In mid-January, a month after resigning from the Trump cabinet under a cloud of scandal, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was named managing director and senior vice president at Artillery One, a tech and energy investment firm. Operational details about Artillery One are scant, but it says its core areas include cybersecurity, fintech, and digital assets. Which is to say, blockchain. Zinke himself has no apparent background in tech, so the hire could seem like misguided window-dressing. But it actually makes a slightly perverse sort of strategic sense through a broader lens.
There’s a chance Zinke’s new affiliation could actually be Good for Bitcoin™. In a new interview with Vice News in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Zinke said that “we’re going to concentrated on cybersecurity, and look for opportunities on blockchain . . . And also look at the regulatory structure to make sure that that structure doesn’t inhibit the opportunity of blockchain itself.”
The idea that Artillery One will put Zinke to work on crypto regulation makes the sullied official’s hiring seem a bit less comical. Sure, he was forced to resign by scandals that would have meant blackballing by nearly any other White House, including excess spending on the taxpayer’s dime, doing a private land deal with companies he was tasked with regulating, and possibly handing out favors to lobbyists. But he doesn’t seem to have any connections to the ongoing Mueller probe into Russian election tampering, and was praised by President Trump on his way out the door. That means he might still have real access as a lobbyist.
That means he might still have real access as a lobbyist.
But there’s no strong evidence that influence would be used truly wisely. Zinke’s general anti-regulation stance will likely give hope to the libertarian wing of the crypto-sphere. Beyond that, it’s unclear is whether Artillery One or Zinke have a clue what regulation the blockchain industry actually wants or needs.
What’s much more certain is that Zinke will do wonders for Artillery’s marketing to late-arriving blockchain investors. Also speaking to Vice News, Artillery One CEO Daniel Cannon claims that Artillery One’s goal is to “push the envelope. We’re the tip of the spear. The edge of the knife.” But back in reality, Artillery One has almost no track record in blockchain, aside from hosting a conference called the Blockchain Innovator’s Summit last year. A long, soulless promotional video about the conference—currently the only thing hosted at the conference website—shows a roster consisting almost entirely of unknown ‘founders’ and ‘experts,’ giving no indication that its organizers have any particular insight or access. Before the Zinke hire, Artillery One had essentially no public profile (here’s the branding guide for a website and app that don’t exist), and hasn’t disclosed any of its portfolio holdings, or even its assets under management. (It proposed buying Monetas, a troubled Swiss blockchain startup, but the deal fell through.)
But despite its laughable public claim to reside on the edge Edge EDGE of blockchain development, the Zinke hire suggests Artillery One understands its real position as a follower and also-ran perfectly well. Over and above any access he might have to regulators, Zinke’s background as a Navy SEAL and GOP politician will make him a convincing pitchman to a certain breed of older, perhaps more (financially) conservative investors than have tended to bet on blockchain ventures so far. Whatever its actual comprehension of how to successfully build out blockchain tech, Artillery One will surely be happy to collect those investors’ management fees.
Image courtesy Wikipedia.