Technology × Freedom

Google, Facebook, and U.S. Intelligence

May 4, 2017 invisiblehand

Last week, when I wrote about Facebook's new initiative to read people's thoughts, I touched on the woman behind this initiative, Regina Dugan, and her former ties to both Google and DARPA, the Pentagon's research lab. (As you'll recall, the Pentagon oversees the NSA.)

It turns out I had seen Dugan's name before. It shows up in the epic exposé published in 2015 by investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed where he traces the many nefarious connections between Google, the CIA, and the U.S. military-industrial complex. The crux of the revolving door among these organizations is something called the Pentagon Highlands Forum. From Ahmed's report:

In March 2012, then DARPA director Regina Dugan — who in that capacity was also co-chair of the Pentagon Highlands Forum — followed her colleague [Michele] Quaid into Google to lead the company’s new Advanced Technology and Projects Group. During her Pentagon tenure, Dugan led on strategic cyber security and social media, among other initiatives. She was responsible for focusing “an increasing portion” of DARPA’s work “on the investigation of offensive capabilities to address military-specific needs,” securing $500 million of government funding for DARPA cyber research from 2012 to 2017.

In sum, many of Google’s most senior executives are affiliated with the Pentagon Highlands Forum, which throughout the period of Google’s growth over the last decade, has surfaced repeatedly as a connecting and convening force. The U.S. intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests.

Ahmed's piece is worth reading in full. It details how Sergey Brin's "google" project while a PhD student at Stanford University was seed-funded by the CIA and his work was closely monitored by senior members of the CIA. The funding came through the CIA's In-Q-Tel firm, an incubator whose investments focus on startups developing data mining technology. From Ahmed:

The idea was to essentially replace the functions once performed by the [CIA's] ORD [Office of Research and Development], by mobilizing the private sector to develop information technology solutions for the entire intelligence community.

Interestingly, Ahmed also discovered connections between the CIA's In-Q-Tel and the two venture capital firms - Accel Partners and Greylock Venture Capital - that provided over $40 million of funding to Facebook back in 2007 and 2008.

Regina Dugan is at least one of the people who has traveled through the revolving doors of all three: Google, Facebook, and the U.S. intelligence community. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.