Marco Margaritoff / The Drive & the Institute for Public Accuracy & Yasha Levine / Surveillance Valley – 2018-06-07 17:38:42
Google Halts A.I. Drone Deal
With Pentagon Following Staff Protests
Marco Margaritoff / The Drive
(June 4, 2018) — Google will officially not renew its contract with a Pentagon drone project after it expires, according to Bloomberg, following protests by the tech company’s staff and the ensuing publicity.
Head of the Google Cloud, Diane Greene, told Google employees on Friday that the tech giant won’t seek renewal, and will let the protested Pentagon contract expire in March of next year. The contract, signed last September, allows the Department of Defense to use Google’s artificial intelligence software to analyze drone footage, in a program that the DoD calls Project Maven.
Greene was reportedly eager to compete with Amazon and Microsoft’s business relationships with the government, the resulting drone tech projects of which have cloud computing at their core. Unfortunately for Greene, mass upheavals forced her to tactfully reassess.
“We’ve always said this was an 18-month contract . . . so it ends in March of 2019,” she said. “And there will be no follow-on to Maven.”
More than 4,000 Google employees signed a letter demanding the contract be canceled, and urging the tech company not to use its sophisticated artificial intelligence programs for the war business. As it stands, over 12 employees have resigned over this particular issue.
On the other hand, Greene’s cloud division is currently vying for a different, far bigger deal with the Pentagon. The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure would essentially bridge the same gap as Project Maven, and allow the government to employ Google’s artificial intelligence tech, anyway.
Is Google Really Ending its Military Contracts?
The Institute for Public Accuracy
Yasha Levine is an investigative journalist and author of the new book Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet. He recently wrote the piece “Know your history: Google has been a military-intel contractor from the very beginning,” which includes excerpts from the book that document specific contracts Google has with the CIA; and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, in partnership with Lockheed Martin.
He has been commenting on the scandal surrounding Googleâ€™s military contracting work on Project Maven, a Pentagon initiative to develop AI visual recognition capability for drones and was quoted in the recent Wired piece on the story.
He said today: “The public should not fall for Googleâ€™s announcement that it will not be renewing its contract for Project Maven, which came as a result of public criticism and the resignation of dozens of Google employees. The company is still a military contractor. . . .
“Sure, Google might not renew this specific AI drone contract. But what about the rest of the company’s military contracting work? What about its work with predictive policing outfits?
“Head of Googleâ€™s AI (who also runs Stanfordâ€™s AI lab) doesnâ€™t mind building weapons for the military. What she worries about is the optics.
“Co-founder Sergey Brin wants Google to be a military contractor. Says it will be better for peace if Google does this military work rather than traditional military contractors.
“It’s great that Google employees are protesting their company’s Pentagon AI drone research, but that’s hardly the only work Google does for militaries and law enforcement. Google has been building more efficient systems of surveillance and death for generals, spies and cops for 15 years and counting.â€
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Know Your History: Google Has Been a
Military-intel Contractor from the Very Beginning
Yasha Levine / Surveillance Valley
“Google has partnered with the United States Department of Defense to help the agency develop artificial intelligence for analyzing drone footage, a move that set off a firestorm among employees of the technology giant when they learned of Googleâ€™s involvement.”
— Gizmodo / March 6, 2018
(Updated April 5, 2018) — Gizmodo‘s March report on Google’s work for the Pentagon has been making headlines across the world. It’s also thrown the normally placid halls of Google’s Mountain View HQ into chaos. Seems that Googlers can’t believe that their awesome company would get involved in something as heinous as helping the Pentagon increase its drone targeting capability. And in April, Google employees went so far as to send their CEO a protest letter asking that the company back out of military-related AI research.
That’s good news!
But the fact that Google helps the military build more efficient systems of surveillance and death shouldn’t have been surprising, especially not to Google employees. The truth is that Google has spent the last 15 years selling souped-up versions of its information technology to military and intelligence agencies, local police departments, and military contractors of all size and specialization — including outfits that sell predictive policing tech deployed in cities across America today.
As I outline in my book Surveillance Valley, it started in 2003 with customized Google search solutions for data hosted by the CIA and NSA. The company’s military contracting work then began to expand in a major way after 2004, when Google cofounder Sergey Brin pushed for buying Keyhole, a mapping startup backed by the CIA and the NGA, a sister agency to the NSA that handles spy satellite intelligence.
Spooks loved Keyhole because of the “video game-like” simplicity of its virtual maps. They also appreciated the ability to layer visual information over other intelligence.
The sky was the limit. Troop movements, weapons caches, real-time weather and ocean conditions, intercepted emails and phone call intel, cell phone locations — whatever intel you had with a physical location could be thrown onto a map and visualized. Keyhole gave an intelligence analyst, a commander in the field, or an air force pilot up in the air the kind of capability that we now take for granted: using digital mapping services on our computers and mobile phones to look up restaurants, cafes, museums, traffic conditions, and subway routes.
“We could do these mashups and expose existing legacy data sources in a matter of hours, rather than weeks, months, or years,” an NGA official gushed about Keyhole — the company that we now know as Google Earth.
Military commanders werenâ€™t the only ones who liked Keyhole’s ability to mash up data. So did Google cofounder Sergey Brin.
The purchase of Keyhole was a major milestone for Google, marking the moment the company stopped being a purely consumer-facing Internet company and began integrating with the US government.
While Googleâ€™s public relations team did its best to keep the company wrapped in a false aura of geeky altruism, company executives pursued an aggressive strategy to become the Lockheed Martin of the Internet Age. “We’re functionally more than tripling the team each year,” a Google exec who ran Google Federal, the company’s military sales division, said in 2008.
It was true. With insiders plying their trade, Googleâ€™s expansion into the world of military and intelligence contracting took off.
What kind of work?
Here are just a few data points from Surveillance Valley:
“In 2007, it partnered with Lockheed Martin to design a visual intelligence system for the NGA that displayed US military bases in Iraq and marked out Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad — important information for a region that had experienced a bloody sectarian insurgency and ethnic cleansing campaign between the two groups.”
“In 2008, Google won a contract to run the servers and search technology that powered the CIAâ€™s Intellipedia, an intelligence database modeled after Wikipedia that was collaboratively edited by the NSA, CIA, FBI, and other federal agencies.”
“In 2010, as a sign of just how deeply Google had integrated with US intelligence agencies, it won a no-bid exclusive $27 million contract to provide the NGA with â€œgeospatial visualization services,â€ effectively making the Internet giant the â€œeyesâ€ of Americaâ€™s defense and intelligence apparatus.”
“In 2008, Google entered into a three-way partnership with the NGA and a quasi-government company called GeoEye to launch a spy satellite called GeoEye-1. The new satellite, which was funded in large part by the NGA, delivered extremely high-resolution images for the exclusive use of NGA and Google.”
A few years ago it started working with PredPol, a California-based predictive policing startup. “PredPol did more than simply license Googleâ€™s technology to render the mapping sys- tem embedded in its product but also worked with Google to develop customized functionality, including ‘building additional bells and whistles and even additional tools for law enforcement.'”
More from the book:
“Google has been tightlipped about the details and scope of its contracting business. It does not list this revenue in a separate column in quarterly earnings reports to investors, nor does it provide the sum to reporters.
But an analysis of the federal contracting database maintained by the US government, combined with information gleaned from Freedom of Information Act requests and published periodic reports on the companyâ€™s military work, reveals that Google has been doing brisk business selling Google Search, Google Earth, and Google Enterprise (now known as G Suite) products to just about every major military and intelligence agency: navy, army, air force, Coast Guard, DARPA, NSA, FBI, DEA, CIA, NGA, and the State Department.
Sometimes Google sells directly to the government, but it also works with established contractors like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation), a California-based intelligence mega-contractor that has so many former NSA employees working for it that it is known in the business as ‘NSA West.'”
Want to know more? Read “Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet.”
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.