In 1999, the CIA created In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit investment firm that invests in high-tech startup companies focused on increasing the capacity of US intelligence agencies. The fund has been notable for funding Google and Palantir at very early stages, bringing us to the latest possible investment into encrypted messaging platform Wickr.
Vice's Motherboard was first notified by Jack Poulson, executive director of Tech Inquiry, about In-Q-Tel's From 990 filed in the fiscal year ending in March 2020. The form details compensation paid to outside contractors and mentions a $1.6 payment to Wickr but doesn't explain if it was an investment or a purchase order.
But deeper within the form, a section reads: "The hallmark of IQT's strategic an agile model is the development effort—aka work program—where the company collaborates with the startup to tailor a company's technology to specific government requirements and invests funds towards that work program."
Motherboard spoke with Carrie Sessine, senior vice president of marketing and communications at In-Q-Tel, and asked more about the funds sent to Wickr.
"In-Q-Tel is a prolific strategic investor, making more than 50 investments each year. Our website features the majority of our portfolio investments. There will always be companies that are not announced publicly, which is common practice in the investment community. In-Q-Tel serves multiple agencies committed to national security including the CIA, FBI, NSA, NGA, NRO, DHS (specifically Customs and Border Protection), DIA, and Air Force," Sessine said.
However, Wickr's funding profile is nowhere to be found on In-Q-Tel's public portfolio section on its website.
In June, Amazon Web Services announced it acquired Wickr. Amazon has been known to have cloud contracts with the CIA.
More questions than answers remain about In-Q-Tel's $1.6 million injection into the end-to-end encrypted messaging app.
Interesting to note that the CIA had invested $1.6million into Wickr, the encrypted messaging software that organized crime groups used white labelled in Anom phone devices, later discovered to be a sting operation run with US Law Enforcement agencies.— Hacker Fantastic (@hackerfantastic) October 12, 2021
Edward Snowden responds to Wickr's CIA funding by tweeting: "Into the trash it goes."
No, I don't use Wickr. The point is that in 2021, you can't credibly purport to provide a secure app when you— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 13, 2021
a) take money from the CIA and
b) literally give the CIA a seat on your board of directors.