Skip the navigation

Cloak & Dagger IT

CIA-funded venture capital firm In-Q-Tel is investing in new technologies that will benefit both the agency and corporate IT.

By Gary Anthes
February 5, 2001 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Q , the legendary gadgeteer of the James Bond films, gave Agent 007 things like a radio transmitter hidden in a hairbrush, artificial skin fingerprints and a fountain pen that doubled as a listening device.
Today, it's more likely that Q would give the master spy a personal digital assistant with self-protecting data, a device for encrypting fingerprint profiles and software for detecting collusion among criminals. In fact, those very items - and a great deal more technospookery - are making their way from Silicon Valley to the CIA, thanks to a bold, year-old experiment in government procurement. The idea is to move U.S. agents into the 21st century, but a side benefit is likely to be the creation of powerful and secure commercial tools for information acquisition, analysis and distribution.
The bridge between technology developers, the CIA and users in corporate America is In-Q-Tel Inc., a nonprofit venture capital firm created by the CIA in late 1999. Armed with $28.5 million in spy agency money, In-Q-Tel (the Q is for Bond creator Ian Fleming's fictional inventor) last year considered some 500 vendor pitches and funded about a dozen development projects.
"We have succeeded at luring companies to come in and show us stuff that even we are shocked by," says Christopher Tucker, chief strategist at the Arlington, Va.-based firm. "Often, these weird solutions are only weird because they are new. As soon as you see them, you think, 'My God, everyone is going to do that.' But right now, only some narrow niche industry uses it, or maybe some little company hasn't even announced it yet."
Taking a Gamble
One such "niche industry" is that of gambling. Systems Research and Development (SRD) in Las Vegas developed collusion-detection software that can spot cheaters and card counters by correlating information from multiple sources about relationships and earlier transactions. The software could, for example, warn a casino that a job applicant once shared an address with a known criminal.
The CIA will soon set up a pilot project to see how the SRD system might be adapted to spy work. "What the intelligence process works on is connections," says a senior CIA official who asked not to be named. "So if you have some group of bad guys over here, and you can find one of them, then there's this whole art and science of finding out who he visits, who he's connected to and so on." The software might also find extensive use in industry to aid in fraud detection, the CIA official says. "This is an

Our Commenting Policies