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Great Anecdotes: The CIA and Their Contributions to Modern Technology

By Bob Gourley

Editor’s note: We saw the story below on the CIA website and wanted to share it with you. These are good anecdotal stories. The one one Keyhole is especially important for technologists to know. The investment and encouragement by government and the national security community ended up really changing the technology landscape for the better. – bg

The CIA and You: CIA’s Contributions to Modern Technology

Have you ever wondered if the world-class technology developed by the CIA could ever be made available to the public? You may be surprised to learn that it already has. Look no further than your cell phone or digital camera, which is powered by the lithium-iodine battery.

CIA developed lithium iodine batteries in the 1960s because certain operational missions required long-lasting batteries of various shapes and sizes. The lithium-iodine battery improved the performance of surveillance equipment and prolonged the operation of reconnaissance satellites. In the early 1970s, the CIA passed the technology to the medical community where it was used in heart pacemakers.

The medical community has also used CIA’s research and development to improve early detection of breast cancer. Radiologists were able to adapt technology – originally used for satellite imagery analysis – to help better diagnose breast cancer in women under 50, where diagnosis is difficult. The use of these methods is believed to have considerably reduced the number of deaths from breast cancer.

Finally, in February 2003, the CIA-funded strategic investor In-Q-Tel made an investment in Keyhole, Inc. Keyhole was a pioneer of interactive 3D earth visualization and creator of the Earth Viewer 3D system. CIA worked closely with other Intelligence Community organizations to tailor Keyhole’s systems to meet operational needs. The technology was also useful in the private sector, with multiple TV networks using Earthviewer 3D to fly over Iraqi cities during its news coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The popularity of this technology eventually caught the attention of Google, which acquired Keyhole in 2004. You know this technology today as Google Earth.

There are many other examples of CIA’s contributions to modern technology. To learn more, visit the CIA Museum page under the Stories section.

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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.