I am a historian of United States foreign relations specializing in the history of intelligence, development, and nation-building. The United States uses aid, covert operations, diet, statistics, and technology to reconstruct the social reality of countries around the world, and I am interested in these subtle mechanisms of power. My most recent book The Hungry World (2010), explores the use of food as a tool of psychological warfare and regime change during the Cold War. My first book, Illusions of Influence (1994), described the process through which a former American colony negotiated its conditional independence. In the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency developed a capacity to replace unsuitable governments, elected or otherwise, as I show in Secret History (2006).
Right now, I am investigating the early history of the CIA, and asking why a country so committed to pluralism and the marketplace of ideas staked its security on the novel notion of central intelligence. Putting vital information under control of a single authority has never fit comfortably with democratic ideals, and in a perennial political ritual, the “intelligence failure,” Americans question and reaffirm the CIA compromise. My current project, First Line of Defense, follows this debate from 1947 to the present day.