Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity

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Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity
Agency overview
Formed 2006
Jurisdiction United States Government
Headquarters Riverdale Park, Maryland[1]
Agency executive
Parent agency Office of the Director of National Intelligence

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is an organization within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that funds high-risk, high-payoff research to overcome difficult challenges relevant to the United States Intelligence Community.[2] IARPA funds academic and industry research across a broad range of technical areas, including mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry, biology, neuroscience, linguistics, political science, and cognitive psychology. Notable IARPA investments include quantum computing, superconducting computing, and forecasting tournaments.

Most IARPA research is unclassified and openly published. Current director Jason Matheny has stated the agency's goals of openness and external engagement to draw in expertise from academia and industry, or even individuals who "might be working in their basement on some data-science project and might have an idea for how to solve an important problem".[3] IARPA transfers successful research results and technologies to other government agencies.

IARPA invests in multi-year research programs, in which academic and industry teams compete to solve a well-defined set of technical problems, regularly scored on a shared set of metrics and milestones. Each program is led by an IARPA Program Manager (PM) who is a term-limited government employee. IARPA programs are meant to enable researchers to pursue ideas that are potentially disruptive to the status quo.


Authorized by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2006, IARPA was modeled after DARPA, but focused on national intelligence rather than military needs. The ARPA model was designed to anticipate and preempt technological surprise, and has been characterized by ambitious technical goals, competitively awarded research led by term-limited staff, and independent testing and evaluation. IARPA was given the mandate to conduct cross-community research, target new opportunities and innovations, and generate revolutionary capabilities for national intelligence.

The agency was a consolidation of the National Security Agency's Disruptive Technology Office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's National Technology Alliance, and the Central Intelligence Agency's Intelligence Technology Innovation Center.[4]

IARPA operations began in 2007. Its headquarters, a new building in M Square, the University of Maryland’s research park in Riverdale Park, Maryland, was dedicated in April 2009.[1] In 2013, New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks called IARPA “one of the government’s most creative agencies.”[5]

Research fields

IARPA is known for its programs to fund research into anticipatory intelligence, using data science to make predictions about future events ranging from the political elections to disease outbreaks to cyberattacks, some of which focus on open-source intelligence.[6][7][8] IARPA has pursued these objectives not only through traditional funding programs but also through tournaments[6][7] and prizes.[3] Aggregative Contingent Estimation is an example of one such program.[3][7] Other projects involve analysis of images or video that lacks metadata by directly analyzing the media's content itself. Examples given by IARPA include determining the location of an image by analyzing features such as placement of trees or a mountain skyline, or determining whether a video is of a baseball game or a traffic jam.[3] Another program focuses on developing speech recognition tools that can transcribe arbitrary languages.[9]

IARPA is also involved in high-performance computing and alternative computing methods. In 2015, IARPA was named as one of two foundational research and development agencies in the National Strategic Computing Initiative, with the specific charge of "future computing paradigms offering an alternative to standard semiconductor computing technologies".[10] One such approach is cryogenic computing, which seeks to use superconductors such as niobium rather than semiconductors to reduce the energy consumption of future exascale supercomputers.[3][9]

Several programs at IARAPA focus on quantum computing[11] and neuroscience.[12] IARPA is a major funder of quantum computing research due to its applications in quantum cryptography. As of 2009, IARPA was said to provide a large portion of quantum computing funding resources in the United States.[13] Quantum computing research funded by IARPA was named Science Magazine's Breakthrough of the Year in 2010,[14][15] and physicist David Wineland was a winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics for quantum computing research funded by IARPA.[3] IARPA is also involved in neuromorphic computation efforts as part of the U.S. BRAIN Initiative and the National Nanotechnology Initiative's Grand Challenge for Future Computing. IARPA's MICrONS project seeks to reverse engineer one cubic millimiter of brain tissue and use insights from its study to improve machine learning and artificial intelligence.[16][17]


IARPA is organized into four offices, each with its own office director and its own research focus:[2][18]

  • Incisive Analysis Office: to maximize insight from information, in a timely fashion.
  • Office for Anticipating Surprise: to detect and forecast significant global events.
  • Safe and Secure Operations Office: to counter new capabilities that could threaten the United States’ ability to operate freely and effectively in a networked world.
  • Smart Collection Office: to dramatically improve the value of collected data from all sources.


See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "IARPA dedicates a permanent home on the campus of U Maryland". Homeland Security News Wire. 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2015-12-15. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "About IARPA". IARPA. Retrieved 2016-03-12. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Harbert, Tam (2015-10-19). "IARPA’s New Director Wants You to Surprise Him". IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved 2016-03-31. 
  4. Lawlor, Maryann (October 2007). "Igniting a Technical Renaissance". Signal. AFCEA. 
  5. Brooks, David (2013-03-21). "Forecasting Fox". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-03-12. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Corrin, Amber (2015-11-02). "How IARPA predicts the unpredictable". Federal Times. Retrieved 2016-03-31. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Corrin, Amber (2015-09-23). "IARPA's high-stakes intelligence experiment". C4ISR & Networks. Retrieved 2016-03-31. 
  8. Drummond, Katie (2010-10-01). "U.S. Spies Want Algorithms to Spot Hot Trends". WIRED. Retrieved 2016-03-31. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Belfiore, Michael (2015-09-23). "What They're Building Inside America's Secret Spy Lab". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 2016-03-31. 
  10. Rossino, Alexander (2015-08-18). "The National Strategic Computing Initiative - A Not-So-New Program". B2G Essentials. Deltek. Retrieved 2016-03-12. 
  11. "Quantum Programs at IARPA". IARPA. Retrieved 2016-03-31. 
  12. "Neuroscience Programs at IARPA". IARPA. Retrieved 2016-03-31. 
  13. Weinberger, Sharon (2009-06-03). "Spooky research cuts". Nature. 459 (7247): 625–625. doi:10.1038/459625a. 
  14. Ford, Matt (2010-12-23). "Science's breakthrough of 2010: A visible quantum device". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2016-03-31. 
  15. O’Connell, A. D.; Hofheinz, M.; Ansmann, M.; Bialczak, Radoslaw C.; Lenander, M.; Lucero, Erik; Neeley, M.; Sank, D.; Wang, H. "Quantum ground state and single-phonon control of a mechanical resonator". Nature. 464 (7289): 697–703. doi:10.1038/nature08967. 
  16. Cepelewicz, Jordana (2016-03-08). "The U.S. Government Launches a $100-Million "Apollo Project of the Brain"". Scientific American. Retrieved 2016-03-12. 
  17. Whitman, Lloyd; Bryant, Randy; Kalil, Tom (2015-10-30). "A Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing". The White House. Retrieved 2016-05-01. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Leadership". IARPA. Retrieved 2016-03-12. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Dizard III, Wilson P. (2007-08-14). "Master spy agency promotes Nixon". GCN. Retrieved 2016-03-15. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Lais, Sami (2008-03-24). "The Future of Intelligence". Defense Systems. Retrieved 2016-03-15. 
  21. Stegon, David (2012-09-04). "Highnam named IARPA director". FedScoop. Retrieved 2016-03-15. 
  22. Otto, Greg (2015-08-03). "Jason Matheny named IARPA director". FedScoop. Retrieved 2016-03-15. 

Further reading

External links