Friday, May 2, 2008

Inside IARPA

The May issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine has a neat Q & A with the new chief of the intelligence community's far-out-spy-gadget unit, Lisa Porter, director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, or IARPA. IARPA is the intel version of DARPA, where, incidentally, Porter once worked. In the interview, she discusses the new tripartite organization for IARPA. Its three program offices are Smart Collection, Incisive Analysis, and Safe and Secure Operations. The agency lives in the Office of Science and Technology at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Readers might recall that IARPA recently announced it will be snooping around the virtual world via a foxy little project called Reynard. It's a study of emerging social dynamics in virtual worlds and large-scale online games being conducted by the Incisive Analysis program.

Among Porter's points:

She is looking for directors for the three programs and people to run projects within them. IARPA is designed to do high-risk, high-payoff advanced intelligence research, so she is looking for "very smart people who understand what it takes not just to technically comprehend a problem but how to bring an idea to reality programmatically."

The Web site soon will carry instructions and forms for applying to run projects there.

IARPA will cooperate with DARPA and work closely with In-Q-Tel, the intelligence community's venture capital fund, even though In-Q-Tel's focus is near-term, high-risk problems.

IARPA's current location--on the University of Maryland campus, albeit in a fenced and guarded National Security Agency compound--and it's planned move to more accessible quarters are intended to signal the agency's openness to academics and others out side the intel world whose ideas and skills could help solve huge problems such as sorting through a tsunami of data, figuring out how to better target and winnow the data intel agencies collect and how to keep that information safe in the Web-enabled world.

Photo credit: IARPA via IEEE Spectrum Online

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