But, with the director's calendar always full, just getting an appointment to discuss a new programme can be tough. "You definitely had to have your elevator speech ready, so you could pitch it to him in 25 seconds or less," he says. "I sometimes wished we had a taller building."
The agency took just 3 months to set up back in 1958 and has not changed its way of doing business since. The only major change was the addition of the word "Defense" to its name in 1972, its removal in 1993, then its reinstatement in 1996.
Another more subtle change in DARPA's mission is to not only prevent technological surprises but, as Tether puts it, "create them."
Most of what sets the agency apart remains, however. In the years to come it seems destined to carry on inventing, innovating and surprising. In the process it will doubtless continue to come up with some notable howlers. But this is all part of the process, says Garcia "If one out of 10 hits, and hits big, then it's worth it," he says.