Newsletter 26 : 3 - GEEKS WITH GUNS: QinetiQ - The modern technology corporation
QinetiQ - history and structure
QinetiQ was formed in July 2001 when the Ministry of Defence (MoD) split its Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) in two. The smaller portion of DERA, which engaged with the more sensitive military research, including running Porton Down, was rebranded DSTL and remains part of the MoD. The larger part of DERA, including most of the MoD's non-nuclear testing and evaluation establishments, was renamed QinetiQ and prepared for privatisation. The company became a public private partnership in 2002 with the purchase of a stake by US based private equity company the Carlyle Group.
QinetiQ is now
56% owned by the MoD
31% owned by the Carlyle Group
13% owned by QinetiQ employees
In the summer of 2005 it was announced that QinetiQ is to be floated on the stock market -- early estimates value the company at around £1bn. Carlyle Group and QinetiQ, executives are likely to make around £300m and £145m respectively from the sale of shares, which may have been undervalued at the first stage of privatisation.
The Carlyle Group
The Carlyle Group is a massive ($24bn capital) US-based investment firm with interests ranging from energy to healthcare to media to defence. It is most noted by campaigners for its military interests and its close links with political power. Current and past executives include former UK Prime Minister John Major, former US President George Bush Sr and former US Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci.
QinetiQ's website describes the company as 'Europe's largest technology research company'. The company's website stresses its 'technology rich services and solutions', how it 'operate[s] at the leading edge of technology' and 'gives customers access to the output of 50 years of national investment at the forefront of technology'. But QinetiQ also demostrates exactly what its state and corporate backers mean by 'technology' -- and what they think technology is for.
Most of QinetiQ's work is still based on military applications -- weapons, guidance systems, military aircraft technology etc. From this, it branches out into surveillance and security technologies (including some of the technologies being considered for use in ID cards), communications and high-tech materials, including nanotechnology and 'energetic materials' (i.e. explosives) among other areas. This is cutting-edge technology as our society's political and corporate leaders currently see it -- even where it is not arms-based, it is capital-intensive, centralised, facilitates state or corporate control, and is overwhelmingly irrelevant to the most crucial problems facing our planet.
The QinetiQ approach views state-funded military research as a starting point, out of which come military technologies. If they are too sensitive (e.g. nuclear weapons) they are developed by the state, otherwise they are licensed to private companies to manufacture and sell back to the state. Out of this military research come by-products with civilian applications -- so-called 'dual-use technologies' -- which are similarly licensed to the private sector to profit from.
This approach thus assumes that:
- funding military research is a proper state activity
- it is right to devote a high proportion of technological research resources to military ends
- the profits of research belong in the private sector, even where it was publicly-funded
- civilian research is secondary to military in the state's priorities
- spin-offs from military projects are an acceptable means of developing civilian technologies
- research is a self-propelling process producing morally-neutral 'discoveries', and that any problems should be dealt with after the fact
QinetiQ is one of the UK's leaders in developing nanotechnology. Its subsidiary QinetiQ Nanomaterials Ltd, founded in 2002, manufactures bulk quantities of nanoparticles and pSiMedica Ltd (a joint venture with Australian-based pSivida) is involved in developing 'biosilicon', a nano-engineered material with possible medical applications. See the Corporate Watch briefing (http://archive.corporatewatch.org/newsletter/issue22/issue22_part6.htm) for more on the safety and structural issues around nanotechnology.
On ID cards, QinetiQ, in its role as consultant to the government, does not, for once, seem to be backing the highest-tech option, arguing for barcoded or memory-stick cards rather than the government's favoured biometrics. However, this is not due to any qualms over the fundamental concept. Neil Fisher, QinetiQ's Director of Security Services, has said 'You will want, in what's fast becoming a digital society, to be able to authenticate your identity almost for any transaction that you do, be it going to the bank, going to the shops, going to the airport.'
QinetiQ privatisation and the military-industrial complex
The 'military-industrial complex' is the coalition of interests that develops between the armed forces, government bureaucracy and the private companies that benefit from miltary contracts. Since the coining of this phrase, by former US president Eisenhower, many have viewed this complex as an anti-democratic force, skewing government policy towards militaristic ends for the benefit of particular companies, or subsections of government and the military. In this context, the privatisation of a company like QinetiQ represents a shift in the balance of power in the military-industrial complex -- towards increasing the private sector's influence over the state, over military policy and over technology development.