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Is David Petraeus about to jump into the world of high finance? 

ValleyWag has gotten this terribly intriguing tip about the former general/CIA Director's possible comeback: "He has been making the rounds at a number of New York-based venture capital and private equity firms and one very knowledgeable source said Petraeus is slated to announce a relationship shortly." The source points to KKR & Co. as a possible landing spot. 

More intriguing still, at least to me, is speculation that Petraeus could join the high-profile data-mining outfit PalantirI can say from personal experience with Petraeus that he has been deeply impressed by the company, which did its early breakout work in the national security and intelligence communities. Petraeus even requested a meeting with the CEO after reading this story I wrote about the company in 2012. 

Petraeus had recently become CIA Director, and apparently he didn't realize then that Palantir had a long history with his new agency. In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture capital arm, was an early backer of Palantir. And the spy agency also gave the fledgling company an extraordinary test bed for its software: 

"According to a government official familiar with the episode, the CIA allowed Palantir to set up its software in the agency’s counterterrorism center, the hub of its global campaign to track down terrorists. The official was astounded that a little-known company from Silicon Valley was allowed to place its equipment on a network that pulses with some of the most highly classified intelligence the government collects. The CIA let Palantir use some of that intelligence to show off its software, the official says, an extraordinary departure from normal security protocols.

"Palantir didn’t disappoint. The official says the company worked for several months without pay and convinced the CIA that its technology could do what it claimed."


Posted at 11:09 AM/ET, 04/30/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Ashton Carter (left), the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and his mentor Brent Scowcroft, who was honored at a dinner in Washington Tuesday. Photo by Carol Ross Joynt

When Ash Carter, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, was a 32-year-old associate professor at Harvard, he was asked to accompany a US arms control delegation to Moscow. The Reagan administration wanted to examine a new laser system that the Soviets claimed would be used to research the surface of Mars, but that might also be deployed as an space-based anti-missile system. 

Carter had studied physics and had once worked as a missile-defense analyst. He was expected to give his analysis (the delegation later concluded the Soviet laser could violate a ballistic missile treaty that had been in place for 15 years), but he didn't expect his contribution to carry much weight. 

"I was a nobody," Carter said at a dinner in Washington on Tuesday, honoring Brent Scowcroft, who was then a leading thinker on US-Soviet nuclear relations, and would, in a few years, be the national security adviser to George W. Bush. "Brent listened to me. He treated me as an equal." It was the beginning of a mentorship that, as Carter tells it, led to his advising a string of secretaries of defense, and now to his own position as the No. 2 at the Pentagon. 

"The influence of Brent Scowcroft stands before you: Me."     

When a protege talks about of his mentor, at the end of his career, the tone inevitably gets eulogistic. Scowcroft is 87. He has been out of government for two decades, though he remains an eminence grise in national security and business circles. And while Carter hardly gave a valediction, there was a certain wistfulness--how could there not be?--in saluting an aged Cold Warrior. 

"We were closer to war with the Soviets than anyone, except Brent, might have realized," Carter said. "As you go to sleep tonight and reflect on this evening, remember it all could have been very different if not for [him]." 

When it came time for Scowcroft to talk, he made no pretense of his utter bafflement at the complex state of global affairs today. In the Cold War, he said, "The threat of a thermonuclear war...was just over the horizon." But in the possibility of annihilation  there was a certain clarity. "The world was given to us. Our strategy was containment. ...That made things a lot easier." He shook his head. "But not today. There is no overarching strategy." It was not a critique of any administration. Just an observation that, in his day, things were somehow simpler. 

Scowcroft, smiling tenderly, turned to his pupil: "Ash Carter, thank you for taking time off tonight from problems I wouldn't wish on anyone."

Posted at 12:17 PM/ET, 03/15/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()