CIA adds blockchain as research area of new R&D arm

The United States’ foremost foreign intelligence service is launching a research and development arm, and blockchain technology will be one of the key areas of focus. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) will also research other emerging technologies including artificial intelligence and biotechnology.

Known as CIA Labs, the new R&D arm will “bring CIA officers together with the private sector and academia to research and develop science and technology solutions in support of CIA’s mission.” The agency believes that this will give it access to leading researchers as it seeks to boost its national security tools.

CIA Labs will conduct research, development, testing and engineering to address new challenges and improve existing solutions, the agency said in a statement.

Distributed ledgers and blockchain-enabled technologies will be one of the areas of focus for CIA Labs. Blockchain’s profile in the U.S. government has been rising steadily over the past few years as more agencies strive to be on the forefront of the technology. Over the past few months, the Internal Revenue Service , the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Secret Service have all signed up to use Coinbase Analytics, the exchange’s blockchain analytics software.

Other emerging technologies that the CIA Labs will focus on include biotechnology, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, quantum computing, robotic and autonomous systems, advanced manufacturing and data analytics.

Through the CIA Labs, the spy agency will offer its officers the opportunity to file patents on innovative new ideas they come up with. The officers will share the profits from such innovations with the agency for the first time, Dawn Meyerriecks stated. They will get to keep 15% of the total income from their innovations with a $150,000-a-year cap.

Meyerriecks, who heads the CIA’s science and technology directorate, believes that such an initiative could generate enough money for the R&D arm to pay for itself.

Speaking to the MIT Technology Review, she stated, “This is helping maintain US dominance, particularly from a technological perspective. That’s really critical for national and economic security. It also democratizes the technology by making it available to the planet in a way that allows the level of the water to rise for all.”

The CIA has a history of involvement in ground-breaking innovations. These include Keyhole Inc., a company it funded through its venture capital arm whose technology powers Google Earth. 

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