In yet another illumination of the extent to which technological capability is increasingly seen as tied to national security, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is starting up its first-ever federal lab program, with a broad focus on the intersection of technology and intelligence that ranges from augmented and virtual reality to “future wireless and telecommunications technologies.”
CIA Labs says it will bring CIA officers together with the private sector and academia to research and develop science and technology solutions in support of CIA’s mission, and it will conduct research and development as well as engineering and adaptation of existing technologies to do so. The lab program will also, for the first time, allow CIA officers to file patents and collect a portion of the profits, in order to attract and retain more high-level technology experts. According to reporting by MIT Technology Review, CIA employees will be allowed to keep up to 15% of the patent profits with a cap of $150,000 a year, which the publication said “could double most agency salaries and make the work more competitive with Silicon Valley.”
“Some phenomenal innovations have come from CIA over the years, and with CIA Labs, we’re now better positioned to optimize developments and further invest in our scientists and technologists. In an evolving threat landscape, CIA Labs will help us maintain our competitive edge and protect our nation,” said Dawn Meyerriecks, head of CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, in a statement.
MIT Technology Review called the effort a “new skunkworks,” a reference to Lockheed Martin’s historic effort focused on rapid fighter jet innovation. Meyerriecks told the publication that a paramount problem is sorting through the massive amounts of sensor data that military and intelligence agencies already collect and that CIA officers “want to develop massive computational power in a relatively small, low-power sensor so the sorting can be done quickly on the device instead of being sent back to a central system.”
The lab said that its areas of research include advanced materials and manufacturing; artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics; blockchain technologies; virtual and augmented reality; high performance and quantum computing; biotech; future wireless and telecommunications technologies; and robotic, autonomous, and human interface systems.