Picture Q as a tall blond woman with an American accent, and you've got Porter. Lisa Porter. She's the first head of America's new Q branch, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity — Iarpa for short — a fledgling office charged with outfitting US spooks with the highest-tech information-gathering gadgetry.
Iarpa (just say "yarpa") is designed to do for the intelligence community what Darpa (the Defense Advanced ResearchProjects Agency) has done for the Pentagon. Darpa was founded back in 1958 with an unusual mandate — conduct military research outside military labs. Its successes have included, oh, the Internet and the Global Positioning System.
No doubt Porter's three years at Darpa helped her get a foot in the door at Iarpa. As a senior scientist there, she added things like "helicopter-quieting program" and "drag-reduction-on-naval-ships project" to her previously bookish resume. A Stanford PhD in applied physics, Porter had never pictured herself working for the government. But then 9/11 happened. "Like many Americans," she says, "I felt a need to step up and contribute."
In 2005, Porter left Darpa to head up NASA's aeronautics division, where she worked on development of the X-51A, a vehicle that's expected to achieve Mach 6.5. Her new gig at Iarpa entails directing projects on everything from cyberspace to biometrics. The agency will sponsor research at universities, national laboratories, and other organizations to develop some really cool spy gear — which may or may not include grenade pens and gadget-sprouting Rolexes.