Mission: Impossible

The Arizona Legislature may prove to be too much for ASU's unsinkable Michael Crow

It also notes his membership on various boards, including a one-line reference as vice chair and director of In-Q-Tel Inc.

Nowhere does it mention that In-Q-Tel is the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency, which remains In-Q-Tel's sole client.

Nor does it state that In-Q-Tel receives $35 million a year from the CIA to serve as the agency's "technology accelerator." In-Q-Tel's primary mission is to seek out and deliver to the agency innovative information technology solutions available in the marketplace.

Crow is a founding member of In-Q-Tel and has served on its board of trustees since 1999.

"Michael Crow was instrumental from the beginning in coming up with the concept of what In-Q-Tel would become," says In-Q-Tel spokeswoman Gayle Von Eckartsberg.

The nonprofit organization was created during the last years of the Clinton administration after it became apparent the CIA was struggling to manage the rapidly increasing torrent of information being collected. In-Q-Tel has invested in about 25 companies, several of which have developed products that have been adopted for use by the CIA.

While In-Q-Tel does not engage in classified projects, Crow and other members of the board of directors have received security clearances. Other directors include Norman Augustine, former chairman of Lockheed Martin Corporation, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, who is now a professor at Stanford University, and John N. McMahon, former deputy director of the CIA.

Crow says his role with In-Q-Tel does not involve any secret work, and therefore does not pose an ethical conflict with his role as president of a university where open exchange of information is essential and expected.

"If this was a classified board . . . or a project that for any reason I could not discuss, then I think it would be inappropriate for me to participate," Crow says.

Crow says his work with In-Q-Tel has been a "chance to learn and understand the defense and intelligence side of the government's R&D efforts."

If research at ASU leads to a technology that may be of interest to In-Q-Tel, and hence the CIA, Crow says he would "bow out" to avoid any conflicts of interest. At this point, In-Q-Tel is investing relatively small amounts of venture capital in start-up companies mostly involved with information technology.

Crow says the CIA and other intelligence agencies are in dire need of improving information management.

"These agencies are so antiquated it is beyond belief," he says. "These guys had computers that weren't compatible. No new technology."

Crow says none of the intelligence agencies "have the ability to move quickly. None have the ability to understand what is going on in the market."

In-Q-Tel, Crow notes, is listed on his résumé that was submitted to the selection committee. The enterprise's affiliation with the CIA, however, is not disclosed on his résumé and was never discussed with the selection committee.

"We never talked about it specifically," Crow says.

But Crow's direct affiliation with the CIA was known to the executive search firm of Heidrick & Struggles, which was paid $136,000 by the Board of Regents to screen candidates. The company only provided an oral report to the regents, according to Linda Blessing, the Board of Regents' executive director.

Chuck Knapp, a partner with Heidrick & Struggles, says he discussed In-Q-Tel's operations with Crow.

"I didn't see any red light with respect to the CIA at the time," Knapp says. "In fact, I viewed it as a positive."

Nevertheless, Knapp says he never told members of the search committee -- which included several members of the Board of Regents -- that Crow was on the board of directors of a CIA-funded operation.

"We had a number of general discussions with the search committee and the board [of regents] about Michael's background in Washington," Knapp says. But those discussions were limited to general references to Crow's work with the "intelligence community," Knapp says.

"I don't recall ever saying, as the [In-Q-Tel] Web site clearly does, that this was primarily a CIA-type operation," Knapp says.

Knapp's failure to disclose Crow's CIA connections left the selection committee and members of the Board of Regents without important information that likely would have triggered discussion.

"I would liked to have known [In-Q-Tel] was a CIA-affiliated organization for discussion purposes," says regent Chris Herstam.

Regent Kay McKay says she was never informed about Crow's CIA ties. "Obviously, I would have preferred to know."

Regent Don Ulrich, who was the head of the selection committee, says he was aware that Crow had ties to a "government committee" but didn't know about his links to the CIA.

Ulrich says he, too, would have liked to have known about the CIA connection prior to making the decision to hire Crow.

But all three regents on the selection committee say Crow's CIA connection would have made no difference in their decision to hire him as ASU president.

In fact, when Crow's role with the CIA was disclosed in a Wall Street Journal story last fall, the link generated little reaction at ASU. It has not been a topic of formal discussion at the ASU Faculty Senate.

Still, George Watson, outgoing ASU Faculty Senate president, says Crow's CIA connection should have been discussed prior to his hiring.

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