Last month, Congress discovered that major American venture capital firms funneled $3 billion into Chinese tech companies developing the country’s military technology. This news begs an important question: what responsibilities do American tech investors have in ensuring their returns do not come at the expense of our security?

U.S. investors are sitting on record piles of unspent cash, with ample opportunities in the tech sector following recent transformative leaps made in generative AI. Venture capital plays an important role in supporting new technology at early stages, working with investors and entrepreneurs to bring new forms of advanced technologies to the market.

But advanced technology, and the funding of it, can help or hurt U.S. security. Investors can identify and fund innovative, new solutions that protect against rapidly evolving cyber, AI, and other threats. Or, as the Congressional China Select Committee cautioned, investments can hurt national security when they flow to Chinese military tech or help bring unsecure tech to market.

During my time leading the Office of the National Cyber Director, I saw the immense influence and opportunity venture capital firms have in their position at the crossroads of innovation and investment. Now as President of Paladin Global Institute, I am working to focus the impact of the investment community on developing advanced technology with national and global security interests.

The investment community has the opportunity and responsibility to commit to deploying their capital in a responsible way to ensure the safety and security of the United States. This is the backbone of a concept called “Trusted Capital,” which ensures that investment decisions reflect values of trust, safety, and security. Under the Trusted Capital framework, venture capital firms can generate excellent returns while also ensuring technology is secure-by-design, protects democratic institutions, and serves U.S. and our allies security interests.

Instead of viewing safety and security features as optional, the concept of Trusted Capital demands that investors enforce security-by-design principles among their portfolio companies. This shift in priorities should be viewed as contributing to, and not detracting from, financial returns; ultimately, products and services that people cannot trust or safely use may experience slow adoption and possibly lower returns. Making sure companies take security and safety seriously means stronger investments and better returns for investors, as well as benefits for people everywhere.

At its best, technological innovation has the potential to transform human lives, preserve democratic systems, protect individual privacy, and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms while also expanding economic opportunities for people around the globe. On the flip side, if not developed securely, technology can be used to undermine democratic institutions and aid autocratic regimes. In addition to security-by-design, Trusted Capital can play a role in ensuring technological advances support political and economic systems that have allowed investors to benefit financially from the free flow and allocation of capital. As 2024 will be a year of important elections not only in the U.S. but around the world, the need to protect and support our democratic values is more important than ever before.

Investors must help ensure that their portfolio companies abide by international law, follow U.S. and appropriate allied sanctions, mitigate known trust and safety risks in their software and systems, and perform due diligence on their co-investors. Likewise, they should avoid investments in technologies or companies that benefit or are subservient to autocratic regimes. It is critical that financial investors who benefit from the economic prosperity afforded by free and open societies take action to uphold the democratic values and principles that undergird them.

Trusted Capital ensures that investors are cautious of—and avoid—supporting the efforts of foreign adversaries that seek to obtain access to allied critical infrastructure or strategic national assets. The majority of critical infrastructure assets in the United States are owned by private entities, and trusted ownership of our infrastructure and their parent organizations is key to defending infrastructure against cyber risks and other threats. For example, Trusted Capital can require the owners and operators of our infrastructure take cybersecurity and AI risks seriously; similar to the benefits of security-by-design, ensuring investments align with this principle means stronger, more reliable returns for investors and their limited partners.

If people cannot trust and use technology safely, no one wins. Investors are key to a resilient digital ecosystem, and investing in innovative technologies that enhance security, promote democratic values, and align with national security interests can result in strong returns, as well as benefits for our society.