New book on the history of DARPA reveals stunning plans to protect the presidentBreaking News
tags: JFK, DARPA
Days after President John F.Kennedy was assassinated, a Pentagon agency was given a top-secret assignment to come up with technology to protect the president. What they looked at—from gassing bystanders to arming Secret Service agents with nonlethal squirt guns—was a lesson in the futility of perfect security.
Imagine angry protesters surrounding President Donald Trump’s motorcade as it heads down Fifth Avenue in New York. Now, imagine Secret Service agents spraying a gas that instantly pacifies those protesters; the hostility melts away and the crowd is suddenly docile.
In late 1963, just weeks after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, scientists taking part in a top-secret Pentagon project came up with just such an outlandish proposal, as well as many others, including a squirt gun that could incapacitate bystanders.
The proposal to gas crowds, however, was perhaps the most bizarre.
“There also exists a need for a system which would make an unfriendly crowd become friendly almost instantaneously,” read the classified report by a Pentagon contractor. “This goes beyond the desire to divert a crowd, as could be done by the prompt and generous use of cash money. The possible use of gasses, sound, lights and other chemical biological or psychological agents to achieve such a change as well as other attributes they might possess for crowd control will require further study.”
The military division that sponsored this research was the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which was founded in 1958 to help get America into space. Though better known today as the agency that laid the groundwork for the internet, stealth aircraft, and drones, DARPA also played a key role in a number of highly classified projects in the 1960s, including a secret plan to develop technology to protect the president of the United States from assassination.
Until today, the only public references to this project was a single brief footnote in an obscure 1975 report, and a brief mention by former Rand Corporation analyst Guss Russo, who helped Daniel Ellsberg leak the Pentagon Papers. Russo called the presidential protection work “particularly special,” noting that “its classification is higher than top secret.” He revealed nothing else about it, however.
But on Nov. 21, 2013, just one day short of the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, in response to my Freedom of Information Act Request, the National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, Maryland, declassified and released a majority of the files related to this project. A subsequent FOIA lawsuit I won against the Defense Department, as well as interviews I conducted for a new book covering the history of DARPA, provided more details.
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