Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the US government undertook a sweeping research project to identify intelligence opportunities. Operation FAST targeted discrete areas of suspicious activity; predictive analysis of social media; and advanced analytics and forecasting. Developed at the University of Maryland, and funded in substantial part by the Pentagon, the project led to the creation of the American Technology Partnership (ATP) in 2004. Spearheaded by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the ATP focused on identifying potential plots. The ATP worked with partners to develop pilot tests. However, as detailed in Politico’s “Pipeline to Power,” the study did not focus on “real-world issues” but instead on developing and testing computing power. The only conditions imposed were that the data be rapidly prepaired and transferred to computers.
The military’s interest in New York City’s financial district has been well-documented. A series of emergency planning exercises and drills were conducted to study the types of attacks with plausible sizes that could result in extensive economic damage and disruption of infrastructure in lower Manhattan. The Tidal Basin exercise carried out in August 2017 was more narrowly focused than many of the existing military exercises but, according to Politico, included the potential attack of a highly sophisticated drone launching aircraft in Brooklyn, ultimately breaching the southern perimeter of New York City. By attempting to identify the base of the drone attack, the military plans to create a map of how the drone could have penetrated the city while attacking the financial sector. According to the report, this would rely on two Google platforms connected via fiber optic cables: Portalx and GIGNET USA. However, according to a senior defense official, such a test is still at least two years away.
Ironically, the “pipeline to power” report’s focus on high-powered computers, namely Google, has been a subject of heated criticism. President Trump made public demands for Google’s search algorithm to favor certain results over others, telling an interviewer on the day after his inauguration: “Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of….” The president’s attack has contributed to an uptick in online postings deriding Google’s search algorithm. This article from The New York Times, for example, notes that on the president’s Twitter account “two posts urging that readers ‘VOTE AGAINST Google & Facebook’ were linked nearly 1,000 times to the search engine’s accounts on the Digg and Reddit social-media platforms.”
Google’s relationship with the Trump administration has also been impacted by the president’s call to boycott travel from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Although the boycott is in response to specific policies instituted by these countries, it is highly controversial within Silicon Valley. Politico reports that Google has attempted to work with the government and prevent a boycott through improving its algorithms. However, other initiatives, such as Google’s search engine for government agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, have not been successfully implemented and are being discontinued. The president’s perceived retaliation against the supposed blacklist of Saudi Arabia suggests a shared need for greater collaboration between Google and the federal government.
The Intercept’s example of Google efforts in Iraq is illustrative of Google’s growing role in the US’s escalating military operations overseas. After receiving research money from the Army, Google built Baseline II, a quantitative analysis tool that was “used to make decisions about drone strikes and other strikes in real time.” As the Intercept wrote, “on a few occasions, the unit of Google employees assembled ‘panels’ of employees…within hours of the strike to discuss whether the decision to strike was correct or necessary.” Google also started a drone lobbying firm, which lobbied government representatives to prevent the Pakistan and Libya national airspace and airspace imposed restrictions from being granted to private US drone manufacturers. In September, the Financial Times reported that a report on Freetruck, a selection engine application, was withdrawn for not being adequately secure.
There are indications that Google could be expanding its military business. In early November, Politico reported that Google executives were meeting with military officials, such as Air Force Lieutenant General John Rosa, who in March, 2018, led the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Moreover, on December 1, BBC reported that Google was signing a $600 million deal with the “Boeing Co.. to supply critical intelligence and technology products for military drones.” According to the press