An item in the Washington Post business section two weeks ago caught our attention. It was about an intelligence agency that is building a new headquarters right on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. (A place one of us is familiar with, if for no other reason than that's where we mail the tuition checks for one of our offspring).
The intel agency in question is the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, or IARPA. Call us a bit slow, since IARPA was formed in 2006, but we were only vaguely aware of it.
IARPA, it turns out, is the U.S. intelligence community's counterpart to DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has been in business for more than 35 years and is meant to be a small, flexible R&D agency that funds high-risk, but potentially high-payoff technologies. DARPA helped develop the technologies that were important to the development of the Internet, and Artifical Intelligence, to name just a few.
IARPA reports to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell. As with all intel agencies, its Web site is unhelpfully bland. But it does state that the agency has three program offices that illustrate where its research is focused: "Smart Collection," "Incisive Analysis," and "Safe & Secure Operations." That last one means keeping the bad guys out of U.S. government computer and information systems.
For the conspiracy minded--and who isn't these days?--IARPA's ancestry is a wee bit interesting:
In the beginning, there was Total Information Awareness, a DARPA information-gathering program run by noneother than former Iran-Contra figure and Reagan national security adviser John Poindexter. Critics saw the program as a major, post-9/11 intrusion on American's privacy and civil liberties, and Congress killed funding for it in 2003. But there were persistent reports--confirmed by yours truly in conversations with former U.S. intelligence officials--that portions of the Total Information Awareness research had simply been shunted off to other agencies.
One of the agencies that absorbed the work was the Advanced Research and Development Activity, affiliated with eavesdropping National Security Agency, and like NSA, located at Fort Meade, Maryland. ARDA was later renamed, given the ominous-sounding moniker, Disruptive Technology Office.
Hopefully, you've kept with us through all the name changes and acronyms. (Do intel agencies do this on purpose to confuse, or is it just bureaucracy at work?) The point is that IARPA, according to Signal, the magazine of the Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association, was formed by combining the Disruptive Technology Office with research programs underway at the CIA and other agencies.
So, IARPA was born. Did Total Information Awareness die?