In brief

  • The CIA has launched a new initiative called CIA Labs.
  • CIA Labs will let agents earn profit from tech IP they develop at the agency.
  • Blockchain and distributed ledger technology are one focus of the division.

The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) today announced the launch of CIA Labs, a new internal research and development initiative aimed at allowing agents to develop cutting-edge technology in-house—and even profit from their creations.

CIA Labs is a charter member of the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer, a wider initiative that helps more than 300 federal agencies, labs, and research centers commercialize the technology they develop.

In this case, CIA agents will be able to file public patents on intellectual property they work on and take a cut of the profits from commercialization—up to 15% annually at a maximum of $150,000 per year. The CIA keeps the rest of any IP earnings.

In an interview with the MIT Technology Review, CIA Deputy Director of the Science and Technology Directorate Dawn Meyerriecks frames the creation of the skunk works division as an attempt to attract talent that might otherwise head to the higher salaries and perks of Silicon Valley.

“This is helping maintain US dominance, particularly from a technological perspective,” Meyerriecks said. “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.”

Blockchain and distributed ledger technologies are listed as one of the key focuses of CIA Labs, but the division will also focus on technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and wireless and telecommunications tech.

We’ve seen other US government agencies attempt to cultivate blockchain and crypto-tracing tools, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), but we haven’t seen similar attempts from the CIA. Now, the CIA aims to develop blockchain-related technologies in house, rather than acquire or license them from external firms.

In short, CIA Labs appears to be casting a wide net for now—but the agency’s hope is that it can convince some blockchain and crypto wizzes to join the agency and do their work for the benefit of the country, rather than at a startup or private employer.

Given the incredible amount of money flowing through the crypto industry, though, will the prospect of up to $150,000 on top of an annual federal salary really attract the cream of the crop?