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[] In-Q-Tel Update,

Thursday, January 24, 2002 

CIA's In-Q-Tel offers tech testing ground  


One day, technology entrepreneur Neil Senturia had an unexpected phone
call from a man working for the CIA.

When a friend asked how it happened, Mr Senturia joked: "They're the
CIA. They find anything they want."

Actually, the CIA has not always had the easiest time finding what it
needs from the fast-moving world of technology, which is why three years
ago it launched a non-profit venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel.

Since September 11, the unit's mission of investing in up-and-coming
technologies has become more urgent. Fortunately for In-Q-Tel's 40
employees in Menlo Park and Arlington, Virginia, hundreds of technology
companies have come calling.

The CIA can give an obscure technology a large-scale testing ground, an
early entry into government and some valuable credibility.

Stratify head Nimish Mehta said: "If it is good enough for an
organisation such as the agency, it is good enough for most large

Last year, Stratify got several million dollars in funding from
In-Q-Tel. Stratify is among a handful of companies that can find
important bits of "unstructured data" - information scattered throughout
organisations in word-processing files, e-mails and databases - and put
them together in a way that makes sense.

The technology is of particular interest to the CIA because the agency
is under increasing pressure to process piles of intelligence
information more quickly.

In November, In-Q-Tel invested US$1 million in Tacit Knowledge Systems
of Palo Alto, which scans e-mail to determine who in an organisation has
potentially insightful expertise someone else should know about.

Mr Senturia's Mohomine, which last year also attracted an In-Q-Tel
investment of at least US$1 million, makes software which culls and
categorises information spread across various kinds of documents - even
in foreign languages.

Mohomine, Stratify and Cincinnati-based Intelliseek are helping the CIA
soup up its Foreign Broadcast Information Service, which monitors
overseas radio, newspaper and Internet reports.

In-Q-Tel chief executive Gilman Louie said: "Our mission is to go after
technologies that are going to get to market anyway. We want to get
there ahead of time. We want to get there early."

The company gets about US$30 million per year to spend on investments
and technology analysis; any profits must be ploughed back into

It has bought technology from about two dozen companies and taken equity
stakes in at least 13. Most recently it agreed to licence Zaplet e-mail
collaboration software and a multi-language Internet search system from
Northern Light.

Many of In-Q-Tel's employees have no CIA or government experience,
including Mr Louie, a former video-game developer who created the Falcon
computer flight simulator and first published the enormously addictive
Tetris game in the United States.

Mr Louie and his team often get tipped to new technologies by other
venture capitalists looking to team up. They regularly consult with
researchers at national laboratories and big companies.

Tacit Knowledge Systems head David Gilmour said: "They are so
sophisticated in their vetting of technology that they put us through a
process which was really rigorous.
"We inherited a huge technical resource that is on our side and is
available with a phone call."

The "Q" in In-Q-Tel is a reference to the gadget guru who outfitted
James Bond with tiny homing beacons and ejecting car seats. The
technologies In-Q-Tel has unearthed for the CIA are less cinematic, but
pioneering nonetheless.

They include:

Browse3D of Northern Virginia can show Web surfers several pages at once
in virtual rooms that reveal what lies behind links.

Graviton, of La Jolla, makes networks of tiny sensors that communicate
with each other and relay information to a user-friendly computer
interface - "a nervous system for the engineered world," its top
engineer, Larry Goldstein, said.

For the present, potential customers include convenience stores which
need to monitor their refrigeration units. The sensors could someday
detect explosives, chemical or biological agents.

SafeWeb of Emeryville recently shut down a free service that let
Internet users bypass Web censorship by governments and corporations.
But the company is pressing ahead with a commercial version.  This
winter, the CIA plans to begin testing the product, which would let
analysts visit foreign Web sites without leaving any trace they came

The director of a team of 13 CIA officials who work with In-Q-Tel to
determine what the agency needs, Thomas Benjamin, said: "Everybody is
very excited about what In-Q-Tel has brought. It has definitely improved
our insight and reach into technologies that probably would have eluded

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