In-Q-Tel

USA Today has a fascinating look inside an interesting CIA initiative:
...In-Q-Tel is the venture-capital arm of the CIA.

That's right: The CIA is investing in tech start-ups. At a time when the CIA has come under fire for intelligence lapses, In-Q-Tel offers a promising path to technology that might help the agency spot trouble sooner and make fewer errors.

In-Q-Tel, set up in 1999, invests about $35 million a year in young companies creating technology that might improve the ability of the United States to spy on its nemeses. It has kept a low profile and is not much known outside of the intelligence community and Silicon Valley.
The program has apparently been very successful, and will most likely be renewed. The DoD has expressed interest in duplicating the model for their own purposes.

Despite it's name being inspired by James Bond's Q, In-Q-Tel doesn't seem to be investing in high-tech weaponry or spy gadgets. Their focus seems to run more towards finding, sorting and communicating data. Products range from an application that can translate documents from Arabic into English, to an advanced Google-like search engine, to weblogging software(!). Public/private partnerships aren't very common in the US, but there are some exceptions, and in this case, it looks like it was a good idea.
...Tenet explained that the CIA and government labs had always been on the leading edge of tech. But the Internet boom poured so much money into tech start-ups, the start-ups leapt ahead of the CIA. And scientists and technologists who had innovative ideas went off to be entrepreneurs and get rich ? they didn't want government salaries at the CIA.

At the same time, tech companies were booming and didn't want the hassle of dealing with the government's procurement process. Most never thought of contacting the CIA. Tech companies didn't know what the CIA might need, and the CIA had no idea what the tech companies were inventing ? a dangerous disconnect with lives on the line.
Of course, the public/private and somewhat low profile nature of the program makes for some strange rumors:
In-Q-Tel has become known for being thorough yet furtive. These days, when a young company is making a presentation at an event, an unknown man or woman might come in, listen intently, then disappear. Such is In-Q-Tel's mystique that entrepreneurs often believe those are In-Q-Tel scouts even when they're not.
As I said before, the program has been successful (though success is measured in more than just money here - they're actually finding useful applications, and that's what the real goal is) but the CIA is characteristically cautious:
"It has far exceeded anything I could've hoped for when we had that first meeting," Augustine says. But he adds a note of caution, apropos for the CIA, which had been stuck for too long in old ways of finding new technology. "No idea is good forever," Augustine says. "We'll have to see how it holds up with time."
Update: Charles Hudson is a blogger who works for In-Q-Tel. Interesting.