26 January 2015

When Google met the Pentagon....

I've just published my first major investigation supported by crowdfunding via my INSURGE INTELLIGENCE project, a two-part story on the intersections between the US military industrial complex and Silicon Valley focusing on two entities: Google and the Pentagon's Highlands Forum:

How the CIA made Google - part 1

Why Google made the NSA - part 2

Among the revelations is that Google co-founder Sergey Brin was partly funded by a US intelligence community program set up by the CIA and NSA called the 'Massive Digital Data Systems' (MDDS) initiative, which was co-managed by the MITRE Corp. and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). The lead manager of the project, Prof. Bhavani Thuraisingham who is currently direct of the Cyber Security Research Institute at the University of Texas, Dallas, told me that she and her colleague in charge of MDDS, Dr. Rick Steinheiser of the CIA's Office of Research & Development, met Brin every three months for the period from 1996 to 1998, during which Brin received MDDS funding.

In these meetings, Brin would brief Thuraisingham and Steinheiser on his research and progress developing the Google search engine, until it was completed in September 1998. 

Google has as yet not officially denied the allegations, instead issuing a carefully worded statement insisting that Brin did not receive funding from "US Intelligence bodies." This is because Brin's funding from the US intelligence community was issued through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. The problem is that Brin himself, in a paper he co-write, openly acknowledges that his research developing Google's PageRank was developed with funding from the Community Management Staff (CMS) of the MDDS. The Community Management Staff is a central US intelligence community coordinating body which functions under the Director of Central Intelligence, whereas as noted, the MDDS is primarily a CIA and NSA initiative that was managed by Thuraisingham (MITRE), Steinheiser (CIA), and several other NSA, CIA and CMS officials. 

The other problem is that Sergey Brin met regularly for two years with the managers of this US intelligence community program about his work at Stanford developing Google, including the CIA's Steinheiser.

At this point, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Google's statement is simply disingenuous, and designed to avoid addressing the core issues raised above. After I put these issues to Google's head of corporate PR, asking them whether they were denying that Brin was funded by the MDDS, and denying that Brin met regularly with the CIA's Rick Steinheiser while developing Google, I received no response.

It seems Google would rather not answer the question.

Beyond that, the story explores how at every stage of Google's evolution, it was assisted by networks closely aligned with the Pentagon and the US military intelligence community - and further that senior Google executives are members/delegates of the Pentagon's Highlands Forum, a shadow network that convenes private defense contractors, investors, energy executives, IT experts, among others, sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, to help coordinate the Pentagon's strategies on "information operations."

All this is not a result of some grand conspiracy, in which Google's investors, for instance, are all 'spooks.' This isn't the case - rather than being the result of a grand plan, much of this appears more to be the result of Brin being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a Silicon Valley nexus which was being heavily courted by a range of Pentagon agencies in search of the next step in IT. From inception, Google was surrounded and supported by people closely aligned with the Pentagon and the Pentagon's values, and connected through social networks with powerful actors in the US intelligence community. The Pentagon Highlands Forum played a key role in this process in terms of bringing people together that otherwise would not be connected, so that their expertise, funds, ideas and their own networks could be harnessed to be fed into the formation of information operations across the US military intelligence community.

Among the Forum's many credits are its role in virtually writing the information warfare doctrines that led to the Pentagon's adoption of mass surveillance at home and abroad, the definitions of irregular warfare and network centric warfare, and the conceptualisation of the war on terror as 'The Long War'. Another important credit is that it is run, according to a DoD Inspector General report, by The Rendon Group (TRG) - the same firm contracted by the Pentagon to manufacture propaganda to justify the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. TRG played a lead role in drumming up false information on Saddam's WMD. Apart from running the Highlands Forum process, TRG's chief executive John Rendon is a longstanding member of the Forum. TRG also has access to the most secretive intelligence across the intelligence community, including NSA surveillance data for instance. 

The story is starting to get noticed, though so far the mainstream media has remained studiously silent about what is in reality a huge story - clear and unimpeachable documentary evidence and testimony that Google's Sergey Brin did receive a modest amount of seed-funding from the CIA and NSA, through their MDDS initiative, and that Brin had regular briefings with representatives of the US intelligence community from 96-98.

The leading US tech news site Gigaom mentioned my story today in the context of its report on the revelations from Wikileaks that Google received a search warrant for the gmail records of three Wikileaks staff, but failed to notify those people for over two and a half years - despite then simply handing over the data to authorities. David Meyer, a senior writer at Gigaom, said: "An interesting, if extremely dense, account of Google’s longstanding interactions with U.S. military and intelligence was published on Medium last week.)"

It's also been covered in a widely-read German-language tech news publication, FutureZone

Wikileaks plugged the story widely via Twitter and Facebook yesterday, shortly before announcing their press conference on their own Google revelations.

The story was also tweeted out with support by Paul Nemitz, Director of Fundamental Rights at the EU Commission's Directorate-General for Justice.

It's also had its fair share of detractors. A friend of mine who works at a senior level in finance told me the entire two-part story was a "fairytale" because he personally is friends and was classmates with many of the people mentioned in the story. That was it.

Ryan Singel, a former writer for WIRED, repeatedly tweeted that the story was "awful journalism" about five or six times, but somehow failed to explain why with any substance  (the most substantive he got, I think, was when he scoffed at my description of the Highlands Forum as "secret" because it was attended by journalists Lawrence Wright and Noah Shachtman. Ok. Great argument, dude.)

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