It seems one advanced research projects agency isn’t enough for the Pentagon and intelligence community. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has asked his agencies and offices – known collectively as the intelligence community – to establish their own office to develop cutting edge technologies. Modeled after the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) -- which in the 1990s helped to develop unmanned aerial vehicle technology, much of which is being used now in the field to collect intelligence – the new Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Iarpa) will “work across agency boundaries, in the ‘white space’ between agencies, on activities that agencies may miss based on current business models and on ‘blue sky’ concepts too ‘distant’ for agencies consumed with current operations,” according to his 100-day plan McConnell instituted Apr. 9.
It is unclear whether the new Iarpa would assume some of the developments now under way at Darpa. A Darpa spokeswoman notes that the agency does not use any funds from the “tactical intelligence and related activities” budget – some of which crosses agency boundaries to supply sensors and other technologies to Pentagon aircraft programs -- but she stopped short of addressing whether any programmatic refiguring is under way.
Forming the new Iarpa is one of a few of DNI’s new tenets under the rubric of ensuring acquisition excellence. The intelligence community is undergoing a major overhaul and expansion of its human intelligence collection capabilities, largely as a result of intelligence debacles in recent years. And, improving technical collection methods will augment that effort. Better technical collection could also help bolster the intelligence community from allowing erroneous intelligence to permeate through government as did the weapons of mass destruction argument used to invade Iraq.