Peter Thiel’s Palantir and its ties to Cambridge Analytica

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Mr. Thiel at Trump Tower in Manhattan. He serves on the board at Facebook. CreditEduardo Munoz/Reuters

 

03 April 2018 | Julie Hyland | WSWS

Palantir Technologies: A “CIA-backed startup”

Statements by whistleblower Christopher Wylie to the parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on alleged activities by Cambridge Analytica were given wide coverage in the British media, especially the Guardian.

Allegations that Cambridge Analytica—which backed Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential election—received Facebook data collected without users’ consent raise serious democratic issues. The campaign against it, however, has nothing to do with redressing these concerns.

This is made clear by the far more damaging allegation made by Wylie to the select committee that has largely been passed over to date.

The WSWS has reported on the real pedigree of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, the behavioural research and strategic communication company, SCL.

Asked by the parliamentary select committee if there were other data companies operating similarly to Cambridge Analytica, Wylie specifically cited the data analysis giant Palantir Technologies.

“We actually had several meetings with Palantir,” Wylie said. “There were senior Palantir employees that were also working on the Facebook data. That was not an official contract between Palantir and CA, but there were Palantir staff who would come into the office and work on the data. And we would go and meet with Palantir staff at Palantir.”

To the extent that his statement received coverage, it is due to the fact that Palantir was founded by another pro-Trump oligarch, Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and a member of Facebook’s board of directors.

But the relations between Palantir—as with other social media corporations—and the US deep state have largely been passed over in silence.

So close are the connections between the data firm and the US state that in July 2017, the Guardianitself described Palantir as a “CIA-backed startup.”

The CIA’s venture capital branch, In-Q-Tel, was one of the first investors in the company when it was launched by Thiel in 2004. This was one year after the illegal invasion of Iraq, and Palantir played a major role in the so-called “counterterror” strategies employed by the Pentagon to occupy the country and quash opposition.

Palantir’s clients include a disproportionate number of US military, state and intelligence agencies. They include the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, Homeland Security, the Defence Intelligence Agency and National Counterterrorism Centre, through to various police departments.

In 2013, Forbes listed Palantir’s advisers as including Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state under President George W. Bush, and former CIA Director George Tenet.

According to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Palantir was instrumental in the mass illegal spying activities undertaken by Washington’s global surveillance network, Prism.

Palantir’s data-gathering services were also retained by Britain’s GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) spying agency as well as the Five Eyes intelligence alliance between the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.


28 March 2018 |Lizette Chapman | Bloomberg

Peter Thiel’s Palantir Says Rogue Employee Engaged With Cambridge Analytica

Palantir Technologies Inc., the closely held data-mining startup founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, said it never engaged with political analysis firm Cambridge Analytica but discovered one of its employees had.

 

Cambridge Analytica is the U.K. firm that harvested data from 50 million unwitting Facebook Inc. users to target voters and help elect Donald Trump. That sparked a firestorm around the social networking firm’s failure to protect personal data and raised larger questions about who owns user information. More details have emerged since that initial revelation, with former Cambridge Analytica employee-turned-whistleblower Chris Wylie testifying Tuesday to U.K. lawmakers that Palantir helped Cambridge Analytica by building algorithms using the Facebook data.

 

Palantir disputed Wylie’s claims and said although Cambridge Analytica sought to engage on “multiple” occasions, Palantir always shot down the offer. One employee didn’t though.

 

“We learned today that an employee, in 2013-2014, engaged in an entirely personal capacity with people associated with Cambridge Analytica. We are looking into this and will take the appropriate action,” Palantir spokeswoman Lisa Gordon said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.

 

Co-founded in 2004 by Facebook board member Thiel, Palantir aggregates far-flung information and then finds patterns in data often overlooked by humans. It has done work for federal agencies from the U.S. Defense Department to the Department of Homeland Security, and worked on fraud prevention for JPMorgan Chase & Co. and supply chain management and drug discovery for Merck. Despite Thiel’s heavy political involvement—he spoke in support of Trump at the Republican National Convention—the Silicon Valley company says it has purposefully stayed away from political work.

 

“As a matter of company policy, we do not and have never worked on or been involved with elections or political campaigns anywhere in the world,” the company said in an emailed statement.

 

The rogue employee is Alfredas Chmieliauskas, who used his personal Gmail to pursue a side relationship with Cambridge Analytica, according to emails provided by Palantir to Bloomberg. Chmieliauskas didn’t respond to a request for comment. According to his Linkedin profile, he has worked in business development at Palantir since 2013.

 

Palantir said it’s continuing its investigation but so far has identified just one employee who worked with Cambridge.


27 March 2018 | Arjun Kharpal | CNBC

Palantir worked with Cambridge Analytica on the Facebook data it acquired, whistleblower alleges

Palantir, a secretive company co-founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, worked with Cambridge Analytica, the political analysis firm that harvested data from Facebook users, whistleblower Christopher Wylie told U.K. lawmakers Tuesday.

Wylie claimed that Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix was introduced to Palantir by Sophie Schmidt, the daughter of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Thiel, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Wylie, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, said Nix had “several meetings” with Palantir.

“Senior Palantir employees” then worked on the Facebook profile data that was acquired by Cambridge Analytica, Wylie claimed.

“That was not an official contract between Palantir and Cambridge Analytica, but there were Palantir staff that would come into the office and work on that data,” Wylie told lawmakers. He added that Palantir staff “helped build the models we were working on.”

Wylie did not elaborate on the “models” being worked on but it relates to Cambridge Analytica’s algorithms used to target people in political votes.

A spokesperson for Palantir told CNBC the company has never had a relationship with Cambridge Analytica and has never worked on any Cambridge Analytica data. Cambridge Analytica was not immediately available for comment.

Last year, The Observer newspaper reported that Cambridge Analytica and Palantir had meetings in 2013. According to the report, at least one senior Palantir employee consulted with Cambridge Analytica regarding a project in Trinidad and political work in the United States. Palantir decided against it, according to the British newspaper.

Wylie gave testimony about the scandal in which 50 million Facebook profiles were mined for data that was harvested by an app, which shared the information with Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica claimed it worked on all the digital aspects of Donald Trump‘s 2016 election campaign. Thiel is a well-known supporter of Trump and donated over $1 million to his campaign. He is also on the board of Facebook. Steve Bannon, who was a top executive at Cambridge Analytica, led Trump’s campaign.

Palantir has previously done work for the National Security Agency and is backed by the CIA’s not-for-profit venture capital firm. Palantir’s CEO Alex Karp, who is also not accused of wrongdoing, was also one of the technology executives who was at a meeting with Trump in December 2016.


27 March 2018 || New York Times

Spy Contractor’s Idea Helped Cambridge Analytica Harvest Facebook Data

As a start-up called Cambridge Analytica sought to harvest the Facebook data of tens of millions of Americans in summer 2014, the company received help from at least one employee at Palantir Technologies, a top Silicon Valley contractor to American spy agencies and the Pentagon.

It was a Palantir employee in London, working closely with the data scientists building Cambridge’s psychological profiling technology, who suggested the scientists create their own app — a mobile-phone-based personality quiz — to gain access to Facebook users’ friend networks, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

Cambridge ultimately took a similar approach. By early summer, the company found a university researcher to harvest data using a personality questionnaire and Facebook app. The researcher scraped private data from over 50 million Facebook users — and Cambridge Analytica went into business selling so-called psychometric profiles of American voters, setting itself on a collision course with regulators and lawmakers in the United States and Britain.

The revelations pulled Palantir — co-founded by the wealthy libertarian Peter Thiel — into the furor surrounding Cambridge, which improperly obtained Facebook data to build analytical tools it deployed on behalf of Donald J. Trump and other Republican candidates in 2016. Mr. Thiel, a supporter of President Trump, serves on the board at Facebook.

“There were senior Palantir employees that were also working on the Facebook data,” said Christopher Wylie, a data expert and Cambridge Analytica co-founder, in testimony before British lawmakers on Tuesday.

Cambridge Analytica has found itself confronting a deepening crisis since reports about the firm’s data harvesting were published this month in The New York Times, The Observer of London and The Guardian.

Photo

“There were senior Palantir employees that were also working on the Facebook data,” said Christopher Wylie, a Cambridge Analytica co-founder, in testimony before British lawmakers on Tuesday.CreditParliamentary Recording Unit, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The connections between Palantir and Cambridge Analytica were thrust into the spotlight by Mr. Wylie’s testimony on Tuesday. Both companies are linked to tech-driven billionaires who backed Mr. Trump’s campaign: Cambridge is chiefly owned by Robert Mercer, the computer scientist and hedge fund magnate, while Palantir was co-founded in 2003 by Mr. Thiel, who was an initial investor in Facebook.

The Palantir employee, Alfredas Chmieliauskas, works on business development for the company, according to his LinkedIn page. In an initial statement, Palantir said it had “never had a relationship with Cambridge Analytica, nor have we ever worked on any Cambridge Analytica data.” Later on Tuesday, Palantir revised its account, saying that Mr. Chmieliauskas was not acting on the company’s behalf when he advised Mr. Wylie on the Facebook data.

“We learned today that an employee, in 2013-2014, engaged in an entirely personal capacity with people associated with Cambridge Analytica,” the company said. “We are looking into this and will take the appropriate action.”

The company said it was continuing to investigate but knew of no other employees who took part in the effort. Mr. Wylie told lawmakers that multiple Palantir employees played a role.

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Alfredas Chmieliauskas, a Palantir employee, suggested Cambridge Analytica scientists create an app to scrape Facebook data.

Documents and interviews indicate that starting in 2013, Mr. Chmieliauskas began corresponding with Mr. Wylie and a colleague from his Gmail account. At the time, Mr. Wylie and the colleague worked for the British defense and intelligence contractor SCL Group, which formed Cambridge Analytica with Mr. Mercer the next year. The three shared Google documents to brainstorm ideas about using big data to create sophisticated behavioral profiles, a product code-named “Big Daddy.”

A former intern at SCL — Sophie Schmidt, the daughter of Eric Schmidt, then Google’s executive chairman — urged the company to link up with Palantir, according to Mr. Wylie’s testimony and a June 2013 email viewed by The Times.

“Ever come across Palantir. Amusingly Eric Schmidt’s daughter was an intern with us and is trying to push us towards them?” one SCL employee wrote to a colleague in the email.

Ms. Schmidt did not respond to requests for comment, nor did a spokesman for Cambridge Analytica.

In early 2013, Alexander Nix, an SCL director who became chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, and a Palantir executive discussed working together on election campaigns.

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Cambridge Analytica is chiefly owned by Robert Mercer, a computer scientist and hedge fund magnate. CreditAndrew Toth/Getty Images

A Palantir spokeswoman acknowledged that the companies had briefly considered working together but said that Palantir declined a partnership, in part because executives there wanted to steer clear of election work. Emails reviewed by The Times indicate that Mr. Nix and Mr. Chmieliauskas sought to revive talks about a formal partnership through early 2014, but Palantir executives again declined.

In his testimony, Mr. Wylie acknowledged that Palantir and Cambridge Analytica never signed a contract or entered into a formal business relationship. But he said some Palantir employees helped engineer Cambridge’s psychographic models.

“There were Palantir staff who would come into the office and work on the data,” Mr. Wylie told lawmakers. “And we would go and meet with Palantir staff at Palantir.” He did not provide an exact number for the employees or identify them.

Palantir employees were impressed with Cambridge’s backing from Mr. Mercer, one of the world’s richest men, according to messages viewed by The Times. And Cambridge Analytica viewed Palantir’s Silicon Valley ties as a valuable resource for launching and expanding its own business.

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An app built by Aleksandr Kogan collected data that helped Cambridge Analytica develop voter profiles.

In an interview this month with The Times, Mr. Wylie said that Palantir employees were eager to learn more about using Facebook data and psychographics. Those discussions continued through spring 2014, according to Mr. Wylie.

Mr. Wylie said that he and Mr. Nix visited Palantir’s London office on Soho Square. One side was set up like a high-security office, Mr. Wylie said, with separate rooms that could be entered only with particular codes. The other side, he said, was like a tech start-up — “weird inspirational quotes and stuff on the wall and free beer, and there’s a Ping-Pong table.”

Mr. Chmieliauskas continued to communicate with Mr. Wylie’s team in 2014, as the Cambridge employees were locked in protracted negotiations with a researcher at Cambridge University, Michal Kosinski, to obtain Facebook data through an app Mr. Kosinski had built. The data was crucial to efficiently scale up Cambridge’s psychometrics products so they could be used in elections and for corporate clients.

“I had left field idea,” Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote in May 2014. “What about replicating the work of the cambridge prof as a mobile app that connects to facebook?” Reproducing the app, Mr. Chmieliauskas wrote, “could be a valuable leverage negotiating with the guy.”

Those negotiations failed. But Mr. Wylie struck gold with another Cambridge researcher, the Russian-American psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, who built his own personality quiz app for Facebook. Over subsequent months, Dr. Kogan’s work helped Cambridge develop psychological profiles of millions of American voters.


 Also:

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12 March 2018 | Adam Mazmanian  |FCW

Raytheon, Palantir win $876M battlefield tech contract

After years of protests and legal wrangling, Palantir is finally part of the Army’s battlefield intel analytics system.

The Army announced on March 8 that Palantir and Raytheon were both winners in the commercial competition for work on the Army’s Distributed Common Ground System. The 10-year DCGS-A Increment 1 Capability Drop 1 has a ceiling value of $876 million and covers a range of hardware and software designed to operate in austere battlefield environments.

Palantir, a Silicon Valley firm founded by sometime Trump tech adviser Peter Thiel and Alex Karp that specializes in data analytics, has long advocated for opening up the multibillion DCGS-A to commercial competition. Palantir has argued that its software platform is preferable to a multiproduct intelligence system that includes a mix of commercial tools and bespoke military software.

Raytheon is the incumbent integrator on the DCGS-A contract.

In October 2016, a federal judge issued an injunction stopping the Army from moving ahead with a solicitation for the second increment of DCGS-A, which sought an integrator to manage the system.

The first delivery order was awarded concurrently with the multiple award

indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity contract, which supported a “competitive test-fix-test phase” to help the Army select hardware and software solutions to put in the field.

Program manager Col. Robert Collins said the order “directly addresses soldier’s feedback for improving usability, will enhance the tactical military decision making and intel processes, and support situational understanding at the tactical level.”

Palantir and Raytheon won’t be teaming up. An Army spokesperson told FCW that the two contractors will be competing on subsequent delivery orders.

Palantir and critics in Congress have long railedagainst the DCGS-A system as ineffective and representative of the Army’s resistance to innovative commercial products.

In an email to FCW, Todd Probert, vice president, Mission Support and Modernization, Raytheon Intelligence, touted the agility and flexibility of the company’s FoXTEN software.

“The system integrates commercial off-the-shelf products and is designed to be fully open, allowing the Army to rapidly incorporate new capabilities from any developer as they become available. It is streamlined and intuitive so soldiers can learn how to operate the system quickly,” Probert said.

Palantir did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The Army is currently conducting market researchand product demonstrations for Capability Drop 2 of DCGS-A. The Army announced March 12 that an industry day for the contract will take place sometime before the end of June.


Previously on Hawkins Bay Dispatch:

01 March 2018

Update: Security firm Palantir- New Orleans police predictive policing software – cancelled

01 March 2018 | Tom Hall | WSWS

‘Palantir, a secretive technology contractor with ties to the Pentagon and US spy agencies, has worked with the city of New Orleans to test its dragnet surveillance software for years, according to a report published in the online magazine The Verge. (PALANTIR HAS SECRETLY BEEN USING NEW ORLEANS TO TEST ITS PREDICTIVE POLICING TECHNOLOGY)

The agreement with Palantir, which was co-founded by Paypal founder Peter Thiel with seed money from the CIA, was reached in 2012 with the office of Democratic mayor Mitch Landrieu. However, the city’s residents were totally unaware of the details of this program until The Verge broke the story on Tuesday.

Palantir specializes in data mining software which creates statistical models to predict what people will do before they do it, based on factors such as family and personal ties, geographical location, socioeconomic factors and social media posts. The use of such technologies stands in flagrant violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The military and intelligence agencies use such predictive models to create lists of people to be subjected to intensive surveillance or even drone assassinations. However, such software is increasingly used by police departments around the country.

The Los Angeles Police Department has acknowledged that it is a customer of Palantir, as was the New York Police Department, until it cut ties with the company earlier this year in favor of alternative datamining software. Chicago’s police department used such software to create a “heat list” of individuals deemed likely to either commit or be a victim of murder.

According to The Verge, the project began at the initiative of James Carville, the former campaign manager and advisor to president Bill Clinton who now teaches political science at Tulane University. Carville has also been on Palantir’s payroll as an advisor since at least 2011, according to the report.

james-carville-this-is-what-scares-me-the-most-about-a-trump-presidency
James Carville

Carville defended the project as essentially a philanthropic endeavor designed to reign in the city’s skyrocketing murder rate. However, this is belied by the fact that the program was carried out in near-total secrecy.

The agreement was kept off of the city’s books and away from public scrutiny by funneling it through Landrieu’s charitable foundation, NOLA for Life. “No one in New Orleans even knows about this, to my knowledge,” Carville said.

According to The Verge, “Mayor Landrieu’s office, the city attorney, and the NOPD appear to be the only entities aware of the firm’s work in the city. Key members of the city council were not aware of Palantir’s work in New Orleans until approached by The Verge .”

For Palantir, the agreement with New Orleans represented an opportunity to test products that it could sell to other police departments and intelligence agencies. The Verge report notes that the company was able to sell products tested in New Orleans to the Danish national police and intelligence services and to the security services in Israel. The company also sought unsuccessfully to sell its services to Chicago Police, which ultimately decided to use different software.

Carville and his wife Mary Matalin openly bragged of his role in bringing Palantir executives into contact with the New Orleans local government in a radio interview in 2014. “We’re kind of a prototype,” Matalin, who is also a well-connected political consultant, said. “Unless you’re the cousin of some drug dealer that went bad, you’re going to be okay.”

VERGE: Co-founded in 2004 by Alexander Karp and Peter Thiel (the company’s single largest shareholder), Palantir Technologies’ rapid ascent to becoming one of the highest-valued private Silicon Valley companies has been driven by lucrative contracts with the Pentagon and United States intelligence services, as well as foreign security services.

As The Verge correctly commented, this amounts to a back-handed admission that the surveillance algorithm could “sweep up innocent people” based on their mere association with people convicted of crimes.

“The data on individuals came from information scraped from social media as well as NOPD criminal databases for ballistics, gangs, probation and parole information, jailhouse phone calls, calls for service, the central case management system (i.e., every case NOPD had on record), and the department’s repository of field interview cards,” according to The Verge.

These “field interview cards,” it added, “[represent] every documented encounter NOPD has with citizens, even those that don’t result in arrests,” and comes from a policy which “resembled NYPD’s ‘stop and frisk’ program and was instituted with the express purpose of gathering as much intelligence on New Orleanians as possible, regardless of whether or not they committed a crime.”

The fact that the Landrieu administration effectively handed over the city to Palantir to test advanced spying technologies is of a piece with government policy since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The ruling class seized on the devastation made possible by its decades of underfunding for hurricane preparedness to convert the city into a testbed for various reactionary, pro-business measures, most notably the conversion of the city’s entire public school system into privately-operated charters schools.

The revelation of Palantir’s agreement with the city of New Orleans further demonstrates the increasingly close integration between local police forces and the military-intelligence apparatus.

Verge: In an interview, Carville told The Verge that he was the impetus for the collaboration between Palantir and New Orleans. “I am the sole driver of that project. It was entirely my idea,” said Carville, adding that he and Palantir CEO Alex Karp flew down to New Orleans to meet with Mayor Landrieu. “To me, it was a case of morality. Young people were shooting each other, and the public wasn’t as involved as they should have been.”

Since this program began, the Pentagon has funneled billions of dollars in surplus military hardware, including armored vehicles, to local police departments, which were then arrayed against peaceful protestors in Ferguson in 2014 and Baltimore the following year.

The exposure in 2015 of the Chicago Police Department’s “black site” at Homan square, where detectives disappeared and tortured suspects, represents the domestic application of the methods perfected by American imperialism in a decade and a half of the so-called “War on Terror.”

Under the guise of combatting the spread of “fake news,” the ruling class is utilizing predictive modeling software such as that marketed by Palantir to police the internet and transform it into an instrument of surveillance and control. Last month, Facebook announced it would be implementing such technology to censor “harmful” content. “Our goal with AI is to understand the meaning of all the content on Facebook,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared in a statement.

 

 

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