In this age of heightened security, the CIA is looking to IT professionals
to help not only its battle against terrorism but in its fight against
Recently, the agency’s venture funding firm In-Q-Tel went on the offensive
appealing to Information Technology “warriors” across corporate America.
“The agency (CIA) was about to die from information overload,” said In-Q-Tel
president and CEO Gilman Louie. “In the ’50s and ’60s, separate groups would deal
with the information process and at the end of the line there would be
offices piecing together the data. So for a long time, the sheer volume of
information became the enemy. With IT today, the new technologies can be an
Back in 1999, the CIA helped fund the private independent organization to
help it scout out cutting-edge technologies that could serve U.S. national
Since that time, In-Q-Tel has received some two thousand proposals. The
firm’s Northern Virginia and Menlo Park, Calif. offices were flooded
with at least 400 of those calls since September 11.
In all, In-Q-Tel has funded projects for about 20 firms including IBM
, Stratify, and Zaplet.
But as Louie points out, the government is not looking for the next killer
app as much as it is looking for hardware and software you could eventually
find on the shelf.
Beyond basic security features like laptops that won’t work in the wrong
hands, the CIA is looking for predictive knowledge management – what is
sometimes referred to as “discovery” technology.
In-Q-Tel says it also wants data mining tools, products that bridge the
information gap between “unstructured vs. unstructured” database
applications and products that mine “multi-modal” information beyond plain
old text (think audio/visual or geo-spatial).
“People don’t understand that we have to abandon our current way of
thinking,” Louie told internetnews.com. “A new texture in will hit us hard
in the next 3 to 5 years and we have to be ready for it. All it takes is for
companies to use a little bit of imagination and ask themselves how the
world will be and how will we get there.”
With that in mind the U.S. has a financial plan in place to make that
According to a recent report by Chantilly, Va.-based Input, federal spending
on information systems and services will increase from
$37.1 billion in fiscal year 2002 to $63.3 billion in FY 2007.
“The needs of the federal government are not that much different from a
private company, but they need it today, and they’re willing to spend money
on it,” said Louie.
In-Q-Tel currently supports 45 employees and a $30 million annual budget,
including its slice of the Homeland security pie.
Continued on page 2 with: “Discovery Mode”
What is the best kind of search engine? How about one that knows exactly
what information you want, when you want it and delivers it to you wherever
It may sound like science fiction now, but the CIA is looking for just such
a technology. A recent W3.org White Paper penned the concept as a “resource discovery
Better than a traditional search that assumes you know what terms to type
in, Louie says what’s after Google will be really exciting.
“Discovery requires technology that will assemble the information before you
even know what questions to ask,” said Louie. “The next generation will make
suggestions based on simple criteria. What’s interesting is that in Lotus
Notes and Microsoft Office is there are all sorts of clues. Important
information can reside in someone’s e-mail or in a document or in a
The idea is to get away from what Louie calls “government stovepipes,”
agencies that are a black box getting information from other agencies that
moves along intelligence and policy lines. Discovery systems would help
stringing together these black boxes to find pieces that put the puzzle
Louie says the key to knowledge management now is based on text,
specifically English-based text. Whereas future tools will cross metadata
and data across the supply chain to let the agency search in more global
languages like Chinese and Spanish.
In-Q-Tel says the only place right now that can produce that kind of
technology is in Hollywood.
Looking To Hollywood For Help
In-Q-Tel execs are making the trek to Southern California next week to
“We’re talking to movie and television writers and producers because they
are the ones coming up with the best ideas, says In-Q-Tel CEO Gilman Louie.
Louie himself came from the entertainment field, having spent several years
as a gaming executive with toy-maker Hasbro
. Legend has it
he was recruited for the job with In-Q-Tel while he was engaged in a “T-28
Now the CIA’s VC czar says television programs like “The Agency” and “24”
are showing the agency that instant knowledge with a few keystrokes could be
more reality and less fantasy.
Some of the cutting edge ideas the company is also looking include how to
better data mine Internet/media convergence platforms like video and voice.
“Video will be huge,” says Louie. “The world has Apple iMacs streaming DVDs
and sharing high speed video clips online with their cable modems. What if
you said, ‘I’ve got this great clip that has this person’s face in it or
this car and I want more information about it.’ Well, unless you searched a
stack of news clippings you wouldn’t find it.”
Louie says the same applies for audio searches, whether they are embedded in
video clips or voicemail systems.
And what about wireless? Well, the agency is wildly interested, yet
apprehensive, in the capabilities of WLANs
“Let’s face it, security in 802.11 networks doesn’t exist. If you want to
really enable wireless networks, you have to fix that security problem,”
Louie told a crowd gathered at the TechX NY conference in June.
In most wireless Local Area Networks, data is either vulnerable or so well
protected it is inaccessible. “Either way, (without secure wireless data
networks) we lose, and we lose our advantage to act faster than our
Continued on page 3 with: “Breasting The CIA’s Cards”
Breasting The CIA’s Cards
With In-Q-Tel being such an overt operation, is there and inherent risk
to divulging the CIA’s next move? Louie says no.
“The reality is that everybody needs the tools,” he said. “What is secret is
the data and the tools in terms to enable them. A word processor is not a
Class-5 technology but the memo I write on it may be.”
In fact no company In-Q-Tel has invested in (Browse3D and its three
dimensional views; Graviton’s wireless management solutions; Traction, which
has tools that integrate e-mail, attachments, and other data sources into an
easy to read newspaper format) has technology that is completely impossible
to copy. Instead, the agency will look at the technology as it pertains to
the big picture.
Overall, In-Q-Tel says the current trend towards XML is an important one
because it helps power the next generation of technology especially if it is
combined with transparent security. The long-term picture is a little more
ambiguous, but Louie says that companies that can deal with multiple media
types should be getting a call.
Louie’s best advice for companies is to support security certificates early
on and put it as a high priority in the first version of the products as
opposed to creating security in version 2 or 3.
The difference is that the CIA will tweak the product to suit its own needs,
as it did with SafeWeb.
SafeWeb: A Case Study
Emeryville, Calif.-based SafeWeb’s commercial product let Internet users
surf the Web anonymously and securely. The CIA thought it was a great idea,
but the agency had other plans.
“Their focus was more commercial with a SCA device in their VPN
easy VPNs are in demand, but as far as their product was concerned, we found
it an interesting point of view but not exactly what we were looking for, so
they worked with us and tweaked it.”
Because of that, in August 2001 the company made headlines when it teamed up to basically smuggle Western news into
Communist China with the help of the Internet
Broadcasting Bureau, which also oversees the Voice of America.
The partnership gave SafeWeb $5 million from Congress on top of its In-Q-Tel
money to undermine the Chinese government attempts at blocking certain URLs
from the West.
In that case, SafeWeb came out with a product they didn’t anticipate. But
Louie says some companies try too hard and focus only on something that the
CIA may be interested in, but not really commercially viable. The problem
there is that a product that is government unique has the danger of only
getting revenue form the government.
The better solution, he notes, is to prepare a commercially viable product
first and then look to tailor it to the CIA’s needs. The product must not
only be secure at its core, but able to withstand the market long term and
avoid an orphan situation.
“There are some special cases that require just a 2 percent modification,”
said Louie. In those cases, companies should let the agency figure out how
the technology fits in with our plans.
This may be why in investment circles, In-Q-Tel is less likely than other
VCs to take risks on fringe technologies.
“We get tips from other VCs, but we don’t think like they do,” said Louie.
“Because we are a non-profit, we tend to support a product as a strategic
venture and focus on its survivability and mobility.
As for the company’s next big venture, Louie says you’ll have to wait and
see what happens.