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20161001 The Pentagon Brain




The main idea here is simple: to present the story of DARPA and how it developed from its Cold War roots into technological driver of American power.




Chapter One: The Evil Thing

The story starts with 1954 test of thermonuclear bomb. The power of the bomb was significantly underestimated leading to nearly catastrophic consequences for participating scientists in nearby area. It also describes some complexity in decision-making caused by ethical and moral considerations, but also by technological uncertainty of consequences.

Chapter Two: War Games and Computing Machines

This is about von Neumann, first computer, and research in Game theory used to define strategy for Cold War

Chapter Three: Vast Weapons Systems of the Future

This chapter is about sputnik scare that significantly increased amount of resources allocated to military research, especially to ballistic missiles

Chapter Four: Emergency Plans

This is about generally unknown research on survivability of society after massive nuclear strike: “The Emergency Plans Book”. After reviewing multiple scenarios conclusion was: it is not possible to survive. It eventually led to MAD strategy and attempts to find some kind of accommodation to prevent nuclear war by all means necessary short of surrender.

Chapter Five: Sixteen Hundred Seconds Until Doomsday

This chapter is about one of the first close calls of nuclear age when technology could cause nuclear exchange if not human intervention. One of the consequences was creation of Jason Group of top scientists to tackle wide variety of technological issues related to national security.

Chapter Six: Psychological Operations

This is about another, softer side of science use in Cold War struggle. It is related to William Godel and his role in psychological operations in Korean War and beyond. It includes side story of Dulles’ son Allen who, as young lieutenant, was wounded in Korean War and had his brain permanently damaged.




Chapter Seven: Techniques and Gadgets

This chapter describes Kennedy’s flexible response doctrine and how it led to Vietnam War. It also describes several related military research programs specifically supporting this war: various gadgets including new firearms specifically designed for Vietnam conditions. The most important effort however was chemical defoliation program.

Chapter Eight: RAND and COIN

This chapter describes ARPA non-government affiliate: RAND corporation and how it provided sociological research in support of counterinsurgency. It used experienced anthropologists well familiar with Vietnamese people, culture, and language. They come up with very good recommendations especially against the program of strategic villages. Unfortunately military and political bureaucracy rejected these recommendations.

Chapter Nine: Command and Control

This is about paralleled development of computerized control system. It was a SAGE system developed for control over strategic nuclear forces, but it also traces J.C.R. Licklider who became one of the most important computer scientist involved. One of the programs he led was related to computer analysis of behavioral patterns applied to counterinsurgency operations.

Chapter Ten: Motivation and Morale

This chapter brings in another personality Leon Goure, who seems to be a spoiler in psychological operations overriding scientific anthropological research and implementing ad hoc non-working solutions.

Chapter Eleven: The Jasons Enter Vietnam

This is review of Jasons’ participation in Vietnam and projects that they worked on from analysis of use of nuclear weapons to defoliation of jungles.

Chapter Twelve: The Electronic Fence

This chapter is about electronic fence along Ho Chi Minh Trail – one of the most consequential Jason projects. This was a set of electronic equipment that could collect and transfer information remotely practically without human intervention.

Chapter Thirteen: The End of Vietnam

When Vietnam developed into large-scale fight within American society one of the consequences was leftist attack against Jason scientists on campuses that eventually led to distancing Jasons from ARPA. Moreover the very existence of ARPA was threatened by investigations and overall attempt by communist sympathizers to permanently cripple American military power.




Chapter Fourteen: Rise of the Machines

This is about technological transformation of military that occurred during and after Vietnam War. It involved not only hardware, but also human training that begin to be conducted using computerized simulators, therefore allowing people to obtain experience without actual risks and expenses related to field training.

Chapter Fifteen: Star Wars and Tank Wars

This chapter is about star wars ideas and their impact on simulation technology, specifically for armored warfare.

Chapter Sixteen: The Gulf War and Operations Other Than War

This is about successful confirmation of American military development in 1970-80s that led to easy victory with insignificant loses in Gulf war, but also a non-military defeat in Somali, which demonstrated moral and public relations unpreparedness of US military to conduct operations against guerilla opponents acting among civilians.

Chapter Seventeen: Biological Weapons

This is a review of seldom-discussed issue of biological welfare. It presents story of Soviet scientists who worked on bio warfare and changed sides when USSR start falling apart.

Chapter Eighteen: Transforming Humans for War

This is about biological research to develop a new soldier who would be smarter, stronger, and more efficient on battlefield. It also reviews result of war game Dark Winter testing scenario of terrorist biological attack by Saddam against USA. Results indicated 3 mil American casualties from smallpox.




Chapter Nineteen: Terror Strikes

This is about 9-11, but with an interesting twist: attention and even panic caused by false positives for biological weapons. An interesting point is that DARPA did not fail because surprise came not from technology.

Chapter Twenty: Total Information Awareness

This is about tentative program for government to know about all information flows and PR disaster it caused.

Chapter Twenty-0ne: IED War

This chapter is about expensive high tech attempts to fight cheap low tech IED warfare with little real success. It also discusses social science side of counterinsurgency effort.

Chapter Twenty-Two: Combat Zones That See

This is about more technical details of Iraqi war

Chapter Twenty-Three: Human Terrain

This is about human side of war. It again brings in social science and attempts to build awareness about humans in war zone and their behavior.




Chapter Twenty-Four: Drone Wars

It is story of drones, but it is not limited to it. The autonomous and remotely controlled devices from extremely small to very large are the future of American war making.

Chapter Twenty-Five: Brain Wars

This is about human brains damaged in the war, but also about artificial brain that can control machines without human being on site. Obviously it creates huge problems not least of them being how not to loose control over AI killing machines.

Chapter Twenty-Six: The Pentagon’s Brain

The final chapter is about DARPA interconnection with corporate world and mutual need they have. It also points out to future development that comes down to the idea that “battlefield is not the place for human beings”.


It is quite interesting story of relationship between science, corporations, and American military that resulted in significant superiority of American military over any other country. Unfortunately leftists dominant in American elite often vilify the scientific military research, resulting in limitations on its progress. Not less important is historic inability of American society to deny its enemies either Communists or Islamists access to results produced by American technological research. Consequences are severe, for example transfer of American nuclear technology to Soviets led to trillions in expenses, tens of thousands of Americans killed in Korea, Vietnam, and other places, and millions of people perished in struggle against Communists or under their rule. So far, despite regular transfer of technology to enemies, Americans were lucky to avoid catastrophic damage, but this luck may not hold forever. I wish this issue would be treated seriously and technology and knowledge would be transferred only to civilized democratic people, but I do not expect it to happen at least until really catastrophic events occur.



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