In our tech news today, we examine Palantir, the CIA-backed startup, a Minority Report come true. It is all-powerful, yet no one knows it even exists. Palantir does not have an office; it has a “SCIF” on a back street in Palo Alto, California. SCIF stands for “sensitive compartmentalized information facility”. Palantir says its building “must be built to be resistant to attempts to access the information within. The network must be ‘air gapped’ from the public internet to prevent information leakage.”
In 2004, Peter Thiel – the billionaire PayPal co-founder, Facebook investor and latter-day Trump ally – created Palantir alongside Nathan Gettings, Joe Lonsdale, Stephen Cohen and Alex Karp. Their intention was to create a company that took Big Data somewhere no one else dared to go. In 2013, Karp, Palantir’s CEO, announced that the company would not be pursuing an IPO, as going public would make “running a company like ours very difficult”. This is why.
Palantir watches everything you do and predicts what you will do next in order to stop it. As of 2013, its client list included the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the Centre for Disease Control, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, Special Operations Command, West Point and the IRS. Up to 50% of its business is with the public sector. In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture arm, was an early investor.
The CIA was a foundation investor, providing $2 million, and for several years its only customer. However tech news today reports that unusually for a company that has become a key vendor to the US military-industrial complex, Palantir’s senior ranks are almost entirely men (and they’re pretty much all men) with Silicon Valley-style IT or financial backgrounds; the revolving door to the US military and foreign policy establishments that typifies most defense and intelligence companies doesn’t appear to be in full operation (yet).
Palantir doesn’t merely work for the US government; indeed tech news today confirms that more than half of its income now comes from the private sector, including major banks and media companies. If you ever see a News Corporation story sourced from tweets, for example, you’ll see they’ve licensed Palantir Torch, a social media search engine.
Palantir’s defense systems include advanced biometrics and walls impenetrable to radio waves, phone signal or internet. Its data storage is block chained: it cannot be accessed by merely sophisticated hacking, it requires digital pass codes held by dozens of independent parties, whose identities are themselves protected by block chain.
According to tech news today, Palantir’s growth isn’t merely testimony to the perceived quality of its products or the un evidenced claim that data mining is an effective national security tool, but also to the rude health that the cyber security and IT intelligence sector is in even as traditional defense sectors suffer from funding cuts. That’s the reason why, in recent years, traditional defense companies have been gobbling up cyber security companies, aware that governments, persistently beating the “cyber war” drum, continue to ramp up their spending on online defensive and offensive products. As Palantir’s burgeoning operations here demonstrate, the Australian government is no different.