The CIA Is Taking Notes From James Bond
Spy agency's investment firm, named for 007 gadget geek, banks on a virtual future.
The CIA analyst first looks over the 3-D rendered map, showing the probable location of a suspected terrorist. As she rotates the map and zooms in, another CIA officer puts his hand out and, with a motion, halts the 3-D model’s movement. The officer points out a building that looks like a shed.
Working a gut feeling, the analyst calls up the latest information on that building. As the data appears, it hovers in the sky above the building. The case officer notes something odd: something in that building is connected to the internet.
The analyst loads in previous drone surveillance footage from the past month on fast forward, and the two watch as the suspected militant traces a path to and from from the shed, spending an inordinate amount of time there – the same time that jihadist calls to action are sent out on social media.
The session goes on like that until it suddenly blinks out – only because the analyst needs to rub her eyes, taking off the virtual reality goggles for a moment’s break. She’s sitting at her desk at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, while the case officer is half a world away at a station in-country, waiting patiently to return to their shared digital intelligence-gathering session.
This imagined futuristic scenario might be closer than you’d expect – or at least something like that is what the CIA is hoping for now that it put its money behind the technology that could bring virtual reality to espionage.
In-Q-Tel, the public-facing investment arm of the CIA recently announced a “strategic investment” with Immersive Wisdom, a Florida-based company specializes in what developing what it calls “a dynamic virtual, mixed, and augmented reality-based software platform for real-time collaboration, information analysis, and situational awareness.”
Put plainly, the software is designed to allow multiple users to share a virtual 3-D space at the same time, no matter where they are in the world, and jointly interact with objects in that space — whether it be live maps, videos, 3-D models or some other kind of data.
Senior Vice President Megan Anderson said in the announcement this week that the “real-time collaboration platform will dramatically improve how our government partners can operate across a wide range of areas, including ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance], cyber and analysis.”
Members of the U.S. military have already given the tech a couple test runs.
“What they’re trying to accomplish here is giving us a very user-friendly interface that is capable of compiling all of that information for us into one location so it’s readily available,” Staff. Sgt. Eric Leatham, a geospatial production supervisor in the Air Force’s 36th Intelligence Squadron, said in August after playing with technology from Immersive Wisdom and another defense tech company out of Maryland called Entegra Systems.
The Immersive Wisdom is the latest investment for In-Q-Tel, which now boasts more than 200 investments in its portfolio in everything from cutting-edge communications to optical technology to imagery analysis.f
The investment firm was founded in 1999 when, it says, “CIA leaders recognized that technological innovation had largely shifted from the purview of government [research and development] and large organizations to entrepreneurs and the startup community who were developing much-needed technologies more quickly and less expensively, and continue to do so today.”
“As a not-for-profit strategic investor, IQT has connected visionary startups with a potent mix of support: financial resources in the form of strategic investments, market understanding, and engineering expertise to bring their technology to the intelligence community,” In-Q-Tel says.
The name is play on “Q,” the curmudgeonly British Secret Service scientist who provides James Bond with all the latest hi-tech gadgets.
Perhaps all those times Q showed Bond a new toy would’ve been a lot safer had it been done in a virtual reality.