In the the ranks of technology incubator programmes, there is AngelPad here in San Francisco and Y Combinator about 65 km south in Mountain View. And then there is the Pentagon.
For years, the Pentagon has knocked on Silicon Valley’s door in search of programmers to work on its spying technologies. But these days, it’s the Pentagon that is being scouted for expertise. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are finding it valuable to have an insider’s perspective on the national security apparatus when trying to find or prevent computer vulnerabilities or mine large troves of data.
“They have unique insights because they’ve been on the front line,” said Matthew Howard, a former intelligence analyst in the navy and now a managing partner at Norwest Venture Partners, referring to former military and intelligence operatives who have hatched start-ups. He has invested in several such companies. “Now they’ve got commercial desires. The lines are blurring.”
One of the start-ups is Synack, which promises to vet an army of hackers to hunt for security vulnerabilities in the computer systems of government agencies and private companies. The company’s co-founders, Jay Kaplan and Mark Kuhr, met in Fort Meade, Maryland, in the counter-terrorism division of the National Security Agency. They left the agency in February after four years there, and later decamped to Silicon Valley. Within weeks, they had raised $1.5 million in seed money; they are now working with their first customers and pitching their experience in the spy agency.
Morta Security, another of the start-ups, was founded by Raj Shah, a former F-16 fighter pilot for the air force in Iraq. He described himself as “a policy adviser” to the NSA before moving to Silicon Valley to establish the company this year with two former analysts. Morta’s work is in such “stealth mode”, in valley parlance, that the company has said nothing about what it is working on. Nor would Shah describe fully what his two co-founders were doing at the agency before they formed the company.
“There are very sophisticated threats that are able to steal data from corporations and government,” is all Shah would say. “Our guys’