The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity’s (IARPA) mission is to invest in high-risk/high-payoff research to tackle some of the Intelligence Community’s (IC) most difficult challenges. IARPA is not operationally focused and does not deploy technologies directly to the field. Instead, we transition next generation capabilities from our research programs to our IC customers for operational implementation.

In 2007, IARPA was stood-up in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, as part of the 100-day plan establishing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), to help address an array of national security threats, anticipate unwarranted surprise, and give the IC foresight. At that time, the IC recognized it needed an edge similar to what the Defense Department has had for so long in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—an organization that could explore disruptive, next generation technology-based capabilities to give policymakers and military decision-makers a decisive advantage over our adversaries.  

IARPA was given the specific mandate to conduct cross-community research, target new opportunities and innovations, and generate revolutionary capabilities for the IC. In fulfilling its mandate, IARPA has drawn on a range of experts’ deep knowledge in their fields.

Since its inception, IARPA has been part of several prestigious White House research efforts. For example:

  • IARPA is part of the BRAIN Initiative, announced by the White House in April 2013, which supports developing and applying innovative technologies to create a dynamic understanding of brain function. Participants and project affiliates include DARPA, as well as numerous private companies, universities, and other organizations in the United States, Australia, Canada, and Denmark.
  • In July 2015, IARPA was named to lead foundational research and development for the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI). This initiative called for the accelerated development of technologies for exascale supercomputers and funding research into post-semiconductor computing. The NSCI’s intent is to preserve U.S. dominance and its leadership role in high performance computing (HPC) in the face of other nation’s advances, by supporting users, vendor companies, software developers, and researchers.
  • Announced by the White House in October 2015, the Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenge for Future Computing intends to help the U.S. develop transformational computing capabilities by combining innovations in multiple scientific disciplines. The Challenge sought to create a new type of computer that can proactively interpret and learn from data, solve unfamiliar problems using what it has learned, and operate with the energy efficiency of the human brain. IARPA assisted in this effort by applying what it learned from its Machine Intelligence from Cortical Networks (MICrONS) program, which aimed to close the performance gap between human analysts and automated pattern recognition systems by reverse-engineering the brain’s algorithms.
  • In May 2022, in an effort to ensure continued U.S. leadership in quantum information science and its technology applications, the White House launched the National Quantum Initiative (NQI). NQI encompasses contributions from across the federal government, as exemplified by quantum information science research, development, demonstration, and training activities pursued by executive departments and agencies. In support of NQI, IARPA has been at the leading edge of quantum computing research, as evidenced by many programs, including Entangled Logical Quibits (ELQ), Logical Quibits (LogiQ), and others.


IARPA’s remarkable people—leaders, program managers (PM), and support staff—are the driving force behind our high-risk/high-payoff research effort successes.

From our first director, Dr. Lisa Porter, to our current director, Dr. Rick Muller, our leadership is steeped in technology. Dr. Porter, who served as deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, is the co-founder and current co-president of the management, scientific, and technical consulting firm, LogiQ. Dr. Muller was senior manager of Quantum and Advanced Microsystems at Sandia National Laboratories and led the Quantum Information Science program there. He also served as the director of Department of Energy's (DOE) Quantum Systems Accelerator, one of the five centers DOE created under the National Quantum Initiative.

Dr. Peter Highnam, IARPA’s second director, served as director of research at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and is now the chief strategy officer for the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.

Dr. Jason Matheny, a former PM, was also IARPA’s third director and in 2021 was selected as President Biden’s senior advisor on technology and national security issues. He is currently the president and CEO of the RAND Corporation.

Dr. Stacey Dixon, our fourth director, was confirmed in 2021 as the principal deputy director of national intelligence (PDDNI). Prior to becoming PDDNI, Dr. Dixon served as NGA’s deputy director.

Dr. Catherine Marsh, our fifth director, is a renowned power-sources expert, led the industry team that put lithium-ion technology on numerous platforms, including NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Former PM, Dr. Jill Crisman, served as the principal director for AI in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (OUSD R&E). Dr. Crisman was responsible for developing the department-wide AI roadmap and unifying and coordinating the department's plans and investments to achieve a competitive advantage in AI. Currently, Dr. Crisman leads the Digital Safety Research Institute (DSRI).

Dr. Jinendra Ranka, a former deputy office director at IARPA, joined DARPA as the director of the Defense Sciences Office in February 2022. Prior to joining DARPA, he was the CEO and a founding partner of JASR Systems. 

And former PM and acting office director, Chris Reed, is now the chief innovation officer at Raytheon Applied Signal Technology. 

Since all IARPA PMs serve on a term-limited appointment, we have a constant influx of new PMs and innovative new program ideas. To date, IARPA has had more than 100 PMs who are experts in their technology fields and bring imagination and innovation to solving some of the IC’s most difficult challenges.

With its community-wide charter since its inception, IARPA has introduced approximately 90 research programs in diverse areas, including quantum computing, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, sociology, power sources, antennas, as well as chemical and biological sensing. We are at the forefront of leveraging AI and machine learning (ML) to develop remarkable speech and facial recognition capabilities, as well as machine translation and information discovery. For example:

  • Launched in 2011, IARPA’s Babel program developed agile and robust, rapid speech recognition technology that can analyze any human language in order to help analysts effectively and efficiently process massive amounts of real-world recorded speech. Babel focused on underserved languages, such as Pashto, Tamil, Igbo, and others, due to USG partner interest in regional emergent threats. Also, by selecting languages with very grammatical systems, the program was better able to assess performer systems in a wide variety of scenarios. Speech data was made available through the Linguistic Data Consortium (LDC).

    While the technology Babel developed has significantly improved since the program closed in late 2016/early 2017, the Babel team and LDC still receive requests for the data from USG partners. The program’s primary impact is the datasets it created, which are famous in the community, as well as the development of Kaldi, a widely-used, open-source speech recognition toolkit.
  • The Open Source Indicators (OSI) program was introduced in 2011; a team involved with this program was the first to notify U.S. public health officials about the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
  • The High Frequency Geolocation (HFGeo) program, which began in 2011, developed a capability that dramatically improved the USG’s ability to geolocate and characterize high-frequency (HF) emitters. Some key accomplishments include: an integrated system that significantly improved HF signal geolocation accuracy; a successful field demonstration; and the transfer of HFGeo-developed technology to government partners. The HFGeo team, which was led by former PM Torreeon Creekmore, was awarded the prestigious DNI Science and Technology Award for their groundbreaking research.
  • Signal Location in Complex Environments (SLICE), HFGeo’s classified sister program, launched in 2011 and focused on enhancing geolocation in complex environments, primarily from long standoff receivers. The challenges addressed include low signal power, emitter motion, multipath propagation, and dense interference environments. The SLICE team received the DNI Team award for its efforts.
  • Launched in 2010, IARPA’s Multi-Qubit Coherent Operations (MQCO) program, which aimed to resolve the technical challenges involved in fabricating and operating multiple qubits in close proximity, was fortunate to have the 2012 Nobel Prize Laureate in Physics, Dr. David Wineland, working as a researcher on the program. The program’s end goal was to execute quantum algorithms using multiple qubits and to evaluate the performance using a metric that can scale to higher qubit numbers.
  • The Great Horned Owl (GHO) program, which launched in 2012, greatly enhanced the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). GHO ended in 2014 after successfully demonstrating a quiet propulsion system for UAVs with more endurance and payload capability. This system quietly generates electrical power from liquid hydrocarbon fuel (specifically gasoline or diesel) and enables purely electrically-driven quiet flight. In fact, an IARPA team, with Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and NASA support, flew the battery GHO UAV (XRQ-72B) on Edwards Air Force Base's dry lake bed in October 2018. Special Operations Command officials were so impressed with how quiet the UAV was that it led to DARPA’s Series Hybrid Electric Powered AircRaft Demonstration (SHEPARD) program.
  • IARPA’s Sirius program, launched in 2012, was the first program to address cognitive bias mitigation training using Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) that produced validated cognitive bias assessment measures. Sirius has been IARPA’s most transitioned and inquired about program, with over 20 transitions and counting.
  • IARPA’s Janus program dramatically improved facial recognition software performance by increasing identity matching speed and accuracy. Launched in 2014, Janus’ goal was to revolutionize face recognition by fusing information available from multiple views from diverse sensors and visual media to deliver dramatic improvement in speed and accuracy. Janus’ accomplishments include, among others, producing algorithms twice as accurate as the most widely used government-off-the-shelf systems and achieving 85% image verification accuracy at a false match rate of 1 in 100,000.
  • Launched in 2015, the Trojans in Artificial Intelligence (TROJAI) program, aimed to defend AI systems from intentional, malicious attacks, known as Trojans, by conducting research and developing technology to detect these attacks in a completed AI system. Several performer teams who worked on TrojAI also participated in the NeurIPS Trojan Detection Challenge, which invited participants to detect and analyze Trojan attacks on deep neural networks that are designed to be difficult to detect. The Purdue-Rutgers team placed second in the primary rounds for "Target Label Prediction" and "Trigger Synthesis," while the Peraton IUB team placed first in the final round of the competition.
  • Launched in 2016, the Standoff Illuminator for Measuring Absorbance and Reflectance Infrared Light Signatures (SILMARILS) program aimed to develop a portable system for accurate real-time standoff detection and identification of trace chemical residues on surfaces using active infrared spectroscopy at up to a 30 meter range. By the time SILMARILS closed in 2021, the program had achieved a number of impressive results, including: detecting explosives on portable electronics; detecting trace quantities of narcotic simulants through a plastic bag; and detecting target chemicals on a wide range of “wild” substrates with real world clutter, among others.
  • In 2017, IARPA released the research results and forecasting data generated by its Aggregative Contingent Estimation (ACE) program, which, when launched in 2011, initiated a massive competition to identify cutting-edge methods to forecast geopolitical events. This included millions of participant forecasts made over four years of the program’s execution, which led to critical insights into the accuracy of human judgement about geopolitical affairs and aggregated vs. individual forecaster performance. The clear winner from this effort was Team Good Judgment, which went on to build the forecasting business, Good Judgment. In addition, the principal investigator, Philip Tetlock, wrote a popular book, Superforecasting, based on this effort. The IC prediction market preceded ACE, however ACE developed along-side this market and contributed to the launch of an entire Superforecasting industry, led to other spin-off programs like OSI, CREATE, and HFC, and constituted the world’s largest forecasting experiment.
  • Little Horned Owl, a program similar to GHO, launched in 2018 and completed in 2022, sought to develop ultra-quiet mini UAVs (defined as having a take-off weight of 55 pounds or less) to further enable critical intelligence and military missions. Two different developed designs will be available for transition to government users. Each design has a flight radius of 30 miles, with 30 minutes time-on-station, while carrying a 10-pound payload.
  • IARPA utilized several innovative programs and one seedling to aid the IC and help the U.S. combat the coronavirus (SAR-COV-2). These included:
    • The Crowdsourcing Evidence, Argumentation, Thinking and Evaluation (CREATE) program. Roughly 100 Australian researchers from the country’s eight leading universities used a collaboration platform developed for the CREATE program, which launched in 2016, to analyze possible outcomes of COVID-19 policy alternatives and deliver a report to the Health Ministry and Chief Medical Officer.
    • The Functional Genomic and Computational Assessment of Threats (Fun GCAT) program. Launched in 2017, performers at Harvard University used the Fun GCAT pipeline to analyze COVID-19 genes to help reveal how COVID-19 disrupts human immune systems and what makes the virus pathogenic.
    • The Molecular Analyzer for Efficient Gas-phase Low-power Interrogation (MAEGLIN) program. A small, portable gas sensor that we originally developed through our MAEGLIN program, which launched in 2017, to identify illicit activity indicators, such as narcotics production, was used in a clinical trial we funded to determine if it can be used as a breath sensor to detect signs of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) early enough to improve patient chances of surviving COVID-19 complications. Results suggested we can distinguish COVID patients from healthy patients and monitor the progress of the disease.
    • The Finding Engineering-Linked Indicators (FELIX) program. The MIT-Broad Foundry, a performer team on the FELIX program, which launched in 2019, analyzed the publicly available SARS-CoV-2 genome using their FELIX bioinformatics pipeline in order to test the veracity of online stories claiming that SARS-CoV-2 was engineered in a laboratory. They compared the SARS-CoV-2 genome against 58 million sequences, including genomes from closely- and distantly-related viruses and in only 10 minutes, determined that all SARS-CoV-2 regions genome match naturally-occurring coronaviruses better than they match any other organisms, including any other viruses. The analysis indicated that no sequences from foreign species have been engineered into SARS-CoV-2.
    • The BioHeat seedling project at the Baylor College of Medicine provided further evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was not genetically engineered. In April 2020, Baylor developed a software pipeline to analyze protein stability and relative mutation rate. This work was aimed at faster therapeutic and vaccine discovery, and their mutation hotspot visualizations may assist with contact tracing.


Collectively, IARPA continues to focus on a range of programs that incorporate research areas such as quantum technology, computer architecture, microelectronics, data analytics, energy storage (batteries), biometrics, linguistics, site modeling, active smart textiles, radio frequency communications, and orbital debris.