Beauty Business Goes Big Brother: CIA Funding Skin Cream That Can Harvest your DNA

Human Rights

The CIA invested in a cosmetic company to help develop a skin cream that can be used to secretly harvest DNA evidence.

Clearista is marketed as a painless way to erase blemishes and soften skin using only water and a special detergent — but the CIA is interested in the popular skin care product’s potential for gathering information about an individual’s biochemistry, reported The Intercept.

The CEO of Skincential Sciences, the company that makes Clearista, told the website that In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital arm, had invested in research and development of the skin cream — but he’s not sure what the agency intends to do with his company’s work.

“There’s no better identifier than DNA, and we know we can pull out DNA,” said Russ Lebovitz, CEO of Skincential Sciences.

The company has developed a patented technology that removes a thin outer layer of the skin, which reveals unique biomarkers that can be used for a variety of diagnostic tests — including DNA collection.

Lebovitz said he wasn’t certain why In-Q-Tel, which was formed by former CIA director George Tenet in 1999, had chosen his company, but the agency’s fund has described human skin as a “unique, underutilized source for sample collection.”

He said CIA investors were interested in the “pure science” of Clearista, but he suggested that law enforcement officers could use the technique for crime scene investigation or drug tests.

A spokeswoman for In-Q-Tel said the venture capital arm did not grant interviews, although The Intercept pointed to one example to the contrary.

In-Q-Tel operates in the open and files required annual reports, but it keeps many key details of its activities — which includes building ties to Silicon Valley heavyweights and helping to develop the technology behind Google Earth — secret.

Besides computer and satellite technology, the venture capital arm invests in advanced genetic analysis and other biotechnology, as well as physiological intelligence — or “actionable information about human identity and experience.”

Clearista was first developed for medical diagnostics, including the detection of skin cancer, but Lebovitz said the company quickly realized its potential for cosmetics.

The firm relaunched in 2013 as a skin care company, but Lebovitz said he intends to continue researching Clearista’s technology for medical purposes.

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