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Ex-Interior Secretary Zinke ditches ‘hateful’ politics for blockchain future

Ryan Zinke

Ryan Zinke has a point to prove having left politics under a cloud of allegations.

(Keystone)

Former United States Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says blockchain holds more future promise than politics, in an interview with swissinfo.ch during a recent visit to Switzerland.

Two weeks after leaving the Trump administration, Zinke was appointed Managing Director of US investment firm Artillery One. The company is active in Switzerland, having tried unsuccessfully to buy digital payments firm Monetas, a deal that acrimoniously collapsed last year.

Zinke’s two-year tenure in high political office attracted criticism for his environmental record and allegations of cronyism. Artillery One founder Daniel Cannon has also courted controversyexternal link during his career in finance.

swissinfo.ch fintech coverage 

Fintech is changing the face of global finance. From bitcoin to blockchain, the Swiss financial centre is gearing up to the challenges and opportunities of the new wave of digital technology. The blockchain innovation is touching practically every industry, from logistics to energy, commodities trading and transport. 

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One of Zinke’s first assignments was attending the Crypto Finance Conferenceexternal link in St Moritz, Switzerland, from where he spoke to swissinfo.ch. Blockchain is a nascent technology that bypasses centralised channels and promises to give users greater control of their digital assets.

swissinfo.ch: Why did you leave politics for business?

Ryan Zinke: Washington DC has become a very angry and hateful city. Had I stayed there I would have become angry too. I like to move the ball up the field and make progress. Washington DC is at standstill and my personality is that I prefer to get things done. I find it more rewarding at this time in my life to be in a great team doing things that will make a difference in the coming years.

swissinfo.ch: Could ongoing investigations into your tenure as Secretary impede your business activities?

R.Z.: I have been through 10 investigations that all came to the same conclusion: that I followed all the rules and regulations, policies and laws. But these fake allegation factories were a distraction. It’s time now to leave the swamp behind.

swissinfo.ch: Will you be leveraging your political connections at Artillery One?

R.Z.: I think we already have a core of political contacts within the company. I bring leadership experience from being Secretary of the Interior at a 70,000-person organisation, from Congress and from commanding a Navy SEAL team.

swissinfo.ch: What will be your exact role?

R.Z.: I am excited about developing a winning team in an emerging technology, to help shape the blockchain industry and professionalise it to make sure there is a degree of security and confidence.

I’m focused on cyber security, protection of infrastructure and emerging countries that can act as a test bed for new technologies. There is some suspicion that blockchain does not really work. We think it does and we want to showcase the utility and flexibility of the model.

swissinfo.ch: Why has Artillery One chosen Kosovo as a test bed?

R.Z.: I had not been to Kosovo since I was there wearing the uniform of a US Navy Seal. It is a good example of an emerging economy where blockchain, financial instruments and cyber security can combine to have a meaningful impact. Proving the worth of the technology in the controlled environment of a small country is enormously important.

There are critics and there are doubters. Blockchain needs to follow the rules, be free from fraud and instill consumer and investor confidence in the system.

swissinfo.ch: What eventual impact could blockchain have on society?

R.Z: I don’t think it will replace nations, but it will create enormous opportunity for those who don’t have access to capital or accountability in emerging economies.  I feel confident it will lift up the underserved.

Application of the technology in industry is wide open. From tracing cobalt through blockchain to make sure production isn’t being done using child labour is clever and an important step. The same model could apply to tracking and authenticating prescription drugs.

Artillery One is at the cutting edge on fitting cyber security into blockchain systems to make them secure.

swissinfo.ch: What are your impressions of Switzerland as a blockchain hub?

R.Z.: Switzerland, at heart of Europe, is well positioned geographically and also industry-wise to be really out there in front. One should not discount why the Crypto Finance Conference is here in Switzerland.

Switzerland has traditionally had strengths in banking and finance. By being innovative and looking towards the next 100 years of financial instruments – whether its blockchain, bitcoin or digital currencies - Switzerland has proved itself among the leaders.

Artillery One

The investment firm was set up in 2017 by former Wall Street financier Daniel Cannon. It’s stated aim is to invest in blockchain, fintech, cyber security, infrastructure and energy projects worldwide.

Artillery One currently has business interests in Kosovo and Bermuda but will not currently reveal details of its investments.

Cannon is well-known in the Swiss blockchain scene and attempted last year to buy Swiss distributed ledger technology (DLT) payments company Monetas. The deal fell flat, but Artillery One is believed to be behind a fresh move to buy out the company.

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Ryan Zinke

Ryan Zinke stood down as US Secretary for the Interior earlier this year having been dogged by allegations of mis-using private aircraft and cronyism whilst in office. His environmental record also came under criticism.

Some of the allegations against him are still being investigated by the US authorities.

Zinke’s political career began in 2008 when he was elected to the Montana Senate. He then served in the House of Representatives before being appointed as interior secretary in 2017.

Before entering politics, Zinke was a commander in the US Navy SEAL special forces unit. He also set up a property management and consultancy company, which he handed to family members whilst running for Congress.

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