The NSA, CIA Venture Capital, and Peter Thiel

June 23, 2013
Peter Thiel and his Libertarian floating islands

Peter Thiel and his Libertarian floating islands

Edward Snowden’s complex world is unraveling and transforming. Snowden, you will recall is the former employee of Booze Allen Hamilton, a private company used by the secretive National Security Agency.
What is not recognized is that Snowden’s revelations about the collection of meta-data, every electronic communication in the country – is nothing new. The NSA and other agencies have been doing it for years, even while they denied it. But the thing Snowden has brought to the table is how much of the work is being done by private corporations with virtually no government oversight. Snowden claims, and nobody seems to deny that just about anyone employed by these private snoops has access to the personal communications millions of innocent civilians in the United States, as well as the rest of the world. What is not clear yet is if these private contractors have the ability to trade on such information without the knowledge of government authority.

The other revelation related to Snowden’s disclosure is that social networking companies like Facebook or search engines like Google are the source of the data-mining, as well as phone companies.
And here lies the intersection of private companies and the surveillance state.

Probably nobody represents this fusion of private/state cooperative surveillance better than Peter Thiel. Thiel is the German-born son of a chemical engineer that moved to California. He was a high-school whiz kid that was obsessed with the “Star Wars” movies and Tolkien’s “The Lord Of The Rings. At Stanford, he distanced himself from perceived diversity issues by founding “The Stanford Review”, the premier conservative paper of the college and according to critics it “set out to provoke and offend”.

This accusation followed Thiel as he donated $1 million to an allegedly racist group:

“Insiders at Clarium Capital, the $5.3 billion hedge fund run by Facebook investor Peter Thiel, are buzzing about their boss’s $1 million donation to NumbersUSA, an anti-immigrant group. The donation is an open secret within Clarium, and it has enraged several staff members who joined Clarium because they believed Thiel shared their libertarian ideals. When I asked Thiel if he’d made the donation, an underling passed on a nondenial saying the company didn’t comment on “gossip and heresy.” A typo — he meant to say “hearsay” — but a suggestive one. Thiel has fallen under the sway of Robertson “Rob” Morrow III, a Christian right-wing thinker who has personally donated to NumbersUSA, and persuaded Thiel to make his own, much larger donation.
NumbersUSA is a front organization for anti-immigrant, racist, John Tanton who founded the nativist Federation for American Immigration Reform. The Tanton and NumbersUSA agenda is basically nativist xenophobia with a good dose of anti-Latino hysteria.”

Thiel represents the schizophrenic nature of Libertarian ideology: on one hand, he proposed (along with Milton Friedman’s grandson Patri) to build huge floating Libertarian islands 200 miles off the coast. They would be out of the reach of U.S. tax authorities and the law in general. Sort of a rich man’s “Lord Of The Flies”, with servants that need not have wage or safety guarantees.
On the other hand, Thiel is embedded in the surviellance culture. After creating PayPal, he moved on to help Mark Zuckerberg develop Facebook, a gift to intelligence agencies and marketing firms. Of course, Facebook is on the front line of companies rolling information into NSA files.

For a Libertarian, Thiel doesn’t mind making money off Uncle Sam. Thiel’s more recent company is Palantir, a data mining outfit that uses a software program called “Prism”. Interestingly, “Prism” is also the software name that Edward Snowden disclosed as a NSA tool. From “The Atlantic Wire”:

“On a Friday full of tech-land denials and government distancing and no real answers about how the NRA’s sweeping spy program actually works, Palanatir — the “Mysterious Silicon Valley Company Helping the NSA Spy on Americans” — now insists that its own “Prism” system for database mining has nothing to do with the NSA’s data-mining “PRISM” program, but that’s not going to calm many privacy fears, either. “Palantir’s Prism platform is completely unrelated to any US government program of the same name,” the company wrote in a statement provided to The Atlantic Wire. “Prism is Palantir’s name for a data integration technology used in the Palantir Metropolis platform (formerly branded as Palantir Finance). This software has been licensed to banks and hedge funds for quantitative analysis and research.” It’s true that Palantir Metropolis used to go by the name Palantir Finance, according to this Quora thread. And the link describing Palantir’s Prism platform falls under the “Metropolis Dev” section. But the coincidence, as well as the company’s strong ties to the CIA, have been hard to ignore.”

Palantir was a product of Thiel sponsered by In-Q-Tel:

“In-Q-Tel of Arlington, Virginia, United States is a not-for-profit venture capital firm that invests in high-tech companies for the sole purpose of keeping the Central Intelligence Agency, and other intelligence agencies, equipped with the latest in information technology in support of United States intelligence capability.[4]”

So Palantir, along with an unknown number of hi-tech firms, is a CIA “start-up” company. The software program “Prism”, if it was indeed the same name as another company’s product, would surely be the subject of lawsuits which are absent from the issue. In that case, Palantir’s denial that it’s Prism software is not being used by the NSA is suspect.

Again, from The Atlantic Wire:

“Not only do the NSA’s PRISM program and Palantir’s Prism program share a name, but Palantir seemingly markets pretty much the exact service the NSA would need to gain direct access to databases without a backdoor from tech companies. The startup’s own Prism overview describes the product as “a software component that lets you quickly integrate external databases into Palantir,” which sounds a lot like what the Post said the NSA needed to make PRISM work: “From inside a company’s data stream the NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes.” One of the first “examples” Palantir gives of how to use its Prism system has to do with “Connecting to Databases.”

Thiel represents hypocrisy unleashed. A “Libertarian” in the anarcho-capitalist mode that has no issue with helping the Government – strike that – private corporations glean every word, text and keystroke transmitted in the United States. His ungoverned floating island paradises as well as his willingness to be a snoop illustrate the fine line between the cult of Libertarianism and the emerging Fascism of a computer-driven surveillance state.

The raw fact that the collective bureaucracy intended to manage the affairs of the American people in an equitable way (Government) has been bought and paid for by corporations should worry all of us. In a narrow focus we see that private contractors are reaping billions of dollars managing the private information of all U.S. citizens. This appears to be going on without Government oversight, and no one knows how much information is being used by private companies for investment purposes, industrial espionage, or blackmail.

We may have gone past the point of no return in the surveillance state, and just about everyone agrees that the country needs to be protected.
But with the information in the hands of private contractors with no penalties for abusing the system, there are huge problems.
If the genie is out of the bottle, it needs to be overseen by Uncle Sam.

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4 Responses to The NSA, CIA Venture Capital, and Peter Thiel

  1. Bob Patterson on June 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    It scares me that the government would turn data mining for national security over to the private sector. That’s just a bad idea. As for Snowden, well, one of three possibilities:

    1. Outright idiot
    2. Working for another government
    3. Idiot who is a zealot and believes in his own cause

    I read one story that he’s headed to Ecuador. Another says he did not show up for the flight at all:

    Unless he took really juicy intel he’s worthless to another country. It’s only a matter of time before he’s extradited, kidnapped by the U.S., or assassinated.

    • DR on June 24, 2013 at 3:54 pm

      How about this?

      4. Snowden, who at first worked for the CIA before the NSA contractor – is still working for the CIA.
      What if there is an epic inter-agency battle with the CIA trying to claw back some of it’s turf?

  2. Tex on June 28, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    I think Snowden is too smart for it to be #1. I say it’s #3 or 4?

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