Hungry for Your DNA-the CIA

DNA methylation image from wikipedia

The previously undisclosed relationship with the CIA might come as some surprise to a visitor to the website of Clearista, the main product line of Skincential Sciences, which boasts of a “formula so you can feel confident and beautiful in your skin’s most natural state.”Though the public-facing side of the company touts a range of skin care products, 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.  Skincential Science’s noninvasive procedure, described on the Clearista website as “painless,” is said to require only water, a special detergent, and a few brushes against the skin, making it a convenient option for restoring the glow of a youthful complexion — and a novel technique for gathering information about a person’s biochemistry.  In-Q-Tel, founded in 1999 by then-CIA Director George Tenet, identifies cutting-edge technology to support the mission of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and provides venture funding to help grow tech firms to develop those solutions…. The CIA fund approached his company, telling him the fund shares an interest in looking at DNA extraction using the method pioneered by Skincential Sciences, according to Lebovitz (the CEO of the company).  The CIA fund has described human skin as a “unique, underutilized source for sample collection.”…

Despite the association with computer and satellite technology, In-Q-Tel also maintains a long-running interest in developing advanced genetic analysis, biological technologies for detection and diagnostics, as well as research into what is known as physiological intelligence, which, in a 2010 article, the fund described as “actionable information about human identity and experience that have always been of interest to the Intelligence Community.”

The article, which is no longer available on the fund’s website but ispreserved by a cache hosted by the Internet Archive, argues that advances in medical research into biomarkers can be leveraged by intelligence agencies for a variety of uses, from airport security to next-generation identification tools.

A diagram in the article calls human skin the body’s largest organ and a “unique, underutilized source for sample collection.” The author, Dr. Kevin O’Connell, then a “senior solutions architect” with In-Q-Tel, notes, “The DNA contained in microorganisms in a person’s gut or on a person’s skin may contain sequences that indicate a particular geographical origin.”

In-Q-Tel has invested in several companies working in this realm, in addition to Skincential Sciences. In 2013, In-Q-Tel publicly announced a strategic partnership with Bio-NEMS, a firm that developed a semiconductor device used to analyze DNA for a variety of diagnostic and human identification applications. Claremont BioSolutions, a diagnostics firm, and Biomatrica, a firm that specializes in preparing biological samples for DNA testing, are also backed by In-Q-Tel.

Skincential Sciences did not start out as a beauty company. The firm was founded in 2010 as DX Biosciences, which was developed around a patent by a team of scientists including Dr. Samir Mitragotri of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Mitragotri has published research into the use of biomarkers as a “window to body’s health.

Excerpts from Lee Fang,  Beauty Secrets of the Spies, the Intercept, Apr. 8 2016

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