Google intelligence cooperation reprise

Something strange happened over the weekend. A story I wrote over eight months ago about Google’s quiet cooperation with the U.S. intelligence community suddenly got picked upall over the Internet.

While I’d like to comment individually at all of the sites which have picked up the story, that would unfortunately be far too time-consuming. Even linking to them all would take too long at this point. So please consider this your response.

First, a bit of background: At the 2006 IOP conference, organized by former intelligence officer Robert David Steele, sources said that Google was in bed with U.S. intelligence agencies. Anthony Kimery at HSToday broke the story in January. HSToday, a site rarely used as a source for several reasons: it requires a subscription, it didn’t (but now does) have RSS feeds, and carefully targets itself to government agencies, otherwise staying under the radar. It was almost a month before I even knew the story existed.

Even so, it’s worth registering to read the extensive background information HSToday has put together on Google’s association with the U.S. intelligence community (IC). Google, it seems, has been involved with the Central Intelligence Agency almost since its beginning. Here’s a small sample:

In June 1999, the then up-start Google received a $25 million round of equity funding led by Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the latter of which the CIA’s In-Q-Tel had developed a close relationship with to advance “priority” technologies of value to the IC. A number of Sequoia-bankrolled start-ups have contracted with the Department of Defense, especially after 9/11 when Sequoia’s Mark Kvamme met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss the application of emerging technologies to warfighting and intelligence collection. — HSToday

This is not, as Jason Battelle wrote, “in the Tin-Foil Hat category.” John, we missed it because some sites which may contain important information restrict their content to subscribers. We’ve relied too much on freely available information, and forgotten to look for information which isn’t so freely available. I’m sure Robert Steele would appreciate the irony.

Another question has been raised as to whether Steele is a reliable source. Apparently this story got big when Steele appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s radio show last week and talked about Google’s involvement with the intelligence community. Steele comes from an intelligence background in Marine Corps intelligence and the CIA. He created to draw attention to the fact that U.S. intelligence relies too much on a Cold War siege mentality while most of the intelligence it really needs can be found from open sources. As for his reliability, I was privileged to hear him speak at a conference earlier this year, and I was quite surprised at his breadth and depth of knowledge about intelligence. I had spot-checked a few facts he’d given there, and found them to be true.

More to the point, I have no reason to doubt the veracity of Steele’s claim, nor the anonymous sources originally cited by HSToday.

When I originally published the story here, it got very little notice, primarily because at the time Homeland Stupidity was quite obscure. It’s much, much larger now, ranking today at 219th among the millions of blogs Technorati has indexed. And I plan to crack the top 100 within the next few months. It’s also since gained several other writers and is now indexed in Google News, bringing much more exposure.

Google, for its part, refuses to comment on national security matters. This story, and Google’s refusal to comment, simply provide more ammunition for Google’s critics. One of them even provides an alternative, called Scroogle, which promises to sanitize your searches so that you can’t be tracked, run by Daniel Brandt, who has been criticizing Google for years regarding its privacy and data retention policies.

“People averse to the risk of exposing their online activities to government surveillance should take Google’s studious silence as confirmation,” writes Cato Institute director of information policy studies Jim Harper.

Good advice.

While people are going through my old archives, here’s a related one you’ll want to read. How to really stay anonymous online: Using Tor is not enough.