into outer 
space. At present and in the future, the Pentagon’s drones 
will fly, swim, crawl, walk, run, and swarm as they conduct 
missions around the globe. Some of these drones will be 
cyborgs, or what DARPA calls “biohybrids,” which are part 
animal and part machine. And the technology, which has 
been building for decades, is closer than the average citizen 
might think. 


In the very heart of Washington, D.C., across the street 
from the White House, sits a public park called Lafayette 
Square, so named to honor the Revolutionary War hero the 
Marquis de Lafayette. The park has a storied history. It 
briefly housed a graveyard and for a while a racetrack. 


Slaves were sold here. During the War of 1812, the seven- 
acre park served as a soldiers’ encampment. In the modern 
era it has become home to war protests. It was here, during 
an antiwar rally in the fall of 2007, that Bernard Crane, a 
prominent Washington, D.C., attorney, saw one of the 
strangest things he had ever seen in his life. 

“My daughter had asked me to take her to the 
demonstration, so I did,” Crane explains. “I certainly 
wouldn’t have been there on my own. I was half-paying 
attention to what was going on onstage and half-looking 
around when I saw three incredibly large dragonflies 
overhead,” says Crane. “They moved in unison, as if they 
were in lockstep. My first thought was, ‘Are those 
dragonflies mechanical? Or are they alive?’” 

Nearby, someone shouted, “Oh my God, look at those!” 
Many people looked up. Vanessa Alarcon, a college student 
from New York, recalled her reaction. “I’m like, ‘What the 
hell is that?’ They looked kind of like dragonflies or little 
helicopters.” But she felt certain about one thing. “Those 
are not insects,” Alarcon said. 

Likewise, Bernard Crane surmised that the creatures 
were not hatched of this world. “All three moved together,” 
says Crane. “They would move to the left together, then 
they would move to the right together.” It was bizarre. “I 
had just returned from a two-week vacation at a lake house 
in Maine,” Crane says. “I’d spent a lot of time lying on my 
back watching dragonflies. I’d become familiar with how 
they move. How they hover. How they generally fly alone. 
Dragonflies are not like carpenter ants. They don’t do the 
same thing as the next dragonfly over, certainly not at the 
same time.” 

At the protest in Lafayette Square, Bernard Crane 
scrutinized the flying objects. Around him, protesters led by 
the antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan waved signs that read 
“End the War!” Onstage, the Libyan-born surgeon and 
president of the Muslim American Society, Dr. Esam 


Omeish, railed against the U.S. government and insisted 
that President Bush be impeached. “We must prosecute 
those who are responsible!” Omeish shouted. “Let us 
cleanse our State Department, our Congress, and our 
Pentagon of those who have driven us into this colossal 
mistake!” 

The war in Iraq was at a boiling point in 2007. Despite 
the recent U.S. troop surge there, violence, mayhem, and 
death had reached astonishing new levels. One month 
earlier, in a single day of carnage, terrorists detonated 
multiple truck bombs in public places, killing 500 people 
and wounding 1,500 others—the worst coordinated attacks 
of the war by a factor of three. From the podium in 
Lafayette Square, Omeish blamed this kind of horror—the 
“blood of the Middle East people’”—on the Bush 
administration. “Impeach Bush today!” he shouted again 
and again. 

Dr. Esam Omeish was a controversial figure. He served 
on the board of directors of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic 
Center, the Virginia mosque where two of the 9/11 hijackers 
prayed before the terrorist attacks. Omeish reportedly 
played a role in hiring the mosque’s imam during that dark 
time, a radical cleric named Anwar Al-Awlaki. By 2007, Al- 
Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, had fled to Yemen, where he was 
revealed to be a member of the Al Qaeda leadership. From 
Yemen, Al-Awlaki encouraged Muslims around the world to 
commit terrorist attacks against the United States. (Some 
would, including Major Nidal Hasan, who killed thirteen 
people and injured at least thirty more in a mass shooting 
at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009.) Al-Awlaki also served as 
imam at the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque, from January 2001 to 
April 2002. Not for another four years would Anwar Al- 
Awlaki become the first U.S. citizen officially assassinated by 
the U.S. government, in a drone strike on a desert highway 
in Yemen. Dr. Esam Omeish had been an associate of Anwar 
Al-Awlaki, through Dar Al-Hijrah, but association is not a 


crime. Were the dragonflies in Lafayette Park insect- 
inspired drones sent to spy on the doctor and the antiwar 
crowd? Or were they just unusually large dragonflies? 

The month after the Lafayette Square rally, the 
Washington Post reported a handful of similar sightings of 
insect-shaped spy drones flying overhead at political events 
in Washington and New York. “Some suspect the insect-like 
drones are high-tech surveillance tools,” wrote Post 
reporter Rick Weiss. “Others think they are, well, 
dragonflies—an ancient order of insects that even biologists 
concede look about as robotic as a living creature can look.” 
No federal agency would admit to having deployed insect- 
sized spy drones. “But a number of U.S. government and 
private entities acknowledge they are trying,” wrote Weiss. 

By the time of the 2007 antiwar protest, DARPA had been 
actively developing insect-inspired drones, called micro air 
vehicles (MAVs), for at least fourteen years. The first DARPA 
micro air vehicles feasibility study was conducted in 1993, 
by the RAND Corporation. “Insect-size flying and crawling 
systems could help give the United States a significant 
military advantage in the coming years,” the RAND authors 
wrote. Shortly thereafter, DARPA began soliciting scientists 
and awarding grants under its Tactical Technology Office. 

DARPA’s original insect-drone prototype, called Black 
Widow, was built by AeroVironment, a defense contractor in 
Simi Valley, California. The six-inch mini-drone weighed 40 
grams and had wings fashioned from plastic model airplane 
propellers, cut and sanded for better lift. For years, 
scientists with AeroVironment struggled to get Black Widow 
to fly with a payload, and by March 1999, with help from 
MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, DARPA finally had its first- 
generation micro air vehicle able to fly reconnaissance 
missions. Powered by two lithium batteries, this 56-gram 
variant of Black Widow carried a black-and-white micro 
video camera, had excellent maneuverability, and could 
even hover, or loiter, for up to twenty-two minutes before 


returning to its base. Black Widow “cannot be heard above 
ambient noise at 100 feet,” reported scientists in the field, 
“and unless you’re specifically looking for [it] you can’t see 
it.” Even birds were fooled. “It looks more like a bird than 
an airplane,” the scientists wrote. “We have seen sparrows 
and seagulls flocking around the MAV several times.” 

DARPA was enthusiastic; remember, this was March 
1999. “The Black Widow MAV program has been quite 
successful in proving that a 6-inch aircraft is not only 
feasible, but that it can perform useful missions that were 
previously deemed impossible,” read an after-action report. 
Then came the more important idea. A RAND analyst 
named Benjamin Lambeth concluded that mini-drones like 
the Black Widow had enormous potential, not just in 
intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, but 
ultimately as a means of assassination. Mini-drones 
disguised as insects, Lambeth wrote, could one day be 
outfitted with “micro-explosive bombs... able to kill moving 
targets with just grams of explosive.” 

DARPA expanded its micro air vehicle program to include 
at least three research efforts, or “thrusts,” each of which 
relies on the animal kingdom for inspiration and ideas. The 
results of these programs are called _ biosystems, 
biomimetics, and biohybrids. Biosystems involves the use of 
living, breathing insects or animals trained for military use. 
During the Vietnam War, German shepherds were trained 
to track Vietcong fighters tagged with chemicals. During 
the Iraq war, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory 
in New Mexico trained bees to locate buried IEDs. These 
are two examples of biosystemic programs. 

Biomimetics research is a field closely related to bionics. 
In DARPA’s’ biomimetics programs, _ scientists build 
mechanical systems to imitate creatures from the natural 
world. DARPA designed biomimetic drones, like the Black 
Widow MAV, including ones that appear to _ be 
hummingbirds, bats, beetles, and flies. If DARPA has 


dragonfly drones, they would fall under the rubric of 
biomimetics. Biomimetic drones have been used by the 
intelligence community since at least 1972, when the CIA 
built a prototype dragonfly drone it called “insectothopter.” 
A miniature engine powered the drone’s wings to move up 
and down. Insectothopter ran on a thimbleful of gas. 

Biohybrids tread on entirely new ground. DARPA’s micro 
air vehicle programs are built on decades of aviation 
technology, aerospace engineering, computer science, and 
nanotechnology, which is the science of making things 
small. Then at the turn of the twenty-first century, a new 
field called nanobiology, or nanobiotechnology, came into 
being. Once relegated to the pages of science fiction, this 
burgeoning new discipline allows scientists to “couple” 
biological systems with machines. In 1999 DARPA awarded 
grants for biohybrid programs. The stated goal was to 
create cyborgs—part living creatures, part machines. 

DARPA’s. biohybrid programs remain shrouded in 
mystery. Biohybrid military applications are _ largely 
Classified, but a few prototype programs have been 
unveiled. As nanobiotechnology advanced in the early years 
of the twenty-first century, tiny machines could realistically 
be wired into animals’ brains, bodies, and wings. Starting in 
2002, DARPA began periodically releasing incremental 
information into the public domain. 

That year, news of an early prototype emerged from a 
DARPA-funded laboratory at the State University of New 
York’s Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, led by 
researcher Sanjiv Talwar. Scientists implanted electrodes in 
the medial forebrain bundle of a rat’s brain, a region that 
senses reward. Wires the size of a human hair connected 
the electrodes to a microprocessor sewn onto the rat’s 
back, like a backpack. From a laptop 500 meters—a third of 
a mile—away, Talwar and his team of scientists sent 
electronic pulses to the rat’s medial forebrain. After using 
Pavlovian techniques to train the rat to respond to stimuli, 


DARPA scientists were able to control the rat, steering it 
left, right, and forward through a maze via _ brain 
stimulation. 

Animal rights activists cried foul. “The animal is no 
longer functioning as an animal,” lamented Gary Francione, 
an animal welfare expert at Rutgers University School of 
Law. But for the majority of Americans, lab rats are 
synonymous with scientific experimentation. The idea being 
it’s okay to experiment on rats, to control their brains, in 
the spirit of progress. The rat was not generally perceived 
as a cyborg per se. It was just a lab rat hooked up to a 
machine. 

Over the next five years, DARPA’s biohybrid programs 
advanced at an _ astonishing pace. Microprocessor 
technology was doubling in capacity every eighteen months. 
By June 29, 2007, when Apple rereleased its first- 
generation iPhone, Americans could now carry in their 
pockets more technology than NASA had when it sent 
astronauts to the moon. 

One of the first insect cyborgs was unveiled in 2009. 
Inside a DARPA-funded laboratory at the University of 
California, Berkeley, Professor Michel Maharbiz and his 
colleagues coupled a green June beetle with a machine. The 
scientists implanted electrodes into the brain and wings of a 
2-centimeter-long beetle and sewed a radio receiver onto 
its back. By remotely delivering electrical pulses to the 
beetle’s brain, they were able to start and stop the beating 
of the beetle’s wings, thereby steering and controlling the 
insect in flight. 

In 2014, DARPA scientists working at North Carolina 
State University again broke new ground, this time with the 
Manduca sexta moth, or goliath worm, an insect with a 
metamorphic life cycle that lasts forty days. During the late 
pupa stage, DARPA scientist Dr. Alper Bozkurt and his team 
surgically inserted an electrode in the dorsal thorax of the 
moth, between its neck and abdomen. “The tissue develops 


around the implanted electrodes and secures their 
attachment to the insect’s body over the course of a few 
days,” explains team member Alexander Verderber. “The 
electrodes emerge as a part of the insect’s body in the final 
adult stage as a moth.” By “taking advantage of the 
rebuilding of the insect’s entire tissue system during 
metamorphic development,” says Verderber, the scientists 
were able to create a steerable cyborg, part insect, part 
machine. “One use of the biohybrid would be for use in 
applications such as search and rescue operations,” 
Bozkurt says. DARPA scientists working on such cyborg 
programs invariably describe the programs as designed to 
help society. Certainly, subjects like free will, ethics, and the 
consequences of manufacturing cyborgs are worthy of and 
ripe for discussion. Another question: What are DARPA’s 
plans for augmenting humans with machines? 

By 2014, DARPA had handed over many of its micro air 
vehicle programs to the military services. An unclassified in- 
house 2013 U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory animated 
video revealed the burgeoning new role that biosystemic, 
biomimetic, and biohybrid micro air vehicles would play in 
future weapons systems. The video begins with hundreds of 
mini-drones, shaped like living creatures, being dropped 
from a much larger drone. The MAVs rain down onto an 
urban center below. At ground level, a man parks a van in 
front of a cement-block safe house. Across the street, a 
pigeon sits on an electrical wire. 

“The small size of MAVs allows them to be hidden in plain 
sight,” says the video’s narrator. A close-up of the “pigeon” 
reveals that the bird is a surveillance drone, its head a high- 
resolution video camera. “Once in place,” the narrator 
explains, “an MAV can enter a low-power, extended 
surveillance mode for missions lasting days or weeks. This 
may require the MAV to harvest energy from environmental 
sources such as sunlight or wind, or from manmade sources 
such as power lines and vibrating machinery.” 


The pigeon drone transmits information to an Air Force 
technician sitting at a desk in an information operations 
center at a remote location. Using biometrics, the 
technician confirms that the man driving the van is a terror 
suspect. 

The man exits the van and walks down an alleyway. The 
pigeon takes flight, now joined by a beetle-shaped drone. 
The pigeon falls away and the beetle MAV follows the 
suspect through a maze of alleyways. “MAVs will use micro- 
sensors and microprocessor technology to navigate and 
track targets through complicated terrain such as urban 
areas,” says the narrator. As the terror suspect enters an 
apartment building, the beetle drone follows along. “Small 
in size, agile flight will enable MAVs to covertly enter 
locations inaccessible by traditional means of aerial 
surveillance,” the narrator says, but “MAVs will use new 
forms of navigation, such as a vision-based technique called 
‘optic flow’ This remains robust when traditional 
techniques such as GPS are unavailable.” The drone can 
navigate and see on its own. 

In the video, once inside the building, the beetle drone 
hovers near an apartment, loitering above the doorway, out 
of sight. When the door opens, a man steps out into the 
hallway and looks around before exiting the apartment. He 
closes the door behind him, but not before the beetle drone 
is able to slip surreptitiously inside. Now, a swarm of 
additional flying insect drones join in the mission. “Multiple 
MAVs, each equipped with small sensors, will work together 
to survey a large area,” the narrator explains. “While some 
MAVs may be used purely for visual reconnaissance, others 
may be used for targeting or tagging of sensitive locations.” 
Inside the apartment, a terrorist with a high-powered 
sniper rifle is seen setting up a kill shot. As the enemy 
Sniper prepares to fire his weapon out an open window, one 
of the beetle-sized micro air vehicles flies toward him and 
hovers near the back of his head. 


“Individual MAVs may perform direct attack missions,” 
says the narrator, “can be equipped with incapacitating 
chemicals, combustible payloads, or even explosives for 
precision targeting capabilities.” As the beetle hovers near 
the sniper’s head, its payload explodes. The sniper falls 
over, dead. The animated video ends. 


In addition to missions that involve targeted kills, DARPA’s 
vast weapon systems of the future will involve an army of 
drones on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance 
(ISR) missions. The MAVs are but one element. DARPA has 
scores of programs for biologically inspired robotic systems 
that fly. While micro air vehicles will fly slow and low, 
DARPA’s hypersonic stealth drones will fly high and fast. The 
armed Falcon HTV-2, launched from a rocket, will travel at 
Mach 20 (13,000 miles per hour), or twenty-two times 
faster than a commercial jet. According to DARPA 
documents, “at HTV-2 speeds, flight time between New York 
City and Los Angeles would be less than 12 minutes.” The 
Mach 20 drone will be able to strike any target, anywhere 
in the world, in less than an hour. As the Defense 
Department grows increasingly reliant on _ satellite 
technology, DARPA must provide the Pentagon with “quick, 
affordable and routine access to space,” says DARPA. The 
XS-1 experimental space drone, announced in the fall of 
2013, is DARPA’s seminal hypersonic low-earth-orbit drone, 
designed to be able to fly faster on consecutive around-the- 
world missions than any other drone in U.S. history. 
Specifics about the weapons systems on board the XS-1 are 
classified. 

The oceans are vast, and DARPA’s plans for unmanned 
underwater vehicles (UUVs) are equally immense. One 
program is Hydra, an undersea system that includes a fleet 
of baby submersibles combined with a mother ship. The 
baby UUVs are being designed to deploy from the mother 


ship into shallow coastal waters and harbors, and then 
return. Integrated into this underwater system will also be 
airborne drones, with encapsulated UAVs able to eject from 
the Hydra mother ship, surface, launch, become airborne, 
and fly reconnaissance or combat missions. In this way, 
Hydra will serve as a submarine, a transport aircraft, and a 
communications center in one. In another undersea DARPA 
program, called Upward Falling Payloads, unmanned 
sensor systems are placed on the deep-ocean floor, where 
they lie undetected for years at a time, gathering 
intelligence. “These deep-sea nodes could be remotely 
activated when needed and recalled to the surface,” 
according to DARPA; hence “they fall upward.” 

Ground robotic systems are advancing with equal pace. 
There is Atlas, a high-mobility humanoid robot, strong and 
coordinated enough to navigate rough outdoor terrain, 
climb stairs, and manipulate environments with its hands. 
Atlas’s head, made up of sensors, includes stereo cameras 
and a laser range finder. Similarly anthropomorphic is the 
six-foot-two Valkyrie robot, built by NASA for the DARPA 
robotics challenge. It opens windows and wears clothes. 
NASA hopes to send Valkyrie to Mars as a humanoid avatar 
and one day assemble structures there. 

Accompanying the humanoid robots are Unmanned 
Ground System robots, many of which resemble animals. 
The AlphaDog robot, which is about the size of a small 
rhinoceros, is able to traverse rugged terrain with the ease 
of a four-legged animal while carrying 400 pounds of 
military equipment. It can recognize its squad leader’s 
commands and right itself after falling over. The MIT 
cheetah robot, presently the fastest legged robot in history, 
can run twenty-eight miles per hour and jump over 
obstacles in its path. Cheetah runs on a quiet electric motor, 
giving it stealth like a cat. Other land-based robots roll over 
terrain on continuous track treads. There is the Talon 
SWORD (Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance 


Detection System) robot, one of the fastest in the fleet, and 
a next-generation incarnation of the bomb disposal robots 
fielded to EOD technicians in Irag. The Talon SWORD 
carries an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon and a 6mm 
rocket launcher, each of which can be remotely controlled 
from half a mile away. Its more powerful cousin, the MAARS 
(Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System), is designed to 
conduct reconnaissance and surveillance missions, and then 
to kill human targets from almost two miles away. In 
addition to firing machine guns and grenade launchers 
from their robotic arms, the MAARS robots are equipped 
with motion detectors, acoustic sensors, siren and speaker 
systems, nonlethal laser dazzlers, less-than-lethal grenades, 
and encryption technology to make the robotic killer 
“extremely safe and tamper proof,” according’ to 
unclassified DARPA documents. 

DARPA’s LANdroids (Local Area Network droids) 
program is one of the smallest of the tread-borne robotic 
ground systems. LANdroids are “small, inexpensive, smart 
robotic radio network relay nodes” that work in a fleet, or 
swarm, says DARPA. These hand-size robots are dropped by 
dismounted soldiers as they deploy into urban combat 
zones, capable of leveraging their stealth and mobility “to 
coordinate and move autonomously” on their own. If one of 
the LANdroids is destroyed in battle, the others rearrange 
themselves accordingly. The LANdroids program aims to 
develop “intelligent autonomous radio drones,” a concept 
that is critical to understanding where the Pentagon’s army 
of robots is headed over the next twenty-five years. 

“The program seeks to demonstrate the capabilities of 
self-configuration, self-optimization, selfhealing, tethering, 
and power management,” according to DARPA. In this 
sense, DARPA’s LANdroids program is a prototype for 
future robotic systems that aim toward autonomy, or self- 
governance. Autonomy lies at the heart of the Pentagon’s 
newest revolution in military affairs. To be clear about what 


“autonomy” is, the concept is spelled out by the Pentagon, 
using a drone as an example: “When an aircraft is under 
remote control, it is not autonomous. And when it is 
autonomous, it is not under remote control.” It governs 
itself. 

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James A. 
Winnefeld made this explicit in the Pentagon’s drone 
warfare report: “The autonomous systems are self-directed 
toward a goal in that they do not require outside control, 
but rather are governed by laws and strategies that direct 
their behavior.” The nontechnical term for an autonomous 
drone is a hunter-killer robot, a robotic system “intelligent” 
enough to be shown a photograph of a person and told to 
return when the target has been killed. 

This is science, not science fiction. It is also Pentagon 
policy. Department of Defense Directive 3000.09, 
“Autonomy in Weapon Systems,” released in 2012, 
mandates that “autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon 
systems shall be designed.” And like all advanced scientific 
endeavors, the technology must evolve, from vision to 
reality. It is DARPA’s job to lead the way. “DoD envisions 
unmanned systems seamlessly operating with manned 
systems while gradually reducing the degree of human 
control and decision making... with an ultimate goal of full 


autonomy.” 
According to the Defense Department’s 2011 
“Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap,” the 


progression from semiautonomy to full autonomy over the 
next twenty-five years would be a fourfold process. To begin 
with, unmanned systems would be “human operated,” or 
entirely controlled by man, as they are today. The second 
step involves “human delegated” systems, with drones 
learning how to “perform many functions independently of 
human control.” The third level involves “human 
supervised” systems, in which the machines perform tasks 
independently after being given “top-level permissions or 


directions by a human.” Finally, the robotic systems would 
become “fully autonomous,” whereby “the system receives 
goals from humans and translates them into tasks to be 
performed without human interaction.” A note accompanies 
the level-four goal: “A human could still enter the loop in an 
emergency or change the goals, although in practice there 
may be significant time delays before human intervention 
occurs.” Time is everything. It still takes only 1,600 seconds 
for a nuclear weapon to travel halfway around the earth. 

The world has reached an epoch-defining moment the 
magnitude of which has not been seen since the decision to 
engineer the thermonuclear bomb. If we give machines 
autonomy, the potential for unintended consequences is 
unparalleled. Some civilian-sector robotics experts say the 
technology for self-governing machines is simply not there, 
and won’t be for decades. That autonomous machines 
require true artificial intelligence, and AI capabilities are 
not yet anywhere near the threshold of self-governance. But 
at least one very powerful individual at the Pentagon 
disagrees. “Dramatic progress in supporting technologies 
suggests that unprecedented, perhaps unimagined degrees 
of autonomy can be introduced into current and future 
military systems,” Ashton B. Carter, then undersecretary of 
defense, wrote in 2010 in a letter tasking defense scientists 
to study the technology. “This could presage dramatic 
changes in military capability and force composition 
comparable to the introduction of ‘Net-Centricity.’” In 
February 2015, Ashton Carter took office as President 
Obama’s secretary of defense. 

So what is the status of artificial intelligence? Are hunter- 
killer robots right around the bend? In order to discern 
DARPA’s AI capabilities, I traveled to the Los Alamos 
National Laboratory in New Mexico. It was here, starting in 
1943, that U.S. defense scientists engineered the world’s 
first atomic bomb. And it is here, in the spring of 2014, that 
DARPA scientists were working to create an artificial brain. 


CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE 


Brain Wars 


The Los Alamos National Laboratory sits at the top of a 


mountain range in the high desert of northern New Mexico. 
It is a long, steep drive to get there from the capital city of 
Santa Fe, through the Tesuque Indian Reservation, over the 
Rio Grande, and into the Santa Fe National Forest. I am 
headed to the laboratory of Dr. Garrett T. Kenyon, whose 
program falls under the rubric of synthetic cognition, an 
attempt to build an artificial brain. Roboticists define 
artificial brains as man-made machines designed to be as 
intelligent, self-aware, and creative as humans. No such 
machine yet exists, but DARPA scientists like Dr. Kenyon 
believe that, given the rapid advances in DARPA 
technologies, one day soon they will. There are two 
technologies that play key roles in advancing artificial 
intelligence, and they are computing, which involves 
machines, and neuroscience, which involves the human 
brain. 

During the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, of the 
2.5 million Americans who served, more than 300,000 
returned home with brain injuries. DARPA calls these 
individuals brain-wounded warriors. One of the most severe 
forms of brain injury sustained by brain-wounded warriors 
is traumatic brain injury, or TBI, which occurs when an 
object, such as a bullet or piece of mortar or shrapnel from 


an IED, pierces the skull and enters the brain tissue. To 
address TBI, as well as other brain injuries sustained in 
modern warfare, DARPA has publicly stated that it has a 
multitude of science and technology programs in place. The 
agency’s long-term goals in brain science research, it says, 
revolve around trying to restore the minds and memories of 
brain-wounded warriors. Through the Office of the 
Secretary of Defense (OSD), I submitted multiple written 
requests to interview one or more brain-wounded warriors 
who are currently participating in DARPA’s brain research 
programs. OSD and DARPA repeatedly declined. 

Traumatic brain injury is as old as war. U.S. soldiers have 
sustained traumatic brain injuries in each and every one of 
America’s wars since the Revolution. When I learned that 
Allen Macy Dulles, the brain-wounded warrior from the 
Korean War, was, at age eighty-four, living just down the 
road from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, I arranged 
to visit him—before heading to Dr. Kenyon’s laboratory and 
its artificial brain. 

Allen Macy Dulles, the only son of the former CIA 
director Allen Welsh Dulles, lives off the old Santa Fe Trail, 
down a small side road, inside a large brown adobe brick 
home. When I visit him in the spring of 2014, he has been 
living with a severe form of traumatic brain injury for 
almost sixty-two years. Allen Macy Dulles stopped being 
able to record new memories back in November 1952, 
when he was twenty-two years old. He was the young 
soldier I wrote about earlier in this book, the Marine Corps 
officer who went out on patrol on the western front in 
Korea, near a hilltop called Outpost Bunker Hill, and got hit 
by enemy mortar fire. He has been alive all this time and 
has been well taken care of by his older sister and 
guardian, Joan Dulles Talley. 

When I arrive, he looks like any elderly gentleman might 
look, sitting in a chair in his kitchen, waiting for his lunch. 
There are flowers on the table and there is artwork on the 


walls. Physically Allen Macy Dulles is healthy, with a big 
smile and a neatly combed mustache. “He looks just like our 
father,” Joan Dulles Talley says. I come in and sit down 
across from him, take out my digital tape recorder, and 
begin our interview. Allen speaks clearly and eloquently. 
Remarkably, he can discuss the Egyptian pharaohs and the 
ancient Greeks with the ease of the classics scholar he once 
was, because he studied and learned these subjects before 
his brain was injured. His neural network allows him to 
access this information, as memory, and yet he cannot recall 
what he had for dinner last night or for breakfast this 
morning. When I leave, he will have no memory of my 
having been here, his sister Joan explains. 

Joan Talley, a Jungian analyst by training, age ninety in 
2014, is tall, gentle, fiercely knowledgeable, and has 
Katharine Hepburn’s voice. Her first husband worked as a 
spy during World War II and later served as the U.S. 
ambassador to Iran. After their divorce, Joan Talley moved 
to Switzerland, where she trained as a psychotherapist 
specializing in the psychology of the unconscious, and 
regularly visited her brother Allen at the mental institution 
where he lived for a while, on Lake Geneva. After their 
father died, Joan Talley brought her brother back to 
America and has been his guardian ever since. 

The injury in Korea left Allen Macy Dulles mostly deaf in 
his left ear. To compensate for this deficiency he uses a 
machine, a 1990s-era listening aid that includes a handheld 
transmitter, and a microphone attached to the transmitter 
by long wires. In his left ear he wears an earpiece. To speak 
with him, I pick up the microphone and talk into it. To Allen, 
this is high technology and does not make much sense. It 
did not exist in the world he is capable of remembering, the 
world before November 1952. 

“What are your plans for the day?” I ask. 

“Nothing in particular,” he says, “although I do like going 
to secondhand stores.” 


“What do you buy?” 

“Anything that happens to do with books or scientific 
devices,” Allen says. He delivers a short lecture on scientific 
devices. But he is talking about science from before 1952. 

“Will you remember this conversation in an hour?” I ask. 

“Probably not,” he says. “As you know, my [short-term] 
memory is practically nonexistent.” 

I ask Allen to share a memory with me from before his 
brain injury, something from high school. 

“T remember a good _ class’ on _ constitutional 
interpretation,” he says. 

“Why did you decide to join the Marines?” I ask. 

“Well, you see,” he says with conviction, “I was seventeen 
years old, I had the opportunity to enlist. The war in Europe 
had ended. I knew there were going to be more wars. 
There is no shortage of wars.” 

Allen discusses war. Greek warfare. The wars in Europe. 
The war with Nazi Germany. The war in Korea against the 
Chinese. He can talk about all the wars leading up to 1952, 
and then his knowledge of war, and of the science and 
technology that have resulted from wars, abruptly ends for 
him. He has lived through every event and invention 
discussed in this book—the Castle Bravo bomb, the ICBM, 
the ARPANET, the Internet, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, 
GPS, stealth technology, robots and computers, 9/11, the 
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—but he has no memory or 
knowledge of any of it having happened. Allen Macy Dulles 
is a living anachronism. He belongs to a world that no 
longer exists. For him, time stands still. It stopped in 1952, 
before science and technology transformed and shaped the 
modern world in which we live. 

Carl Sagan once stated, “It is suicidal to create a society 
dependent on science and technology in which hardly 
anybody knows anything about the science and technology.” 
But I imagine if Carl Sagan had met Allen Macy Dulles, he 
would have given the man a pass. As for the rest of us, 


Sagan’s message applies. 


DARPA leads the nation in advancing science and 
technology. DARPA makes the future happen. Starting in 
2013, DARPA teamed up with the White House on the 
BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative 
Neurotechnologies) initiative and declared this decade to 
be the decade of the brain. The White House calls the 
BRAIN initiative “a bold new _ research effort to 
revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and 
uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain 
disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy 
and traumatic brain injury.” These are important goals. But 
DARPA’s stated goal is advancing weapons technology, not 
curing mental illness. What is DARPA’s primary goal in 
researching the brain? 

To help brain-wounded warriors, DARPA has several 
programs of note. In Restoring Active Memory (RAM), 
scientists have developed and are testing implantable 
wireless “neuroprosthetics” as a possible means of 
overcoming amnesia. As part of the RAM program, soldiers 
allow the tiny machines, or chips, to be implanted in their 
brain. The Reorganization and Plasticity to Accelerate 
Injury Recovery (REPAIR) program seeks to understand 
how the brain makes computations and organizes them. 
This too requires the surgical implantation of a brain chip, 
as does the Restorative Encoding Memory Integration 
Neural Device (REMIND). Despite multiple appeals through 
the Office of the Secretary of Defense, DARPA declined to 
grant me an interview with any of these brain-wounded 
warriors. DARPA would also not answer specific questions 
about RAM, REPAIR, or REMIND. 

According to the Pentagon, “mental disorders are the 
leading cause of hospital bed days and the second leading 
cause of medical encounters for active duty 


servicemembers.” To address this problem, DARPA has 
developed brain implants for the treatment of war-related 
mental, or neuropsychological, illnesses. The Systems- 
Based Neurotechnology for Emerging ‘Therapies 
(SUBNETS) program seeks to treat post-traumatic stress 
disorder (PTSD) by surgically implanting multiple 
electrodes in various regions of the brain as well as a 
microchip between the brain and skull of the brain- 
wounded warfighter. The chips wirelessly transmit data 
back to an information operations center, which has the 
capacity to send electrical impulses remotely to different 
regions of the warfighter’s brain to relieve symptoms like 
anxiety and delayed reaction time—a kind of twenty-first- 
century electroshock therapy on the go. In technical terms, 
DARPA states that its goals are a way to “incorporate near 
real-time recording, analysis and stimulation in next- 
generation devices inspired by current Deep Brain 
Stimulation (DBS).” The Office of the Secretary of Defense 
and DARPA declined to grant access to any SUBNETS test 
subjects or to answer specific questions about the program. 

If the past teaches us about the present, it is clear that 
DARPA’s stated goals regarding its brain programs are not 
DARPA’s only goals. DARPA is not primarily in the business 
of helping soldiers heal; that is the job of the US. 
Department of Veterans Affairs. DARPA’s job is to “create 
and prevent strategic surprise.” DARPA prepares vast 
weapons systems of the future. So what are the classified 
brain programs really for? What is the reason behind the 
reason? 

DARPA’s limb prosthetics program might offer a number 
of clues. In 2005, with IEDs dominating the war news, 
DARPA initiated a program called Revolutionizing 
Prosthetics. Over the next two years the program was split 
in two parts. DEKA Research and Development 
Corporation, in New Hampshire, was given a DARPA 
contract to make a robotic prosthetic arm. Johns Hopkins 


University’s Applied Physics Laboratory was given a DARPA 
contract to create a “thought-controlled” robotic arm. 
These were highly ambitious goals. 

Of Johns Hopkins’s amazing progress, MIT Technology 
Review reported in 2007, “They have demonstrated for the 
first time that neural activity recorded from a monkey’s 
brain can control fingers on a robotic hand, making it play 
several notes on a piano.” But this was not entirely 
accurate, according to Jonathan Kuniholm, a former 
engineer officer with the First Battalion, Twenty-third 
Marines. Kuniholm lost his right arm to an IED buried along 
the Euphrates River in Haditha, Irag. The homemade bomb 
was disguised as a discarded olive oil can. After 
recuperating, Kuniholm signed on with DARPA and 
Revolutionizing Prosthetics. “The Intrinsic hand was 
physically capable of all the individual movements 
necessary to play the piano,” Kuniholm wrote in JEEE 
Spectrum, the trade magazine for the world’s largest 
professional association for the advancement of technology, 
“but it could not be controlled by a person in real time. 
There was no muscle twitch or electrical signal being 
decoded by signal-processing algorithms in real time. The 
hand was preprogrammed, like a player piano.” In some 
regards, Revolutionizing Prosthetics did more for DARPA’s 
image than it did for warfighters who had lost limbs in war. 

Major news organizations wrote stories about the DEKA 
arm, hailing it as_ revolutionary, spectacular, and 
astounding. In 2009, Dean Kamen, DEKA’s founder, recalled 
on 60 Minutes what it was like when DARPA officials came 
to him proposing to build a robotic arm. “They said, ‘We 
want these kids to have something put back on them that 
will essentially allow one of these kids to pick up a raisin or 
a grape off the table, know the difference without looking at 
it.”” Kamen welcomed the challenge, and he and his team of 
forty engineers spent a year working on the problem; 
DARPA spent $100 million. 


But when the cameras go off, the arms usually go back to 
the DARPA laboratories, where they generally sit on 
shelves. “Most of us strap back on our Captain Hook arms,” 
said one participant, who lost an arm in Irag and who has 
appeared on national television modeling the DEKA arm but 
asked not to be identified by name. This individual has 
become frustrated with DARPA, whose motives he sees as 
something other than getting better prosthetics to war 
veterans, though he does not claim to know what DARPA’s 
ulterior motives might be. The DEKA arm, which costs up to 
$650,000 to engineer, has yet to find a partner to mass- 
produce its system. In November 2014 the FDA approved 
marketing the device, which reportedly can respond to 
multiple simultaneous commands from a wearer’s brain. In 
a press statement, DARPA said it was happy “to repay some 
of the debt we owe to our Service members,” but 
acknowledges there is no timeline on when the DEKA arm 
will become available to amputees. America’s wounded 
warriors continue to wear what amputees have worn since 
World War I, the so-called Captain Hook arm, which is 
officially called the Dorrance hook, invented by D. W. 
Dorrance in 1912. 

It is likely that DARPA’s primary goal in advancing 
prosthetics is to give robots, not men, better arms and 
hands. Robotics expert Noel Sharkey, who serves as a 
United Nations advisor and chairman of the International 
Committee for Robot Arms Control, explains: “You hear 
DARPA talk about a robot they are designing, being able to 
turn a valve inside a Fukushima-type power plant. Yes, that 
is an example of robots keeping humans safe. But that 
robotic hand will also soon be able to turn a valve onboard, 
say, a Ship.” A ship that a robot has been sent to take over in 
a military operation. 

The technologies DARPA is pursuing in its brain and 
prosthetics programs have dual use in DARPA’s efforts to 
engineer hunter-killer robots. Coupled with the quest for 


artificial intelligence, all this might explain why DARPA is so 
focused on looking inside people’s brains. 


High on the top of a forested plateau in the Jemez 
Mountains, the Los Alamos National Laboratory is a storied 
place with a rich and complex history of nuclear weapons 
research. The Los Alamos National Laboratory is also one of 
the largest producers of defense science in the nation, with 
a mission statement that reads, “Delivering science and 
technology to protect our nation and promote world 
stability.” Although the list of DARPA contracts here at Los 
Alamos is not public knowledge, it is voluminous. Most of 
the contracts are classified. These are not the programs 
that DARPA’s public affairs officers are quick to promote in 
the press. The classified programs are not like the ones 
people read about in mainstream magazines and 
newspapers, about bullets that bend, prosthetics that can 
pick up a grape, cars that can drive themselves, technology 
you can swallow, and robots that can fall down and get back 
up again. Here, in the classified laboratories at Los Alamos 
National Laboratory, and in other classified national 
laboratories and research facilities like this one, is where 
some of DARPA’s highest-risk, highest-payoff programs 
evolve. The consequential weapons systems of the future 
are born black, as in classified, and, like the hydrogen 
bomb, McNamara’s electronic fence, Assault Breaker, and 
stealth technology, are unveiled to the public only after they 
have created a revolution in military affairs. 

Within the thirty-six-square-mile Los Alamos campus, 
there are 1,280 buildings, eleven of which are nuclear 
facilities. Even the cooks who work in some of the kitchens 
have top secret Q clearances. There are sixty-three miles of 
gas lines inside the laboratory campus, thirty-four miles of 
electrical lines, and a power plant. There are roughly ten 
thousand employees and contract workers at the lab, and 


according to the historian at the Los Alamos Historical 
Society, roughly half of them have Ph.D.s. One scientist who 
has a DARPA contract and is at liberty to discuss some of his 
work on the artificial brain is Dr. Garrett T. Kenyon. 

Outside Dr. Kenyon’s office at Los Alamos there is an 
armored truck with a machine gun mounted on top. It is 
parked in the red zone, by the front entrance. Inside the 
building, Dr. Kenyon and his team work on artificial 
intelligence, man’s quest to create a sentient machine. Dr. 
Kenyon is part of the synthetic cognition group at Los 
Alamos National Laboratory. He and his team are 
simulating the primate visual system, using a 
supercomputer to power the operation. Specifically, the 
team is trying to create a precise computer model of the 
human eye, including all of its neural networks, to 
understand the relationship between visual cognition and 
the brain. This is not necessarily an impossible task, but it 
does require one of the fastest computers in the world to 
model such a complex neural network as that of the human 
eye. Neuroscientists currently believe that there are 100 
billion neurons inside a human brain and that every sensory 
message the brain receives involves an exponential number 
of neural connections between these networks. 

To do their work, Dr. Kenyon and his team use a part of 
the IBM Roadrunner supercomputer, or what is left of it. 
When Roadrunner was built in 2008 it was the fastest 
computer in the world, able to perform 1 million billion 
calculations per second, setting the world’s record for 
petaflops per second data-processing speeds. That is a far 
cry from the World War II-era ENIAC computer at the 
University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School, which 
completed five thousand operations per second. But science 
builds. Visions become reality. Thus the ENIAC inspired 
John von Neumann to build MANIAC, which inspired Daniel 
Slotnick to build the ILLIAC IV, which led to the IBM 
Roadrunner. In 2014, the world’s fastest supercomputer, 


located at China’s National University of Defense 
Technology and called Tianhe-2, could reportedly perform 
some 30 quadrillion calculations per second, or 33.86 
petaflops. 

As for the IBM Roadrunner supercomputer, between its 
unveiling in 2008 and my visit in 2014, it has become 
obsolete. The machine cost $100 million to build but has 
since become too power-inefficient to continue to run. The 
machine cannot be recycled, though, because it holds many 
of the nation’s nuclear secrets. Computers never entirely 
lose the information they record. Because of this, and since 
the Los Alamos National Laboratory requires a_ bigger, 
faster, more efficient computer, Roadrunner is_ being 
destroyed. Some of what is left of it is being used by Dr. 
Kenyon’s team in their quest for artificial intelligence. The 
banks of computers they use fit into a room about the size 
of a basketball court. 

Dr. Kenyon takes me to look at the supercomputer. It is 
located inside the brick and glass building that houses his 
laboratory, beyond the armored truck, down a long corridor 
and behind a single locked door. Dr. Kenyon and I peer in 
through a small window at the Roadrunner supercomputer. 
The lights are low. The banks of processors are alight with 
tiny red and white blinking lights. There are racks of 
machines in rows. There are bundles of cables on the floor. 
Kenyon points inside. “It’s a giant abacus,” he says. “The 
real power is in the human brain.” Kenyon taps his 
forehead. “So small, so infinite.” 

We walk through another part of the building. While we 
wait for an elevator, Dr. Kenyon unfolds a dinner-size 
napkin and holds it up in the air in front of his forehead. 
“This is about the size of your brain, spread out,” he says. 
“The part that matters. The cerebral cortex.” The 100 
billion neurons there are also known as the brain’s gray 
matter. “And the human brain does things beyond anyone’s 
comprehension. Evolution created the smartest machine in 


this world.” 

Dr. Kenyon explains the concept behind the DARPA- 
funded project he is working on, in layman’s terms. “Today, 
my twelve-year-old daughter reprogrammed my smart 
phone so it has facial recognition software,” he says. “But 
seventy to eighty percent of the time it doesn’t recognize 
me.” He holds up his phone to his face. “The smart phone 
can’t always see it’s me. I can see it’s me. There’s the 
double chin, like it or not. So why can’t my phone recognize 
me all the time? Why can’t it perform a function that my 
dog can, the minute I walk in the door? For all the things 
the smart phone can do, it can’t do the simplest things that 
biological systems can. Recognize someone all the time.” 

Kenyon notes that if a person’s teenaged child 
recognized him only 70 to 80 percent of the time, there 
would be something seriously wrong with the child’s brain. 
“Sentient beings recognize through sight,” he explains. “My 
phone, on the other hand, is just comparing a set of stored 
features with a set of features extracted from the input 
coming from its camera. It’s not ‘seeing’ anything. My 
phone is not resolving the pixels into a rich scene, with all 
the interrelationships implicit therein. My phone is just 
finding a few key points and constructing a_high- 
dimensional feature vector that it can compare to a stored 
feature vector.” 

At present, true recognition—as in cognition, or 
acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, 
experience, and the senses—is done only by sentient 
beings. “We think that by working hard to understand how 
biological systems solve this problem, how the primate 
visual system recognizes things, we can understand 
something fundamental about how brains solve the 
problems they do, like recognition. Until then, computers 
are blind,” Kenyon says. “They can’t see.” 

Which raises at least one technical problem regarding 
artificial intelligence and autonomous hunter-killer drones. 


“T think robot assassins are a very bad idea for a number of 
reasons,” Garrett Kenyon asserts. “Moral and _ political 
issues aside, the technical hurdles to overcome cannot be 
understated,” he says. “It’s misleading to think just because 
my smart phone can ‘identify’ me seventy percent of the 
time that it has thirty percent to go.” We are talking about 
orders of magnitude. “The chances that my daughter might 
not recognize me, or misidentify me from a short distance, 
or because I am wearing a hat,” he says, “are about one in 
0.0001. And we still do not understand how neural systems 
work.” 

Dr. Kenyon is excited by his research. He is convinced 
that neuroscientists of today are like alchemists of the 
Middle Ages trying to understand chemistry. That all the 
exciting discoveries lie ahead. “Think of how much chemists 
in the Dark Ages did not understand about chemistry 
compared to what we know now. We neuroscientists are 
trapped in a bubble of ignorance. We still don’t have a clue 
about what’s going on in the human brain. We have 
theories; we just don’t know for sure. We can’t build an 
electrical circuit, digital or analogue or other, that mimics 
the biological system. We can’t emulate the behavior. One 
day in the future, we think we can.” 

Dr. Kenyon says that one of the most powerful facts about 
DARPA as an organization is that it includes theoretical 
scientists and engineers in its ranks. The quest for artificial 
intelligence, he says, is similar to getting humans to Mars. 
Once you have confidence you can do it, “then getting to 
Mars is an engineering problem,” he says. In his laboratory, 
metaphorically, “we just don’t know where Mars is yet.” But 
Dr. Kenyon and his team are determined. “I don’t think it’s 
that far away,” he says of artificial intelligence. “The 
question is, who will be the Columbus here?” 


Columbus was an explorer looking for a new land. DARPA is 


looking for ways to use science to fight future wars. 

Interviews with DARPA scientists of today give a sense 
that in the twenty-first century, programs that once existed 
in the realm of science fiction are rapidly becoming the 
science of the here and now. If Dr. Garrett Kenyon’s Los 
Alamos laboratory represents the future of the mind, the 
laboratory of Dr. Susan V. Bryant and Dr. David M. Gardiner 
at the University of California, Irvine, represents the future 
of the human body. Dr. Bryant and Dr. Gardiner are a 
husband-and-wife team of regeneration biologists. Dr. 
Bryant also served as the dean of the School of Biological 
Sciences and the vice chancellor for research at U.C. Irvine. 
Dr. Gardiner is a professor of developmental and cell 
biology and maintains the laboratory where he does 
research as a regenerative engineer. 

This laboratory looks like many university science labs. It 
is filled with high-powered microscopes, dissection 
equipment, and graduate students wearing goggles and 
gloves. The work Dr. Gardiner and Dr. Bryant do here is the 
result of a four-year contract with DARPA and an extended 
five-year contract with the Army. Their work involves limb 
regeneration. Gardiner and Bryant believe that one day 
soon, humans will also be able to regenerate their own body 
parts. 

Dr. David Gardiner, who is in his sixties, examines a set of 
lab trays on the countertop. Crawling around inside the 
trays are multi-limbed aquatic salamanders called axolotls. 
The creatures look both prehistoric and futuristic, with 
large, bug-like eyes. Some are pink; others are 
unpigmented, a naturally occurring mutation that makes 
them look transparent; you can see the bones and blood 
vessels inside. This species of salamander, a_ urodele 
amphibian, is able to regenerate lost body parts as an adult. 

“Regeneration is really coming alive now,” Dr. Gardiner 
says. “Sue and I have been studying the science for years. 
DARPA was the first time anyone ever asked us to 


regenerate anything. They did this with the mouse digit,” 
he says, referring to the tip of a mouse finger, which they 
and another team of scientists had been able to get to grow 
back, thereby setting a scientific milestone. “DARPA said, 
‘Great. Can you scale it up?’ As in pigs. As in humans. They 
asked, ‘Is this possible?’ We said yes. They asked, ‘Do you 
know how to do it?’ We said no. They said, ‘Well, then, we’ll 
fund you.’” Gardiner believes that therein lies the genius of 
DARPA. “DARPA funds questions,” he says. 

Dr. Gardiner searches through the trays of salamanders 
and locates the one he is looking for. This axolotl has an 
extra limb coming out the right side of its body. A second 
right front limb. “If we look at this extra limb on the 
salamander, we understand we [humans] have all the info 
to make an arm.” 

To explain the concept of limb regeneration, Dr. Gardiner 
first provides a brief summary of mutagenesis, the process 
by which an organism’s genetic information is changed, 
resulting in a mutation. “Mutations occur in nature, as the 
result of exposure to a mutagen,” he says. “Natural 
mutations can be beneficial or harmful to an organism, and 
this drives evolution. Mutations can also be performed as 
experiments, in laboratories. DNA can be modified 
artificially, by chemical and biological agents, resulting in 
mutations.” One consequential example of harmful 
mutagenesis that we discuss occurred as a result of ARPA’s 
Project Agile defoliation campaign. People who were 
exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War suffer a 
higher rate of children born with mutations. This includes 
Vietnamese people who were sprayed with the herbicides 
and also a vigorously debated number of American 
servicemen who were involved in the spraying. 

“Mutations tell us about signals,” Gardiner explains. 
“Cells talk to each other using signals. Every cell has an 
identity. All cells have information. There are no dumb cells. 
Cells talk to each other to stimulate growth. They talk to 


each other to make new patterns.” Pointing to the see- 
through axolotl with the extra limb, Gardiner says, “People 
look at this salamander and say, ‘Salamanders are special. 
We [humans] will never regenerate like a salamander.’” Dr. 
Gardiner and Dr. Bryant do not agree. “We say, ‘Oh, really? 
How do you know?’ The most compelling evidence is you 
have an arm.” 

There is no regeneration gene, says Gardiner. It happens 
at a cellular level. “People regenerate. Look how we started 
ab initio. As a single cell. Once upon a time, each one of us 
was a one-cell embryo that divided. Every human being on 
this planet regenerated his or her own cells, in the womb.” 

Dr. Bryant uses differentiation to simplify things. “The 
difference between salamanders and humans,” she says, “is 
that when salamanders’ limbs are amputated, they grow 
new ones. When humans’ limbs are amputated, they 
produce scar tissue. We humans respond to injury by 
making scar tissue. Why?” she asks. 

“At the heart of limb regeneration is evolution,” Dr. 
Gardiner adds. What his wife is pointing out, he says, is that 
“at the heart of genetics is diversity.” 

“Some people make mega-scars,” says Dr. Bryant. “The 
scars can be bigger than the wound. If you cut the scar 
tissue off, it grows back. There is the same evidence at the 
other end of the scarring spectrum. Some people produce 
scars that can go away.” 

Dr. Gardiner suggests looking at cancer research as an 
analogy. “Cancer equals our bodies interacting with the 
environment,” he says. “Cancer shows us we _ have 
remarkable regenerative ability. The pathways that drive 
cancer are the same pathways that cause regeneration. In 
the early days, no one had any idea about cancer. There 
was one cancer. Then along came the idea of ‘cancer- 
causing’ carcinogens. Well, we have found salamanders are 
very resistant to cancer. Inject a carcinogen into a 
salamander and it regulates the growth and turns it into an 


extra limb.” 

“Where is this leading?” I ask. 

“We are driving our biology toward immortality,” Dr. 
Gardiner says. “Or at least toward the fountain of youth.” 

In April 2014, scientists in the United States and Mexico 
announced they had successfully grown a complex organ, a 
human uterus, from tissue cells, in a lab. And in England, 
that same month, at a North London hospital, scientists 
announced they had grown noses, ears, blood vessels, and 
windpipes in a laboratory as they attempt to make body 
parts using stem cells. Scientists at Maastricht University, in 
Holland, have produced laboratory-grown beef burgers, 
grown in vitro from cattle stem cells, which food tasters say 
taste “close to meat.” 

“Can science go too far?” I ask Dr. Gardiner and Dr. 
Bryant. 

“The same biotechnology will allow scientists to clone 
humans,” says Dr. Gardiner. 

“Do you think the Defense Department will begin human 
cloning research?” I ask. 

“Ultimately, it needs to be a policy decision,” Gardiner 
says. 

In 2005 the United Nations voted to adopt the 
Declaration on Human Cloning, prohibiting “all forms of 
human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with 
human dignity and the protection of human life.” But in the 
United States there is currently no federal policy banning 
the practice. The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2007 
(H.R. 2560) did not pass. So the Defense Department could 
be cloning now. And while neither Dr. Bryant nor Dr. 
Gardiner has the answer to that question, we agree that 
what is possible in science is almost always tried by 
scientists. 

“These are discussions that need to be had,” Dr. Gardiner 
says. 

In the twenty-first-century world of science, almost 


anything can be done. But should it be done? Who decides? 
How do we know what is wise and what is unwise? 

“An informed public is necessary,” Dr. Bryant says. “The 
public must stay informed.” 

But for the public to stay informed, the public has to be 
informed. Dr. Bryant and Dr. Gardiner’s program was never 
classified. They worked for DARPA for four years, then both 
parties amiably moved on. What DARPA is doing with the 
limb regeneration science, DARPA gets to decide. If DARPA 
is working on a cloning program, that program is classified, 
and the public will be informed only in the future, if at all. 

If human cloning is possible, and therefore inevitable, 
should American scientists be the first to achieve this 
milestone, with Pentagon funding and military application in 
mind? If artificial intelligence is possible, is it therefore 
inevitable? 

Another way to ask, from a DARPA frame of mind: Were 
Russia or China or South Korea or India or Iran to present 
the world with the first human clone, or the first artificially 
intelligent machine, would that be considered a Sputnik-like 
surprise? 

DARPA has always sought the technological and military 
edge, leaving observers to debate the line between 
militarily useful scientific progress and pushing science too 
far. What is right and what is wrong? 

“Look at Stephen Hawking,” says Dr. Bryant. 

Hawking, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, is 
considered one of the smartest people on the planet. In 
1963 he contracted motor neuron disease and was given 
two years to live. He is still alive in 2015. Although Hawking 
is paralyzed, he has had a remarkably full life in the more 
than fifty years since, working, writing books, and 
communicating through a_speech-generating device. 
Hawking is a proponent of cloning. “The fuss about cloning 
is rather silly,” he says. “I can’t see any essential distinction 
between cloning and producing brothers and sisters in the 


time-honored way.” But Hawking believes that the quest for 
artificial intelligence is a dangerous idea. That it could be 
man’s “worst mistake in history,” and perhaps his last. In 
2014 Hawking and a group of colleagues warned against 
the risks posed by artificially intelligent machines. “One can 
imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, 
out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human 
leaders, and developing weapons we cannot’ even 
understand. Whereas the short-term impact of Al depends 
on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on 
whether it can be controlled at all.” 

Stephen Hawking is far from alone in his warnings 
against artificial intelligence. The physicist and artificial 
intelligence expert Steve Omohundro believes that “these 
[autonomous] systems are likely to behave in anti-social and 
harmful ways unless they are very carefully designed.” In 
Geneva in 2013, the United Nations held its first-ever 
convention on lethal autonomous weapons systems, or 
hunter-killer drones. Over four days, the 117-member 
coalition debated whether or not these kinds of robotic 
systems should be internationally outlawed. Testifying in 
front of the United Nations, Noel Sharkey, a _ world- 
renowned expert on robotics and artificial intelligence, said, 
“Weapons systems should not be allowed to autonomously 
select their own human targets and engage them with 
lethal force.” To coincide with the UN convention, Human 
Rights Watch and the Harvard Law School International 
Human Rights Clinic released a report called “Losing 
Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots.” 

“Fully autonomous weapons threaten to violate the 
foundational rights to life,” the authors wrote, because 
robotic killing machines “undermine the _ underlying 
principles of human dignity.” Stephen Goose, Arms Division 
director at Human Rights Watch, said, “Giving machines the 
power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would 
take technology too far.” 


In an interview for this book, Noel Sharkey relayed a list 
of potential robot errors he believes are far too serious to 
ignore, including “human-machine interaction failures, 
software coding errors, malfunctions, communication 
degradation, enemy cyber-attacks,” and more. “I believe 
there is a line that must not be crossed,” Sharkey says. 
“Robots should not be given the authority to kill humans.” 

Can the push to create hunter-killer robots be stopped? 
Steve Omohundro believes that “an autonomous weapons 
arms race is already taking place,” because “military and 
economic pressures are driving the rapid development of 
autonomous systems.” Stephen Hawking, Noel Sharkey, and 
Steve Omohundro are three among a growing population 
who believe that humanity is standing on a precipice. 
DARPA’s goal is to create and prevent strategic surprise. 
But what if the ultimate endgame is humanity’s loss? What 
if, in trying to stave off foreign military competitors, DARPA 
creates an unexpected competitor that becomes its own 
worst enemy? A mechanical rival born of powerful science 
with intelligence that quickly becomes superior to our own. 
An opponent that cannot be stopped, like a runaway train. 
What if the twenty-first century becomes the last time in 
history when humans have no real competition but other 
humans? 

In a world ruled by science and technology, it is not 
necessarily the fittest but rather the smartest that survive. 
DARPA program managers like to say that DARPA science is 
“science fact, not science fiction.” What happens when 
these two concepts fuse? 


CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX 


The Pentagon’s Brain 


In April 2014 I interviewed Charles H. Townes, the Nobel 


Prize-winning inventor of the laser. When we _ spoke, 
Professor Townes was just about to turn ninety-nine years 
old. Lucid and articulate, Townes was still keeping office 
hours at the University of California, Berkeley, still writing 
papers, and still granting reporters’ requests. I felt 
delighted to be interviewing him. 

Two things we discussed remain indelible. Charles 
Townes told me that once, long ago, he was sharing his idea 
for the laser with John von Neumann and that von 
Neumann told him his idea wouldn’t work. 

“What did you think about that?” I asked Townes. 

“If you’re going to do anything new,” he said, “you have 
to disregard criticism. Most people are against new ideas. 
They think, ‘If I didn’t think of it, it won’t work.’ Inevitably, 
people doubt you. You persevere anyway. That’s what you 
do.” And that was exactly what Charles Townes did. The 
laser is considered one of the most significant scientific 
inventions of the modern world. 

The second profound thing Charles Townes said to me, 
and I mentioned it earlier in this book, was that he was 
personally inspired to invent the laser after reading the 
science-fiction novel The Garin Death Ray, written by Alexei 
Tolstoi in 1926. It is remarkable to think how powerful a 


force science fiction can be. That fantastic, seemingly 
impossible ideas can inspire people like Charles Townes to 
invent things that totally transform the real world. 

This notion that science fiction can profoundly impact 
reality remains especially interesting to me because in 
researching and reporting this book, I learned that during 
the war on terror, the Pentagon began seeking ideas from 
science-fiction writers, most notably a civilian organization 
called the SIGMA group. Its founder, Dr. Arlan Andrews, 
says that the core idea behind forming the group was to 
save the world from terrorism, and to this end the SIGMA 
group started offering “futurism consulting” to the 
Pentagon and the White House. The group’s motto is 
“Science Fiction in the National Interest.” 

Those responsible for safeguarding the nation “need to 
think of crazy ideas,” says Dr. Andrews, and the SIGMA 
group helps the Pentagon in this effort, he says. “Many of us 
[in SIGMA] have earned Ph.D.’s in high tech fields, and 
some presently hold Federal and defense industry 
positions.” Andrews worked as a White House science 
officer under President George H. W. Bush, and before that 
at the nation’s nuclear weapons production facility, Sandia 
National Laboratories, in New Mexico. Of SIGMA members 
he says, “Each [of us] is an accomplished science fiction 
author who has postulated new technologies, new problems 
and new societies, explaining the possible science and 
speculating about the effects on the human race.” 

One of the SIGMA group members is Lieutenant Colonel 
Peter Garretson, a transformation strategist at the 
Pentagon. In the spring of 2014 Garretson arranged for me 
to come to the Pentagon with two colleagues, Chris Carter 
and Gale Anne Hurd. Chris Carter created The X-Files, one 
of the most popular science-fiction television dramas of all 
time. The X-Files character the Cigarette Smoking Man is a 
quintessential villain who lives at the center of government 
conspiracies. Gale Anne Hurd co-wrote The Terminator a 


science-fiction classic about a cyborg assassin sent back 
across time to save the world from a malevolent artificially 
intelligent machine called Skynet. In The Terminator, 
Skynet becomes smarter than the defense scientists who 
created it and initiates a nuclear war to achieve machine 
supremacy and rid the earth of humankind. 

Carter and Hurd have joined me on a reporting trip to 
the Pentagon not to offer any kind of futurism consulting 
but to listen, discuss, and observe. It’s a warm spring day in 
2014 when we arrive at the Pentagon. The five-sided, five- 
floored, 6.5-million-square-foot structure looms like a 
colossus. We pass through security and check in. Security 
protocols require that we are escorted everywhere we go, 
including the bathroom. We head into the Pentagon 
courtyard for lunch, with its lawn, tall trees, and wooden 
picnic tables. Garretson’s colleague Lieutenant Colonel 
Julian Chesnutt, with the Defense Intelligence Agency, 
Defense Clandestine Service, tells us a story about the 
building at the center of the Pentagon courtyard, which is 
now a food court but used to be a hot dog stand. Chesnutt 
explains that during the height of the Cold War, when 
satellite technology first came into being, Soviet analysts 
monitoring the Pentagon became convinced that the 
building was the entrance to an underground facility, like a 
nuclear missile silo. The analysts could find no other 
explanation as to why thousands of people entered and 
exited this tiny building, all day, every day. Apparently the 
Soviets never figured it out, and the hot dog stand 
remained a target throughout the Cold War—along with the 
rest of the Pentagon. It’s a great anecdote and makes one 
wonder what really is underneath the Pentagon, which is 
rumored to have multiple stories belowground. 

During lunch, seated at a long picnic table, we engage in 
a thought-provoking conversation with a group of Pentagon 
“future thinkers” about science fact and science fiction. 
These defense intellectuals, many of whom have Ph.D.s, 


come from various military services and range in age from 
their late twenties to early sixties. Some spent time in the 
war theater in Iraq, others in Afghanistan. The enthusiasm 
among these futurologists is palpable, their ideas are 
provocative, and their commitment to national security is 
unambiguous. These are among the brains at the Pentagon 
that make the future happen. 

After lunch we are taken to the E-Ring, home to the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense. The maze-like 
corridors buzz with fluorescent lighting as we pass through 
scores of security doors and travel up and down multiple 
flights of stairs. Finally, we arrive in the hallway outside the 
office of the secretary of defense. Hanging on the corridor 
walls are large life-sized oil portraits of the nation’s former 
defense secretaries. I see the five past secretaries of 
defense portrayed in this book. Neil McElroy asked 
Congress to approve the creation of DARPA, which he 
promised would steward America’s vast weapons systems of 
the future, and it has. Robert McNamara believed that 
intellect and systems analysis could win wars, and peopled 
the upper echelons of the Pentagon with whiz kids to 
accomplish this goal. Harold Brown, hydrogen bomb 
weapons engineer, became the first physicist secretary of 
defense and gave America its offset strategy—the ability of 
commanders to fight wars from a continent’s distance away. 
Dick Cheney demonstrated to the world that overwhelming 
force could accomplish certain goals. Donald Rumsfeld 
introduced the world to network-centric warfare. 

As we walk the corridors looking at artwork and 
photographs of weapons systems adorning the Pentagon’s 
walls, our group expands, as does the conversation about 
science fact and science fiction. One officer says he has a 
poster of the Cigarette Smoking Man hanging on his office 
wall. Another says that for an office social event, his defense 
group made baseball caps with Skynet written across the 
front. Science fiction is a powerful force. Because of the 


fictional work of Carter and Hurd, many sound-minded 
people take seriously at least two significant science-fiction 
concepts: that (as in The Terminator) artificially intelligent 
machines could potentially outsmart their human creators 
and start a nuclear war, and that (as in The X-Files) there 
are forces inside the government that keep certain truths 
secret. As a reporter, I have learned that these concepts 
also exist in the real world. Artificially intelligent hunter- 
killer robots present unparalleled potential dangers, and 
the U.S. government keeps dark secrets in the name of 
national security. I’ve also found that some of the most 
powerful Pentagon secrets and strategies are hidden in 
plain sight. 

The day after the Pentagon reporting trip, I went to see 
Michael Goldblatt, the man who pioneered many of DARPA’s 
super-soldier programs. Goldblatt, a scientist and venture 
Capitalist, ran DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office from 1999 
until 2004, and oversaw program efforts to create 
warfighters who are a mentally and physically superior 
breed. Goldblatt asked me to come to his home for our 
interview, and as a car took me from my hotel room in 
Pentagon City out to where Goldblatt lives in the suburbs, 
the trip took on the feel of an X-Files episode. Traveling 
through the woodsy environs of McLean, Virginia, down 
Dolley Madison Boulevard (Dolley’s husband, James 
Madison, called war the dreaded enemy of liberty), we 
passed by the entrance to CIA headquarters, Langley, and 
turned in to a nearby residential neighborhood. 

Inside his home, Michael Goldblatt and I discussed 
transhumanism, DARPA’s efforts to augment, or increase, 
the performance of warfighters with machines, 
pharmaceuticals, and other means. Under Goldblatt’s 
tenure, unclassified programs included Persistence in 
Combat, Mechanically Dominant Soldier, and Continually 
Assisted Performance. These programs focused on 
augmenting the physical body of warfighters, but today I 


am most interested in the DARPA programs that focus on 
augmenting the human brain. Not just the brains of brain- 
wounded warriors but those of healthy soldiers as well. 
DARPA calls this area of research Augmented Cognition, or 
AugCog. The concept of AugCog sits at the scientific 
frontier of human-machine interface, or what the Pentagon 
calls Human-Robot Interaction (HRI). In DARPA’s robo-rat 
and Manduca sexta moth programs, scientists created 
animal-machine biohybrids that are steerable by remote 
control. Through Augmented Cognition programs, DARPA is 
creating human-machine biohybrids, or what we might call 
cyborgs. 

DARPA has been researching brain-computer interfaces 
(BCI) since the 1970s, but it took twenty-first-century 
advances in nanobiotechnology for BCI to really break new 
ground. DARPA’s Aug-Cog efforts gained momentum during 
Goldblatt’s tenure. By 2004, DARPA’s stated goal was to 
develop “orders of magnitude increases in available, net- 
thinking power resulting from linked human-machine 
dyads.” In 2007, in a solicitation for new programs, DARPA 
stated, “Human brain activity must be integrated with 
technology.” Several unclassified programs came about as a 
result, including Cognitive Technology Threat Warning 
System (CT2WS) and Neurotechnology for Intelligence 
Analysts (NIA). Both programs use “non-invasive 
technology” to accelerate human capacity to detect targets. 
The CT2WS program was designed for soldiers looking for 
targets on the battlefield and for intelligence operatives 
conducting surveillance operations in hostile environments. 
The NIA was designed for imagery analysts looking for 
targets in satellite photographs. The program participants 
wear a  “wirelesss EEG _ [electroencephalography] 
acquisition cap,” also called a headset, which jolts their 
brains with electrical pulses to increase cognitive 
functioning. DARPA scientists have found that by using this 
“non-invasive, brain-computer interface,” they are able to 


accelerate human cognition exponentially, to make soldiers 
and spies think faster and more accurately. The problem, 
according to DARPA program managers, is that “these 
devices are often cumbersome to apply and unappealing to 
the user, given the wetness or residue that remains on the 
user’s scalp and hair following removal of the headset.” A 
brain implant would be far more effective. 

After Goldblatt left the agency, in scientific journals 
DARPA researchers identified a series of “groundbreaking 
advances” in “Man/Machine Systems.” In 2014 DARPA 
program managers stated that “the future of brain- 
computer interface technologies” depended on merging all 
the technologies of DARPA’s’ brain programs, the 
noninvasive and the invasive ones, specifically citing RAM, 
REPAIR, REMIND, and SUBNETS. Was DARPA conducting 
what were, in essence, intelligence, surveillance, and 
reconnaissance missions inside the human brain? Was this 
the long-sought information that would provide DARPA 
scientists with the key to artificial intelligence? “With 
respect to the President’s BRAIN initiative,” write DARPA 
program managers, “novel BCI [brain-computer interface] 
technologies are needed that not only extend what 
information can be extracted from the brain, but also who is 
able to conduct and participate in those studies.” 

For decades scientists have been trying to create 
artificially intelligent machines, without success. AI 
scientists keep hitting the same wall. To date, computers 
can only obey commands, following rules set forth by 
software algorithms. I wondered if the transhumanism 
programs that Michael Goldblatt pioneered at DARPA would 
allow the agency to tear down this wall. Were DARPA’s 
brain-computer interface programs the missing link? 

Goldblatt chuckled. He’d left DARPA a decade ago, he 
said. He could discuss only unclassified programs. But he 
pointed me in a revelatory direction. This came up when we 
were discussing the Jason scientists and a report they 


published in 2008. In this report, titled “Human 
Performance,” in a_ section called “Brain Computer 
Interface,” the Jasons addressed noninvasive interfaces 
including DARPA’s CT2WS and NIA programs. Using 
“electromagnetic signals to detect the combined activity of 
many millions of neurons and synapses” (in other words, 
the EEG cap) was effective in augmenting cognition, the 
Jasons noted, but the information gleaned was “noisy and 
degraded.” The more invasive programs would produce far 
more specific results, they observed, particularly programs 
in which “a micro-electrode array [is] implanted into the 
cortex with connections to a ‘feedthrough’ pedestal on the 
skull.” The Jason scientists wrote that these chip-in-the- 
brain programs would indeed substantially improve “the 
desired outcome,” which could allow “predictable, high 
quality brain-control to become a reality.” 

So there it was, hidden in plain sight. If DARPA could 
master “high quality brain-control,” the possibilities for 
man-machine systems and brain-computer interface would 
open wide. The wall would come down. The applications in 
hunter-killer drone warfare would potentially be unbridled. 
The brain chip was the missing link. 

But even the Jasons felt it was important to issue, along 
with this idea, a stern warning. “An adversary might use 
invasive interfaces in military applications,” they wrote. “An 
extreme example would be remote guidance or control of a 
human being.” And for this reason, the Jason scientists 
cautioned the Pentagon not to pursue this area, at least not 
without a serious ethics debate. “The brain machine 
interface excites the imagination in its potential (good and 
evil) application to modify human performance,” but it also 
raises questions regarding “potential for abuses in carrying 
out such research,” the Jasons wrote. In summary, the Jason 
scientists said that creating human cyborgs able to be 
brain-controlled was not something they would recommend. 

This warning echoed an earlier Jason warning, back 


during the Vietnam War, when Secretary of Defense Robert 
McNamara asked the Jasons to consider using nuclear 
weapons against the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Jasons studied 
the issue and concluded it was not something they could 
recommend. Using nuclear weapons in Vietnam would 
encourage the Vietcong to acquire nuclear weapons from 
their Soviet and Chinese benefactors and to use them, the 
Jasons warned. This would in turn encourage terrorists in 
the future to use nuclear weapons. 

In their 2008 study on augmented cognition and human 
performance, the Jason scientists also said they believed 
that the concept of brain control would ultimately fail 
because too many people in the military would have an 
ethical problem with it. “Such ethical considerations will 
appropriately limit the types of activities and applications in 
human performance modification that will be considered in 
the U.S. military,” they wrote. 

But in our discussion of the Jason scientists’ impact on 
DARPA, Goldblatt shook his head, indicating I was wrong. 

“The Jason scientists are hardly relevant anymore,” 
Goldblatt said. During his time at DARPA, and as of 2014, 
the “scientific advisory group with the most influence on 
DARPA,” he said, “is the DSB,” the Defense Science Board. 
The DSB has offices inside the Pentagon. And where the 
DSB finds problems, it is DARPA’s job to find solutions, 
Goldblatt explained. The DSB had recently studied man- 
machine systems, and it saw an entirely different set of 
problems related to human-robot interactions. 

In 2012, in between the two Pentagon roadmaps on 
drone warfare, “Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap 
FY 2011-2036” and “Unmanned Systems Integrated 
Roadmap FY 2013-2038,” the DSB delivered to the 
secretary of defense a 125-page report titled “The Role of 
Autonomy in DoD Systems.” The report unambiguously calls 
for the Pentagon to rapidly accelerate its development of 
artificially intelligent weapons systems. “The Task Force has 


concluded that, while currently fielded unmanned systems 
are making positive contributions across DoD operations, 
autonomy technology is being underutilized as a result of 
material obstacles within the Department that are 
inhibiting the broad acceptance of autonomy,” wrote DSB 
Chairman Paul Kaminski in a letter accompanying the 
report. 

The primary obstacle, said the DSB, was trust—much as 
the Jason scientists had predicted in their report. Many 
individuals in the military mistrusted the idea that coupling 
man and machine in an effort to create autonomous 
weapons systems was a good idea. The DSB found that 
resistance came from all echelons of the command 
structure, from field commanders to drone operators. “For 
commanders and operators in particular, these challenges 
can collectively be characterized as a lack of trust that the 
autonomous functions of a given system will operate as 
intended in all situations,” wrote the DSB. The overall 
problem was_ getting “commanders to _ trust that 
autonomous systems will not behave in a manner other than 
what is intended on the battlefield.” 

Maybe the commanders had watched too many X-Files 
episodes or seen any of the Terminator films one too many 
times. Or maybe they read Department of Defense Directive 
3000.09, which discusses “the probability and 
consequences of failure in autonomous and semi-automatic 
weapons systems that could lead to unintended 
engagements.” Or maybe commanders and operators want 
to remain men (and women), not become cyborg man- 
machines. But unlike the Jason scientists, the Defense 
Science Board advised the Pentagon to accelerate its efforts 
to change this attitude—to persuade commanders, 
operators, and warfighters to accept, and to trust, human- 
robot interaction. 

“An area of HRI [human-robot interaction] that has 
received significant attention is robot ethics,” wrote the 


DSB. This effort, which involved internal debates on robot 
ethics, was supposed to foster trust between military 
personnel and robotic systems, the DSB noted. Instead it 
backfired. “While theoretically interesting, this debate on 
functional morality has had unfortunate consequences. It 
increased distrust in unmanned systems because it implies 
that robots will not act with bounded rationality.” The DSB 
advised that this attitude of distrust needed to change. 

Perhaps it’s no surprise that DARPA has a program on 
how to manipulate trust. During the war on terror, the 
agency began working with the CIA’s own DARPA-like 
division, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects 
Agency, or IARPA, on what it calls Narrative Networks (N2), 
to “develop techniques to quantify the effect of narrative on 
human cognition.” One scientist leading this effort, Dr. Paul 
Zak, insists that what DARPA and the CIA are doing with 
trust is a good thing. “We would all benefit if the 
government focused more on trusting people,” Zak told me 
in the fall of 2014, when I visited his laboratory at 
Claremont Graduate University in California. When I asked 
Zak if the DARPA research he was involved in was more 
likely being used to manipulate trust, Zak said he had no 
reason to believe that was correct. 

Paul Zak is a leader in the field of neuroeconomics and 
morality, a field that studies the neurochemical roots of 
making economic decisions based on trust. Zak has a Ph.D. 
in economics and postdoctoral training, in neuroimaging, 
from Harvard. In 2004 he made what he describes as a 
groundbreaking and life-changing discovery. “I discovered 
the brain’s moral molecule,” Zak says, “the chemical in the 
brain, called oxytocin, that allows man to make moral 
decisions [and that] morality is tied to trust.” In no time, 
says Zak, “all kinds of people from DARPA were asking me, 
‘How do we get some of this?’” Zak also fielded interest 
from the CIA. For DARPA’s Narrative Networks program, 
Zak has been developing a method to measure how 


people’s brains and bodies respond when oxytocin, i.e., 
“The brain’s moral molecule,” is released naturally. 

Researchers at the University of Bonn, not affiliated with 
DARPA, have taken a different approach with their studies 
of oxytocin. In December 2014, these researchers 
published a study on how the chemical can be used to 
“erase fear.” Lead researcher Monika Eckstein told 
Scientific American that her goal in the study was to 
administer oxytocin into the noses of sixty-two men, in 
hopes that their fear would dissipate. “And for the most part 
it did,” she said. A time might not be too far off when we live 
in a world in which fear can be erased. 


Why is the Defense Science Board so focused on pushing 
robotic warfare on the Pentagon? Why force military 
personnel to learn to “trust” robots and to rely on 
autonomous robots in future warfare? Why is the erasure of 
fear a federal investment? The answer to it all, to every 
question in this book, lies at the heart of the military- 
industrial complex. 

Unlike the Jason scientists, the majority of whom were 
part-time defense scientists and _ full-time university 
professors, the majority of DSB members are defense 
contractors. DSB chairman Paul Kaminski, who also served 
on President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board from 
2009 to 2013, is a director of General Dynamics, chairman 
of the board of the RAND Corporation, chairman of the 
board of HRL (the former Hughes Research Labs), 
chairman of the board of Exostar, chairman and CEO of 
Technovation, Inc., trustee and advisor to the Johns Hopkins 
Applied Physics Lab, and trustee and advisor to MIT’s 
Lincoln Laboratory—all companies and corporations that 
build robotic weapons systems for DARPA and for the 
Pentagon. Kaminski, who also serves as a paid consultant to 
the Office of the Secretary of Defense, is but one example. 


Kaminski’s fellow DSB members, a total of roughly fifty 
persons, serve on the boards of defense contracting giants 
including Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop 
Grumman, Bechtel, Aerospace Corporation, Texas 
Instruments, IBM, Lawrence’ Livermore National 
Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and others. 

One might look at DARPA’s history and say that part of its 
role—even its entire role—is to maintain a U.S. advantage in 
military technology, in perpetuity. Former DARPA director 
Eberhardt Rechtin clearly stated this conundrum of 
advanced technology warfare when he told Congress, back 
in 1970, that it was necessary to accept the “chicken-and- 
egg problem” that DARPA will always face. That the agency 
must forever conduct “pre-requirement research,” because 
by the time a technological need arises on the battlefield, it 
becomes apparent, too late, that the research should 
already have been done. DARPA’s contractors are vital parts 
of a system that allows the Pentagon to stay ahead of its 
needs, and to steer revolutions in military affairs. To 
dominate in future battles, never to be caught off guard. 

One might also look at DARPA’s history, and its future, 
and say that it’s possible at some point that the technology 
may itself outstrip DARPA as it is unleashed into the world. 
This is a grave concern of many esteemed scientists and 
engineers. 

A question to ask might be, how close to the line can we 
get and still control what we create? 

Another question might be, how much of the race for this 
technological upper hand is now based in the reality that 
corporations are very much invested in keeping DARPA’s 
“chicken-and-egg” conundrum alive? 

This is what President Eisenhower warned Americans to 
fear when he spoke of the perils of the military-industrial 
complex in his farewell speech in January 1961. “We have 
been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry 
of vast proportions,” the president said. 


In the years since, the armaments industry has only 
grown bigger by the decade. If DARPA is the Pentagon’s 
brain, defense contractors are its beating heart. President 
Eisenhower said that the only way Americans could keep 
defense contractors in check was through knowledge. “Only 
an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the 
proper meshing of the huge industrial and military 
machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, 
so that security and liberty may prosper together.” 

Anything less, and civilians cede control of their own 
destiny. 

The programs written about in this book are all 
unclassified. DARPA’s highest-risk, highest-payoff programs 
remain secret until they are unveiled on the battlefield. 
Given how far along DARPA is in its quest for hunter-killer 
robots, and for a way to couple man with machine, perhaps 
the most urgent question of all might be whether civilians 
already have. 

Can military technology be stopped? Should it be? 
DARPA’s original autonomous robot designs were developed 
as part of DARPA’s Smart Weapons Program decades ago, in 
1983. The program was called “Killer Robots” and its motto 
offered prescient words: “The battlefield is no place for 
human beings.” 

This book begins with scientists testing a weapon that at 
least some of them believed was an “evil thing.” In creating 
the hydrogen bomb, scientists engineered a weapon against 
which there is no defense. With regard to the thousands of 
hydrogen bombs in existence today, the mighty U.S. military 
relies on wishful optimism—hope that the civilization- 
destroyer is never unleashed. 

This book ends with scientists inside the Pentagon 
working to create autonomous weapons systems, and with 
scientists outside the Pentagon working to spread the idea 
that these weapons systems are inherently evil things, that 
artificially intelligent hunter-killer robots can and will 


outsmart their human creators, and against which there 
will be no defense. 

There is a perilous distinction to call attention to: when 
the hydrogen bomb was being engineered, the military- 
industrial complex—led by defense contractors, academics, 
and industrialists—was just beginning to exert considerable 
control over the Pentagon. Today that control is omnipotent. 

Another difference between the creation of the hydrogen 
bomb in the early 1950s and the accelerating development 
of hunter-killer robots today is that the decision to engineer 
the hydrogen bomb was made in secret and the decision to 
accelerate hunter-killer robots, while not widely known, is 
not secret. In that sense, destiny is being decided right now. 





The 15-megaton Castle Bravo thermonuclear bomb, exploded in the Marshall 
Islands in 1954, was the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated by the United 
States. If unleashed on the eastern seaboard today it would kill roughly 20 
million people. With this weapon, authorized to proceed in secret, came the 
certainty of the military-industrial complex and the birth of DARPA. (U.S. 
Department of Energy) 





An elite group of weapons engineers rode out the Castle Bravo thermonuclear 
explosion from inside this bunker, code-named Station 70, just nineteen miles 
from ground zero. (The National Archives at Riverside) 





In the 1950s, John von Neumann—mathematician, physicist, game theorist, 
and inventor—was the superstar defense scientist. No one could compete with 
his brain. (U.S. Department of Energy) 





Rivalry spawns supremacy, and in the early 1950s, a second national nuclear 
weapons laboratory was created to foster competition with Los Alamos. Ernest 
O. Lawrence (left) and Edward Teller (center) cofounded the Lawrence 
Livermore National Laboratory. Herb York (right) served as first director. In 
1958, York became scientific director of the brand new Advanced Research 
Project Agency (ARPA), later renamed DARPA. (Lawrence Livermore National 
Laboratory) 





In his farewell address to the nation in January, 1961, President Eisenhower 
warned the American people about the “total influence” of the military- 
industrial complex. The warning was a decade too late. (Dwight D. 
Eisenhower Presidential Library) 





Edward Teller and Herb York—shown here with Livermore colleague Luis 
Alvarez—envisioned a 10,000-megaton nuclear weapon designed to decimate 
and depopulate much of the Soviet Union. (Lawrence Livermore National 
Laboratory) 





ee! 


Harold Brown was twenty-four years old when he was put in charge of 
thermo-nuclear bomb work at Livermore. He followed Herb York to the 
Pentagon and oversaw ARPA weapons programs during the Vietnam War. In 
1977, Harold Brown became the first scientist to be secretary of defense. 
(U.S. Department of Defense) 





Physicist and presidential science advisor Marvin “Murph” Goldberger 
cofounded the Jason advisory group in 1959, paid for solely by ARPA until the 
end of the Vietnam War. The Jasons, still at work today, are considered the 
most influential and secretive defense scientists in America. Photographed 
here in his home, age 90 in 2013, Goldberger examines a photo of himself 
and President Johnson. (Author’s collection) 





Senator John F. Kennedy visiting Senator Lyndon B. Johnson at the LBJ ranch 
in Texas. Each man, as President, would personally authorize some of the 
most controversial ARPA weapons programs of the Vietnam War. (Lyndon B. 
Johnson Presidential Library, photo by Frank Muto) 





In 1961 Kennedy sent Johnson to Vietnam to encourage South Vietnamese 
President Ngo Dinh Diem to sign off on ARPA’s weapons lab in Saigon. In this 
photograph are (roughly front to back) Ngo Dinh Diem, Lady Bird Johnson, 
Madame Nhu, Lyndon Johnson, Nguyen Ngoc Tho, Jean Kennedy Smith, 
Stephen Smith, and Ngo Dinh Nhu, the head of the secret police. In 1963, 
Diem and Nhu were murdered in a White House-approved coup d’état. 
(Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, photo by Republic of Vietnam) 





President Diem’s small-in-stature army had difficulty handling large, semi- 
automatic weapons carried by U.S. military advisors in Vietnam. ARPA’s 
William Godel cut through red tape and sent 1,000 AR-15 rifles to Saigon. In 
1966 the weapon was adapted for fully automatic fire and re-designated the 
M16 assault rifle. “One measure of the weapon’s success is that it is still in 
use across the world,” says DARPA. (NARA, photo by Dennis Kurpius) 





The use of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange was an ARPA-devised scheme. 
“Your decision is required because this is a kind of chemical warfare,” advisor 
Walt Rostow told President Kennedy, who signed off on the program in 1961. 
In 2012 Congress determined that between 2.1 million and 4.8 million 
Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange with the number of U.S. 
veterans remaining the subject of debate. (NARA, photo by Bryan K. Grigsby) 





Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara explains the situation in Vietnam, 
during a Pentagon press conference in February 1965. Many of today’s 
advanced technology weapons systems were developed by ARPA during the 
Vietnam War. (U.S. Department of Defense) 





In 1965, the Jason scientists studied the use of tactical nuclear weapons in 
Vietnam to close off supply routes on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. (U.S. Army) 





The Jason scientists were the brains behind McNamara’s electronic fence, a 
system of advanced sensors designed to detect Viet Cong trail traffic. Initially 
ridiculed and later embraced, DARPA advanced the concept into Combat 
Zones That See. In this photo, an Air Delivered Seismic Intrusion Detector 
(ADSID) sensor is about to be dropped on the trail, near Khe Sanh. (U.S. Air 
Force) 





No amount of technology could stop Vietnam War protesters from gaining 
control of the war narrative. (Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, photo by 
Frank Wolfe) 





As the seventeenth secretary of defense Richard “Dick” B. Cheney oversaw 
the Gulf War in Irag, which put decades of DARPA’s advanced weapons 
technology on display. (Office of the Secretary of Defense) 





Students train in an M1 Abrams tank SIMNET simulator, the brainchild of 
DARPA’s Jack Thorpe. (U.S. Department of Defense) 





A staff sergeant armed with an M16A2 assault rifle maintains security over an 
F-117 stealth fighter, during refueling. (U.S. Department of Defense) 





The superiority of U.S. weapons technology used in the Gulf War is made 
evident along Iraq’s Highway 80, or “Highway of Death.” (U.S. Department of 
Defense, Tech Sgt. Joe Coleman) 





A U.S. Marine helicopter flies over a residential area in Mogadishu, Somalia, 
in 1992. The following year, the Battle of Mogadishu caused DARPA to rethink 
what future weapons systems would be needed for urban combat. (U.S. 
Department of Defense, Tech Sgt. Perry Heimer) 





An early 1990s model of what the Pentagon thought an urban combat 
scenario might look like, seen here at the Military Operations in Urban 
Terrain (MOUT) training center. But combat zones like Mogadishu, Fallujah, 
and Kabul look nothing like this. (U.S. Department of Defense, Visual 
Information Center) 





Retired Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter, known for his role in the Iran-Contra 
affair, served as director of DARPA’s Information Awareness Office, starting in 
2001. Allegedly shut down, many electronic surveillance programs were 
transferred to NSA. (NARA) 





President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the 
western face of the Pentagon, the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (U.S. 
Department of Defense, photo by R. D. Ward) 





U.S. and coalition flags fly outside Saddam Hussein’s former Al Faw Palace, 


taken over by U.S. military and renamed Camp Victory, Iraq. Master Sergeant 
Craig Marsh lived here and oversaw the efforts of bomb disposal (EOD) 
technicians and DARPA robots. (U.S. Department of Defense, photo by Staff 
Sgt. Caleb Barrieau) 





DARPA’s Talon robot approaches a deadly improvised explosive device (IED) in 
Rajah, Iraq. (U.S. Army, photo by Specialist Jeffrey Sandstrum) 





A micro air vehicle (MAV) prepares for its first combat mission in Iraq, in 
2005. Many of DARPA’s advanced MAV’s are now small enough to fit in the 
palm of the hand. (U.S. Department of Defense, photo by Sgt. Doug Roles) 





The seven-ounce Wasp drone, part of DARPA’s Combat Zones That See, 
gathers real-time video and works in a swarm. (U.S. Department of Defense) 





Vice President Cheney, his wife, and their daughter are greeted by General 


David Petraeus in Baghdad, in 2008. Petraeus wrote the first U.S. Army 
counter-insurgency manual since Vietnam and supported the DARPA-born 
Human Terrain System program which focused on winning “the hearts, minds, 
and acquiescence of the population.” (U.S. Department of Defense, photo by 
Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen) 





The Predator drone inside a hangar at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, in 
2009. (Author’s collection) 





The charred alley in Chehel Gazi, Afghanistan, where Human Terrain Team 
member Paula Loyd was set on fire by an emissary of the Taliban. (USA 
Criminal Investigation Command) 





DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar and Marine Corps Commandant General 


James F. Amos pose with DARPA’s LS3 land robot, designed to carry heavy 
equipment over rugged terrain, in 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps, photo by Sgt. 
Mallory S. VanderSchans) 





An armored truck with an assault rifle mounted on top keeps guard outside 


the Los Alamos National Laboratory where Dr. Garrett Kenyon and his team 
work on artificial intelligence for DARPA. (Author’s collection) 





When the IBM Roadrunner supercomputer was built for Los Alamos, in 2008, 
it was the fastest computer in the world, able to perform 1 million billion 
calculations per second. By 2013, advances in chip technology rendered it 

obsolete. In 2014, part of what remains of Roadrunner is used to power 
DARPA’s artificial intelligence project. (Los Alamos National Laboratory) 





The DARPA Modular Prosthetic Limb. The work advances robotics but is it 
helping warfighters who lost limbs? (U.S. Department of Defense, courtesy of 
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory) 





DARPA’s Atlas robot is a high-mobility humanoid robot built by Boston 
Dynamics. Its “articulated sensor head” has stereo cameras and a laser range 
finder. (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) 





Allen Macy Dulles and his sister, Joan Dulles Talley. A brain injury during the 
Korean War, in 1952, made it impossible for Dulles to record new memories. 
DARPA’s brain prosthetics program alleges to help brain-wounded warriors 

like Dulles, but program details remain highly classified. (Author’s collection) 





The Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System, or MAARS robot kills human 
targets from almost two miles away. MAARS robots have motion detectors, 
acoustic sensors, siren and speaker systems, non-lethal laser dazzlers, less- 
than-lethal grenades, and encryption technology to make the robotic killer 
“extremely safe and tamper proof,” says DARPA. (U.S. Army) 





DARPA Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, bears no identifying signs and 


maintains a “force protection environment,” for security purposes. (Author’s 


collection) 





The Pentagon. (U.S. Department of Defense, photo by Senior Airman Perry 
Aston) 


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 


The Pentagon’s Brain begins in 1954 with defense scientists 
who worked on the hydrogen bomb and ends in 2015 with 
defense scientists who work on robots, cyborgs, and 
biohybrids. In researching a book about extreme science, 
one very human nonscientific story stands out. Richard 
“Rip” Jacobs shared it with me during an interview. Jacobs 
was a member of the VO-67 Navy squadron whose job it 
was to lay down military sensors on the Ho Chi Minh Trail 
during the Vietnam War. I write about the experiences of 
Jacobs and his fellow airmen from Crew Seven earlier in 
this book; they were shot down over enemy territory on 
February 27, 1968. Two were killed, the rest of them— 
somewhat miraculously—survived. 

Forty-two years later, in 2010, sixty-six-year-old Rip 
Jacobs had just finished playing golf and was walking back 
to his car, parked in the Lake Hefner Golf Club parking lot 
in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, when he spotted a bumper 
sticker on a nearby car. In an instant, billions of neurons 
fired in his brain as memory flooded back. The bumper 
sticker contained the logo of the Jolly Green Giants, the 
helicopter search and rescue squadrons from the Vietnam 
War. 

Rip Jacobs stared at the image. As his neurons sparked 
he remembered being tangled up in a tree in the jungle 
canopy over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, forty-two years earlier. 
After parachuting out of a crashing aircraft, Jacobs had 
landed in the trees with his parachute’s lanyards wrapped 
around him in a way that made it impossible for him to 


wriggle free. Everything hurt. He was covered in blood. 
Immobile, and with his senses heightened, he remembered 
hearing the dreaded sounds of small arms fire on the 
ground as Vietcong searched for him. In his memory, Rip 
Jacobs recalled the internal panic he felt decades before 
over whether or not he’d set off his locator button. If he 
had, there was a chance that a Jolly Green helicopter might 
be able to locate and rescue him. If he hadn’t, surely he’d 
die. And then he remembered hearing the whap-whap- 
whap of the Jolly Green helicopter blades and knowing that 
his fellow Americans were coming to rescue him. Forty-two 
years had passed, but as Rip Jacobs stood there in the golf 
club parking lot, he could almost see the little seat come out 
of the helicopter, see the two arms that reached out for him 
back on February 27, 1968. Then the memory was gone. 

“IT found a pen and paper and I left a note on the 
windshield of the car,” Rip Jacobs recalls. “In the note I said 
something like, ‘if you know anything about the Jolly Green 
Giants in Vietnam, please call me.’ I signed my name.” 

That night the phone rang. 

The person on the telephone line introduced himself as 
Chief Master Sergeant Clarence Robert Boles Jr. “He said 
he was eighty-six years old,” Jacobs remembers. “He said 
I’d left a note on his car.” 

Rip Jacobs asked Clarence Boles if he knew anything 
about the Jolly Greens in Vietnam. Boles said, “I was with 
one of the Jolly Greens working out of Nakhon Phanom, 
Thailand.” Then Boles said something astounding. “In fact,” 
Bole said, “I recognize your name. I was the guy that 
rescued you out of that tree.” 

How could that be? 

Clarence Boles drove over to Rip Jacobs’s house. The 
local television news channel came too. The reporters 
filmed a segment on the amazing, chance reunion of the 
two former Vietnam veterans, after forty-two years. Back 
during the Vietnam War, when Rip Jacobs was in the rescue 


helicopter, after Boles had cut his parachute lanyards with 
his knife, Jacobs never said a word. He was in shock. But 
Clarence Boles kept a list of the names of every person his 
Jolly Green team rescued that day and all the other days. 
And for decades, Boles had been telling the story of the 
person he’d rescued from the tree. Boles never imagined 
he’d meet the man he rescued again and he didn’t 
particularly feel the need to search him out. It was a story 
from the past, a moment in a war. The incident in the golf 
club parking lot was an astonishing coincidence that 
brought the two men together again. And to think that they 
were living in nearby towns in Oklahoma, just a few dozen 
miles away from each other. 

How could that be? It’s hard to explain some things. Not 
every answer is found in science. Some of the most 
mysterious and powerful puzzles are simply about being 
human. 

Researching and reporting this book required the 
assistance of many individuals who generously shared their 
wisdom and experiences with me. I wish to thank all the 
scientists, engineers, government officials, defense 
contractors, academics, soldiers, sailors, and warfighters 
who spoke to me on the record and all those who spoke on 
background and asked not to be named. I thank Joan Dulles 
Talley, Murph Goldberger, and Michael Goldblatt for 
allowing me to interview them in their homes. Thank you 
Garrett Kenyon, Paul Zak, Sue Bryant, and David Gardiner 
for inviting me into their laboratories. I thank Peter 
Garretson for arranging for Gale Anne Hurd, Chris Carter, 
Dori Carter, and me to come to the Pentagon. Thanks to 
David A. Bray for inviting the four of us to join his group for 
Chinese food. Thank you Fred Hareland for taking me to 
China Lake, Damon Northrop for showing me around 
SpaceX, and Robert Lowell for the visit to JPL. Thank you 
Dr. Steve Bein for your generosity with the introductions. I 
thank Finn Aaserud for compiling the Jason scientists’ oral 


histories in the 1980s; this book benefited greatly as a 
result. And thank you Richard Van Atta for taking the time 
to speak with me and for stewarding so much of the 
historical record on DARPA over the past several decades. 

At the National Archives and Records Administration, 
College Park, MD, I would like to thank Richard Peuser, 
David Fort, and Eric Van Slander. At the National Archives 
at Riverside, thank you Matthew Law and Aaron Prah. 
Thank you Aaron Graves, Major Eric D. Badger, and Sue 
Gough in the Office of the Secretary of Defense; Thomas D. 
Kunkle and Kevin Neil Roark, Los Alamos National 
Laboratory; Karen Laney, National Nuclear Security 
Administration; Byron Ristvet, Defense Threat Reduction 
Agency; Christopher Banks, LBJ Library; Eric J. 
Butterbaugh, DARPA Public Affairs; Robert Hoback, U.S. 
Secret Service; Chris Grey, USA Criminal Investigation 
Command (CID), Quantico, VA; Pamela Patterson, Lawrence 
Berkeley National Laboratory. 

I am most grateful to the team. Thank you John Parsley, 
Jim Hornfischer, Steve Younger, Tiffany Ward, Nicole Dewey, 
Liz Garriga, Malin von Euler-Hogan, Morgan Moroney, 
Heather Fain, Michael Noon, Amanda Heller, and Allison 
Warner. Thank you Alice and Tom Soininen, Kathleen and 
Geoffrey Silver, Rio and Frank Morse, Marion Wroldsen, 
Keith Rogers, and John Zagata. And my fellow writers from 
group: Kirston Mann, Sabrina Weill, Michelle Fiordaliso, 
Nicole Lucas Haimes, and Annette Murphy. 

The only thing that makes me happier than finishing a 
book is the daily joy I get from Kevin, Finley, and Jett. You 
guys are my best friends. 


ALSO BY ANNIE JACOBSEN 


Operation Paperclip 
Area 51 


NOTES 


Abbreviations Used in Notes 


ARCHIVES 


CIA Central Intelligence Agency Library, digital collection 

DSOH_ U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, digital collection 
Geisel Geisel Library, University of California, San Diego, CA 

JFK John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, MA 
LANL Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library, Los Alamos, NM 
LOC Library of Congress, Washington, DC 

NACP National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, MD 
NAR _ National Archives and Records Administration at Riverside, CA 


UCSB American Presidency Project, University of California, Santa Barbara, 
CA 


VO67A VO-67 Association, Navy Observation Squadron Sixty-Seven, digital 
collection 


GOVERNMENT AGENCIES & AFFILIATES 


ARPA Advanced Research Projects Agency 

DARPA Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency 
DNA Defense Nuclear Agency 

GAO General Accounting Office 


IDA Institute for Defense Analyses 


Prologue 


1 DARPA as an agency: Inspector general’s report, 
“Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Ethics 
Program Met Federal Government Standards,” January 
24, 2013; “Breakthrough Technologies for National 
Security,” DARPA 2015. 

2 “We are faced”: DARPA press release,“President’s 
Budget Request for DARPA Aims to Fund Promising 
Ideas, Help Regain Prior Levels,” March 5, 2014. 

3 eighty-seven nations: Interview with Noel Sharkey, 
August 2013. 


Chapter One The Evil Thing 


1 “an evil thing”: “Minority report,” General Advisory 
Committee, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, October 
30, 1949, LANL. 

2 facing an unknown fate: Eyewitness information is from 
interviews with Alfred O’Donnell, 2009-2013; 
interviews with Jim Freedman, 2009-2011. See also 
O’Keefe, Nuclear Hostages; Ogle, Daily Diary, 1954, 
LANL; DNA, Castle Series 1954, LANL. 

3 miniaturized: Principles of the hydrogen bomb were 
demonstrated two years earlier with Ivy Mike, which 
was the size of a small factory and weighed eighty-two 
tons. 

4 buried under ten feet of sand: Holmes and Narver 
photographs, W-102-5, RG 326, Atomic Energy 
Commission, NAR. 

9 scientists running this secret operation: Ogle, Daily 
Diary, 1954, 95-99, LANL. 

6 “In the bunker”: Quotes are from O’Keefe, 166, 173- 
L735; 

7 Out at sea: Quotes are from interview with Jim 
Freedman; See also Castle Series 1954, 123. 

8 largest-ever nuclear fireball: Memorandum to Dr. John 
von Neumann from Lt. Col. N. M. Lulejian, February 23, 
1955, LANL; In time, the Soviets’ Tsar Bomba would be 
larger. 

9 weather station: Hansen, Swords of Armageddon, IV- 
285. 

10 No one had any idea: Joint Task Force Seven, 
Operation Castle, 46-61. 
11 wind direction: “The Effects of Castle Detonations 


Upon the Weather,” Task Force Weather Central, 
Special Report, October 1954, 3-7, LANL; Hansen, 
Swords of Armageddon, IV-289-290. 

12 “The explosion”: Quotes are from O’Keefe, Nuclear 
Hostages, 178. 

13 scientist in charge: John C. Clark, “We Were Trapped 
by Radioactive Fallout,” Saturday Evening Post, July 20, 
1957. 

14 mystical apparition: Lapp, 28. 

15 unprecedented destruction: Castle Series 1954, 182- 
185. It would take Atomic Energy Commission 
historians thirty-four years to acknowledge that 
technical success was a veil and “just behind it were the 
frightening problems—some that threatened human 
existence itself.” 

16 news blackout: Memorandum from Brigadier General 
K. E. Fields to Alvin Graves, March 4, 1954, LANL. 

17 “very inconsequential”: Dwight D. Eisenhower, “The 
President’s News Conference,” March 10, 1954, UCSB. 

18 “routine atomic test”: Memorandum from Brigadier 
General K. E. Fields, director of Military Application, 
USAEC to CJTF 7, March 15, 1954, LANL; Hansen, 
Swords of Armageddon, IV-298. 

19 fallout pattern: RG 326 Atomic Energy Commission, 
“Distance From GZ, Statute Miles, Off-site dose rate 
contours in r/hr at H+1 hour,” Document 410526, 
figures 148-150, NAR. 

20 roentgens: Hewlett and Holl, 182. 

21 “exterminating civilian populations”: Memorandum, 
General Advisory Committee, October 25, 1949, LANL. 
Secrecy elements are discussed in York, Advisors, 51. 

22 fierce competition: “Race for the Superbomb,” 
American Experience, PBS, January 1999. 


23 “We must know more”: Quotes are from York, Advisors, 
60-65. 

24 “taking profit out of war”: Ernest Lawrence, transcript, 
Bohemian Club Speech, February 8, 1951, York Papers, 
Geisel. 

25 “horse laughs”: York, Advisors, 134. 

26 Castle series: Ogle, Daily Diary, 1954, LANL. A total of 
22.5 megatons would be detonated. 

27 “weapons obsolete”: Minutes, Forty-first Meeting of 
the General Advisory Committee (GAC), U.S. Atomic 
Energy Commission, July 12-15, 1954, 12-24, LANL; 
Fehner and Gosling, 116. 

28 only surviving record: Ibid. 

29 “quantitative advantage”: York, Making Weapons, 77. 


Chapter Two War Games and Computing Machines 


1 U.S. Air Force brawn: Abella, photographs, 
(unpaginated). 

2 game pieces scattered: Leonard, 339. 

3 “credibility”: York, Making Weapons, 89. 

4 remarkable child prodigy: S. Bochner, John Von 
Neumann, 1903-1957, National Academy of Sciences, 
442-450. 

5 “unsolved problem”: P. R. Halmos, “The Legend of John 
Von Neumann,” Mathematical Association of America, 
Vol. 80, No. 4, April 1973, 386. 

6 “He was pleasant”: York, Making Weapons, 89. 

7 “I think”: Kaplan, Wizards of Armageddon, 63. 

8 “all-out atomic war”: Whitman, 52. 

9 maximum kill rate: “Citation to Accompany the Award 
of the Medal of Merit to Dr. John von Neumann,” 
October 1946, Von Neumann Papers, LOC. 

10 “a mentally superhuman race”: Dyson, Turing’s 
Cathedral, 45. 

11 Prisoner’s Dilemma: Poundstone, 8-9, 103-106. 

12 something unexpected: Abella, 55-56; Poundstone, 
121-123. 

13 “How can you persuade”: McCullough, 758. 

14 Goldstine explained: Information on Goldstine comes 
from Jon Edwards, “A History of Early Computing at 
Princeton,” Princeton Alumni Weekly, August 27, 2012. 

15 von Neumann declared: Dyson, Turing’s Cathedral, 73. 

16 “Our universe”: George Dyson, “‘An Artificially Created 
Universe’: The Electronic Computer Project at IAS,” 
Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (Spring 2012), 
8-9. 


17 secured funding: Maynard, “Daybreak of the Digital 
Age,” Princeton Alumni Weekly, April 4, 2012. 

18 he erred: Jon Edwards, “A History of Early Computing 
at Princeton,” Princeton Alumni Weekly, August 27, 
2012, 4. 

19 Wohlstetter’s famous theory: Wohlstetter, “The 
Delicate Balance of Terror,” 1-12. 

20 Debris: Descriptions of shock wave and blast effects 
are described in Garrison, 23-29. 

21 Georg Rickhey: Information on Rickhey comes from 
Bundesarchiv Ludwigsburg and RG 330 JIOA Foreign 
Scientist Case Files, NACP. See also Jacobsen, 
Operation Paperclip, 252. 

22 a hospital, chapel, barbershop: Interview with Dr. 
Leonard Kreisler, March 2012. Kreisler was the post 
doctor at Raven Rock. 

23 “land of the blind”: Keeney, 19. 

24 the senators had questions: For testimony from the 
hearings, see U.S. Senate Committee, Hearings Before 
the Subcommittee on Civil Defense of the Committee 
on Armed Services, 119-21. 

25 speck of plutonium: Dyson, Turing’s Cathedral, 
podcast. 

26 “Johnny was”: York, Making Weapons, 96-97. 

27 He theorizes: John von Neumann, “The Computer and 
the Brain,” 60, 74. 


Chapter Three Vast Weapons Systems of the Future 


1 “successful satellite”: Details of this incident are from 
Brzezinski, 164-165. 

2 “portrays a United States”: Cited in “Missile and 
Satellite Hearings.” CQ Almanac 1958, 14th ed., 11- 
669-11-671. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 
1959. The actual title was “Deterrence & Survival in 
the Nuclear Age,” York Papers, Geisel. 

3 national hysteria: DARPA: 50 Years of Bridging the 
Gap, 20. 

4 presidential research committee: Gaither had to 
withdraw because of illness in September 1957. 

5 “The issue”: For this account, see York, Making 
Weapons, 98. 

6 Russians were not preparing: Interview with Hervey 
Stockman, August 2009; Jacobsen, Area 51, 86-89. 

7 in error: Allen Dulles, “Memorandum from the Director 
of Central Intelligence to the Executive Secretary of the 
National Security Council,” December 24, 1957, CIA. 
According to Dulles, the CIA's information was “far 
more detailed than that contained in the Gaither report 
itself.” 

8 “Soap operas sell”: Hafner and Lyon, 14. 

9 He proposed: McElroy wanted to create the agency 
without authorization from Congress. He first ran the 
idea by his general counsel, who informed him that he 
did not have the authority to create such an agency. As 
per the National Security Act of 1947, McElroy would 
have to notify the chairman of the Armed Services 
Committee and present him with a proposal. 

10 “vast weapons systems”: House Subcommittee on 


Department of Defense Appropriations, The Ballistic 
Missile Program, Hearings, 85th Cong,., 1st sess., 
November 20-21, 1957, 7. 

11 “the new dimension”: Quotes and information in this 
section are from The Advanced Research Projects 
Agency, 1958-1974, Richard J. Barber Associates, 
December 1975 (hereafter Barber), II-1-22, located in 
York Papers, Geisel. 

12 their service’s domain: Aviation Week, February 3, 
1958. 

13 State of the Union: Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Annual 
Message to the Congress on the State of the Union,” 
January 9, 1958, UCSB. 

14 unpublished history: Barber, II-10-25. 

15 grandfather made caskets: General Biographical 
History, Notes, Series 1: biographical materials, York 
Papers, Geisel. 

16 “From the earliest times”: York, Making Weapons, 7. 
17 “I made my way with difficulty”: General Biographical 
History, Notes, Series 1: biographical materials, York 

Papers, Geisel. 

18 von Braun’s 113 German colleagues: Jacobsen, 
Operation Paperclip, 16-17, 88, 95-96. 

19 “not acceptable”: Barber, II-25. 

20 good for national security: Kistiakowsky, 198. 

21 York explained: York, Making Weapons, 117. 

22 “Traitorous!”: Herken, Brotherhood of the Bomb, 318. 

23 “I formally proposed”: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Letter to 
Nikita Khrushchev, Chairman, Council of Ministers, 
U.S.S.R., on the Discontinuance of Nuclear Weapons 
Tests, May 16, 1959, UCSB. 

24 “If we stop testing”: “Lawrence in the Cold War, Ernest 
Lawrence and the Cyclotron,” American Institute of 


Physics, History Center Exhibit, digital collection. 

25 about to get to work: Barber, IV-27. Vela started small, 
officially in ARPA’s second year. The scientific limitations 
in nuclear detection were not entirely clear at the 1958 
Geneva Conference of Experts. It was after Project 
Argus that scientists first determined how difficult it 
was to detect nuclear explosions in space. 

26 Vela Sierra monitored: Information about Vela follow- 
on programs can be found in Van Atta et al, DARPA 
Technical Accomplishments, Volume 3, II-2, III-4; 
Barber, IV-28-30. 


Chapter Four Emergency Plans 


1 York’s desk: Details from this section are from Herb 
York, Diaries Series, appointment books, date books, 
and wall calendars, York Papers, Geisel. 

2 Keeney made public: Keeney, 22-33. 

3 on account of a theory: Barber, II-27. 

4 the “Christofilos effect”: Advanced Research Projects 
Division, Identification of Certain Current Defense 
Problems and Possible Means of Solution, IDA-ARPA 
Study No. 1, August 1958 (hereafter IDA-ARPA Study 
No. 1); interview with Charles Townes, March 2014. 

9 Project Floral: DNA, Operation Argus 1958, 3, 53. 

6 code name, Project 137: IDA-ARPA Study No. 1; 
Wheeler oral history interview, 61-63. 

7 “defense problems”: Finkbeiner, 29. 

8 “its own special clearance”: Quotes are from interviews 
with Marvin “Murph” Goldberger, June-August, 2013. 
See also Goldberger oral history interview. 

9 “ingenuity, practicality and motivation”: Finkbeiner, 28. 

10 Astrodome-like shield: Barber, VI-II. For quotes from 
York, see Making Weapons, 129-30. 

11 unusual backstory: Melissinos, Nicholas C. Christofilos: 
His Contributions to Physics, 1-15. 

12 “responsible people”: IDA-ARPA Study No. 1, 19. 

13 “The group has”: IDA-ARPA Study No. 1, 19. 

14 Brazilian Anomaly: Operation Argus 1958, 19. 

15 so many moving parts: Ibid., 22-26. 

16 missile trajectory: Ibid., 48; list of shipboard tests and 
remarks, 56. 

17 “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”: Ibid., 34. 

18 watched fireworks: Childs, 525. 


19 “The President has asked”: Ibid., 521. 

20 detection facilities: DARPA: 50 Years of Bridging the 
Gap, 58. 

21 Wissmer examined Lawrence: Childs, 526. 

22 had Harold Brown participate: Supplement 5 to 
“Extended Chronology of Significant Events Leading Up 
to Disarmament,” Joint Secretariat, Joint Chiefs of Staff, 
April 21, 1961, (unpaginated), York Papers, Geisel. 

23 “I could never”: Childs, 527. 

24 Christofilos effect did occur: Argus 1958, 65-68; 
Interview with Doug Beason, June 2014; “Report to the 
Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States 
from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack,” 161. 

25 The telegram marked: Edward Teller, telegram to 
General Starbird, “Thoughts in Connection to the Test 
Moratorium,” August 29, 1958, LANL. 


Chapter Five Sixteen Hundred Seconds Until 
Doomsday 


1 “Our job”: Interview with Gene McManus, October 
2013. 

2 “coldest thirteen miles”: Berry, “The Coldest 13 Miles 
on Wheels,” Popular Mechanics, February 1968. 

3 twenty-four-hour operational mode: Richard Witkin, 
“U.S. Radar Scans Communist Areas: Missile Warning 
System at Thule Is Put in Operation on a 24-Hour 
Basis,” New York Times, October 2, 1960. 

4 sitting in the NORAD War Room: John G. Hubbell,“‘You 
Are Under Attack!’ The Strange Incident of October 5,” 
Reader’s Digest, April 1961. 

5 coming in from the BMEWS J-Site: Interview with Gene 
McManus, who arrived at J-Site three months later. The 
story was legendary at BMEWS. The technicians 
involved were McManus’s colleagues. 

A NORAD spokesman described the conversation for 
the Reader’s Digest magazine six months after the 
crisis. 

6 the story broke: “Moon Stirs Scare of Missile Attack,” 
Associated Press, December 7, 1961. 

7 closer to $900 million: This information comes from 
ODR&E Report, “Assessment of Ballistic Missile Defense 
Program” PPD 61-33, 1961 (fifty-four pages, 
unpaginated), York Papers, Geisel. 

8 Twenty-six minutes and forty seconds: Ibid. 

9 “The nuclear-armed ICBM”: Ibid. 

10 “high confidence”: Ibid., Appendix 1. 

11 “I started Jason”: Quotes are from interview with 
Murph Goldberger, June 2013. He passed away the 


following year, in November 2014. 

12 had been entwined: Brueckner oral history interview, 
4; Lukasik oral history interview, 27. 

13 a little business”: Brueckner oral history interview, 7. 

14 most significant inventions: Interview with Charles 
Townes, March 2014. 

15 IDA served: Interview with Richard Van Atta, May 
2014; Barber, I-8. 

16 most respected colleagues: Interview with Murph 
Goldberger, July 2013. 

17 “tremendously bright squad”: Kistiakowsky, 200-202. 

18 contribute significantly: Interview with Murph 
Goldberger, June 2014. See also Finkbeiner. 

19 official entity: Draft, DoD Directive, Subjects: 
Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects 
Agency, No. 5129.33, December 30, 1959, York Papers, 
Geisel. 

20 Mildred Goldberger said: Interview with Murph 
Goldberger, June, 2014; see also Goldberger oral 
history interview. 

21 “confuse satellite detection”: Drell oral history 
interview, 14. 

22 “imaginative thinking”: Barber, V-24. 

23 PENAIDS proof tests: Van Atta et al, DARPA Technical 
Accomplishments, Volume 2, IV-4-5; Hansen, Swords of 
Armageddon, Volume 7, 491. 

24 “Pen X”: Ruina oral history interview. 

25 deceptive MIRVs: H. F. York, “Multiple Warhead 
Missiles,” Scientific American 229, no. 5 (1973): 71. 
26 Ruina and Townes reached an agreement: Ruina oral 

history interview. 

27 “instantaneous kill”: Barber, IX-31. 

28 “whether you can use a particle beam”: Finkbeiner, 53. 


29 Project Seesaw: Barber, IV-23, IX-32; for Christofilos, 
see York, Making Weapons, 129-30. 

30 “Seesaw was a sensitive”: Barber, IX-31. See also Jason 
Division, IDA, Project Seesaw (U). 

31 “Directed energy”: Interview with General Paul F. 
Gorman (retired), October 2014. 


Chapter Six Psychological Operations 


1 Thor Agena A: Ruffner, Corona: America’s First 
Satellite Program, 16. 

2 “the best specimens”: Space and Missile Systems 
Organization, Air Force Systems Command, 
“Biomedical Space Specimens, Fact Sheet,” June 3, 
1959, Appendix C. 

3 “We don’t want to humanize”: Bill Willks, “Satellite 
Carrying Mice Fails,” Washington Post, June 4, 1959. 

4 “dramatic rescue effort”: Ruffner, Corona: America’s 
First Satellite Program, 16. 

5 Classified spying mission: Ibid., x. 

6 TIROS: Barber, III-15. 

7 22,952 images: Conway, 29. 

8 photographs of a storm front: John W. Finney, “U.S. Will 
Share Tiros I Pictures,” New York Times, April 5, 1960. 

9 “no information”: Email correspondence with Mike 
Hanson, September 17, 2013. 

10 story of intrigue: Files are from RG 330, Office of the 
Secretary of Defense, ARPA, Project Agile, NACP; RG 
330, Records of Robert S. McNamara, 1961-1968, 
Defense Programs and Operations, NACP. 

11 forged a brilliant record: Barber, V-37. 

12 a limp: Interview with Kay Godel, September 2013. 
The limp was not always obvious. 

13 “since Napoleon”: Spector, 111. 

14 “The Vietnamese refused”: Ibid., 112. 

15 “We hated to dig”: Quotes throughout this discussion 
are from Abboud oral history interview, 15-16; see also 
Bernard C. Nalty, Stalemate: U.S. Marines from Bunker 
Hill to the Hook, 4. 


16 Chinese land mines: Abboud oral history interview, 15. 

17 both men came from privilege: All quotes in this 
section are from interviews and email correspondence 
with Joan Dulles Talley, March 2014-May 2015. 

18 shadowy figure: Correspondence between Allen W. 
Dulles and Dr. Harold G. Wolff, New York Hospital, CIA; 
“Biographical Note,” Harold Wolff, M.D. (1898-1962), 
Papers, Cornell University Archives, digital collection. 

19 spin out of control: Memorandum, Gordon Gray to 
Allen Dulles, October 29, 1951, CIA. 

20 Godel convened: As per National Security Council 
directives NSC 10/2, NSC 10/5, NSC 59/1, Papers of 
Gordon Gray, Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, 
digital collection. 

21 “mind-annihilating methods”: See “Forced 
Confessions,” Memorandum for the Record, National 
Security Council Staff, May 8, 1953, and “Brainwashing 
During the Korean War,” Psychological Strategy Board 
(PSB) Central Files Series, PSB 702.5 (no date), Dwight 
D. Eisenhower Library, digital collection. 

22 “brainwashing”: This account is drawn from Marks, 
133. 

23 “insectivization of human beings”: Edward Hunter, 
“Brain-Washing Tactics Force Chinese into Ranks of 
Communist Party,” Miami News, September 1950. 

24 Congress invited Hunter: U.S. House of 
Representatives, Committee on Un-American Activities, 
“Communist Psychological Warfare (Brainwashing),” 
March 13, 1958. 

25 Joost A. M. Meerloo: Tim Weiner, “Remembering 
Brainwashing,” New York Times, July 6, 2008. 

26 Schwable recanted: “Marines Award Schwable the 
Legion of Merit,” New York Times, July 8, 1954. 


27 mental breakdowns: Officers such as Frank Olson, a 
biological weapons expert who committed suicide, or 
was killed, when he suffered a breakdown after being 
covertly dosed with LSD by his CIA bosses. 

28 Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology: Marks, 
chap. 9. 

29 even more powerful position: Official Register of the 
United States Civil Service Commission, 1955, 108. 

30 Godel was praised: Document 96, Foreign Relations, 
1961-1963, Volume I, Vietnam, DSOH. 

31 “collecting, evaluating and disseminating intelligence”: 
Document 210, Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, Volume 
I, Vietnam, DSOH; IAC-D-104/4 23, April 1957, CIA. 

32 Godel would say: Barber, V-36. 

33 “bold summation”: Ibid., V-37. 

34 outlined his observations: W. H. Godel, director, Policy 
and Planning Division, ARPA, Memo for assistant 
secretary of defense, Subject: Vietnam, September 15, 
1960, RG 330, Project Agile, NACP. 

35 “applying scientific talent”: Barber, V-39. 

36 “anti-guerrilla forces at night”: Spector, 111-114. 

37 ARPA-financed fighters: In May 1960 three U.S. Army 
Special Forces Teams of ten men each arrived in 
Vietnam to work with President Diem. With them were 
thirteen U.S. Army intelligence specialists and three 
psychological warfare specialists. They trained 
Vietnamese soldiers for roughly two months; Spector, 
353. 

38 “Godel continued”: Barber, V-2, V-4. 

39 departure of Herb York: For quotes, see York, Making 
Weapons, 194, 203. 


Chapter Seven Techniques and Gadgets 


1 pushed the muzzles: Karnow, 10. 

2 Kennedy spent more time: Barber, V-39. 

3 “Viet-nam counter-insurgency plan”: “Summary Record 
of a Meeting, the White House,” Washington, D.C., 
January 28, 1961, DSOH. 

4 “to deter all wars”: “Special Message to Congress on 
Urgent National Needs,” May 25, 1961, National 
Security Files, JFK. 

9 “techniques and ‘gadgets’”: Document 27, Foreign 
Relations, 1961-1963, Volume I, Vietnam, DSOH. 

6 develop new weapons: Document 96, Foreign 
Relations, 1961-1963, Volume I, Vietnam, DSOH. 

7 garner support: Document 59, Foreign Relations, 
1961-1963, Volume I, Vietnam, DSOH. 

8 Johnson asked Diem: Document 56, Foreign Relations, 
1961-1963, Volume I, Vietnam, DSOH. 

9 gave Godel authority: Barber, V-35. 

10 Each building had: ARPA Field Unit, Vietnam, Monthly 
Report, CDTC, photographs (n.d.), RG 330, Project 
Agile, NACP. 

11 entourage of military advisors: Ibid., photograph (n.d.). 

12 laborers toiled away: Ibid., photographs (n.d.). 

13 giving briefings: Viet-Nam Working Group Files, Lot 
66, D 193, Minutes of Task Force Meetings, National 
Security Files, JFK. 

14 canine program: “The Use of a Marking Agent for 
Identification by Dogs,” March 11, 1966, RG 330, 
Project Agile, NACP; see also ARPA Field Unit, ARPA 
Order 262-67, July 7, 1961. 

15 Godel called it: Document 96, Foreign Relations, 1961- 


1963, Volume I, Vietnam, DSOH. 

16 AR-15 prototypes: Barber, V-44. 

17 “would have caused death”: Ezell, 187. 

18 “development of the M-16”: Barber, V-44. 

19 “maximum effectiveness”: Document 96, Foreign 
Relations, 1961-1963, Volume I, Vietnam, DSOH. 

20 “subject to political-psychological restrictions”: Letter 
from Brigadier General Edward G. Lansdale, assist. 
SECDEF to Dir/Defense Research & Engineering, 
subject: Combat Development Test Center, Vietnam, 
May 16, 1961. National Security Files, JFK. 

21 first batch: Buckingham, Operation Ranch Hand, 11, 
208n. 

22 first mission to spray herbicides: Brown, Vegetational 
Spray Tests in South Vietnam, 17, 23, 45. 

23 more ambitious follow-up plan: Ibid., 68. 

24 roughly half of South Vietnam: Buckingham, Operation 
Ranch Hand, 15. 

25 “The first advice”: Bradlee, 22. 

26 General Maxwell Taylor: As Army chief of staff, Taylor 
believed the Eisenhower doctrine of massive retaliation 
put too much emphasis on nuclear weapons and not 
enough emphasis on the Army. Under Eisenhower, the 
Army was reduced by 500,000 men, while the Air Force 
gained 30,000. See also McMaster, Dereliction, 8-17. 

27 According to a memo: Historical Division Joint 
Secretariat, Joint Chiefs of Staff, The History of the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the 
War in Vietnam, 1960-1968, ix, 74. 

28 Godel took General Taylor: Document 169, Foreign 
Relations, 1961-1963, Volume I, Vietnam, DSOH. 

29 Taylor-Rostow mission: Telegram from the President’s 
Military Representative (Taylor) to the Department of 


State, Saigon, October 25, 1961, DSOH. 

30 General Taylor described: Quotes are from “Vietnam 
Report on Taylor-Rostow Mission to South Vietnam,” 
November 3, 1961, RDT&E Annex, National Security 
Files, JFK. 

31 Radio Hanoi: “PsyWar Efforts and Compensation 
Machinery in Support of Herbicide Operations,” 
Subject: Chemical Defoliation and Crop Destruction in 
South Viet-Nam, Washington, April 18, 1963, National 
Security Files, JFK. 

32 “Joint Chiefs of Staff”: Buckingham, Operation Ranch 
Hand, 16; McMaster, Dereliction, 114. 

33 “Weed Killer”: Memorandum from Rostow to 
President, November 21, 1961, National Security Files, 
JFK. 

34 Kennedy approved: National Security Action 
Memorandum 115, Subject: Defoliant Operations in 
Viet-nam, November 30, 1961, National Security Files, 

JFK. 

35 2012 congressional report: Martin, “Vietnamese 
Victims of Agent Orange and U.S.-Vietnam Relations,” 2, 
15. 

36 “He was advised”: RG 330, Project Agile ARPA Field 
Unit, Vietnam, Memorandum for record, “Meeting with 
Mr. William Godel,” December 4 and December 12, 


1961, NACP; Brown, Anticrop Warfare Research, Task- 
01,135. 


Chapter Eight RAND and COIN 


1 lunchtime matches: Jardini, chap. 2. Jardini’s book is 
available only on Amazon Kindle, hence no page 
numbers. 

2 Project Sierra: Weiner, 4-9. 

3 Tanham’s observations: Elliott, 27. Mai Elliott’s book is 
the definitive work on RAND during the Vietnam War 
era. She worked on ARPA programs, in Saigon, during 
the war. 

4 Tanham’s 1961 report: Elliott, 17-18; George K. 
Tanham, “Trip Report: Vietnam, January 1963,” RAND 
Corporation, March 22, 1963. 

5 Rand was needed: Deitchman, Best-Laid Schemes, 25. 

6 generally looked down: Interview with Murph 
Goldberger, June 2013. 

7 “weapons systems philosophy”: George H. Clement, 
“Weapons Systems Philosophy,” RAND Corporation, 
1956. 

8 first two RAND analysts: J. Donnell and G. Hickey, 
Memo RM-3208-ARPA, August 1962, ARPA Combat 
Development & Test Center, Vietnam, Monthly Report 
(n.d.), RG 330, Project Agile, NACP. 

9 “Signs of conflict”: Hickey, Window, 19, 90-91. 

10 change of plans: Ahern, CIA and Rural Pacification in 
South Vietnam (U), 114; Hickey, Window, 91. 

11 effective means of pacification: Memorandum from the 
director of the CIA to Secretary of Defense McNamara 
on the Strategic Hamlet Program, July 13, 1962, CIA. 

12 “monitor”: Ehlschlaeger, “Understanding Megacities 
with the Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Intelligence 
Paradigm,” xii. 


13 Cu Chu villagers: Hickey, Window, 93. 

14 “T said, in essence”: Ibid., 99. 

15 Hickey recalled paraphrasing: Ibid., 99. 

16 ARPA officials complained: Deitchman, Best-Laid 
Schemes, 342. 

17 “more patient approach”: Elliott, 33. 

18 “ground to a pulp”: Ibid., 38. 

19 Tanham showed great optimism: Tanham, War Without 
Guns, 25-29. 

20 “Given a little luck”: Elliott, 31. 


Chapter Nine Command and Control 


1 command and control: “Special Message to Congress 
on the Defense Budget,” March 28, 1961, JFK 
speeches, JFK. 

2 Brown recruited J. C. R. Licklider: Ruina oral history 
interview. 

3 world’s authorities: Hafner and Lyon, 28. 

4 Semi-Automatic Ground Environment: Interview with 
Jay Forrester, October 2013. 

59 “Man-Computer Symbiosis:” J. C. R. Licklider, “Man- 
Computer Symbiosis,” [RE Transactions on Human 
Factors in Electronics, volume HFE-1, March 1960, 4- 
11. 

6 “in not too many years”: Ibid., 4-5. 

7 The agency inherited: Barber, V-4. 

8 “Guess how many nuclear missiles”: Interview with 
Paul Kozemchak, April 2014. 

9 “The Soviets fired three”: Peter Kuran, Nukes in Space: 
The Rainbow Bombs, DVD (2000). 

10 could easily have misidentified: Interview with Gene 
McManus, October 2014. 

11 “could have led to war”: Kuran, Nukes in Space. 

12 detonated... over Zhezqazghan: EIS [Electric 
Infrastructure Security] Council, “Report: USSR 
Nuclear EMP Upper Atmosphere Kazakhstan Test,” 
184, 1. 

13 Licklider wrote: “Memorandum For: Members and 
Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network, From: 
J. C. R. Licklider,” April 23, 1963; discussed in Barber, V- 
90-53. 

14 related to surveillance programs: Barber, VI-53. 


15 used in conflict zones: Smithsonian Institution 
Archives, “Toward a Technology of Human Behavior for 
Defense Use (1962),” Record Unit 179, York Papers, 
Geisel. 

16 “build a bridge”: Cited in Barber, V-54. 

17 “Computer assisted teaching”: Ibid. 

18 legally required: U.S. General Accounting Office, 
Activities of the Research and Development Center: 
Thailand, 13. 

19 “Thailand was the laboratory”: Woods oral history 
interview. 

20 “The U.S. would need”: ARPA, Project Agile: Remote 
Area Research and Engineering, Semiannual Report, 1 
July-31 December 1963, 2. 

21 miscataloged: Interview with archivist Eric Van 
Slander at National Archives, College Park, February 
2014. 

22 “policy not to release”: Email correspondence with 
Charles E. Arp, Battelle Enterprise content manager, 
January 21, 2014. 

23 “theoretical and experimental”: Brundage, “Military 
Research and Development Center, Quarterly Report,” 
October 1, 1963-December 31, 1963. 

24 “Anthropometric Survey”: Information is drawn from 
Robert White, “Anthropometric Survey of the Royal Thai 
Armed Forces.” 

25 They proposed that studies: Joseph Hanlon, “Project 
Cambridge Plans Changed After Protests,” Computer 
World, October 22, 1969. 

26 “barely scratched the surface”: Salemink, 222. 

27 “important tools”: J. C. R. Licklider, New Scientist, 
February 25, 1971, 423. 

28 monitored, analyzed, and modeled: The Utilization of 


ARPA-Supported Research for International Security 
Planning, 6, 13-15, 33-42. 

29 Someone threw a grenade: U.S. Department of State 
Central Files, cable, POL 25, S Viet, May 9, 1963, 
DSOH. 

30 “Flames were coming”: Halberstam, Making of a 
Quagmire, 128. 

31 “What have the Buddhist”: Madame Nhu’s response is 
viewable on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch? 
v=d_ PWM9gWR5E. 

32 “I can scarcely believe”: Cited in Mark Moyar, Triumph 
Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 (Cambridge: 
Cambridge University Press, 2006). 


Chapter Ten Motivation and Morale 


1 with a team of ARPA officials: See Hickey, “The Military 
Advisor and His Foreign Counterpart.” 

2 “En route”: Quotes are from Hickey, Window, 111. 

3 “villagers were sick”: Ibid., 124. 

4 a massive explosion: Donlon, Outpost of Freedom, 139; 
Hickey, Window, 127. 

5 Outside his bunkroom: The account of the ambush is 
drawn from Hickey, Window, 130; Hickey, “Military 
Advisor,” iii. 

6 “The July 1964”: Hickey, Window, 147. 

7 Collbohm and Pauker: Deitchman oral history 
interview, 71-72; Elliott, 48-49. 

8 Deitchman: Trained as an engineer, Deitchman had 
been working at IDA when he was asked to take a two- 
year leave to work at the Pentagon, reporting directly 
to Harold Brown. 

9 “Who are the Vietcong?”: Information is from 
interviews with Joseph Zasloff, August-October 2014; 
Zasloff died in December 2014. Seel also Zasloff, The 
Role of North Vietnam in the Southern Insurgency; 
Donnell, Pauker, and Zasloff, Viet Cong Motivation and 
Morale in 1964: A Preliminary Report; Elliott, RAND in 
Southeast Asia: A History of the Vietnam War Era, 
Chapter Two. 

10 “The original intent”: Deitchman, Best-Laid Schemes, 
230% 

11 deal with the CIA: Ahern, CIA and Rural Pacification in 
South Vietnam, 23. 

12 inhabited by ghosts: Tela Zasloff, Saigon Dreaming, 
164. 


13 Most farmers: Elliott, 59. 

14 What motivated Vietcong fighters: Interview with 
Joseph Zasloff, October 2014. 

15 Pauker forwarded: Pauker, “Treatment of POWs, 
Defectors, and Suspects in South Vietnam,” 13. 

16 “The motivation”: Press, “Estimating from Misclassified 
Data,” ili, 26. 

17 identified by the Pentagon: McMaster, Dereliction, 143. 

18 briefed General William Westmoreland: Interview with 
Joseph Zasloff, October 2014. 

19 The insurgency: Quotes in this paragraph and the next 
are from Donnell, Pauker, and Zasloff, Viet Cong 
Motivation and Morale in 1964: A Preliminary Report. 

20 other RAND officers: Interview with Joseph Zasloff, 
October 2014. 

21 “I am looking for”: Elliott, 88. 

22 elite defense intellectuals: Louis Menand, “Fat Man: 
Herman Kahn and the Nuclear Age,” New Yorker, June 
27, 2005. 

23 article attacking Gouré’s work: Harrison E. Salisbury, 
“Soviet Shelters: A Myth or Fact?” New York Times, 
December 24, 1961. 

24 “I get red”: Interview with Joseph Zasloff, October 
2014. 

25 Brink Bachelor Officers Quarters: Karnow, 408-409. 

26 “By and large”: Gouré, “Southeast Asia Trip Report, 
Part I: The Impact of Air Power in South Vietnam.” 

27 “Gouré gave the Pentagon”: Interview with Joseph 
Zasloff, October 2014. 

28 “break the backbone”: Elliott, 90; Gouré, JCS Briefing 
on Viet Cong Motivation and Morale, 7. 

29 “Dan Ellsberg”: Hickey, Window, 179. 

30 reports for ARPA: Gouré, “Some Findings of the 


Vietcong Motivation and Morale Study: June-December 
1965,” 3. 

31 copy of Gouré’s findings: Malcolm Gladwell, 
“Viewpoint: Could One Man Have Shortened the 
Vietnam War?” BBC News Magazine, July 8, 2013. 

32 Frelinghuysen said: Quotes are from Deitchman, Best- 
Laid Schemes, 235-39. 

33 Fulbright wrote: Jardini (unpaginated). 

34 62,000 pages: Phillips, User’s Guide to the Rand 
Interviews in Vietnam, iii. 

35 indicted Godel: Walter B. Douglas, “Accused Former 
Aides Cite Witnesses in Asia,” Washington Post, January 
9,1965. 

36 Godel was convicted: Peter S. Diggins, “Godel, Wylie 
Get 5 Years for Funds Conspiracy,” Washington Post, 
June 19, 1965. 

37 prison terms: “5-Year Term for Godel Is Upheld,” 
Washington Post, May 21, 1966. 

38 correctional institution in Allenwood: Interview with 
Kay Godel, September 2013. 

39 personal financial benefit: “Embezzler Godel Sued to 
Repay Double,” Washington Post, November 5, 1966. 


Chapter Eleven The Jasons Enter Vietnam 


1 secret, top secret, or secret restricted data: Interview 
with Murph Goldberger, June 2014. 

2 closely intertwined: By example, William Nierenberg 
earned a Ph.D. under I. I. Rabi at Columbia. Edward 
Teller and Enrico Fermi were both on the faculty at the 
University of Chicago when Fermi took on Murph 
Goldberger and one other theoretical physicist as Ph.D. 
students. See also Finkbeiner. 

3 “The high goals set”: MacDonald, “Jason—The Early 
Years,” informal presentation at the meeting of the 
Jason Advisory Board held at DARPA, Arlington, VA, 
December 12, 1986, York Papers, Geisel; MacDonald 
oral history interview. 

4 Gell-Mann: Interview with Murph Goldberger, June 
2013; Ruina oral history interview. 

5 unsuccessfully tried: Johnson, 229. 

6 “Jasons became intrigued”: Interview with Murph 
Goldberger, June 2013; Johnson, 256. 

7 “the Vietnam problem”: William Nierenberg, “DCPG: 
The Genesis of a Concept,” Journal of Defense 
Research, ser. B, Tactical Warfare (Fall 1969); 
declassified unpublished manuscript, November 18, 
1971, York Papers, Geisel. 

8 never been declassified: Harris, Acoustical 
Techniques/Designs Investigated During the Southeast 
Asia Conflict: 1966-1972, 3. 

9 Powell said: “Colin L. Powell: By the Book,” New York 
Times Book Review, July 1, 2012, 8. 

10 “One very positive thing”: MacDonald oral history 
interview, 3. 


11 “He made a point”: Fleming, 5. 

12 “miserable”: MacDonald oral history interview, 13. 

13 venerable Dr. Walter Munk: Von Storch and 
Hasselman, 226. 

14 “And with Adlai Stevenson”: Quotes are from 
MacDonald oral history interview, 6, 10, 11. 

15 The World Tomorrow: MacDonald oral history 
interview, 28. 

16 elected chairman: Weather and Climate Modification 
Problems and Prospects, vol. 2, Research and 
Development, National Research Council, January 1, 
1966. 

17 “a deliberate and thoughtful review”: Cited in Munk et 
al, “Gordon James Fraser MacDonald, July 30, 1929- 
May 14, 2002,” 230. 

18 “I became increasingly convinced”: Ibid., 231. 

19 “searching, almost desperately”: MacDonald, “Jason 
and DCPG—Ten Lessons,” 6. 

20 Project EMOTE: Quotes are from Mutch et al., 
Operation Pink Rose; Chandler and Bentley, Forest Fire 
as a Military Weapon, Final Report. 

21 “appreciable destruction”: J. M. Breit, “Neutralization 
of Viet Cong Safe Havens,” 13. 

22 inferno: Mutch et al., Operation Pink Rose, iii, 116; 
Joseph Trevithick “Firestorm: Forest Fires as a Weapon 
in Vietnam,” Armchair General Magazine, June 13, 
2012. 

23 forest flammability: Mutch et al., Operation Pink Rose, 
103-112. 

24 top secret report: Hanyok, Spartans in Darkness, 94- 
95. By war’s end, the NSA estimated “as many as one 
million soldiers and political cadre” had traveled the 
trail during the Vietnam War. 


25 sent the Jason scientists: Deitchman, “An Insider’s 
Account: Seymour Deitchman,” Nautilus Institute for 
Security and Sustainability, February 25, 2003. 
Deitchman’s email interview conducted with Peter 
Hayes is available online at nautilus.org. 

26 “anastomosed structure”: Nierenberg, “DCPG—The 
Genesis of a Concept,” declassified unpublished 
manuscript, November 18, 1971, York Papers, Geisel. 

27 obstructing movement along the trail: Lewis oral 
history interview. 

28 studies the Jasons performed: Interview with Murph 
Goldberger; see also Federation of American Scientists, 
list of Jason studies, digital archive. 

29 “We did our studies”: Interview with Murph 
Goldberger, June 2014, quoting/paraphrasing Jason 
Division, IDA, Air-Supported Anti-Infiltration Barrier, ii, 
as well as his interviews with Finkbeiner and Aaserud. 

30 “think about using nuclear weapons”: Deitchman, “An 
Insider’s Account: Seymour Deitchman,” Nautilus 
Institute for Security and Sustainability, February 25, 
2003. 

31 “the numbers”: Jason Division, IDA, Tactical Nuclear 
Weapons in Southeast Asia, 27. 


Chapter Twelve The Electronic Fence 


1 “I stepped on”: Interviews and email correspondence 
with Richard “Rip” Jacobs, June-August 2013. 
Information is from interviews with VO-67 crew 
members and the VO-67 Association digital archive and 
website. 

2 Nine men KIA: VO-67 Crew 2 Memorial Pictures, VO-67 
Crew 2 Summary-KIA, VO67A. Personnel in this 
incident: Denis Anderson, Delbert A. Olson, Richard 
Mancini, Arthur C. Buck, Michael Roberts, Gale Siow, 
Phillip Stevens, Donald Thoresen, Kenneth Widon. 

3 Crew Five was lost: VO-67 Crew 5 Memorial Pictures, 
VO-67 Crew 5 Summary-KIA, VO-67A. Personnel in this 
incident: Glenn Miller Hayden, Chester Coons, Frank 
Dawson, Paul Donato, Clayborn Ashby, James Kravitz, 
James Martin, Curtis Thurman, James Wonn. 

4 acoubuoys: For a technical discussion, see Office of the 
Secretary, Joint Staff, MACV, Military History Branch. 
Command History, United States Military Assistance 
Command Vietnam: 1967. Volume 3, 1105-1106; fora 
narrative discussion, see Rego 11-17, with 
photographs. 

5 “how it happens”: Interview with Tom Wells, June 2013. 

6 “We couldn’t control”: Interview with Barney Walsh, 
June 2013. 

7 Captain Milius: Milius was first listed MIA, but his 
status was later changed to PKIA (Presumed Killed in 
Action); the USS Milius is named in his honor. 

8 McNamara... looked: Ruina oral history interview, 28; 
Pentagon Papers (Gravel), vol. 4, chap. 1, sec. 3, 
subsection 1.C. The idea had first been proposed by 


Harvard Law School professor Roger Fisher. 
9 “Secretary McNamara asked me”: Sullivan oral history 
interview, 53; Rego, 1. 

10 high-technology sensors: Sensors are small, self- 
powered machines designed to measure physical 
qualities by mimicking biological senses including sight, 
hearing, smell, and touch. ARPA became an early 
pioneer in modern sensor technology when, in 1958, 
before NASA was created, it was put in charge of all 
U.S. space programs. The first American satellite, 
Explorer I, carried a sensor into space, a tiny Geiger 
counter that confirmed the presence of the Van Allen 
radiation belts. 

11 classified sensor programs: MacDonald, “Jason and 
DCPG—Ten Lessons,” 10, York Papers, Geisel. 

12 listen for Vietcong: Gatlin, Project CHECO Southeast 
Asia Report, 32; Mahnken, 112. 

13 the campus grounds: Interview with Goldberger; Fitch 
oral history interview. In defense of the Jasons’ role in 
creating the barrier, Goldberger said the intention was 
to “kill fewer people” than the Air Force was killing with 
its two-thousand-pound bombs. 

14 SADEYE cluster bombs: The bombs are discussed in 
Jason Division, IDA, Air-Supported Anti-Infiltration 
Barrier, 3-4. 

15 held a seminar: Richard Garwin oral history interview. 

16 “aspirin-size” mini-bombs: Jason Division, IDA, Air- 
Supported Anti-Infiltration Barrier, 30. 

17 “20 million Gravel mines”: Ibid., 5. 

18 “It is difficult to assess”: Ibid., 6, 9, and 13. 

19 roughly one billion: In September 1966, the official 
figure the Jasons gave McNamara was $860 million. By 
the time the fence was operational, costs had reached 


$1.8 billion. 

20 McNamara was impressed: Interview with Murph 
Goldberger, June 2013. 

21 “The occasion”: MacDonald, “Jason and the DCPG-Ten 
Lessons,” 10. 

22 belittled by most of the generals: All quotes from Office 
of the Secretary, Joint Staff, MACV, Military History 
Branch, Command History, United States Military 
Assistance Command Vietnam: 1967, Volume 3, 1072- 
1075. 

23 with or without the support: Ibid., 1073. 

24 General Starbird: Details are from Foster, “Alfred Dodd 
Starbird, 1912-1983,” 317-321; interview with Edward 
Starbird, the general’s son. 

25 Joint Task Force 728: Office of the Secretary, Joint 
Staff, MACV, Military History Branch. Command History, 
United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam: 
1967. Volume 3, 1072-1075. 

26 “highest national priority”: Document 233, Foreign 
Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume IV, 
Vietnam, 1966, DSOH. 

27 “We are on the threshold”: Cited in Vernon Pizer, 
“Coming—The Electronic Battlefield,” Corpus Christi 
Caller-Times, February 14, 1971. 

28 “system of systems”: MacDonald, “Jason and the DCPG 
—Ten Lessons,” 8. 

29 electronic battlefield concept: Half a century later, the 
results of the electronic fence are ubiquitous—not just 
on the battlefield but across America, in the civil sector. 
The legacy of the electronic fence is everywhere: home, 
phone, computer, car, airport, doctor’s office, shopping 
mall. 

30 “From its outset”: Gatlin, Project CHECO Southeast 


Asia Report, 38. 


Chapter Thirteen The End of Vietnam 


1 received a tip: Quotes are from Finney, “Anonymous 
Call Set Off Rumors of Nuclear Arms for Vietnam,” New 
York Times, February 12 and 13, 1968. 

2 “It was a scary place”: MacDonald, “Jason and the 
DCPG—Ten Lessons,” 8-12. 

3 “I had probably”: Garwin oral history interview. 

4 also allegedly stolen: James N. Hill, “The Committee on 
Ethics: Past, Present, and Future,” 11-19. In Handbook 
on Ethical Issues in Anthropology, edited by Joan 
Cassell and Sue-Ellen Jacobs, a special publication of 
the American Anthropological Association number 23, 
available online at aaanet.org. 

5 “staggering 32K of memory”: Maynard, 257n. 

6 journalists also revealed: Princeton Alumni Weekly, 
September 25, 1959, 12. 

7 students chained... shut: Maynard, 193; “Vote of 
Princeton Faculty Could Lead to End of University Ties 
to IDA,” Harvard Crimson, March 7, 1968. 

8 rare declassified copy: Quotes are from ARPA, Overseas 
Defense Research: A Brief Survey of Non-Lethal 
Weapons (U) (page numbers are illegible). 

9 nonlethal weapons: Steve Metz, “Non-Lethal Weapons: 
A Progress Report,” Joint Force Quarterly (Spring- 
Summer 2001): 18-22; Ando Arike, “The Soft-Kill 
Solution: New Frontiers in Pain Compliance,” Harper’s, 
March 2010. 

10 famously gave birth to: LAPD, “History of S.W.A.T.,” Los 
Angeles Police Foundation, digital archive. 

11 came under fire: Barber, VIII-63-VIII-67; Van Atta, 
Richard H., Sidney Reed, and Seymour Deitchman, 


DARPA Technical Accomplishments, Volume 1. 18-1-18- 
11; Hord, 4-8. 

12 developed his first thoughts: Hord, 245, 327. 

13 a billion instructions per second: “A Description of the 
ILLIAC IV,” Interim Report, IBM Advanced Computing 
Systems, May 1, 1967. The machine never actually 
achieved a billion operations per second, but it was at 
the time the largest assemblage of computer hardware 
ever amassed in a single machine. 

14 designed to cut down: New to the mix was the concept 
of building a large-scale SIMD (single instruction, 
multiple data) machine. This would change the way 
data were stored in the computer’s memory and how 
data flowed through the machine. University of Illinois 
Alumni Magazine 1 (2012): 30-35. 

15 “ballistic missile defense”: Roland and Shiman, 12; 
Hord, 9. 

16 still-classified ARPA program: Author’s FOIA requests 
were rejected by the departments of Commerce, 
Energy, and Defense. 

17 “all the computational requirements”: Cited in 
Muraoka, Yoichi. “Iliac IV.” Encyclopedia of Parallel 
Computing, Springer US, 2011, 914-917. 

18 Defense Department contract: Barber, VIII-63. 

19 headline in the Daily Illini: Patrick D. Kennedy, 
“Reactions Against the Vietnam War and Military- 
Related Targets on Campus: The University of Illinois as 
a Case Study, 1965-1972,” Illinois Historical Journal 84, 
109. 

20 “The horrors ILLIAC IV”: All quotes are from the Daily 
Illini, January 6, 1970. 

21 “IfI could have gotten”: Barber, VIII-63. 

22 firebombed the campus armory: Kennedy, “Reactions 


Against the Vietnam War,” Illinois Historical Journal 84, 
110. 

23 guarantee the safety: O’Neill, 31; Barber, VIII-62. 
According to ARPA, it was the agency that pulled ILLIAC 
IV, not the university. 

24 classified program to track submarines: “US Looks for 
Bigger Warlike Computers,” New Scientist, April 21, 
1977, 140. By 1977, the ILLIAC IV was outdated. 
DARPA sought to build a new machine, one that could 
produce 10 billion instructions per second (BIPS). 

25 Acoustic sensors: “U.S. Looks for Bigger, Warlike 
Computers.” New Scientist, April 21, 1977, 140. 

26 “practical outcomes”: Roland and Shiman, 29. 

27 “the epitome”: Barber, IX-2. 

28 “It wouldn’t surprise me”: Ibid., IX-19. 

29 “The staff just didn’t know”: Ibid., VIII-79. 

30 “chicken-and-egg problem”: Ibid., VIII-74-77. 

31 “the devil”: Finkbeiner, 102. 

32 “T’ll talk about China”: Interview with Murph 
Goldberger; Finkbeiner, 104. 

33 “Jason made a terrible mistake”: Joel Shurkin, “The 
Secret War over Bombing,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 
February 4, 1973. 

34 No Jason scientist: Interview with Charles Schwartz; 
file on “Jason controversy,” York Papers, Geisel. 

35 “This is Dick Garwin”: Finkbeiner, 104. 

36 “perfect occasion”: Bruno Vitale, “The War Physicists,” 
3,12; 

37 European scientists: “Jason: survey by E. H. S. Burhop 
and replies, 1973,” Samuel A. Goudsmit Papers, 1921- 
1979, Niels Bohr Library and Archives, digital archive. 

38 “tried for war crimes”: Ibid. 

39 “We should”: Interview with Murph Goldberger, June 


2013. 

40 “intellectual forefront”: Lukasik oral history interview, 
27,,32=33: 

41 “an agreeable move”: Interview with Murph 
Goldberger, June 2013. 


Chapter Fourteen Rise of the Machines 


1 in keeping with the Mansfield Act: Barber, IX-23. Staff 
supervision would remain under the control of DDR&E. 

2 three former ARPA directors: Barber, VIII-43, VIII-50. 

3 “high-risk projects”: Barber, IX-7 

4 “Tt was most difficult”: Barber, IX-37. Lukasik would 
become a senior vice president of RAND for national 
security programs. 

5 altered the opinions: Commanders Digest, September 
20, 1973, 2. 

6 radar cross-section: Interviews with Edward Lovick, 
2009-2015; Jacobsen, Area 51, 97. 

7 acoustically undetectable: Reed et al., DARPA Technical 
Accomplishments. Volume 1. 16-1-16-4. 

8 “high-stealth aircraft”: DARPA: 50 Years of Bridging 
the Gap, 152. 

9 asked the CIA: Interviews with Ed Lovick, 2009-2015. 
After Heilmeier was briefed by Lockheed, the Skunk 
Works division was given a $1 contract by DARPA to 
“study” stealth, which essentially amounted to 
Lockheed handing over reports already done for CIA. I 
write about this in Area 51, having interviewed a 
number of program participants. The subject is 
discussed in DARPA: 50 Years of Bridging the Gap but 
because Project Oxcart had not been declassified by 
CIA when the monograph was written, most of the 
narrative refers to the SR-71. 

10 “We designed flat, faceted panels”: Interviews with Ed 
Lovick, 2009; Jacobsen, Area 51, 340. 

11 Two significant ideas: RG 330, ARPA, Memo from 
George H. Lawrence to Deputy Director of 


Procurement, Defense Supply Service, Contract 
DAHC15-70-C-0144, NACP. 

12 Doubling is a powerful concept: Garreau, 49. 

13 “In a few years”: J. C. R. Licklider and Robert W. Taylor, 
“The Computer as a Communication Device,” Science 
and Technology (April 1968), 22. 

14 text messages: K. Fisch, S. McLeod, and B. Brenman, 
“Did You Know, 3.0,” Research and Design (2008): 2. 

15 “Is it going to be”: Taylor oral history interview. 

16 “the most successful project”: DARPA, A History of the 
Arpanet: The First Decade, I-2-5. 

17 “to identify and characterize”: Kaplan, Daydream 
Believers, 11. For a detailed discussion of Assault 
Breaker, see Van Atta et al., Transformation and 
Transition, Volume 1, Chapter Four. 

18 Wohlstetter concluded: See Paolucci, “Summary 
Report of the Long Range Research and Development 
Planning Program.” 

19 “a circular error probable”: Cited in Watts, “Precision 
Strike: An Evolution,” 3, footnote 6. 

20 best example was the bombing: Lavalle, 7. 

21 “It appears”: Kaplan, Daydream Believers, 13. 

22 love of model airplanes: Van Atta et al., Transformation 
and Transition, Volume 1, 40. 

23 Praerie and Calere: Ibid., 40-41. 

24 forward-looking infrared: Interview with John Gargus, 
September 2011. 

25 “more complicated” drone: Cited in Barber, VIII-53. 

26 Nite Panther and Nite Gazelle: Gyrodyne Helicopter 
Historical Foundation, “Nite Panther: U.S. Navy’s QH-50 
Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH) System,” 
(n.d.). 

27 TRANSIT: Reed et al., DARPA Technical 


Accomplishments, Volume 1, 3-1-9. 

28 planning countermeasures: Watts, “Precision Strike: 
An Evolution,” 12. 

29 a master game theorist: Jardini (unpaginated). Andrew 
Marshall served eight consecutive U.S. presidents, 
thirteen secretaries of defense, and fourteen DARPA 
directors. After forty-two years of military forecasting, 
Marshall retired in January 2015 at the age of ninety- 
two. He was the longest-serving director inside the 
Office of Secretary of Defense in Pentagon history. 

30 Soviets felt so threatened: Watts, “Precision Strike: An 
Evolution,” 5, 7, 11-13. 

31 “military-technical revolution”: Marshal N. V. Ogarkov, 
“The Defense of Socialism: Experience of History and 
the Present Day,” Red Star May 9, 1984, trans. Foreign 
Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report, May 9, 
1984. 

32 “technology leadership”: Interview with Richard Van 
Atta, May 2014. 

33 being pursued, in the black: Barber, VIII-36, IX-7, IX- 
32-40; Reed et al., DARPA Technical Accomplishments, 
Volume 1, S-1-9. 

34 got a radical idea: Interviews and email 
correspondence with Jack Thorpe, May 2014-March 
2015. The idea, says Thorpe, developed over time while 
he was working at the Air Force Office of Scientific 
Research in Washington D.C. 

35 hydraulic motion system: Michael L. Cyrus, “Motion 
Systems Role in Flight Simulators for Flying Training,” 
Williams Air Force Base, AZ, August 1978. 

36 “The other flyer’s aircraft”: Quotes are from interview 
with Jack Thorpe, May-October 2014; See also Thorpe, 
“Trends in Modeling, Simulation, & Gaming.” 


37 “a place where”: Interview with Jack Thorpe, clarifying 
his original paper. 

38 reviewed by senior Pentagon staff: Cosby, Simnet: An 
Insider’s Perspective, 3. 

39 TCP/IP: Roland and Shiman, 117. 

40 C2U: Thorpe clarifies that C2U was a term that 
originated with DARPA’s Command Post of the Future 
program. 

41 “allowed to fail”: DARPA: 50 Years of Bridging the Gap, 
68. 

42 “networked war-fighting system was impossible”: 
Interview with Neale Cosby, March 2014. 

43 “William Gibson didn’t”: Fred Hapgood,“Simnet,” 
Wired Magazine, Vol. 5, no. 4, April 1997; Deborah 
Solomon, “Back From the Future Questions for William 
Gibson,” New York Times Magazine, August 19, 2007. 

44 Project Reynard: Interview with Justin Elliott; Justin 
Elliott and Mark Mazzetti, “World of Spycraft: NSA and 
CIA Spied in Online Games,” New York Times, 
December 9, 2013. 


Chapter Fifteen Star Wars and Tank Wars 


1 He had just flown in: Teller, 531. 

2 Poindexter suggested: Broad, 164. 

3 lead agency: DARPA: 50 Years of Bridging the Gap, 67. 
The program would not be called SDI until later. 
DARPA’s research and development efforts focused on 
directed energy systems and were later continued by 
the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization. 

4 “But is ita bomb?”: Robert Scheer, “X-Ray Weapon,” 
Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1986. 

5 a laser is: Interview with Charles Townes, March 2014; 
‘Townes, 4-6; Beason, 15. 

6 had been inspired to create the laser: Interview with 
Charles Townes; Townes, 6. Charles Townes died in 
January 2015. 

7 “array of small reflectors”: Quotes are from interview 
with Charles Townes; Townes, 3. 

8 “like an imaginary story”: Hey, 95-96. 

9 Fiscal Times: Merrill Goozner, “$100b and Counting: 
Missiles That Work... Sometimes,” The Fiscal Times, 
March 24, 2012; Mark Thompson, “Why Obama Will 
Continue Star Wars,” Time Magazine, November 16, 
2008. 

10 “capture the sense of tankness”: Interviews with Jack 
Thorpe, May-October, 2014. 

11 “The high rankers”: Quotes are from interviews with 
Neale Cosby, May-October 2014. 

12 DARPA and the Army spent: Cosby, 4. 

13 The Internal Look war games: Interview with General 
Paul Gorman (retired), October 2014. 

14 “We played Internal Look”: Schwartzkopf, 10. 


Chapter Sixteen Gulf War and Operations Other Than 
War 


1 what struck him: Atkinson, Crusade, 25. 

2 stealth fighter aircraft: For a comprehensive story of 
the DARPA stealth program, see Van Atta et al., 
Transformation and Transition, Volume 2, I-1-9. 

3 “give them the full load”: Atkinson, Crusade, 31. 

4 “Two thoughts”: Crickmore, 63. 

5 “sophisticated video game”: Ibid. Feest also discusses 
how war is like playing a video game in Richard Benke, 
“Right on Target,” AP January 14, 1996. 

6 “video game was over”: Crickmore, 63. 

7 tactical advantage: Defense Department New Briefing, 
January 17, 1991, C-SPAN.org; Robert F. Dorr, 312. 
Numbers vary slightly, according to different sources. 

8 Iraqi Scuds: Major General Jay Garner, “Army Stands 
by Patriot’s Persian Gulf Performance,” Defense News 
7, no. 26 (1-4): 3; Atkinson, Crusade, 182; “Intelligence 
Successes and Failures in Operations Desert 
Shield/Storm,” Report of the Oversight and 
Investigations Subcommittee, Committee on Armed 
Services, U.S. House of Representatives, August 1993. 

9 surrendering to a machine: Ted Shelsby, “Iraqi soldiers 
surrender to AAI’s drones.” Baltimore Sun, March 2, 
1991. 

10 JSTARS: U.S. Air Force, Fact Sheet, E-8C, Joint Stars 
(2005). 

11 600,000 lines of code: Mahnken, 130. 

12 “real-time tactical view”: JOINT STARS, Transitions to 
the Air Force, Selected Technology Transition, 68. 

13 ten thousand more missions: According to a Defense 


Department timeline of the Gulf War, www.defense.gov. 

14 mind-numbing statistics: USA Today World, 1991 Gulf 
War chronology, September 3, 1996. 

15 terrible weather: McMaster, “Battle of 73 Easting,” 10- 
11. 

16 wrote the first handbook: Wolfe, 3. 

17 “We had thermal imagery”: Interview with Douglas 
Macgregor, April 2014. 

18 Eagle Troop: Interview with General Paul Gorman 
(retired) October 2014. The controversy continues over 
how long this battle actually lasted. 

19 “slaughter for slaughter’s sake”: Powell, 505. All 
quotes in this section are from Powell’s book. 

20 “a great idea”: Interview with Neal Cosby, May 2014. 

21 Bloedorn and the DARPA team: Thorpe, “Trends in 
Modeling, Simulation, & Gaming,” 12. 

22 “capturing”: Interview with Neal Cosby, May 2014. 

23 “an instrument of war”: This account is from Gorman 
and McMaster, “The Future of the Armed Services: 
Training for the 21st Century,” Statement before 
Senate Armed Services Committee, May 21, 1992. 

24 Task Force Ranger: Stewart, The United States Army 
in Somalia, 1992-1994, 10-11. 

25 “a direct hit”: Norm Hooten, interview with Lara 
Logan, CBS News, 60 Minutes, October 6, 2013. 

26 written report: Quotes are from Report of the Senior 
Working Group on Military Operations Other Than War 
(OOTW). Around this time, DARPA’s name was briefly 
changed back to ARPA, then restored to DARPA. 

27 “Historical advice”: Glenn, Combat in Hell, 1. 


Chapter Seventeen Biological Weapons 


1 thirteen-man Soviet delegation: Alibek, 226. The other 
twelve members were scientists, Soviet army officers, 
diplomats, and spies. 

2 regarded with wonderment: Alibek, 194; email 
correspondence with Ken Alibek, December 2013. 
Alibek now lives in Kazakhstan. 

3 Alibekov’s job: Alibek, 194. 

4 he later described: Ibid., 9. 

9 “It wasn’t so clear”: “DARPA: The Post-Soviet Years 
1989-Present 2008,” video available on YouTube at 
DARPAtv. 

6 great instability: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 
“Proliferation and Threat Response,” November 1992, 
35. 

7 At any given time: Hoffman, The Dead Hand, 330. As 
per Hoffman, there were 6,623 land-based and 2,760 
sea-based nuclear warheads aimed at carefully selected 
targets inside the United States, and an additional 
1,500 nuclear-armed cruise missiles and 822 nuclear- 
armed aircraft ready to fly. 

8 helped conceive and design: Biography of Lisa 
Bronson, Missouri State University, Faculty DSS-73. 

9 “At various stops”: This account is from Alibek, 239-40. 

10 reached out to Lisa Bronson: Alibek 242, also 
discussed with Michael Goldblatt, April 2014. 

11 Vladimir Pasechnik’s defection: Mangold and Goldberg, 
Plague Wars, 91-105. 

12 Ultra-Pure: Hoffman, The Dead Hand, 327-328. 

13 streptomycin: Poland and Dennis, WHO/CDS/CSR/EDC 
Plague Manual, 55. 


14 “You choose plague”: Hoffmann, The Dead Hand, 334. 

15 “one of the key acts”: Ibid., 332. 

16 declared smallpox dead: World Health Magazine, May 
1980 (cover). 

17 Lederberg confirmed: James M. Hughes and D. Peter 
Drotman, “In Memoriam: Joshua Lederberg (1925- 
2008),” Emerging Infectious Diseases 14, no. 6 (June 
2008): 981-983. 

18 to get the Russians to admit: Braithwaite, 141-143. As 
the British ambassador to the Soviet Union, Braithwaite 
was Stationed in Moscow from September 1988 to May 
1992. 

19 Yeltsin confessed: Braithwaite, 142-43. 

20 Congress got involved: In the spring of 1992, in an 
interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, Yeltsin 
acknowledged that the Soviet Union, and subsequently 
Russia, had been operating a biological weapons 
program. He blamed the arms race. In June, while 
visiting Washington, D.C., Yeltsin told the U.S. Congress, 
“We are firmly resolved not to lie any more,” and 
promised U.S. lawmakers that Russia’s illegal 
bioweapons programs would end. 

21 “the most virulent and vicious”: David Willman, 
“Selling the Threat of Bioterrorism,” Los Angeles 
Times, July 1, 2007. 

22 Alibek confirmed: Alibek, 5. 

23 provided chilling details: Testimony before the Joint 
Economic Committee, U.S. Congress, May 20, 1998; 
Alibek, 40. 

24 “They did not care”: Alibek, 257. 

25 “blindness to the pace”: Cited in William J. Broad, 
“Joshua Lederberg, 82, a Nobel Winner, Dies,” New 
York Times, February 5, 2008. 


26 “very little capability in biology”: Interview with Larry 
Lynn; “DARPA: The Post-Soviet Years 1989-Present 
2008,” video available on YouTube at DARPAtv. 

27 “a SCIF”: Quotes are from interview with Murph 
Goldberger, June 2013. 

28 Lederberg: Nancy Stomach, “DARPA Explores Some 
Promising Avenues,” 25. 

29 unclassified findings: This section is sourced from 
Block, Living Nightmares, 39-75. 

30 cancerous human tumors: Kevin Newman, “Cancer 
Experts Puzzled by Monkey Virus,” ABC News, March 
12, 1994. The subject, “The SV-40 Virus: Has Tainted 
Polio Vaccine Caused an Increase in Cancer?” was 
discussed and debated before Congress on September 
10, 2003. 

31 Shortly after: Block, Living Nightmares, 41. 

32 Biological warfare defense: Quotes in this section come 
from DARPA Biological Warfare Defense Program, 
Program Overview no. 884, briefing slides 
(unpaginated). 

33 “Star Wars of biology”: Ibid. 

34 Preston testified: Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on 
Technology, Terrorism and Government Information and 
the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 
Chemical and Biological Weapons, “Threats to America: 
Are We Prepared?” April 22, 1998. 

35 “hundreds of tons”: Tim Weiner, “Soviet Defector 
Warns of Biological Weapons,” New York Times, 
February 25, 1998. 

36 distributed to members of Congress: Congressional 
Record, March 12, 1998. 

37 sharing information: Richard Preston, “The 
Bioweaponeers,” New Yorker, March 9, 1998, 52-53. 


38 private meeting at the Pentagon: David Willman, 
“Selling the Threat of Bioterrorism,” Los Angeles 
Times, July 1, 2007. 

39 Alibek became president: Executive profile, Bloomberg 
Business Week, October 14, 2013. See also Miller, 
Engelberg, and Broad, 302-4. 

40 Popov: Quotes are from Nova, 1998. Transcripts online 
at pbs.org. 

41 “enigma”: Marilyn Chase, “To Fight Bioterror, Doctors 
Look for Ways to Spur Immune System,” Wall Street 
Journal, September 24, 2002. 

42 biological warfare defense: Prepared remarks of Larry 
Lynn, director, Defense Advanced Research Projects 
Agency, before the Acquisition and Technology 
Subcommittee, U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, 
March 11, 1997. 

43 “We hope”: “Hadron Subsidiary Awarded $3.3 Million 
Biodefense Contract by DARPA,” PRNewswire, May 2, 
2000. In just a few years’ time, Alibek’s federal grant 
and contract money would total $28 million. 

44 Ukraine: David Willman, “Selling the Threat of 
Bioterrorism,” Los Angeles Times, July 1, 2007. 

45 “terrorist organization”: Testimony of Ken Alibek, U.S. 
House of Representatives, Committee on Armed 
Services, Subcommittee on Research and Development 
and Subcommittee on Procurement, October 20, 1999, 
15. 


Chapter Eighteen Transforming Humans for War 


1 “weakling of the battlefield”: Quotes are from interview 
with General Paul Gorman (retired), October 2014. 

2 “On the field of battle”: Colonel S. L. A. Marshall, The 
Soldier’s Load and the Mobility of a Nation 
(Washington, DC, 1950), 7-10. 

3 Gorman wrote: Gorman, SuperTroop, VIII-7. 

4 radical vision: Interview with Michael Goldblatt, April 
2014. This belief is common among transhumanists. 

5 with the wave of a wand: Garreau, 28. 

6 “rapid healing”: Harry T. Whelan et al., “DARPA Soldier 
Self Care: Rapid Healing of Laser Eye Injuries with 
Light Emitting Diode Technology,” September 1, 2004. 

7 like hydrogen sulfide: Jason, MITRE, Human 
Performance, 22-24. 

8 to control the lobes: Garreau, 28. 

9 Mechanically Dominant Soldier: Tether, Statement to 
Congress, March 19, 2003. 

10 look like Lance Armstrong: Garreau, 32. 

11 “a wireless brain modem”: All quotes are from 
Statement of Dr. Eric Eisenstadt, Defense Sciences 
Office, Brain Machine Interface, DARPATech ’99 
conference. 

12 the answer was clear: Author’s tour of Gina Goldblatt’s 
high technology bedroom, April 2014. 

13 the Dark Winter script: Quotes are from Dark Winter, 
Bioterrorism Exercise, Andrews Air Force Base, June 
22-23, 2001; U.S. House of Representatives, Hearing on 
Combating Terrorism, “Federal Response to a Biological 
Weapons Attack,” July 2001. 

14 Nunn told Congress: Nunn, statement to Congress, 


July 23, 2001. 

15 all BASIS coul