Thursday, April 28, 2016

Found Money

I found $20 the other day. The bill was folded up and stuffed in the coin pocket of my jeans. What it was originally intended for is lost to my middle-aged memory and instead the discovery is a nice happenstance. It’s not like I lost the money or had a huge lottery win, but instead it was what Dad used to call “mad money” that can be used for fun purposes. I think he made that up, but I still like the concept. As I contemplated what to do with the largess I had squirreled away unintentionally I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who hides money. The CIA has been planting money in plain sight in the most terrifying way.

It’s been well reported that in 2009 the CIA gave $1 million al Qaida to free an Afghan diplomat. Oops…the U.S. was supposed to be fighting against al Qaida.

The Department of Defense lost $8.7 billion of the $9.1 billion intended for infrastructure in rebuilding Iraq in 2010. Reread those figures. Billions. This is money that was misplaced or pocketed. It disappeared, it's not a deficit. Poof.

So the CIA and its other military brethren don't handle money well. Why should it? Nobody knows how much the CIA gets to start with. Per Wikipedia: “Details of the overall United States intelligence budget are classified. Under the Central Intelligence Agency Act of 1949, the Director of Central Intelligence is the only federal government employee who can spend "un-vouchered" government money. The government has disclosed a total figure for all non-military intelligence spending since 2007; the fiscal 2013 figure is $52.6 billion.” With the growth in the budget and the obsession of "security" it's not unreasonable to consider the budget around $75 billion. 

That secrecy supports my own image of the CIA that has been largely formulated from Hollywood. Clandestine. Secretive. And of course cool gizmos for use in the spy stuff. Wikipedia states “CIA has no law enforcement function and is mainly focused on overseas intelligence gathering, with only limited domestic collection. CIA is the only agency authorized by law to carry out and oversee covert action on behalf of the President.”

Imagine my surprise to discover that the CIA has an active entrepreneurial side that is firmly based in the U.S. and is heavily invested in technology and other sectors. The CIA has a Venture Capital division. “In-Q-Tel is the independent, not-for-profit organization created to bridge the gap between the technology needs of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and emerging commercial innovation.” So says the company’s public facing website. Independent? Not if its funded by the CIA.

The company is currently invested in 108 different start up technology companies. They are also invested in cosmetics. Oprah’s magazine, lifestyle bloggers and skin care professionals love Clearista, a skin product that clears your face of dirt and other stuff. According to The Intercept: “Skincential Sciences developed a patented technology that removes a thin outer layer of the skin, revealing unique biomarkers that can be used for a variety of diagnostic tests, including DNA collection.” Forget having a clean face, the CIA now owns the technology to gather DNA from every citizen as they wash up.

I randomly selected Video and Imaging to see where they are invested in that subsector. There are 11 companies. The first one, 3VR is described: “Searchable surveillance systems and services 3VR, Inc., the video intelligence company, enables organizations to search, mine, and leverage video to bolster security, identify and mitigate fraud, and better serve customers. 3VR’s Video Intelligence Platform allows video surveillance systems to reach their true potential and deliver a measurable and sustainable return on investment by revealing powerful new insights in the correlation of video with other sources of enterprise data.”

Translation: The CIA can now mine video data and match it with other data that the government has collected. What Fourth Amendment? (Guess the CIA is no longer just focused on overseas issues.) 

Going through the In-Q-Tel portfolio is perhaps one of the most upsetting, frustrating and scary things that I’ve done since I saw a snake in 3-D on a 70 foot screen coming after me. 

Maybe there is some strategic security reason for the Central Intelligence Agency to be one of the largest investors in new technology companies. But shouldn’t that be a discussion in Congress? During a debate of those people who seek to be President? Why is it funded from taxpayer money that is not accounted for?

What’s most egregious and unfathomable is that while the investments are open and transparent and the technology that the government is creating available for all to see – the financial impact to the taxpayer is hidden. It’s not found money – it’s American taxpayer funds and they deserve to be accounted for.

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