UCL Institute of the Americas


Francesca Akhtar

The Pentagon’s Spies:  A Critical History of the Defense Intelligence Agency, from JFK to Trump


Dr Tony McCulloch and Professor Iwan Morgan

My PhD research is a historical study examining the evolution of US defence intelligence, from the Cold War to the present day, through the lens of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was set up in 1961, by Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, as an attempt to streamline and improve the accuracy of military intelligence. On the 55th anniversary of the Defense Intelligence Agency in October 2016, President Obama commented that the agency had been a “critical component” of the United States national defense, both in war and peacetime. However, outside of the US intelligence community, the role of the DIA is largely unknown, as historians have tended to focus on the exploits of the Central Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency. Former intelligence officer William R. Corson has stated that: “President Kennedy’s efforts and, to a lesser degree, those of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in breathing life into the DIA is an often overlooked major contribution of the Kennedy Administration to the evolution of American intelligence.”

My research intends to fill a gap in the historical literature regarding intelligence history, and also add to the overall understanding of the importance and role of military intelligence in US foreign policy. My thesis will examine the DIA's contribution to US national security since 1961, and trace its evolving role from a focus on counter-terrorism in the 1980s and involvement with joint DOD-CIA operations in Central America, to the expansion of its HUMINT (human intelligence) capability in the post 9/11 era.