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Willmetts, Simon 1

Willmetts, Simon

NIAS Individual Fellowship

A Cultural History of the Central Intelligence Agency

Research Question

How has the Central Intelligence Agency shaped American cultural and political ideas, and in turn, how have those ideas shaped the work of American intelligence?

Project Description

This project aims to explore the public life of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  Though intelligence services are typically regarded as intrinsically secretive, largely absent from the public domain, the CIA has often found itself at the centre of major political and cultural debates.  Politicians, conspiracy theorists, novelists, filmmakers, journalists and other public actors have positioned the CIA as a lightning-rod for wider public anxieties regarding secrecy and US foreign policy.  These ideas about the CIA have had a profound impact.  They have helped determine Presidential elections, brought about major official enquiries, undermined public trust in government, and mobilized both left and right-wing political movements.  This project therefore seeks to understand the history of the CIA within its wider political and cultural context.

Selected Publications

  • 1)  Simon Willmetts, “The Cultural Turn in Intelligence Studies”, Intelligence and National Security, 34:6 (2019), 800-817.
  • 2) Simon Willmetts, In Secrecy’s Shadow: The OSS and CIA in Hollywood Cinema, 1941-1979 (Edinburgh University Press, 2016).
  • 3) Simon Willmetts, ‘The Burgeoning Fissures of Dissent: Allen Dulles and the Selling of the CIA in the Aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, History: The Journal of the Historical Association, 100:340 (2015), 112-128.


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