CIA start-up will tough it out in commercial world

CIA start-up will tough it out in commercial world

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

The CIA is coming in from the cold with its venture capital start-up, In-Q-It, though the forecast for the nonprofit is a bit cloudy.

'Security is a real issue, because In-Q-It will be a target. We know that,' said Basil Scott, technology director for the Q Interface Center, CIA's liaison with its private-sector alter ego.

In-Q-It's mission is to foster development of information technology with commercial as well as classified potential. But commercial customers worried about possible trap doors and eavesdropping by the CIA may be reluctant to use products developed with the spy agency's money, Scott acknowledged.

Even the good news has had a downside. 'There has been absolutely crushing interest in In-Q-It,' he said. The nonprofit company has received more than 400 inquiries since it opened its doors in September'more than its 12-person staff has been able to evaluate.

Scott discussed In-Q-It's challenges and goals at a recent Technology Excellence in Government seminar in Washington. The CIA needs to take advantage of the rapid pace of commercial information technology development, he said. 'Speed is of the essence.'

To do this, the CIA created In-Q-It to partner with companies and work outside the constraints of government regulation.

The agency proposed the creation of the company in May 1998. In-Q-It became incorporated last year in Delaware by a board of trustees that contracted with the CIA to form the company.

The real deal

In-Q-It opened for business Sept. 29, with the announcement of Gilman G. Louie as president and chief executive officer. In-Q-It's 10-member board of trustees is drawn from companies such as Xerox Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp., as well as from academia, government and the financial industry.

The company's initial $28.7 million budget comes from the CIA, but Lee A. Ault III, chairman of the board, has set a goal of making the firm self-funding within four years.

Initial areas the company will focus on are use of the Internet, information security, knowledge generation and distributed architectures. The Q Interface Center has 10 employees who will translate the agency's needs into commercial requirements.

'We are looking at a range of products that is wider than just security, but everything has to have a security element in it,' Scott said.

In-Q-It has an office in Washington and will open a second in the Silicon Valley soon. Despite the CIA's need for speed, In-Q-It has been moving slowly in its first three months, putting personnel and policies in place.

'This is unexplored territory, with no
model for making decisions,' Scott said.

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