FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Security-Digital Complex

by

shutterstock_261481172

Most of us know that Silicon Valley, the centre of digital innovation, collaborates with the military: military objectives have always provided an excellent stimulus for research and development. ARPANET, the computer network developed in the 1970s, a forerunner of the Internet, was conceived for strategic purposes and funded by ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency). ARPA, set up in 1958 by President Eisenhower, added Defence to its name (DARPA) in 1972 and now has an annual budget of $3bn to support inventions likely to contribute to national defence.

In the 1960s, public defence contracts helped launch businesses in Silicon Valley. Although public and military subsidies have flowed ever since, most free market entrepreneurs affect not to notice the powerful role of this windfall from the public purse. Between 2013 and 2018, the amount of federal funding allocated just to digital security will increase from $9bn to $11.5bn (1). Amazon sells secure cloud services to over 600 government agencies and has signed a $600m contract with the CIA (2). Commercial agreements between public agencies and the private sector go a long way to explaining their collaboration on surveillance. A year after Edward Snowden’s revelations, the National Security Agency’s Anne Neuberger (responsible for the interface between the two worlds (3), said that even the infrastructure of the NSA was built by commercial companies.

The interface is in fact more like a revolving door: Facebook’s head of security joined the NSA in 2010; Regina Dugan, former director of DARPA, is currently a vice-president at Google; and Mark Penn, a former State Department adviser to Hillary Clinton is now responsible for strategy at Microsoft. Condoleezza Rice is on the Dropbox board; she was also provost of Stanford University, the institution with the closest links to Silicon Valley (Google and Cisco were created there), before she became George W Bush’s secretary of state. Rice was the main witness at the marriage between the (public) defence sector and the (private) technology one. This alliance was consecrated in March by the defence secretary, who was “so grateful” to Eric Schmidt for agreeing to head the Pentagon’s new Defence Innovation Advisory Board: being chairman of Google, he was “the perfect chairman for this.” The digital giants, which have the largest stock market capitalisations in the world, spend ever-growing sums on lobbying the US government and the EU.

DARPA keeps working discreetly to complete this osmosis. It gives millions of dollars in grants to high schools to set up hacker schools under the Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach programme (MENTOR). It organises computing competitions such as Cyber Grand Challenge, which offers a $2m prize for the developer of the best network defence tool. Through the DARPA Open Catalog, it contributes directly to free software development, including anti-surveillance software such as the well-known anonymous communication program, Tor. Though these investments seem unconnected, or even counter, to military objectives, they ensure the state stays in touch with what is being invented beyond its purlieus.

When a long-term gamble seems too uncertain, the defence agencies still have the option of funding the most promising startups directly. Since 1999 that has been the role of In-Q-Tel, a venture capital fund created by the CIA, whose achievements include the satellite imaging software that lies behind Google Earth, and the data visualisation tool Palantir, now worth $5-8bn. Palantir was founded by one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful investors and free market enthusiasts, Peter Thiel (PayPal, Facebook), and its ability to make sense of a disordered mass of data is highly valued by spies. Among Palantir consultants are former CIA director George Tenet, and Condoleezza Rice.

Since the 1990s, with the rise of the Internet and the globalisation of electronic data, there has been a change in the university-military-industrial complex established in the 20th century, to the detriment of the universities and the benefit of Silicon Valley. In one month in 2015, the Carnegie Mellon robotics lab in Pittsburgh lost 40 employees to Uber (4). By replacing the universities, the big-data companies have finally achieved the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned of in his farewell speech in 1961: the “permanent armaments industry” that makes public policy “captive of a scientific-technological elite”. Its limits now extend far beyond the military’s traditional subcontractors as sole vendors of digital weaponry. The new security-digital complex is a public-private hybrid that is both narrower and more far-reaching than its predecessor.

The term cybersecurity itself favors such an enlargement, referring to both the security of critical national digital infrastructures (business centres, networks for transport, energy, waste treatment and banking) and the safeguarding of cyberspace against attacks on the security of the state (organisations with subversive aims, Anonymous, data theft).

To put it simply: the state — especially through the NSA — purchases previously undiscovered “zero-day” digital vulnerabilities from cybersecurity companies; then the intelligence agencies report these weaknesses to the management of the big digital corporations, under secret programmes such as Enduring Security Framework. In return, these companies share their knowledge of analysing and scanning personal data. This pooling of resources under government auspices means that genuinely military operations concerning the defence of vital infrastructures drift towards the functions of policing (the surveillance of individuals) (5).

The big digital platforms are not arms dealers, because using them is not in itself lethal. But since the personal data that they handle, once sifted, may lead to the identification of targets and the use of lethal force, they could be said to be in the weapons business.

Notes.

(1) “Federal Information Security Market 2013-2018”, Deltek, October 2013.

(2) Barney Jopson, “Amazon gets clearance to provide more cloud services to Pentagon”, Financial Times, London, 26 March 2014.

(3) « “Inside the NSA”, Long Now Foundation seminar, San Francisco, 6 august 2014. Audio version.

(4) Clive Thompson, “Uber Would Like to BuyYour Robotics Department”, New York Times Magazine,11 September 2015.

(5) Shane Harris, @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex, Eamon Dolan Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2014.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

More articles by:

Thibault Henneton is a journalist.

Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
Tommy Raskin
Syrian Quicksand
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Still Tries to Push Dangerous Drug Class
Jill Richardson
The Attorney General Thinks Aspirin Helps Severe Pain – He’s Wrong
Mike Miller
Herb March: a Legend Deserved
Ann Garrison
If the Democrats Were Decent
Renee Parsons
The Times, They are a-Changing
Howard Gregory
The Democrats Must Campaign to End Trickle-Down Economics
Sean Keller
Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East
Ron Jacobs
Re-Visiting Gonzo
Eileen Appelbaum
Rapid Job Growth, More Education Fail to Translate into Higher Wages for Health Care Workers
Ralph Nader
Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria—Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People
Chris Zinda
The Meaning of Virginia Park
Robert Koehler
War and Poverty: A Compromise with Hell
Mike Bader – Mike Garrity
Senator Tester Must Stop Playing Politics With Public Lands
Kenneth Culton
No Time for Olympic Inspired Nationalism
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime
Irene Tung – Teófilo Reyes
Tips are for Servers Not CEOs
Randy Shields
Yahoomans in Paradise – This is L.A. to Me
Thomas Knapp
No Huawei! US Spy Chiefs Reverse Course on Phone Spying
Mel Gurtov
Was There Really a Breakthrough in US-North Korea Relations?
David Swanson
Witness Out of Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism
Dean Baker
The Washington Post’s Long-Running Attack on Unions
Andrew Stewart
Providence Public School Teachers Fight Back at City Hall
Stephen Cooper
Majestic Meditations with Jesse Royal: the Interview
David Yearsley
Olympic Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail