Silicon Spies: The US government and the tech revolution


by James Corbett
12 June, 2012

Earlier this week Wired Magazine released a background check of Steve Jobs conducted by the Department of Defense in 1988. The background check highlights Jobs’ use of LSD in the 1970s and his fears of blackmail or kidnapping due to his substantial wealth. The check was part of a security clearance investigation conducted by the DoD during Jobs’ tenure at Pixar, an investigation that was first revealed earlier this year. Precisely what Steve Jobs needed security clearance for has not yet been revealed, but that Jobs did have some relationship with the Department of Defence will come as no surprise to those who know the long and intimate history between the US military, the US intelligence apparatus, and Silicon Valley.

The Valley was born in the post-World War II era when then-provost of Stanford College, Frederick Terman, proposed the creation of Stanford Industrial Park, now known as the Stanford Research Park. The land was to be leased out to high-tech firms created by Stanford’s graduate students and alumni.

Terman himself had an interesting history as a radio engineer and researcher who was called upon by the US government to direct the top secret Radio Research Laboratory at Harvard University during World War II. While there, Terman and his researchers developed some of the earliest signals intelligence and electronic intelligence equipment, including radar detectors, radar jammers and aluminum chaff to be used as countermeasures against German anti-air defenses.

Upon his return to Stanford after the war, Terman brought his experience, and his military contacts, with him, and began transforming the San Francisco Bay Area into a high-tech research hotspot dubbed “Microwave Valley.”

In 1951, William Shockley, one of the co-inventors of the transistor, set up the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in Mountain View, California, current day home of Google Inc. Although unsuccessful as a businessman himself, defectors from his company would go on to found the core of the Silicon Valley enterprises, including Intel Corporation, National Semiconductor, and Advanced Micro Devices.

As the Microwave Valley of Terman began to gave way to the Silicon Valley of Shockley, an avowed eugenicist who argued for the sterilization of the less intelligent, so too did the nature of US government involvement in the technology industry itself. Rather than directly hiring the technology companies to produce the technology, consumer electronics would increasingly be regulated, directed, overseen and infiltrated by government workers, who could then use that technology as the basis for a worldwide signals intelligence operation, directed not at the militaries of foreign countries, but at the population of the world as a whole.

Although many are by now familiar with the roots of the Internet in the ARPANET, the world’s first interconnected packet switching network, with funding from the DoD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, few are aware of just how much modern technology was originally funded by or created for government, military and intelligence agency customers.

In 1958 Mitre Corporation was founded with workers from a US Air Force anti-air defense project and continues to this day to support numerous government agencies with systems engineering and IT development, including the DoD, DHS, FAA and IRS. It is currently chaired by ex-Director of Central Intelligence James Schlesinger.

In 1977 Software Development Laboratories created the first Oracle database on contract for their customer, the CIA. Within 25 years, virtually every Fortune 100 company in the world would rely on Oracle databases to manage their information.

The Global Positioning System program, which is now an integral part of everything from car navigation systems to smartphone apps, was created by the Department of Defense. After the KAL 007 disaster, the system was committed to civilian uses including air traffic monitoring.

More important than these open interventions in the IT sector, however, are the ways that the hand of the US government in the development of modern hardware and software has been hidden behind a smokescreen of venture capital companies. Effectively, this modern system of funding for key tech startups has hidden the intimate relations that continue to exist between Silicon Valley and the heart of America’s intelligence apparatus.

As we reported last year, In-Q-Tel was set up in 1999 as the CIA’s venture capital firm to identify and acquire emerging technologies for the use of the intelligence community. Since then, they have gone on to invest in an array of companies touting various Orwellian, privacy-invading technologies that would be of significant interest to a government increasingly bent on becoming a 21st century Big Brother.

A mere degree of separation from In-Q-Tel itself, however, are the venture capitalists who funded, amongst other ventures, PayPal, Facebook and Google. Former In-Q-Tel CEO Gilman Louie sat on the board of the National Venture Capital Association with Jim Breyer, head of Accel Partners, who provided 12 million dollars of seed money for Facebook. Another early investor in Facebook was Peter Thiel, former co-founder and CEO of PayPal, and Bilderberg Group steering committee member.

In 2000, an article in the Independent announced that the CIA was looking to invest in a search engine for managing, sorting and analyzing the ever-expanding information on the world wide web. Around the same time, Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, two Silicon Valley VCs, invested $25 million in the brand new startup Google Inc. Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins are literally neighbors of In-Q-Tel in Menlo Park, and co-invested in numerous projects. In 2006, ex-CIA officer Robert Steele told Homeland Security Today that Google “has been taking money and direction for elements of the US Intelligence Community, including the Office of Research and Development at the Central Intelligence Agency, In-Q-Tel, and in all probability, both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command.”

In 2005, In-Q-Tel sold over 5,000 shares of Google stock. It is not exactly clear how the CIA’s venture capital firm ended up with 5,000 shares of Google stock, but it is believed to have come when Google bought out Keyhole Inc., the developer of the software that later become Google Earth. The company’s name, “Keyhole,” is a none-too-subtle reference to the Keyhole class of reconaissance satellites that the US intelligence agencies have been using for decades to commit 3D imaging and mapping analysis.

In 2010, details of an NSA-Google relationship began to emerge, but to this present day details are being blocked from public consumption.

In 2011, Apple introduced “Siri,” an intelligent personal assistant, with the latest iteration of its iPhone smartphone series. Even at the time, many analysts noted eerie similarities between Siri and other such intelligent personal assistants developed by the Department of Defense in the past.

That all of these connections, stockholdings, regulations and infiltrations add up to something quite disturbing is beyond dispute. After all, we now live in an age where almost every household in the Western world has multiple internet-enabled devices, where much of the rest of the world is getting online via cell phones and mobile technologies, and where the vast majority of the public are content to use Google, Facebook and other “mainstream” services to search, email, connect to friends and share intimate details of their personal lives. This is the type of information that a dictator of any other age could only have dreamt of, the type of information that compiles what people are doing, what they are thinking, who they are spending there lives with and what they are spending their money on, all in real time.

And now, these latest revelations about Steve Jobs’ security clearance with the Department of Defence have passed over the heads of a general population that has been taught to unthinkingly venerate these high-tech gurus as the 21st century example of the American dream: unassuming geeks who stumbled their way into mind-boggling fortunes using nothing but their brain power. Always left out of this narrative are the machinations taking place behind the scenes, with the Department of Defence, the NSA, the Department of Homeland Security, In-Q-Tel and other agencies quietly opening doors and writing cheques for the industry’s chosen few. It remains to be seen whether the public can be roused to take an interest in this issue, or whether they will continue sharing the details of their life on Facebook and sharing their privatest thoughts with the Google search bar.


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