For nearly 60 years, the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has been a hub of innovations generated by some of the country’s top scientific minds. The agency’s best-known inventions include the Internet, GPS, and drones. In The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top Secret Military Research Agency, Annie Jacobsen ’89 examines questions about the implications of DARPA’s work.
Housed in the Pentagon until 1972, what is known as the “Pentagon’s Brain” now has its headquarters in a nondescript glass and steel building in Arlington, Va. Within the walls of that unmarked building, work is being done that is “10 to 20 years ahead of the technology in the public domain,” all of it in secret, Jacobsen writes. One example is the development, beginning in the 1960s, of the technology that in 2001 brought drones to the battlefield for the first time. By 2014, more than 80 countries had military-grade drones, underscoring the need for DARPA’s secrecy, she writes. Jacobsen, who conducted 71 interviews with insiders and relied on private documents and declassified memos to write the book, asks if DARPA’s activities help safeguard democracy or encourage America’s willingness to plunge into war.
In a starred review, Publishers Weekly praised Jacobsen’s “truly remarkable … ability to objectively tell the story of DARPA, not to mention its murky past.” Jacobsen, a journalist, also is the author ofArea 51 and Operation Paperclip.