The Defense Attaché System (DAS) was established Dec. 12, 1964, by a Department of Defense (DOD) directive issued by Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara. The directive sought to improve the management of the total attaché effort by moving from the existing system in which the individual military departments managed their own attachés (a structure that was deemed both inefficient and redundant) to a single, centrally managed defense-wide system under the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
The DAS would consist of “all military personnel accredited as attachés or assistant attachés to foreign governments as well as other defense personnel assigned to attaché posts.” McNamara charged DIA with developing a phased plan that would gradually transition all of the attaché functions from the military departments to DIA. As part of his new responsibilities, the director of DIA was charged with establishing and administering the DAS; selecting attaché personnel from nominations submitted by the military departments; determining the organizational and command arrangements for each attaché post or complex within a foreign country; establishing requirements and arranging for the specialized training of all attaché-designees; and establishing procedures, in collaboration with the secretaries of the military departments and the heads of other DOD components, for the conduct of overseas representation.
The Defense Attaché System became fully operational under DIA in July 1965. In 2013, the DIA director requested the name be changed to Defense Attaché Service to reflect the fact that the DAS is a service provider, with customers that include the secretary of defense, the director of national intelligence, the secretaries of the military departments, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the chiefs of the military services, the combatant commanders, and the integrated intelligence centers. This change acknowledged customer support as a core mission of the DAS and was approved in May 2014 by the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
Today, defense attachés are appointed by the secretary of defense to serve as senior defense officials/defense attachés (SDO/DATTs) and are responsible for all DOD activities and personnel assigned to the Embassy of the country in which they serve. SDO/DATTs serve as the primary military adviser to the ambassador and country team on military issues and developments. Additionally, they represent the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and greater DOD elements. SDO/DATTs plan and coordinate U.S. military activities with that nation’s armed forces; observe and report on military developments; oversee U.S. military training programs; and support DOD and other VIP visits.
Defense attachés are an integral part of the DIA team. DIA uses all-source defense intelligence to prevent strategic surprise and deliver a decision advantage to war fighters, defense planners and policymakers. The agency collects and analyzes key data using a variety of tools, and deploys its personnel globally, alongside warfighters and interagency partners, to defend America’s national security interests.