Simon Willmetts is Assistant Professor of Intelligence Studies at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs He is a cultural historian interested in the history of secrecy, intelligence, surveillance and digital privacy. His research focusses upon the wider social and cultural impact of secret intelligence services and their activities. His first book, In Secrecy’s Shadow: The OSS and CIA in Hollywood Cinema (2016), examines the collapse of public trust in government in the aftermath of the Second World War through the lens of post-war spy cinema. More recently, he has become interested in the way in which contemporary dystopian fiction has interpreted and shaped debates about digital privacy. Extension number: 7670.
Simon Willmetts began researching the cultural history of secrecy and the US intelligence services as a member of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project entitled The Landscapes of Secrecy: The CIA and the Contested Record of US Foreign Policy, 1947-2001. The project explored how the US Central Intelligence Agency emerged in popular discourses as a lightning rod for wider public anxieties regarding secrecy and the excesses of US foreign policy. His book, In Secrecy’s Shadow: The OSS and CIA in Hollywood Cinema, 1941-1979, was the key output from this project, and argued that the expansion of official secrecy led to a dramatic cultural shift in the United States from credulity and faith in government institutions, to scepticism and conspiracy theory.
After completing his PhD at the University of Warwick he moved to the University of Hull in the UK, where he rose to the position of Senior Lecturer in the American Studies department and published a number of articles on the history of CIA public relations and spy fiction. He also worked on a major UK Economics and Social Sciences Research Council (ESRC) project entitled The Common Good: The Ethics and Rights of Cyber Security. This project explored the debates around surveillance and privacy in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations. As a result of this project he became interested in narratives of surveillance, particularly the representation of digital surveillance and privacy in contemporary dystopian fiction.
In the summer of 2018 he published an article in the prestigious American Quarterly journal that collected many of his thoughts that emerged from this project. He joined the University of Leiden’s Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA) in September 2018, and he works with the Intelligence Research Group on a number of projects. He also teaches on the BA minor in intelligence studies, and contributes to various other ISGA programmes.
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