ADVICE+DISSENT: Intelligence File The British Are Coming!

Intelligence firm picks up former CIA chief George Tenet on its march into the U.S. market.

Intelligence firm picks up former CIA chief George Tenet on its march into the U.S. market.

In October, George Tenet, the last director of central intelligence, emerged from his mostly quiet retirement to announce he had accepted a new job. The British defense and intelligence firm QinetiQ (pronounced kin-ET-ic) snatched him up as a "nonexecutive director." To put matters plainly-as Tenet often does-the former spy chief will help pave the road for QinetiQ's U.S. invasion.

For about 60 years, the brain trust behind QinetiQ has been the center of research and development for the British military, intelligence and security services. The firm was spun out of the United Kingdom's Defense Evaluation and Research Agency in June 2001. DERA was responsible for most of the country's defense innovations in the latter 20th century, from liquid crystal displays to radar technology. But it stayed largely locked within government hands. QinetiQ was born to take products to the commercial and other government markets, where the firm also could turn a profit and more quickly gin up advanced technologies. Five years later, QinetiQ is one of the world's biggest producers of software products for intelligence and security users. The U.K.'s Ministry of Defense-now one of QinetiQ's biggest customers-still holds a 20 percent share in the firm, whose annual revenues are about $2 billion.

The Brits, however, are not the only source of QinetiQ's growth. The company has been buying American companies-six in the past two years. A few of them focused on building technology and already held research contracts with the Pentagon's main R&D unit. Others specialized in systems integration and combat support services to the Defense Department. And finally, QinetiQ homed in on a burgeoning post-Sept. 11 market. Last year, it purchased Apogen Technologies Inc. of McLean, Va., one of the top contractors for the Homeland Security Department and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. About 30 percent of QinetiQ's total revenues now come from U.S. sources. The long-term goal is 50 percent.

Enter George Tenet. A consummate Washington survivor, even after he was left unceremoniously holding the bag over the Bush administration's failed pre-war assessment of Iraqi weapons (he reportedly told the president that the CIA's case against Iraq was a "slam dunk," a charge that some Tenet supporters refute), he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom five months after he left government. Tenet has worked for Democrats and Republicans. A former staff director to the Senate Intelligence Committee, he knows the intricacies of Capitol Hill better than most senior federal executives. And he has a personal Rolodex encompassing some of the United States' key allies.

QinetiQ runs its U.S. businesses-which handle classified programs-through a proxy board that includes former military and CIA officials. While Tenet won't run company operations, he will seek to open doors that might otherwise remain closed. In a brief statement in October, he said he was "especially interested in the capacity of [QinetiQ's] technologies to meet a number of challenges faced by our nations' military and intelligence personnel."

Tenet will be among friends. Last summer, QinetiQ tapped Duane Andrews as chief executive officer of North American operations. Andrews was chief operating officer at Science Applications International Corp., the California firm so entrenched in U.S. spy networks that it's referred to as "NSA West"-a nod to one of its top clients, the National Security Agency.

If Paul Revere were alive today, he'd be saddling up his horse right about now.