Q&A With: IARPA Director Lisa Porter

The first director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity discusses the differences between intelligence work and defense

7 min read

As the new director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, Lisa Porter is the United States' answer to James Bond's Agent Q, but she's not crazy about the label. Porter is not the kind of person who likes being reduced to an easy metaphor, nor does she want her agency's intelligence work reduced to easy metaphors. That makes her the perfect head of the new agency, which has been tasked with developing technologies so far out that not even the Defense Department would fund them. ”We're not interested in the near-term, the low-hanging fruit,” she says. Porter wants the tough problems, a characteristic that's reflected in her eyebrow-raising résumé: She received her Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Stanford University and then spent some time as a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Advanced Technology Office. She left DARPA to manage aeronautics research at NASA. In January of this year, intelligence director Mike McConnell plucked her from her NASA post to lead the new intelligence agency.

IARPA (pronounced EYE-arpa) was created after the September 11 attacks as part of a larger effort to get the far-flung elements of the U.S. intelligence community to talk to each other. The new agency will be a high-risk research crucible for the country's 16 intelligence agencies, and not just the big ones that everyone knows about (CIA, NSA): many parts of the federal government, including the Department of the Treasury, have their own specific intelligence offices (for tracking money and counterfeiting, for example).

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

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