Bankers & Bombs: How Venture Capital and Private Equity are Feeding the Military Industrial Complex

This event was co-sponsored by Security in Context and the Middle East Policy Forum at The George Washington University.

Ties between the financial sector and the weapons industry are not new. The very first venture capital firm in the US was founded to profit from new technologies developed for use in WWII, and the role of military spending in turning Silicon Valley into a tech hub is well documented. But the rapid proliferation in the number of VC and private equity firms investing in weapons and intelligence technologies is a more recent phenomenon. Firms like Veritas Capital, Civitas Group, and Paladin Capital specialize in steering more private capital into weapons development and pushing tech start-ups to develop military applications for their products.  And it isn’t just startups. Many large funds have divisions that combine the marquee names and government contacts of high-ranking military and national security retirees alongside asset managers who use their rolodexes of wealthy clients to raise capital for new defense-tech investments. 

Will this surge of private investment in weapons technologies divert scarce resources from addressing other urgent problems? Will it fast track the development of high tech systems like robotic weapons controlled via artificial intelligence that pose serious risks of automated killing outside of human control? And will it cement an alliance between the Pentagon, arms makers, and Silicon Valley that could supersize the military-industrial complex and bring it unprecedented influence?

To address these questions and more, QI held a discussion with  Shana Marshall, associate director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at The George Washington University, Edward Ongweso Jr, finance editor at Logic(s) magazine, and Jonathan Guyer, senior foreign policy writer at Vox. William Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute, moderated.


Shana Marshall

Shana Marshall is associate director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. She earned her PhD in International Relations and Comparative Politics of the Middle East from the University of Maryland in 2012. Her research focuses on the political economy of militaries in Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE, and has appeared in The Middle East Report (MERIP), The International Journal of Middle East Studies, Jadaliyya, and the Carnegie Middle East Center.

Edward Ongweso Jr.

Edward Ongweso Jr is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, focusing on finance, technology, and labor. He is currently the finance editor at Logic(s) magazine and was previously a staff writer at Motherboard, VICE's tech desk. He's also the co-host of This Machine Kills, a podcast focused on the political economy of technological innovation.

Jonathan Guyer

Jonathan Guyer is a senior foreign policy writer at Vox. From 2019 to 2021, he worked at the American Prospect, where as managing editor he reported on Biden’s and Trump's foreign policy teams. His accountability stories have won top prizes from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, Society of Professional Journalists, and Military Reporters and Editors Association.

William Hartung (Moderator)

William D. Hartung is a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His work focuses on the arms industry and U.S. military budget. He was previously the director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy and the co-director of the Center’s Sustainable Defense Task Force. He is the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books, 2011) and the co-editor, with Miriam Pemberton, of Lessons from Iraq: Avoiding the Next War (Paradigm Press, 2008).