Google distances itself from the Pentagon, stays in bed with mercenaries and intelligence contractors

With all the hubbub about NSA spying, Google’s PR people really want you to know how separate the company is from America’s military-industrial complex.

“The United States government spends about $80 billion a year on information technology, making it the largest consumer of technology projects in the world.” –New York Times

With all the hubbub about NSA spying, Google’s PR people really want you to know how separate the company is from America’s military-industrial complex.

Earlier this week, Google made a big show of refusing DARPA funding for two robotics manufacturers it purchased, even though the companies themselves were financed with plenty of DoD cash. It’s a nice gesture, and one that was welcomed by those who want Silicon Valley to be free of government interference.

Unfortunately, while a crowd-pleasing announcement is good for Google’s public image, it does nothing to change the company’s long and ongoing history of working closely with US military and surveillance agencies.

Last week, I detailed how Google does much more than simply provide us civvies with email and search apps. It sells its tech to enhance the surveillance operations of the biggest and most powerful intel agencies in the world: NSA, FBI, CIA, DEA and NGA – the whole murky alphabet soup.

In some cases – like the company’s dealings with the NSA and its sister agency, the NGA – Google deals with government agencies directly. But in recent years, Google has increasingly taken the role of subcontractor: selling its wares to military and intelligence agencies by partnering with established military contractors. It’s a very deliberate strategy on Google’s part, allowing it to more effectively sink its hooks into the nepotistic, old boy government networks of America’s military-intelligence-industrial complex.

Over the past decade, Google Federal (as the company’s D.C. operation is called) has partnered up with old school establishment military contractors like Lockheed Martin, as well as smaller boutique outfits – including one closely connected to the CIA and former mercenary firm, Blackwater.

This approach began around 2006.

Around that time, Google Federal began beefing up its lobbying muscle and hiring sales reps with military/intelligence/contractor work experience – including at least one person, enterprise manager Jim Young, who used to work for the CIA. The company then began making the rounds, seeking out partnerships with with established military contractors. The goal was to use their deep connections to the military-industrial complex to hard sell Google technology.

And it worked.

The Washington Post summed up the success of Google’s new approach in 2010:

When Director Michael Bradshaw came to Google Federal about four years ago, he visited all the big government contractors in the federal market, going door to door to promote partnerships.

“A lot of people didn’t even know Google Federal existed,” Bradshaw said. “I think we were more of a novelty in their mind.”

Fast forward four years, and many traditional government contractors are clamoring to work with the company. Both sides sees advantages in the collaborations. Despite Google’s widespread commercial success, the partnerships help the Internet giant establish a beachhead in another lucrative market.

Who are some of these “traditional government contractors?” The Washington Post article mentioned Lockheed Martin. But there are plenty of others.

Looking at the non-classified government contracting database, we can see Google partnering with Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp and tag-teaming the DoD for a $1-million contract to install a “webs Google Earth plug-in.” Northrop Grumman is one the top three of biggest arms manufacturers in the world. It designed the B-2 Stealth bomber, builds and outfits nuclear-powered submarines and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. It is also intimately involved with all sorts of NSA surveillance operations, and was part of a team that designed Trailblazer – a multibillion-dollar mass Internet, e-mail and telephone surveillance system that was such a massive failure that it eventually had to scrapped.

In 2008, Google paired up with Eyak, a boutique military contractor based in Alaska, for a $2.735m DoD contract to install Google Earth. Like all good military contractors, Eyak’s execs were recently involved in $28 million bribery and kickback scheme.

You can check out Google’s other subcontracting gigs over at the Federal Procurement Data System – which range from just a few thousand dollars to multiple millions.

But Google partners for classified military/intelligence contracts are, unsurprisingly, not so easy to pin down.

From Google’s previously classified 2003 work order for the NSA, we know that in some cases the company is forbidden to disclose information or even admit the existence of contracts without authorization from the US government.

Stil, Google’s “Enterprise Government” page yields a few hints. On it, Google lists some of the companies it partners with to deliver products and services to the government.

Among them is California-based mega military contractor/quasi-government intel agency SAIC. According to Tim Shorrock’s book, Spies For Hire, half of SAIC 40,000+ employees hold security clearances – many of them having come straight from the NSA:

“Indeed, so many NSA officials have gone to work at SAIC that intelligence insiders call the company ‘NSA West.’ SAIC also does a significant amount of work for the Central Intelligence Agency, where it is among the top five contractors.”

Another, lesser-known contractor stands out as well: Blackbird Technologies, a secretive hi-tech military contractor with strong ties to the CIA and the infamous mercenary firm Blackwater.

Wired’s Noah Shachtman – one of the few journalists to write about the company – describes Blackbird as “Manhunt Inc” because the company’s flagship product is a sophisticated locator bug that’s used for the covert “tagging, tracking and locating” of suspected terrorists/persons of interest out in the field. These bugs don’t just track someone’s location, but surveil their cellular communication, their WiFi traffic and can apparently be used to extract intel wirelessly from devices.

Here’s Wired in 2011:

Virginia-based Blackbird Technologies, has become a leading supplier of equipment for the covert “tagging, tracking and locating” of suspected enemies. Every month, U.S. Special Operations Command spends millions of dollars on Blackbird gear. The U.S. Navy has a contract with Blackbird for $450 million worth of these so-called “TTL” devices. “Tens of thousands” of Blackbird’s devices have been sent to the field, according to a former employee. And TTL is just one part of the Herndon, Virginia firm’s multifaceted relationship with the special operations, intelligence and traditional military services.

“Blackbird has hit the trifecta: They’ve got people to sell, people to perform the job, and people to keep it all secret,” says one well-placed Defense Department contractor. “Everybody keeps their distance.”

Blackbird offers other spy gadgets, too – and not just for governments, but high net worth individuals as well. One of them is an encrypted locator/distress beacon for the 0.001%. It’s called the Pantherâ„¢:

Panther permits isolated, missing, or threatened VIPs to send an encrypted distress signal and be tracked anywhere in the world. These handheld, battery-powered, personnel locating and emergency signaling units provide both cellular- and satellite-based communications paths and are designed for ease of use.

Pretty badass, right?

Much of Blackbird’s tech involves geo-tracking, which makes the company a natural partner for Google’s military-grade Google Earth software – developed as it was in close collaboration with the US military and intelligence community.

But Blackbird is very likely involved in more than just passive observation. Several former Blackbird employees told Wired’s Noah Shachtman that Blackbird routinely went “outside the wire.” Meaning the company put armed operatives into battle zones on special operations, including search and rescue missions to extract missing/captured soldiers.

A military-surveillance tech contractor putting armed operatives in the field? Hmm… that would would seem to put the company in a totally different class of contractor – somewhere closer to the likes of mercenary security firm Blackwater/Xe/Academi.

Indeed, Blackbird appears to be closely connected to Blackwater and its founder Eric Prince. In 2010, Jeremy Scahill reported in “the Nation” that Blackbird was essentially an outgrowth of Blackwater: 

I have heard from sources that over the past two years, Prince has shifted some of Blackwater’s clandestine work to companies he does not own but which are run by former Blackwater executives or allies. Among these are Blackbird Technologies, which now employs former Blackwater executive J. Cofer Black…

Now serving as Blackbird’s vice president, Cofer Black is a high-level spook with a long and distinguished career.

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