Ex-Obama Officials Shill, and Bill, for Big Tech’s Pentagon Deals

AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. Last month, Google announced it would not
renew its contract with a Pentagon initiative called Project Maven. Under the arrangement, Google supplies artificial
intelligence technology to the U.S. military’s drone warfare program. Google announced its decision after an internal
revolt and public protest. About a dozen employees resigned, and hundreds
more signed an open letter saying, quote: “Google should not be in the business of war.” The Google rebellion faced a pushback from
lobbyists and insiders. According to The Intercept, one of the key
players is a new company called WestExec Advisors, formed by several high-level Obama administration
veterans. Former Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work,
who launched Project Maven while in government, is now a principal at WestExec. The Google incident and WestExec’s role both
highlight the growing connection between the tech industry and government, and the lucrative
opportunities for the former officials who take part. Well, joining me is Yasha Levine, whose new
book explores this issue and many others in depth. The book is called Surveillance Valley: The
Secret Military History of the Internet. Welcome, Yasha. One thing I noticed after reading the story
is that this dynamic of high level officials, after leaving government, went into the private
sector. And then sort of being a conduit between the
private sector and government is nothing new. Something you review in your book. Can you give us the background to this latest
uproar between Google and Project Maven? YASHA LEVINE: Yeah, well, just-. So Project Maven is a, is a defense, is a
Pentagon initiative that tries to, wants to apply AI technology to some of, sort of, the
Pentagon’s thorniest issues. And so part of it is getting AI technology
to work with America’s drone fleet so that drones would be a bit more autonomous in their
work. So they would be able to, you wouldn’t have
to have a human operator looking at every, you know, looking at the video feed and trying
to identify objects on a video feed, like cars and potential suspects on their own. And that the computer would do some of the
basic work for it. So it would identify if it’s a car, what kind
of car it is. You know, what kind of color. So that if they’re on the lookout for a particular
suspect, or a particular type of car, or particular type of convoy, you know, the drone would
automatically just flag that if it sees it, or if it thinks it sees it, and just alert
the operator. And so Google, which is just one of the contractors
that’s working on this project, was trying to use its AI technology, and apply it to
this task to help the Pentagon develop essentially vision, visual recognition and scanning technology
for drones, so that they can more effectively target people for assassinations. And when this information about this leaked,
there was a growing movement within Google and a growing protest against this. And so there was an internal conflict. And in the end, employees signed a letter
to the CEO saying, asking that, you know, that Google sever its ties to this program
and not do this kind of work. And after some pretty tense weeks between
the workers, the management of the company, which didn’t want to cancel the program, and
then of course the publicity that, that that came out around that, Google announced that
it wouldn’t cancel the contract, but it would not renew it next year. AARON MATE: Right. But Google, as part of that announcement,
did not rule out future contracts with the Pentagon. The significance of that, and what other types
of relationships do you think Google and the military could be forming in the future, on
top of those that they have now? YASHA LEVINE: Well, look, I’m glad that people
are looking at this, and that employees at Google are finding it problematic that Google
works with the Pentagon to create more efficient- more efficient weapons, and more efficient
tools of death. That is a good thing. But there is, there’s a lack of historical
context, I think, around this debate. What we have to understand is that Google
has been a Pentagon contractor since almost the moment that it became a private company. In writing my book, the earliest contract
that I could find went back to 2003 with the NSA. Later that same year it signed a contract
with the CIA. Both of those contracts were to provide these
intelligence agencies with Google search technology, so internally, so the CIA and the NSA could
use Google search tech, allow Google technology to crawl their databases. And they essentially have a Google search
box internally in their networks that could allow people to retrieve data that’s stored
there. And I think the CIA even had an internal Google
search page. But in one of those it had the seal, the CIA
seal. And so that’s the beginning. And from there it increased. As Google grew, so did its military contracts. In 2007 it partnered with Lockheed Martin
to develop technology that could create a visual intelligence system for Iraq that was
used to identify hostile targets, and also friendly targets, on satellite maps. In 2008, I believe, it won a contract to run
the CIA’s internal Wikipedia project. And in 2010 it won a no-bid project with the
National Geospatial Agency, which is the sister agency to the NSA that deals in satellite
intelligence. It won a no-bid contract to provide, to become
the sole provider of satellite intelligence software that allows people to kind of zoom
in and out on satellite photographs and satellite imagery, sort of like we do with Google Earth. But it was the Google Earth that was built
specifically for the military, and uses by the military. And so that same year it launched a spy satellite
in partnership with the same intelligence agency. So there is right now a spy satellite hovering
above us, capturing photographs of the earth for both Google and the Pentagon. The higher quality, high-resolution photographs
go to go to the Pentagon. The slightly lower-resolution photographs
go to Google. The rocket, the Lockheed Martin rocket that
put that satellite into space bore Google’s logo. So you knowm the contracts, I can go on and
on and on. But the contracts that Google has with the
Pentagon are not limited to Project Maven. And the fact that it’s pulling out of Project
Maven maybe doesn’t bode well for future Pentagon business. But it’s by far not the only, not the only
one, and not the only thing that we should be worried about. AARON MATE: So how much do companies like
Google depend on the government, the Pentagon especially, both for their business, but also
even for their creation themselves at the very beginning? YASHA LEVINE: Well, as far as creation goes,
Google would not exist without the Internet, right. And the Internet was created by the Pentagon. Starting in the 1960s, it was a massive program
to create a modern command and communications system that would give the Pentagon, the military,
total information awareness, and allow it to run a global empire, to have a bird’s eye
vision of the world. That was what the Internet was about. It was about it was about creating that bedrock,
the foundation for that kind of system. Of course, when the Internet began to be privatized
in the 1980s and 1990s, the Pentagon didn’t go away. And in fact, it ceded many of the companies
that we now use today, and that includes Google. Google started out as a Ph.D. project. That project was funded by DARPA, which is
the agency that created the Internet. Back then it was called ARPA, the Advanced
Research Projects Agency. Today it’s called DARPA, Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency. And so Google came into being because of a
Pentagon grant. And in the paper that Sergey Brin and Larry
Page wrote for Stanford that outlines the technology behind Google search, they explicitly
call out DARPA by name for funding the research, and for allowing it to happen in the first
place. And so you know, the military roots of the
Internet are very deep. And the military roots of many of the private
companies that we use today are deep, as well. And so these are not, these are not things
that just happened today, or last year, or the year before that. They’ve been going on for about as long as
Google has existed. AARON MATE: So finally, Yasha, just talking
about this nexus between government and Silicon Valley, this company WestExec that we talked
about. In terms of who it’s staffed by, we have people
including Anthony Blinken, former Deputy Secretary of State under Obama. A former U.S. Ambassador to Israel under Obama,
Daniel Shapiro. Lisa Monaco, former Obama counterterrorism
advisor. Michele Flournoy, the former Deputy Undersecretary
of Defense. Based on your reporting, your observations
about the entanglement between government officials and Silicon Valley; how deeply they
are connected, and how deeply officials profit from their connections after leaving government. YASHA LEVINE: Yeah. I mean, there’s just, this is, this is a great
story that was reported by Lee Fang of the Intercept. And it is just, it confirms the trend, right. Confirms the existence of this, of this close
relationship. And there’s no- it doesn’t surprise me at
all. I mean, you know, in my investigation of Google
that goes back to their beginning, I’ve seen time and time again Google hiring and working
with former intelligence officials, former Pentagon officials, to be their evangelists,
as they call them, right. Evangelists for Google services. Evangelists for why Google should be the choice
for modernizing national security infrastructure and communication infrastructure. And so it doesn’t surprise me. I think what’s interesting about this story
is that it’s a third party group, right. That’s essentially a kind of private. So it’s a third-party lobbyist for Google,
for Google’s business. And so it’s able to keep somewhat of a distance,
right. That they don’t work for Google, yet they
were launched in collaboration with the Google think tank, Jigsaw, which is run by Eric Schmidt;
or co-run by Eric Schmidt. So they can kind of still keep a bit of a
distance from Google. And so as the reporting by Lee Fang showed,
they’ve been acting as these third-party advocates. They’ve been quoted in the press, right, arguing
for why this is not a problem; why Google working with the Pentagon, why Project Maven
is not a problem. Why its critics should basically shut up,
right, and should not- because if this project was canceled it would harm American security
and national security, because it wouldn’t allow the military to modernize using Google
technology. So they’re very effective, they’re very efficient
in that sense, because they can essentially lobby for Google while keeping a distance
from it, and a certain sense of objectivity, or an appearance of objectivity. AARON MATE: We’ll leave it there. Yasha Levine, investigative journalist, author
of the book Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet. Yasha, thank you. YASHA LEVINE: Thank you. AARON MATE: And just to say we are in the
final days of our fundraising drive. So if you want to support the work we do,
please go to TheRealNews.com and hit donate. I’m Aaron Mate for The Real News.

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23 thoughts on “Ex-Obama Officials Shill, and Bill, for Big Tech’s Pentagon Deals

  1. Unfortunately war is the number one thing America does. This is who we are. We live to Haspel's "higher moral standard."

  2. ©™ TMALX Transnational 🌏 Militant 💥 Armed🔫Liberation⛓ Xecutive🕶 Observation ✍ ✍

    Google, do no evil, obviously just a slogan.

  3. and another terrible aaron video.. guy spends more time bashing Obama Rachel maddow then republicans and trump he sucks

  4. aaron blows .. notice he NEVER talks about anything the current republican congress or trump does instead spending time going after Obama and racheal maddow/…. guy is a trump shill

  5. Is this actually news to anyone? I can't believe that people didn't just assume most of this even if it hadn't been spoken of before.That google employees have spoken out about it probably has more to do with the fact that it's now in the public domain and they can't hide their heads in the sand.

  6. Your sitting on your front porch, having a smoke, and some drone, that you most likely will never even see, controlled from the other side of the planet, slaughters you, your family, even your dog, and the overwhelming odds are you were not even the target. You were just collateral fucking damage. If that's not one of greatest acts of terror i can think of, terror has no meaning anymore.

  7. Gugull is a seeyiyay sighop fershure, nochit! Whiny hillbot can't handle any scrutiny of the crimes of the lying cheating cabal that calls itself the Democratic party.

  8. Kudos to the Google employees lobbying against Google's involvement with AI associated with the Pentagon! There's a significant difference between the culture of Silicon Valley citizens/workers and the small management/investor class there. It's too easy to paint the true SV legacy culture & political climate with a broad brush. Silicon Valley tech workers and the general population of citizens are overwhelmingly Progressive liberals who chafe at the misuse of technology for US military adventurism throughout the world. The Bay Area, at large, has a traditional anti-war attitude that helped lead our exit from Viet Nam fifty years ago, and locals are still much more interested in Progressive domestic policy.
    Whenever 'Silicon Valley' is cited as complicit with deep-state antics, YouTube viewers should understand that the intelligence & military industries desperately want the high-technology that many SV folks are increasingly reluctant to deliver. Don't disparage Silicon Valley; there are many good people there!

  9. This is all for show. Govgle has sold their soul and this is not something you just walk away from. It is like the Mafia… Whether through third parties or in secret Govgle will be in the War business in one way or many ways such as it is now. The Scary possibility is that the GOV has what they need from Govgle for the Pentagon's Full Division size of robots to deploy with no or very little human assistance. Of course Govgle will still be in bed with the War machines…

  10. "When war is that profitable, I guarantee you you'll see more of it." – Chalmers Johnson  This is the actual deep state, the war state, that transcends political affiliation. Vote Dem to stop the Trump tide in November then vote to stem the excessive and redundant spending of taxpayers' money on the military beyond what is needed for actual defense and redirect it to infrastructure.

  11. The world has become over technologized (neologism) for its own good. Human are far happier a bit more down to earth.

  12. I highly recommend that everyone check out Robbie Martin's interview with Yasha Levine on Media Roots Radio.

  13. I'm more shocked that people don't know about this. I thought that was c'mon knowledge. =P

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