In-Q-Tel, a CIA-backed venture capital firm, to make spycraft technology commercially available

The CIA-backed venture-capital fund In-Q-Tel has created a new program to make spy-developed technology commercially available — a move designed to spur innovation and encourage public- and private-sector collaboration.

The program, dubbed IQT Emerge, will connect previously hidden government research and development efforts to commercial markets.

In-Q-Tel is a nonprofit funded by the intelligence community that invests in entrepreneurs who make spycraft technology. By reversing its focus to assist entrepreneurs inside the government who want to move to the private sector, In-Q-Tel will work to incentivize patriotism over early profits.  

“Too often government-funded R&D fails to gain a commercial footing because the government technology pipeline is not connected with entrepreneurs and early-stage capital — a great loss of economic and national security value to the United States,” said Simon Davidson, IQT Emerge executive vice president, in a statement. “IQT Emerge continues the IQT mission and pairs the organization’s sophistication in identifying technologies with potential commercial viability with the institutional knowledge on what it takes to build companies and bring products to market.”

The launch of IQT Emerge reflects a larger shift, initiated by the Trump administration in 2020, in how the U.S. intelligence community defends critical infrastructure and emerging technologies. National security agencies began collaborating with the private sector and moving more research and development projects in-house.

At the beginning of 2020, the intelligence community overhauled the nation’s counterintelligence strategy to prioritize working with the private sector to defend against attacks on businesses and other private entities’ intellectual property and technology.

In September, the CIA announced creation of its first-ever federal lab for in-house research and development, called CIA Labs, which allowed CIA officers to get patents and licenses for the products they create.

In October, the Trump administration published a new national strategy for critical and emerging tech that pledged to prioritize research and development funding in future budgets and to build a National Security Innovation Base that utilizes venture capital funding, academic institutions and laboratories, among other facilities.

A senior Trump administration official told reporters in October to watch for a February 2021 budget that allocated funding under the new strategy to the government’s emerging technologies and R&D apparatus.

The funding is expected to increase under President Biden. In-Q-Tel told The Washington Times that the Trump administration did not influence the development of IQT Emerge.

On the day of his inauguration, Mr. Biden pledged a new $9 billion investment to modernize tech across the federal government in the aftermath of the SolarWinds breach of federal government networks. Hackers used the products of an external software company, SolarWinds, to breach several different federal agencies including the Department of Treasury, Department of Homeland Security, and parts of the Pentagon.

The bureaucratic battle for influence over national security tech funding is well underway. In-Q-Tel received approximately $495.3 million in taxpayer funds during five years ending in 2018, according to paperwork filed with the IRS.

The offices of the House Intelligence Committee’s Strategic Technologies and Advanced Research Subcommittee leadership — Rep. Jim Hines, Connecticut Democrat, and Rep. Chris Stewart, Utah Republican — did not respond to requests for comment on IQT Emerge.

In-Q-Tel may soon face competitors in other corners of the federal government. Retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, former CIA director and former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said last week at a Startup Disrupt event that the Department of Defense needs to launch its own In-Q-Tel.

Former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency director Victoria Coleman previously expressed support for DARPA developing an In-Q-Tel for the Department of Defense. DARPA acting director Peter Highnam has not pursued those priorities.

“Recent Silicon Valley outreach efforts considered by former director Dr. Victoria Coleman are currently on indefinite hold, and, should the next director of the agency choose to pursue such concepts, they will be aimed to supplement, not replace In-Q-Tel’s important role in the R&D ecosystem,” said Jared Adams, DARPA spokesperson, in an email.

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