In-Q-Tel: The Central Intelligence Agency as Venture Capitalist

Reinert, John T. | January 1, 2013

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States’ principal foreign intelligence and spy organization, chartered the first government-sponsored venture capital firm, dubbed In-Q-Tel, in February 1999. In-Q-Tel represents the twenty-first century fusion of U.S. spy efforts with the venture capital industry. Envisioned as a platform to expand the research and development (R&D) efforts of the CIA into the private sector, In-Q-Tel uses CIA-supplied funds to make strategic investments in startup companies developing commercially focused technologies that are of interest to the CIA and greater intelligence community. This Comment contends that, although R&D collaboration between the public and private sectors is vital and should be encouraged, such collaboration should not be in the form of a venture capital firm chartered and sponsored by the CIA. The CIA is not equipped to succeed in the notoriously perilous business of venture capital, and heightened ethical concerns surround the making of government-sponsored equity investments in private companies. Indeed, In-Q-Tel often invests in companies with international operations, vicariously and unnecessarily exposing the CIA and larger U.S. government to foreign entanglements. This Comment begins by tracing relevant developments in the funding of U.S. spy efforts in Part II. Next, Part III explores the venture capital industry, paying particular attention to the interplay between venture capital and R&D. Part IV then analyzes the relationship between the CIA and In-Q-Tel. Finally, Part V: (1) contends the risks of In-Q-Tel currently outweigh its benefits; (2) suggests the current In-Q-Tel model inappropriately exposes the CIA and larger U.S. government to disputes arising from private international law; and (3) proposes alternative courses of action by which the CIA may tap into the R&D efforts of the private sector. Part VI concludes this Comment.