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Remember the Semi-Submersible, the Digital X-Ray Detector Panel, or the Dragonfly Insectothopter? They're artifacts in the CIA museum, a collection of spy gadgets, weapons, and memorabilia that goes back 100 years.
U.S. intelligence agencies have long depended on research and development in new technologies to support their surveillance work and analysis. Today's spy gear in many cases is surprisingly accessible. In-Q-Tel, the venture investment arm of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, regularly backs companies whose products are commercially available, including some consumer technologies.
Since being formed in 1999, In-Q-Tel has invested in dozens of startups and other tech companies. In the first 10 months of 2012, the company has announced 17 tech investments. They include Contour Energy Systems, the maker of next-generation battery technology; Mersive, a supplier of "ultra high-resolution" displays (pictured above); and Reversing Lab, developer of the mysterious-sounding "decomposition technology" for computer security.
Cloud computing platforms are another area of investment. So far this year, In-Q-Tel has partnered with cloud services startup Cloudant, cloud management specialist Adaptive Computing, and Huddle, developer of a cloud-based content management system.
Some In-Q-Tel investments go to technologies that can be used in the field, such as a recent deal with Claremont BioSolutions, which uses cell phone technology in disposable devices for taking and analyzing DNA samples. The devices transport the DNA sample through a chamber where cells are dissolved and nucleic acids extracted in a few minutes. The idea is to enable molecular diagnostics in the field, what Claremont BioSolutions calls "prep on a chip."
On the consumer front, In-Q-Tel disclosed in June an investment in Looxci, the maker of a "wear and share" video camera that starts at $150. The devices, which can be helmet-mounted for sports activities, are of interest to the Department of Homeland Security. In-Q-Tel also has a deal with Walleye Technologies to manufacture microwave-based "see-through-walls" devices.
According to the Office of Director of National Intelligence, the top U.S. intelligence authority, total spending for the national intelligence program, which includes activities of the CIA and other organizations in the U.S. Intelligence Community, was $53.9 billion in fiscal 2012.
Here's a look at some of the latest technologies to get In-Q-Tel backing, a first step in making them widely available to U.S. intelligence agents and analysts.
In October, In-Q-Tel, along with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, invested in D-Wave Systems, the company behind the D-Wave One, described as "the first commercially available quantum computer" (pictured here). The company produces processors in its own fabrication facility and last year created an applications team to apply quantum computing to solving "industry-scale" challenges. The Intelligence Community sees the investment as an opportunity to address "complex problems that tax classical computing architecture," In-Q-Tel said.
Credit: D-Wave Systems
Bio threats require new defenses, which are the focus of In-Q-Tel's work with OpGen. In-Q-Tel is collaborating with OpGen on sequence and genome mapping for microbial genome analysis. The technology -- under development for the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate and its National Bioforensic Analysis Center -- will be used assemble microbial genome sequences quickly and accurately. The goal, according to In-Q-Tel, is to detect potential bio-threat organisms that may pose a danger to public health.
Emerging cyber threats are high on the Intelligence Community's priority list. In September, In-Q-Tel partnered with Tenable Network Security, a provider of security tools for vulnerability detection and management, continuous monitoring, and risk management. The company's customers include the Department of Defense and several federal agencies. The deal should help intelligence agencies build stronger defenses to protect classified information.
Credit: Tenable Network Security
Earlier this year, before he resigned as director of the CIA in November, David Petraeus talked about the implications of an "ocean of big data" for intelligence collection and analysis. To help with that challenge, In-Q-Tel invested in 10gen, developer of the MongoDB open source database. MongoDB is a document-oriented, NoSQL database that can be used to store structured and unstructured data at very large scale.
Credit: Defense Dept.
In August, In-Q-Tel announced an agreement with SiOnyx to accelerate the commercialization of advanced imaging systems based on the company's "black silicon" image sensors. SiOnyx has developed a semiconductor process that enhances the sensitivity of silicon-based photonics. Its black silicon can be used in applications from automobile collision-avoidance systems to night-vision goggles. In-Q-Tel said the partnership will result in low-cost complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology for visual imaging, near-infrared, and shortwave infrared systems.
Intelligence is largely an on-the-go pursuit, which means advanced wireless capabilities are always in demand. In-Q-Tel has tapped Lime Microsystems, whose multi-band transceivers are used in next-gen wireless broadband systems, to create state-of-the-art wireless systems for a range of unspecified applications.
Credit: Lime Microsystems
Looxcie develops videocams that can be used for snowboarding, trail biking, and now national security. In-Q-Tel announced a partnership with the Silicon Valley startup in June, with the stated intention of developing next-gen videocams for the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate. Looxcie's website says its wireless-capable videocams can be used to connect you with friends and family. We can now add foes to that list.
In the spy business, a 22-inch computer display gets you only so far. Intelligence agencies need displays capable of covering the entire wall of a command and control center. Mersive develops software that's used to create large, "ultra high-resolution" displays for use with pixel-rich applications. The company's website shows its technology being used in the White House situation room, Washington Metro's command and control center, and DOD's Joint Tactical Air Controller dome. An In-Q-Tel investment aims to create a new class of these displays for intelligence agencies.
Intelligence agencies, like a growing number of businesses, are making increased use of cloud computing. In a three-month span, In-Q-Tel struck partnerships with Adaptive Computing to develop a cloud operating system, with Huddle for cloud-based content management, and with Cloudant, a startup that offers a "data-layer-as-a-service" for use in building scalable applications.
Credit: Adaptive Computing