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.