Retired Admiral Wears Many Caps

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

As if three decades working in naval intelligence, running the National Security Agency and serving as deputy director of the CIA were not enough, retired Adm. Bobby Ray Inman decided he wanted a second career.

"I found I have a fairly low threshold of boredom," Inman, 75, said while sitting in his office in downtown Austin. Inman left Washington in 1982 to "try my hand at business," he said. "I wanted to see if the things that worked in running large organizations in the public sector . . . were transferable."

Two decades later, Inman is a successful venture capitalist. He has a corner office at Gefinor Ventures, where he is managing director, that looks north toward the University of Texas. There, Inman has another office and, in effect, a third career.

In 2001, after teaching pro bono for several years, Inman became a tenured professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, where he teaches international relations.

No matter the job title, his work has always been tied to monitoring politics and events around the world. Analyzing "political risk was the contribution I brought" to companies, Inman said.

It is a contribution he has made in more than a few boardrooms. Inman said he has invested in 43 early-stage companies. He currently oversees four, in different parts of the country, as part of his duties at Gefinor.

He originally landed in Austin about a year after leaving the CIA, as head of a consortium of 12 leading computer companies in the country's first large-scale joint research project. He quit the post in 1986 but stayed in the Texas city, taking over a holding company for defense industry acquisitions. That, in 1998, led to his co-founding Gefinor. Today he sits on several boards, including nonprofits such as the Greater Austin Crime Commission.

It might sound like a far cry from dealing with a seemingly monolithic intelligence agency, but Inman said he is used to managing a multitude of projects.

"I was involved in so many different things when I was running NSA," he said, such as overseeing research labs, procurement budgets, international crises, and dealing with Congress and the White House.

These days Inman keeps only one connection to the federal government, a seat on the board at CNA Corp. (formerly known as the Center for Naval Analyses), the Navy's think tank.

For a while, it seemed, Washington would come calling every few years.

After the bombing of the U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut, Inman led an advisory panel that in 1985 suggested ways to make embassies more secure. Eight years later President Bill Clinton nominated him to replace Les Aspin as defense secretary. But Inman asked to be withdrawn from consideration, citing "rush-to-judgment distortions of my record, my character and my reputation." He has rarely been called upon since.

This year he made news as one of the highest-profile former intelligence officials to criticize President Bush's warrantless domestic wiretaps.

Inman is still gathering intelligence for his various jobs, but now he does it like every other citizen: through the media and the Internet.

"I am less knowledgeable, but I can still pretty broadly track what's going on," he said. "And I don't have to worry when I get into conversation that I'm going to accidentally reveal something that could be damaging to sources."

-- Matthew C. Wright

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