The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) via its venture capital branch In-Q-Tel has provided funding to a beauty products manufacturing company called Skincential Sciences. Wondering why the CIA would be interested in skincare products? It is because Skincential Sciences has patented a technology that painlessly collects human DNA.
Skincential's consumer brand Clearista manufactures beauty products aimed at making people's skin look "youthful" and "smooth" and has even been featured in Oprah's magazine, according to their website. The CIA, however, was attracted to a non-beauty oriented technology patent by the firm that boasts of painlessly collecting DNA from the skin.
Skincential Sciences' chief executive Russ Lebovitz told the Intercept: "I can't tell you how everyone works with In-Q-Tel but they are very interested in doing things that are pure science. If there's something beneath the surface, that's not part of our relationship and I'm not directly aware. They're interested here in something that can get easy access to biomarkers."
Skincential's DNA extraction method is non-invasive and fairly simple. The process requires only water, a few brushes and a special kind of detergent. Although the company also markets the procedure as a convenient way to restore youthful skin, the technology can be used as an effective way of acquiring human biochemistry information.
In 1999, the then CIA director George Tenet founded In-Q-Tel as a way to associate the intelligence community with new and emerging cutting edge technology. In efforts to make the organisation more "trendy" or "cool", it was named after the fictional character Q, responsible for developing most of James Bond's high-tech devices. Former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith told NPR in an interview in 2012: "We really needed something that also had appeal to a wider audience and, frankly, had some sex to it."
In-Q-Tel describes itself as a non-profit organisation "created to bridge the gap between the technology needs of the US Intelligence Community (IC) and emerging commercial innovation". Although most of In-Q-Tel's investments are kept private, the organisation has so far expressed interest and backed innovative technology related to satellites, genetic diagnosis and human physiological intelligence research.