In this extract from his new book When Google Met Wikileaks, WikiLeaks’ publisher Julian Assange describes the special relationship between Google, Hillary Clinton and the State Department — and what that means for the future of the internet. WikiLeaks readers can obtain a 20 percent discount on the cover price when ordering from the OR Books website by using the coupon code “WIKILEAKS”.
I was intrigued that the mountain would come to Muhammad. But it was not until well after Schmidt and his companions had been and gone that I came to understand who had really visited me.
* * *
In the same piece they argued that “this technology is overwhelmingly provided by the private sector.” Shortly afterwards, Tunisia. then Egypt, and then the rest of the Middle East, erupted in revolution. The echoes of these events on online social media became a spectacle for Western internet users. The professional commentariat, keen to rationalize uprisings against US-backed dictatorships, branded them “Twitter revolutions.” Suddenly everyone wanted to be at the intersection point between US global power and social media, and Schmidt and Cohen had already staked out the territory. With the working title “The Empire of the Mind,” they began expanding their article to book length, and sought audiences with the big names of global tech and global power as part of their research.
They said they wanted to interview me. I agreed. A date was set for June.
By the time June came around there was already a lot to talk about. That summer WikiLeaks was still grinding through the release of US diplomatic cables, publishing thousands of them every week. When, seven months earlier, we had first started releasing the cables, Hillary Clinton had denounced the publication as “an attack on the international community” that would “tear at the fabric” of government.
It was into this ferment that Google projected itself that June, touching down in a London airport and making the long drive up into East Anglia to Norfolk and Beccles. Schmidt arrived first, accompanied by his then partner, Lisa Shields. When he introduced her as a vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations—a US foreign-policy think tank with close ties to the State Department—I thought little more of it. Shields herself was straight out of Camelot, having been spotted by John Kennedy Jr.’s side back in the early 1990s. They sat with me and we exchanged pleasantries. They said they had forgotten their dictaphone, so we used mine. We made an agreement that I would forward them the recording and in exchange they would forward me the transcript, to be corrected for accuracy and clarity. We began. Schmidt plunged in at the deep end, straightaway quizzing me on the organizational and technological underpinnings of WikiLeaks.
At this point, the delegation was one part Google, three parts US foreign-policy establishment, but I was still none the wiser. Handshakes out of the way, we got down to business.
Schmidt was a good foil. A late-fiftysomething, squint-eyed behind owlish spectacles, managerially dressed—Schmidt’s dour appearance concealed a machinelike analyticity. His questions often skipped to the heart of the matter, betraying a powerful nonverbal structural intelligence. It was the same intellect that had abstracted software-engineering principles to scale Google into a megacorp, ensuring that the corporate infrastructure always met the rate of growth. This was a person who understood how to build and maintain systems: systems of information and systems of people. My world was new to him, but it was also a world of unfolding human processes, scale, and information flows.
I found Cohen a good listener, but a less interesting thinker, possessed of that relentless conviviality that routinely afflicts career generalists and Rhodes scholars. As you would expect from his foreign-policy background, Cohen had a knowledge of international flash points and conflicts and moved rapidly between them, detailing different scenarios to test my assertions. But it sometimes felt as if he was riffing on orthodoxies in a way that was designed to impress his former colleagues in official Washington. Malcomson, older, was more pensive, his input thoughtful and generous. Shields was quiet for much of the conversation, taking notes, humoring the bigger egos around the table while she got on with the real work.
As the interviewee I was expected to do most of the talking. I sought to guide them into my worldview. To their credit, I consider the interview perhaps the best I have given. I was out of my comfort zone and I liked it. We ate and then took a walk in the grounds, all the while on the record. I asked Eric Schmidt to leak US government information requests to WikiLeaks, and he refused, suddenly nervous, citing the illegality of disclosing Patriot Act requests. And then as the evening came on it was done and they were gone, back to the unreal, remote halls of information empire, and I was left to get back to my work. That was the end of it, or so I thought.
* * *
Two months later, WikiLeaks’ release of State Department cables was coming to an abrupt end. For three-quarters of a year we had painstakingly managed the publication, pulling in over a hundred global media partners, distributing documents in their regions of influence, and overseeing a worldwide, systematic publication and redaction system, fighting for maximum impact for our sources.
I decided it was necessary to bring forward our publication schedule by four months and contact the State Department to get it on record that we had given them advance warning. The situation would then be harder to spin into another legal or political assault. Unable to raise Louis Susman, then US ambassador to the UK, we tried the front door. WikiLeaks investigations editor Sarah Harrison called the State Department front desk and informed the operator that “Julian Assange” wanted to have a conversation with Hillary Clinton. Predictably, this statement was initially greeted with bureaucratic disbelief. We soon found ourselves in a reenactment of that scene in Dr. Strangelove, where Peter Sellers cold-calls the White House to warn of an impending nuclear war and is immediately put on hold. As in the film, we climbed the hierarchy, speaking to incrementally more superior officials until we reached Clinton’s senior legal advisor. He told us he would call us back. We hung up, and waited.
Cohen’s directorate appeared to cross over from public relations and “corporate responsibility” work into active corporate intervention in foreign affairs at a level that is normally reserved for states. Jared Cohen could be wryly named Google’s “director of regime change.” According to the emails, he was trying to plant his fingerprints on some of the major historical events in the contemporary Middle East. He could be placed in Egypt during the revolution, meeting with Wael Ghonim, the Google employee whose arrest and imprisonment hours later would make him a PR-friendly symbol of the uprising in the Western press. Meetings had been planned in Palestine and Turkey, both of which—claimed Stratfor emails—were killed by the senior Google leadership as too risky. Only a few months before he met with me, Cohen was planning a trip to the edge of Iran in Azerbaijan to “engage the Iranian communities closer to the border,” as part of Google Ideas’ project on “repressive societies.” In internal emails Stratfor’s vice president for intelligence, Fred Burton (himself a former State Department security official), wrote,
Google is getting WH [White House] and State Dept support and air cover. In reality they are doing things the CIA cannot do . . . [Cohen] is going to get himself kidnapped or killed. Might be the best thing to happen to expose Google’s covert role in foaming up-risings, to be blunt. The US Gov’t can then disavow knowledge and Google is left holding the shit-bag.14
Cohen’s world seems to be one event like this after another: endless soirees for the cross-fertilization of influence between elites and their vassals, under the pious rubric of “civil society.” The received wisdom in advanced capitalist societies is that there still exists an organic “civil society sector” in which institutions form autonomously and come together to manifest the interests and will of citizens. The fable has it that the boundaries of this sector are respected by actors from government and the “private sector,” leaving a safe space for NGOs and nonprofits to advocate for things like human rights, free speech, and accountable government.
This sounds like a great idea. But if it was ever true, it has not been for decades. Since at least the 1970s, authentic actors like unions and churches have folded under a sustained assault by free-market statism, transforming “civil society” into a buyer’s market for political factions and corporate interests looking to exert influence at arm’s length. The last forty years has seen a huge proliferation of think tanks and political NGOs whose purpose, beneath all the verbiage, is to execute political agendas by proxy.
You are the vanguard of a rising generation of citizen activists. . . . And that makes you the kind of leaders we need.27
I was wrong.
* * *
Eric Schmidt was born in Washington, DC, where his father had worked as a professor and economist for the Nixon Treasury. He attended high school in Arlington, Virginia, before graduating with a degree in engineering from Princeton. In 1979 Schmidt headed out West to Berkeley, where he received his PhD before joining Stanford/Berkley spin-off Sun Microsystems in 1983. By the time he left Sun, sixteen years later, he had become part of its executive leadership.
The chief executive of the foundation, appointed in 2013, is Jared Cohen’s former boss at the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton law and international relations wonk with an eye for revolving doors.40 She is everywhere at the time of writing, issuing calls for Obama to respond to the Ukraine crisis not only by deploying covert US forces into the country but also by dropping bombs on Syria—on the basis that this will send a message to Russia and China.41Along with Schmidt, she is a 2013 attendee of the Bilderberg conference and sits on the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board.42
There was nothing politically hapless about Eric Schmidt. I had been too eager to see a politically unambitious Silicon Valley engineer, a relic of the good old days of computer science graduate culture on the West Coast. But that is not the sort of person who attends the Bilderberg conference four years running, who pays regular visits to the White House, or who delivers “fireside chats” at the World Economic Forum in Davos.43 Schmidt’s emergence as Google’s “foreign minister”—making pomp and ceremony state visits across geopolitical fault lines—had not come out of nowhere; it had been presaged by years of assimilation within US establishment networks of reputation and influence.
On a personal level, Schmidt and Cohen are perfectly likable people. But Google’s chairman is a classic “head of industry” player, with all of the ideological baggage that comes with that role.44Schmidt fits exactly where he is: the point where the centrist, liberal, and imperialist tendencies meet in American political life. By all appearances, Google’s bosses genuinely believe in the civilizing power of enlightened multinational corporations, and they see this mission as continuous with the shaping of the world according to the better judgment of the “benevolent superpower.” They will tell you that open-mindedness is a virtue, but all perspectives that challenge the exceptionalist drive at the heart of American foreign policy will remain invisible to them. This is the impenetrable banality of “don’t be evil.” They believe that they are doing good. And that is a problem.
* * *
Google is “different”. Google is “visionary”. Google is “the future”. Google is “more than just a company”. Google “gives back to the community”. Google is “a force for good”.
The Defense Industrial Base provides “products and services that are essential to mobilize, deploy, and sustain military operations.” Does it include regular commercial services purchased by the US military? No. The definition specifically excludes the purchase of regular commercial services. Whatever makes Google a “key member of the Defense Industrial Base,” it is not recruitment campaigns pushed out through Google AdWords or soldiers checking their Gmail.
In 2012, Google arrived on the list of top-spending Washington, DC, lobbyists—a list typically stalked exclusively by the US Chamber of Commerce, military contractors, and the petrocarbon leviathans.62 Google entered the rankings above military aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, with a total of $18.2 million spent in 2012 to Lockheed’s $15.3 million. Boeing, the military contractor that absorbed McDonnell Douglas in 1997, also came below Google, at $15.6 million spent, as did Northrop Grumman at $17.5 million.
In Autumn 2013 the Obama administration was trying to drum up support for US airstrikes against Syria. Despite setbacks, the administration continued to press for military action well into September with speeches and public announcements by both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.63 On September 10, Google lent its front page—the most popular on the internet—to the war effort, inserting a line below the search box reading “Live! Secretary Kerry answers questions on Syria. Today via Hangout at 2pm ET.”64
As the self-described “radical centrist”65 New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote in 1999, sometimes it is not enough to leave the global dominance of American tech corporations to something as mercurial as “the free market”:
The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.66
If anything has changed since those words were written, it is that Silicon Valley has grown restless with that passive role, aspiring instead to adorn the “hidden fist” like a velvet glove. Writing in 2013, Schmidt and Cohen stated,
What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies will be to the twenty-first.67
This was one of many bold assertions made by Schmidt and Cohen in their book, which was eventually published in April 2013. Gone was the working title, “The Empire of the Mind”, replaced with “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business”. By the time it came out, I had formally sought and received political asylum from the government of Ecuador, and taken refuge in its embassy in London. At that point I had already spent nearly a year in the embassy under police surveillance, blocked from safe passage out of the UK. Online I noticed the press hum excitedly about Schmidt and Cohen’s book, giddily ignoring the explicit digital imperialism of the title and the conspicuous string of pre-publication endorsements from famous warmongers like Tony Blair, Henry Kissinger, Bill Hayden and Madeleine Albright on the back.
Billed as a visionary forecast of global technological change, the book failed to deliver—failed even to imagine a future, good or bad, substantially different to the present. The book was a simplistic fusion of Fukuyama “end of history” ideology—out of vogue since the 1990s—and faster mobile phones. It was padded out with DC shibboleths, State Department orthodoxies, and fawning grabs from Henry Kissinger. The scholarship was poor—even degenerate. It did not seem to fit the profile of Schmidt, that sharp, quiet man in my living room. But reading on I began to see that the book was not a serious attempt at future history. It was a love song from Google to official Washington. Google, a burgeoning digital superstate, was offering to be Washington’s geopolitical visionary.
One way of looking at it is that it’s just business. For an American internet services monopoly to ensure global market dominance it cannot simply keep doing what it is doing, and let politics take care of itself. American strategic and economic hegemony becomes a vital pillar of its market dominance. What’s a megacorp to do? If it wants to straddle the world, it must become part of the original “don’t be evil” empire.
A “don’t be evil” empire is still an empire.
1 The company is now valued at $400 billion and employs 49,829 people. The valuation at the end of 2011 was $200 billion with 33,077 employees. See “Investor Relations: 2012 Financial Tables,” Google, archive.today/Iux4M. For the first quarter of 2014, see “Investor Relations: 2014 Financial Tables,” Google, archive.today/35IeZ.
2 For a strong essay on Schmidt and Cohen’s book that discusses similar themes, and that provoked some of the research for this book, see Joseph L Flatley, “Being cynical: Julian Assange, Eric Schmidt, and the year’s weirdest book,” Verge, 7 June 2013, archive.today/gfLEr.
6 “Coalitions of the connected” is a phrase apparently designed to resonate with the “coalition of the willing,” which was used to designate the 2003 US-led alliance of states preparing to invade Iraq without UN Security Council approval.
7 The phrase “duty to protect” is redolent of “responsibility to protect,” or, in its abbreviated form, “R2P.” R2P is a highly controversial “emerging norm” in international law. R2P leverages human rights discourse to mandate “humanitarian intervention” by “the international community” in countries where the civilian population is deemed to be at risk. For US liberals who eschew the naked imperialism of Paul Wolfowitz (on which see Patrick E. Tyler, “U.S. strategy plan calls for insuring no rivals develop,” New York Times, 8 March 1992, archive.today/Rin1g), R2P is the justification of choice for Western military action in the Middle East and elsewhere, as evidenced by its ubiquity in the push to invade Libya in 2011 and Syria in 2013. Jared Cohen’s former superior at the US State Department, Anne-Marie Slaughter, has called it “the most important shift in our conception of sovereignty since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.” See her praise for the book Responsibility to Protect: The Global Moral Compact for the 21st Century, edited by Richard H. Cooper and Juliette Voïnov Kohler, on the website of the publisher Palgrave Macmillan, archive.today/0dmMq.
For a critical essay on R2P see Noam Chomsky’s statement on the doctrine to the UN General Assembly. Noam Chomsky, “Statement by Professor Noam Chomsky to the United Nations General Assembly Thematic Dialogue on Responsibility to Protect,” United Nations, New York, 23 July 2009, is.gd/bLx3uU.
See also “Responsibility to protect: An idea whose time has come—and gone?” Economist, 23 July 2009,archive.today/K2WZJ.
8 The International Crisis Group bills itself as an “independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization” that works “through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.” It has also been described as a “high-level think tank . . . [devised] primarily to provide policy guidance to governments involved in the NATO-led reshaping of the Balkans.” See Michael Barker, “Imperial Crusaders For Global Governance,” Swans Commentary, 20 April 2009,archive.today/b8G3o.
Malcomson’s International Crisis Group staff profile is available from www.crisisgroup.org, archive.today/ETYXp.
See also Matt Giuca, “WikiLeaks password leak FAQ,” Unspecified Behaviour, 3 September 2011, archive.today/ylPUp.
See also “WikiLeaks: Why the Guardian is wrong and shouldn’t have published the password,” Matt’s Tumblr, 1 September 2011, archive.today/aWjj4.
12 Jeremy Hammond, a brave and principled young digital revolutionary, was later accused by the US government of ferreting these documents out and giving them to WikiLeaks. He is now a political prisoner in the US, sentenced to ten years after speaking to an FBI informer.
“Re: GOOGLE & Iran ** internal use only—pls do not forward **,” email ID 1121800 (27 February 2011), Global Intelligence Files, WikiLeaks, 14 March 2012, archive.today/sjxuG.
For more internal Stratfor discussions about Jared Cohen and Google, see:
“Egypt – Google ** Suggest you read,” email ID 1122191 (9 February 2011), Global Intelligence Files, WikiLeaks, 14 March 2012, archive.today/DCzlA.
“Re: More on Cohen,” email ID 1629270 (9 February 2011), Global Intelligence Files, WikiLeaks, 14 March 2012,archive.today/opQ3a.
“Re: Google Shitstorm Moving to Gaza (internal use only),” email ID 1111729 (10 February 2011), Global Intelligence Files, WikiLeaks, 14 March 2012, archive.today/vpK3F.
“Re: Google’s Cohen Activist Role,” email ID 1123044 (10 February 2011), Global Intelligence Files, WikiLeaks, 11 March 2013, archive.today/nvFP6.
“Re: movements.org founder Cohen,” email ID 1113596 (11 February 2011), Global Intelligence Files, WikiLeaks, 6 March 2012, archive.today/ToYjC.
“Re: discussion: who is next?,” email ID 1113965 (11 February 2011), Global Intelligence Files, WikiLeaks, 14 March 2012,archive.today/ofBMr.
“GOOGLE Loose Canon Bound for Turkey & UAE (SENSITIVE – DO NOT FORWARD),” email ID 1164190 (10 March 2011), Global Intelligence Files, WikiLeaks, 14 March 2012, archive.today/Jpy4F.
“Re: [alpha] GOOGLE – Cohen & Hosting of Terrorists,” email ID 1133861 (22 March 2011), Global Intelligence Files, WikiLeaks, 14 March 2012, archive.today/OCR78.
“[alpha] Jared Cohen (GOOGLE),” email ID 1160182 (30 March 2011), Global Intelligence Files, WikiLeaks, 14 March 2012,archive.today/FYQYe.
For these emails and more, see the collection of sources at when.google.met.wikileaks.org.
This email is included in the collection of sources at when.google.met.wikileaks.org.
16 “Using connection technologies to promote US strategic interests in Afghanistan: mobile banking, telecommunications insurance, and co-location of cell phone towers,” canonical ID: 09KABUL2020_a, Public Library of US Diplomacy, WikiLeaks,archive.today/loAlC.
This cable is included in the collection of sources at when.google.met.wikileaks.org.
In May 2014, WikiLeaks revealed that the NSA had gained access to all Afghan mobile phone calls and was recording all of them for later retrieval. See “WikiLeaks statement on the mass recording of Afghan telephone calls by the NSA,” WikiLeaks, 23 May 2014, archive.today/lp6Pl.
17 From the Public Library of US Diplomacy, WikiLeaks, see cables with canonical IDs: 07BEIRUT1944_a, 08BEIRUT910_a, 08BEIRUT912_a, 08BEIRUT918_a, 08BEIRUT919_a, 08BEIRUT1389_a, and 09BEIRUT234_a. Collectionavailable at: archive.today/34MyI.
See also the collection of sources at when.google.met.wikileaks.org.
For more on Jared Cohen from the WikiLeaks archives see archive.today/5fVm2.
See also the collection of sources at when.google.met.wikileaks.org.
20 For an insight into Foreign Policy Initiative, see Max Blumenthal, Rania Khalek, “How Cold War–Hungry Neocons Stage Managed RT Anchor Liz Wahl’s Resignation,” Truthdig, 19 March 2014, archive.today/JSUHq.
Note this extract from a confidential report of a March 2011 meeting between Stratfor and the “main organizer” of Movements.org: “How Movements.org got started: [This part is not for publication] in 2008 it became apparent to the USG that they needed to do public diplomacy over the internet. So Jared Cohen was at DoS then and played a major role in starting the organization. The main goal was just spreading the good word about the US.” “[alpha] INSIGHT- US/MENA- Movements.org,” email ID 1356429 (29 March 2011), Global Intelligence Files, WikiLeaks, 4 March 2013, archive.today/PgQji.
See also the collection of sources at when.google.met.wikileaks.org.
See also “The Summit: New York City, The 2008 Inaugural Alliance of Youth Movements Summit,” Movements.org website,archive.today/H2Ox1#2008.
See the logos of the corporate sponsors at “About movements.org,” Movements.org website, archive.today/DQo19.
See also “09 Summit, Attendee Biographies, 14-16 October 2009, Mexico City,” Alliance of Youth Movements,is.gd/MddXp7.
See also “Attendee Biographies, 9-11 March 2010, London,” Movements.org, is.gd/dHTVit.
And “The Summit: Mexico City, The 2009 Alliance of Youth Movements Summit,” Movements.org website,archive.today/H2Ox1#2009.
See also Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Remarks At TecMilenio University,” US Department of State, 26 March 2009,archive.today/49ACj.
Scott Shane, “Groups to Help Online Activists in Authoritarian Countries,” New York Times, 11 June 2012,archive.today/jqq9U.
32 Edelman is famous for a series of astroturfing campaigns for Big Tobacco and Walmart. The Sourcewatch.org page on Edelman, which is worth reading in full, has a section on Edelman’s strategy toward co-opting the nongovernmental sector: “Edelman PR tells clients that activists are winning because ‘they play offense all the time; they take their message to the consumer; they are ingenious at building coalitions; they always have a clear agenda; they move at Internet speed; they speak in the media’s tone.’ The solution, it argues, are partnerships between NGOs and business. ‘Our experience to date is positive,’ they say, citing examples such as ‘Chiquita-Rainforest Alliance’ and ‘Home Depot-Forest Stewardship Council.’” See “Daniel J. Edelman, Inc.,” SourceWatch website, archive.today/APbOf.
For the sponsors of Movements.org, see “About movements.org,” Movements.org website, archive.today/NMkOy.
35 The “principal-agent problem” or “agency dilemma” is where the initiating party, the principal, tasks an accepting party, the agent, to act on his or her behalf, but where the interests of the two parties are not sufficiently aligned and the agent uses his or her position to exploit the principal. A lawyer who makes decisions that are in the lawyer’s, but not the client’s, interests is a classic example.
36 “PAC” stands for “Political Action Committee,” a campaign-funding pool often used to obscure support for particular politicians, to sidestep campaign-finance regulations, or to campaign on a particular issue.
37 All political donation figures sourced from OpenSecrets.org (opensecrets.org/indivs) and the US Federal Election Commission (fec.gov/finance/disclosure/norindsea.shtml). See the results listed for Eric Schmidt on the Federal Election Commission website, archive.today/yjXoi.
See also a screenshot of the results listed for Eric and Wendy Schmidt on the Open Secrets website, archive.today/o6hiB.
Rita E. Hauser profile on the New America Foundation website: archive.today/oAvJf.
Jonathan Soros profile on the New America Foundation website: archive.today/lTJy9.
Walter Russell Mead profile on the New America Foundation website: archive.today/APejM.
Helene D. Gayle profile on the New America Foundation website: archive.today/72plM.
Daniel Yergin profile on the New America Foundation website: archive.today/kQ4ys.
See the full board of directors on the New America Foundation website: archive.today/iBvgl.
41 “The solution to the crisis in Ukraine lies in part in Syria. It is time for US President Barack Obama to demonstrate that he can order the offensive use of force in circumstances other than secret drone attacks or covert operations. The result will change the strategic calculus not only in Damascus, but also in Moscow, not to mention Beijing and Tokyo.” Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Stopping Russia Starts in Syria,” Project Syndicate, 23 April 2014, archive.today/GiLng.
Jared Cohen has retweeted approval for Slaughter on the issue. For example, he shared a supportive tweet on 26 April 2014 that claimed that the argument in the article quoted above was “spot on.” archive.today/qLyxo.
On the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board, see the list of current board members on the US Department of State website: archive.today/Why8v.
43 Attendee lists for Bilderberg conferences since 2010 are available from the Bilderberg website: www.bilderbergmeetings.org. Eric Schmidt was photographed at Bilderberg 2014 in Copenhagen, meeting with Viviane Reding, the EU Commissioner for Justice, and Alex Karp, the CEO of Palantir Technologies, an intelligence data-mining company which sells search and data integration services to clients in the US law enforcement and intelligence community, and which was launched with funding from the CIA’s venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel. See Charlie Skelton, “Bilderberg conference 2014: eating our politicians for breakfast,” Guardian, 30 May 2014, archive.today/pUY5b.
In 2011, Palantir was involved in the HBGary scandal, having been exposed as part of a group of contractors proposing to take down WikiLeaks. For more on this, see “Background on US v. WikiLeaks” in When Google Met WikiLeaks. See also Andy Greenberg, Ryan Mac, “How A ‘Deviant’ Philosopher Built Palantir, A CIA-Funded Data-Mining Juggernaut,” Forbes, 2 September 2013, archive.today/ozAZ8.
White House visitor records are available from its website, archive.today/QFQx0.
For coverage of Schmidt at the World Economic Forum see Emily Young, “Davos 2014: Google’s Schmidt warning on jobs,” BBC, 23 January 2014, archive.today/jGl7B.
See also Larry Elliott, “Davos debates income inequality but still invites tax avoiders,” Guardian, 19 January 2014,archive.today/IR767.
45 For an example of Google’s corporate ambivalence on the issue of privacy see Richard Esguerra, “Google CEO Eric Schmidt Dismisses the Importance of Privacy,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, 10 December 2009, archive.today/rwyQ7.
47 There is an uncomfortable willingness among privacy campaigners to discriminate against mass surveillance conducted by the state to the exclusion of similar surveillance conducted for profit by large corporations. Partially, this is a vestigial ethic from the Californian libertarian origins of online pro-privacy campaigning. Partially, it is a symptom of the superior public relations enjoyed by Silicon Valley technology corporations, and the fact that those corporations also provide the bulk of private funding for the flagship digital privacy advocacy groups, leading to a conflict of interest.
At the individual level, many of even the most committed privacy campaigners have an unacknowledged addiction to easy-to-use, privacy-destroying amenities like Gmail, Facebook and Apple products. As a result, privacy campaigners frequently overlook corporate surveillance abuses. When they do address the abuses of companies like Google, campaigners tend to appeal to the logic of the market, urging companies to make small concessions to user privacy in order to repair their approval ratings. There is the false assumption that market forces ensure that Silicon Valley is a natural government antagonist, and that it wants to be on the public’s side—that profit-driven multinational corporations partake more of the spirit of democracy than government agencies.
Many privacy advocates justify a predominant focus on abuses by the state on the basis that the state enjoys a monopoly on coercive force. For example, Edward Snowden was reported to have said that tech companies do not “put warheads on foreheads.” See Barton Gellman, “Edward Snowden, after months of NSA revelations, says his mission’s accomplished,”Washington Post, 23 December 2013, archive.today/d6P8q.
This view downplays the fact that powerful corporations are part of the nexus of power around the state, and that they enjoy the ability to deploy its coercive power, just as the state often exerts its influence through the agency of powerful corporations. The movement to abolish privacy is twin-horned. Privacy advocates who focus exclusively on one of those horns will find themselves gored on the other.
48 See section 7, Acknowledgments, in The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine, Sergey Brin, Lawrence Page (Computer Science Department, Stanford University, 1998): “The research described here was conducted as part of the Stanford Integrated Digital Library Project, supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement IRI-9411306. Funding for this cooperative agreement is also provided by DARPA and NASA, and by Interval Research, and the industrial partners of the Stanford Digital Libraries Project,” archive.today/tb5VL.
49 Michael Hayden is now with the Chertoff Group, a consultancy firm which describes itself as a “premier security and risk management advisory firm.” It was founded and is chaired by Michael Chertoff, who was the former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. See Marcus Baram, “Fear Pays: Chertoff, Ex-Security Officials Slammed For Cashing In On Government Experience,” Huffington Post, 23 November 2010, updated 25 May 2011,archive.today/iaM1b.
50 “Total Information Awareness” was a radical post-9/11 US intelligence program under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to surveil and gather detailed information about individuals in order to anticipate their behavior. The program was officially discontinued in 2003 after public outcry, but its legacy can arguably be seen in recent disclosures on bulk spying by the National Security Agency. See Shane Harris, “Giving In to the Surveillance State,” New York Times, 22 August 2012,archive.today/v4zNm.
See also Jane Mayer, “The Secret Sharer: Is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?” New Yorker, 23 May 2011,archive.today/pXoy9.
See also Verne Kopytoff, “Google has lots to do with intelligence,” San Francisco Chronicle, 30 March 2008,archive.today/VNEJi.
See also Yasha Levine, “Oakland emails give another glimpse into the Google-Military-Surveillance Complex,” Pando Daily, 7 March 2014, archive.today/W35WU.
See also Yasha Levine, “Emails showing Google’s closeness with the NSA Director really aren’t that surprising,” Pando Daily, 13 May 2014, archive.today/GRT18.
Yasha Levine has written a number of investigative articles on Google’s ties to the military and intelligence industry, which can be browsed at: pando.com/author/ylevine.
For more on Google’s ties to the CIA, see Noah Shachtman, “Exclusive: Google, CIA Invest in ‘Future’ of Web Monitoring,”Wired, 28 July 2010, archive.today/e0LNL.
See also Tom Hamburger, “Google, once disdainful of lobbying, now a master of Washington influence,” Washington Post, 13 April 2014, archive.today/oil7k.
63 Sy Hersh has written two articles about the Obama administration’s ill-fated case for “intervention” in Syria. See Seymour M. Hersh, “Whose Sarin?” London Review of Books, 19 December 2013, archive.today/THPGh.
See also Seymour M. Hersh, “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” London Review of Books, 17 April 2014,archive.today/qp5jB.
64 An archive snapshot of the page can be found at archive.today/Q6uq8. Google explicitly prides itself on keeping its front page free of all interference. Its purity and sacredness are incorporated into Google’s corporate manifesto: “Our homepage interface is clear and simple, and pages load instantly. Placement in search results is never sold to anyone, and advertising is not only clearly marked as such, it offers relevant content and is not distracting.” See “Ten things we know to be true,” Google company website, archive.today/s7v9B.
On the rare occasions Google adds a single line to the search page to plug its own projects, like the Chrome browser, that choice itself becomes news. See Cade Metz, “Google smears Chrome on ‘sacred’ home page,” Register, 9 September 2008,archive.today/kfneV.
See also Hayley Tsukayama, “Google advertises Nexus 7 on home page,” Washington Post, 28 August 2012,archive.today/QYfBV.
67 Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age, British paperback edition (John Murray, 2013), p. 98.
Google is committing to this ambition. Since the beginning of 2013, Google has bought nine experimental robotics and artificial intelligence companies and put them to work towards an undeclared goal under Andy Rubin, the former-head of Google’s Android division. See John Markoff, “Google Puts Money on Robots, Using the Man Behind Android,” New York Times, 4 December 2013, archive.today/Izr7B.
See also Adam Clark Estes, “Meet Google’s Robot Army. It’s Growing,” Gizmodo, 27 January 2014, archive.today/mN2GF.
Two of Google’s acquisitions are leading competitors in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a competition held by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, with lavish Pentagon funding support for competitors. Schaft Inc, a Japanese company, is tipped to triumph at the DARPA competition with its entry—a bipedal, human-like robot that can climb stairs, open doors, traverse rubble, and is impervious to radiation. The other company, Boston Dynamics, specializes in producing running, walking, and crawling military robots for the Department of Defense. The most well known of Boston Dynamics’ robots is “BigDog”—a horse-sized troop support carrier, which must be seen (on YouTube: is.gd/xOYFdY) to be believed. See Breezy Smoak, “Google’s Schaft robot wins DARPA rescue challenge,” Electronic Products, 23 December 2013, archive.today/M7L6a.
See also John Markoff, “Google Adds to Its Menagerie of Robots,” New York Times, 14 December 2013,archive.today/cqBX4.
Google’s real power as a drone company is its unrivalled collection of navigational data. This includes all the information associated with Google Maps and the locations of around a billion people. Once gathered, it should not be assumed that this data will always be used for benign purposes. The mapping data gathered by the Google Street View project, which sent cars rolling down streets all over the world, may one day be instrumental for navigating military or police robots down those same streets.
68 A utopianism occasionally bordering on megalomania. Google CEO Larry Page, for example, has publicly conjured the image of Jurassic Park-like Google microstates where Google is exempt from national laws and can pursue progress unimpeded. “The laws . . . can’t be right if it’s 50 years old; that’s before the internet. . . . Maybe we could set apart a piece of the world. . . . An environment where people can try new things. I think as technologists we should have some safe places where we can try out new things and figure out the effect on society—what’s the effect on people?—without having to deploy it to the whole world.” See Sean Gallagher, “Larry Page wants you to stop worrying and let him fix the world,” Ars Technica, 20 May 2013,archive.today/kHYcB.
69 The notorious mercenary security company Blackwater, best known for killing Iraqi civilians, was renamed Xe Services in 2009 and then Academi in 2011. See Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, (Nation Books, 2007).
70 Historically Google’s success was built on the commercial surveillance of civilians through “services”: web search, email, social networking, et cetera. But Google’s development in recent years has seen it expand its surveillance enterprise by controlling mobile phones and tablets. The success of Google’s mobile operating system, Android, launched in 2008, has given Google an 80 percent share of the smartphone market. Google claims that over a billion Android devices have registered themselves, at a rate now of more than a million new devices a day. See “Q1 2014 Smartphone OS Results: Android Dominates High Growth Developing Markets,” ABIresearch, 6 May 2014, archive.today/cTeRY.
See also “Android, the world’s most popular mobile platform,” on the Android Developers website: archive.today/5y8oe.
Through Android, Google controls devices people carry on their daily routine and use to connect to the internet. Each device feeds back usage statistics, location, and other data to Google. This gives the company unprecedented power to surveil and influence the activities of its user base, both over the network and as they go about their lives. Other Google projects such as “Project Glass” and “Project Tango” aim to build on Android’s ubiquity, extending Google’s surveillance capabilities farther into the space around their users. See Jay Yarow, “This Chart Shows Google’s Incredible Domination Of The World’s Computing Platforms,” Business Insider, 28 March 2014, archive.today/BTDJJ.
See also Yasha Levine, “Surveillance Valley has put a billion bugs in a billion pockets,” Pando Daily, 7 February 2014,archive.today/TA7sq.
See also Jacob Kastrenakes, “Google announces Project Tango, a smartphone that can map the world around it,” Verge, 20 February 2014, archive.today/XLLvc.
See also Edward Champion, “Thirty-Five Arguments Against Google Glass,” Reluctant Habits, 14 March 2013,archive.today/UUJ4n.
Google is also aiming to become an internet access provider. Google’s “Project Loon” aims to provide internet access to populations in the global south using wireless access points mounted on fleets of high-altitude balloons and aerial drones, having acquired the drone companies Titan Aerospace and Makani Power. Facebook, which bid against Google for Titan Aerospace, has similar aspirations, having acquired the UK-based aerial drone company Ascenta. See Adi Robertson, “Google X ‘moonshots lab’ buys flying wind turbine company Makani Power,” Verge, 22 May 2013, archive.today/gsnio.
See also the Project Loon website: archive.today/4ok7L.
See also Sean Hollister, “Google nabs drone company Facebook allegedly wanted to buy,” Verge, 14 April 2014,archive.today/hc0kr.