How did the US military militarize technology companies?

At the beginning of 2021, The Wall Street Journal published a report in which it revealed that US military intelligence tracked the locations of smartphones in the country without judicial permission, and spied on their owners using several applications, including the geographical positioning program, and that it had done so. This happened 5 times from the second half of 2018 to the end of 2020.

The newspaper said that representatives of US military intelligence confirmed in an investigation opened by the Senate (Congress) at the time that the intelligence agency used licensed programs available for sale in its tracking of mobile phones in the country, whether in the United States or abroad, and expressed its conviction that it did not need judicial permission. So.

The newspaper adds that the US intelligence took advantage of several programs usually available on smartphones, such as weather programs, some games and other applications that, when downloaded, ask the user for permission to access the GPS program.

Over the past two decades, intelligence agencies and several other security institutions have tried to access technological innovations from their source in Silicon Valley, by establishing technology entities and companies, financing their projects, penetrating institutions organizing activities in the stronghold of technology companies, and coordinating conferences, forums, and others.

virtual war

Virtual warfare, or warfare by algorithms, includes many different elements that are based on the production and analysis of massive amounts of data collected from drones, satellites, cameras, mobile phones, electronic transactions, social media, emails, and other internet sources.

Silicon Valley has emerged as a major center for this type of proactive defense and intelligence work, in this era characterized by rapid innovation and algorithmic governance patterns, and fierce competition between countries to develop virtual warfare technologies, so the US military establishment has paid great attention to this field.

The US Department of Defense has paid great attention to integrating technology into the means of combat (Reuters)

The intersection between the Department of Defense and Big Tech

There are many differences between Silicon Valley and the US Department of Defense (The Pentagon), but despite this, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter established, in August 2015, what he called Experimental Defense Innovation UnitDIUx, or DIUx, is tasked with identifying and investing in companies developing technologies that could be useful to the military, building relationships with startups, and recruiting top talent.

Through this unit, which acted as an intermediary between the Pentagon and technology companies, hundreds of millions of dollars from the Defense Department budget were channeled toward start-ups developing technologies nearing completion.

Carter also organized in March 2016 Defense Innovation Council To provide advice and recommendations to the leadership of the Pentagon, he appointed the former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, to head him, and the board also included current and former executives from Facebook and Google.

Three years after its launch, the unit has changed its name to the Defense Innovation Unit, and has been described as a valuable asset for advancing innovation and changing the way the Department of Defense builds the most lethal force.

In early 2018, Requested The administration of former US President Donald Trump significantly increased the unit’s budget for fiscal year 2019, from $30 million to $71 million, while Requested The administration in 2020 has a budget of $164 million.

The Pentagon logo is seen behind the podium in the briefing room at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, US, January 8, 2020. REUTERS/Al Drago
The Dukes unit in the US Department of Defense is tasked with investing in companies that develop technologies that may be useful to the army (Reuters)

Central Intelligence Agency Investment Fund

The unit was modeled after another company founded to serve US intelligence in a similar way. In the late 1990s, the CIA created a non-profit entity called Peleus aimed at solving the big data problem and taking advantage of innovations developed by the private sector. Focusing on Silicon Valley.

By directing money to start-ups, the agency hoped to gain an edge over its global competitors by using investment funds to attract engineers, scientists and programmers.

This entity seems independent of the agency, but it responds to it fully. It also operates in public places, but its products are completely confidential. In 2005, the agency pumped nearly $37 million into it, while by 2014 annual funding had ballooned to nearly $94 million. run out 325 investment in a group of technology companies.

Peleus and the Defense Innovation Unit were created to transfer emerging private sector technologies to US intelligence and military agencies, where he is represented its turn In capturing technological innovations and bringing in new ideas.

Peleus is a clear example of the militarization of the technology industry funded In 2003, the startup company Keyhole, which was acquired by Google in 2004 and changed its name to Google Earth.

The acquisition was the moment when changed The face of Google began its merger with the US government, and by 2007, it was Google Seeking To obtain government contracts distributed among the military, intelligence and civilian agencies.

This handout photo courtesy of US Army taken October 27, 2020 shows soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division using the latest prototype of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) during a training exercise at Fort Pickett, Blackstone, Virginia.  - Microsoft has won a massive Pentagon contract for augmented reality headgear for soldiers, the company and the military announced, in a deal reported to be worth more than $20 billion.  The headsets, based on commercially available HoloLens, will make soldiers safer and more effective, according to Microsoft technical fellow Alex Kipman.  (Photo by Bridgett SITER / US ARMY / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / US ARMY / Bridgett SITER" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Technology companies have created for the US Army portable devices that produce detailed 3D scans of structures and objects (French)

Apart from Google, include wallet Byblos on related companies Future projects like:

  • Cyphy, which manufactures drones capable of flying reconnaissance missions for long periods, thanks to a continuous power source.
  • Atlas Wearables produces fitness trackers that closely monitor body movements and vital signs.
  • Mobile device maker Fuel3d produces detailed 3D scans of structures and objects.
  • Sonitus developed a wireless communication system that part of it can be placed inside the user’s mouth.

While the Defense Innovation Unit bet on robotics and artificial intelligence companies, Byblos bet on companies that innovate surveillance technologies, geospatial satellites, advanced sensors, biometric equipment, DNA analyzers, language translators, and electronic defense systems. Lately, I’ve been moving towards specialized companies in data mining via social media and other online platforms, which includes:

  • Dataminr, which collects Twitter data to detect trends and potential threats.
  • Geofeedia aggregates geo-indexed social media posts related to breaking news events such as protests.
  • TransVoyant, which collects data from satellites, radars, drones, and other sensors.
  • Project Maven.

Many of the companies funded by Byblos and the Defense Innovation Unit were small start-ups desperate for cash, but the Pentagon’s interest in Silicon Valley extends to large companies, where established Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work on April 2017 “Project Maven.”

He described this project as an effort to accelerate the Department of Defense’s integration with big data and machine learning and quickly transform the massive volume of data available to the department into actionable intelligence and statistics.

On the other hand, American spy planes and satellites collect very large data for the Ministry of Defense, which needed To create algorithms for sorting and analyzing images, and here came the role of this project at an expected cost of $70 million.

Pentagon officials were secretive about the companies involved in the project, but the leaks She indicated to share two important actors In it, where revealed information In March 2018 on contract The ministry is with Google, which has allocated more than 10 employees to the project.

The company had ambitious plans that went beyond the Pentagon’s initial proposals, including a proposal to create a Google Earth-like spy system that would give users the ability to click on a building and see everything associated with it, including people and vehicles.

Google executives had no problem with collaboration, but they felt concerned Regarding the problems that might arise if the details of the cooperation were leaked, which happened later, and the company was forced after pressure from its employees to cancellation Project contract.

A carnival float with a papier-mache caricature representing Google and Facebook takes part in the traditional Rose Monday carnival parade in the western German city of Duesseldorf February 16, 2015. The Rose Monday parades in Cologne, Mainz and Duesseldorf are the highlight of the German street carnival season.  REUTERS/Ina Fassbender (Germany - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY)
Google proposed to the Pentagon to create a spy system similar to “Google Earth” (Reuters)

Identification of technology companies with the Ministry of Defense

Although media reports focused on Google regarding the project, an analysis From the research organization Tech Inquiry documented the deeper involvement of many other tech companies, including Microsoft.

During the summer of 2018, student Amazon employees told the company to stop selling the facial recognition system, which it produced under the name “Rekognition”, to law enforcement agencies, but the then CEO of the company, Jeff Bezos, ignorance Staff speech.

And while student In February 2019, Microsoft employees canceled a $480 million contract with the US Army to supply more than 100,000 augmented reality headsets to troops. I refused The company terminated the contract.

Despite the tech workers’ reluctance to participate in military projects, CEOs pitched their companies’ products to Pentagon officials. announced Microsoft announces Azure Government Secret, a cloud service for Department of Defense and intelligence customers.

Oracle Websites boasted In turn, its products help military organizations improve efficiency, prepare and execute missions. While offered Amazon August 2018 90-second promotional video for Amazon Web Services for the Warfighter.

Microsoft's Alex Kipman, the man responsible for the HoloLens augmented reality device, presents the HoloLens 2 ahead of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, ​​Spain February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
The US Navy is the top consumer of Microsoft’s “HoloLens” glasses (Reuters)

While Microsoft has marketed HoloLens as a useful device for gamers, artists and architects, the main consumer of this product is the US Marine Corps.

While Amazon’s facial recognition software can be used for banking transactions or secure ATMs, it can also be used for surveillance by military, intelligence, or law enforcement agencies.

Also, cloud platforms provided by Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon, and Google may be invested by researchers, scientists, public health officials, or commercial companies to store and process information, but at the same time they may be a lethal tool in the hands of the military.

It is clear that the frantic pursuit of major technology companies continues to obtain defense contracts, and may reach the point of purchasing defense contracting companies in the coming years. Whether employees realize it or not, all of the tech giants have some connection to the defense industries.

In conclusion, the issue of the militarization of big technology companies raises many ethical and political questions about the role these companies play through their cooperation with defense and security agencies, as they must balance material interests with societal, ethical and professional interests.

The controversy over this cooperation is likely to continue due to the mutual need of the two parties, as the contracts concluded with these agencies provide an important source of revenue for the companies, while those agencies seek to benefit from the technology of these companies in order to enhance their capabilities.

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