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[liberationtech] The Silicon Valley Firm That Spies On Non-Profits Is Seeking Investors | Alternet

Yosem Companys companys at
Fri Dec 6 12:17:05 PST 2013

The Silicon Valley Firm That Spies On Non-Profits Is Seeking Investors
The $9 billion company claims it supports privacy right and free
speech, but it charges clients $2 million a month to spy on activists.

This week  Whitney revealed  that many of the firms hired to
infiltrate nonprofit organizations on behalf of corporations have
their own revolving door of former government intelligence personel
from CIA, NSA, DOJ, and more. These firms were identified in an
exhaustive Center for Corporate Policy report,  Spooky Business ,
which included a particular story about a group of these firms that
referred to themselves as “ Team Themis .” As CCP reported, Team
Themis, led by HBGary Federal, a computer security firm, sent a
proposal to  Hunton & Williams  law firm with an outline to infiltrate
the nonprofit critics of its client, the US Chamber of Commerce. The
array of unethical actions proposed by Team Themis is truly
outstanding; infiltrate the nonprofit with a fake insider, wage
electronic warfare, investigate staff and their families, and utilize
former US military and intelligence staff to carry out operations.

How much does such a comprehensive strategy cost? According to CCP,
Team Themis’ proposal came with a price tag of $200,000 per month for
initial research and $2 million monthly for a full campaign.

Following Wikileaks’ threat to expose a scandal at a top US bank, Team
Themis sprang into action and outlined another proposal for Hunton &
Williams on a strategy to “destroy” Wikileaks. According to CCP’s
documents that strategy included:

•    Spread “disinformation” about WikiLeaks;
•    “Submit fake documents and then call out the error.” In other
words, forging documents, giving them to WikiLeaks, and then exposing
them as false, to undermine Wikileaks’ credibility;
•    Execute “[c]yber attacks against the [WikiLeaks] infrastructure
to get data on document submitters”. Palantir, HBGary and Berico
believe that this would “kill” WikiLeaks.
•    An implicit threat to ruin the career of Glenn Greenwald, a
prominent journalist, if he continues to support WikiLeaks.

These guys were, at least in print, very serious in their intent to
spy on and disrupt these nonprofits. So why the jaunty name? For
those, unlike myself, who were lucky enough not to take ancient greek
in high school, Themis was the titan goddess of divine law and order
(at the time social control by the gods), and a wife and counselor of
Zeus. Some background  to make you feel uncomfortable:

She was the divine voice ( themistes) who first instructed mankind in
the primal laws of justice and morality, such as the precepts of
piety, the rules of hospitality, good governance, conduct of assembly,
and pious offerings to the gods. In Greek, the word  themis referred
to divine law, those rules of conduct long established by custom.

Who are the gods to Team Themis and what are their “pious offerings”?
Based on the Center for Corporate Policy’s report, it’s anyone with a
few million and your data, respectively of course.

Team Themis was back in the news Thursday when  Forbes revealed  that
one prominent member,  Palantir Technologies , is seeking a $9 billion
dollar valuation in its latest funding round. Palantir develops many
different software applications that are largely used by the US
Government and intelligence community (from 2005 to 2008, the CIA was
their only customer). The name Palantir comes from the seeing stones
in  Lord of the Rings, which a certain PAI data specialist describes
as a communication and tracking tool that, when in control of Sauron,
allows him to see into the minds of his enemies. Apt to say the least.

But it’s clear from the fact that Palantir staff call their California
office “ the shire ” that they see themselves on the other end of the
seeing stone. The challenge of maintaining this good guy self image
was clear when CEO Alex Karp personally apologized for Palantir’s role
in the Wikileaks/Team Themis scandal and pledged support of
“progressive values and causes”. From his statement :

The right to free speech and the right to privacy are critical to a
flourishing democracy. From its inception, Palantir Technologies has
supported these ideals and demonstrated a commitment to building
software that protects privacy and civil liberties.

Palantir’s other co-founder and chairman,  Peter Thiel , is a well
known libertarian and generous, seven-figure donor to Ron Paul super
PAC Endorse Liberty and limited government organization, Club for
Growth. From his 2009 essay for the Cato Institute, The Education of a
Libertarian :

I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years: to authentic
human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against
confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the
inevitability of the death of every individual. For all these reasons,
I still call myself “libertarian.”

It’s interesting to compare these libertarian fixations to what
Palantir’s criticssay about the company :

“They’re in a scary business,” says Electronic Frontier Foundation
attorney Lee Tien. ACLU analyst Jay Stanley has written that
Palantir’s software could enable a “true totalitarian nightmare,
monitoring the activities of innocent Americans on a mass scale.”

I for one find it odd that a company with a CEO espousing progressive
ideals and a co-founder obsessed with libertarianism would sell
services that could be used to take down people and organizations that
disrupt their clients. Aren’t they then working against the
individual, in the interest of state control?

Karp is less concerned:

Karp, a social theory Ph.D., doesn’t dodge those concerns. He sees
Palantir as the company that can rewrite the rules of the zero-sum
game of privacy and security. “I didn’t sign up for the government to
know when I smoke a joint or have an affair,” he acknowledges. In a
company address he stated, “We have to find places that we protect
away from government so that we can all be the unique and interesting
and, in my case, somewhat deviant people we’d like to be.”

My guess is that deviants didn’t sign up for the government OR the US
Chamber of Commerce to know when they smoke a joint or have an affair,
but Palantir has shown it has the capacity to supply that pious
offering to its gods.

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