When President John F. Kennedy took office, his secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, acted on the Joint Study Group’s recommendation. He ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff to submit a concept for a single Defense Intelligence Agency that would integrate the military intelligence efforts of all Department of Defense elements. After months of study and deliberation with McNamara, the JCS submitted their plan.
The organization laid out by the JCS would report to the secretary of defense through the JCS as a unified body of military intelligence and counterintelligence entities.
The separate military services would no longer act as a loose confederation of independently operating groups. The new Defense Intelligence Agency would adopt the mission of managing the collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of military intelligence. Other objectives in the plan included more efficiently allocating scarce intelligence resources, and eliminating redundant facilities, organizations and tasks.
With some modifications, McNamara approved the concept given to him by the JCS, and established the Defense Intelligence Agency on Aug. 1, 1961, though it would not become officially operational until that fall.
McNamara selected Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Carroll to set up and lead the new agency. On Oct. 1, 1961, DIA began operations with a handful of employees in borrowed office space at the Pentagon.
Only a year later, in October 1962, the Agency faced what would become the gravest crisis of the Cold War when the Soviet Union secretly placed nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in Cuba. DIA’s analysts played a key role in the discovery of the missiles, noting that the placement of Soviet surface-to-air missile sites mirrored those around ballistic missile bases in the Soviet Union.
Together with the Air Force, they lobbied the National Security Council for renewed U-2 flights over Cuba. The next flight — one pass over the Pinar del Rio province on Oct. 14 — revealed the ballistic missiles to be precisely where DIA’s analysts thought they would be. For the remainder of the crisis, DIA supplied constant intelligence updates to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and McNamara. Months after the crisis subsided, DIA’s John Hughes went on national television to brief the Nation on the harrowing events of that October.
At the same time, the military services continued to transfer many intelligence functions and resources to DIA.
In late 1962, DIA established the Defense Intelligence School (known today as the National Defense Intelligence College). In early 1963, it activated a new Production Center at Arlington Hall Station in northern Virginia. In 1964, it established the Defense Attaché System to manage the far-flung military attachés around the world.
The Agency also added such functions as a Dissemination Center, a Scientific and Technical Intelligence Directorate, and it assumed the staff support functions of the J-2 (Intelligence), Joint Staff.
But the 1960s would be trying years for the Agency. The military services, concerned that DIA’s intelligence would not be responsive to their particular requirements, resisted DIA’s attempts to establish itself as DoD’s central military intelligence organization.
During the Vietnam War, DIA’s intelligence reporting on the strategic bombing of North Vietnam and the size of enemy ground forces was discounted by many in the services.
In 1968, DIA’s analysts, along with the rest of the Intelligence Community, failed to predict the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Other foreign intelligence challenges, such as the growth of China’s nuclear program; the Six Day War between Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Israel; and North Korea’s seizure of the intelligence vessel USS Pueblo, strained DIA’s ability to handle major issues — even as its efforts at organization and consolidation continued.
By the end of the decade, the Agency faced sustained calls for major reform — and even its outright dissolution.