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Google is the world’s most popular search engine. But has Google also become a secret arm of the US government? Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, seems to think so.

In his new book, When Google Met WikiLeaks, Assange details a meeting that he had with top Google executives in June of 2011. The meeting included then Google CEO Eric Schmidt and its Director of Ideas, Jared Cohen. The reason for the visit was to interview Assange for a book Schmidt was writing with Jared Cohen.

Initially, Assange took the meeting at face value. But after realizing that many of the participants had deep and lasting ties to the State Department, he began to think that perhaps there had been an ulterior motive:

It was at this point that I realized Eric Schmidt might not have been an emissary of Google alone. Whether officially or not, he had been keeping some company that placed him very close to Washington, D.C., including a well-documented relationship with President Obama. Not only had Hillary Clinton’s people known that Eric Schmidt’s partner had visited me, but they had also elected to use her as a back channel.

While WikiLeaks had been deeply involved in publishing the inner archive of the U.S. State Department, the U.S. State Department had, in effect, snuck into the WikiLeaks command center…

Jared Cohen, Director of Ideas

If Schmidt’s connections to the State Department interested Assange, they were nothing compared to Google Ideas Director Jared Cohen. Prior to working at Google, Cohen worked at the State Department as part of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff. During his tenure at the State Department, people accused Cohen of “trying to plant his fingerprints on some of the major historical events in the contemporary Middle East.” This included:

  • Emailing Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to delay scheduled maintenance in order to assist the aborted 2009 uprising in Iran.
  • In Afghanistan in 2009, trying to convince the four major Afghan mobile phone companies to move their antennas onto U.S. military bases.
  • In Lebanon, working to establish an intellectual and clerical rival to Hezbollah, the “Higher Shia League.”
  • In London, offering Bollywood movie executives funds to insert anti-extremist content into their films

It was efforts like this that landed Cohen a job at Google. Eric Schmidt met Jared Cohen in 2009 “as they together surveyed the post-occupation wreckage of Baghdad.” A year later, Schmidt created Google Ideas specifically for Cohen and installed him as Director.

But what was Google Ideas?

Schmidt and Cohen [dubbed] Google Ideas as a “think/do-tank” that aims to tackle political and diplomatic matters through the use of technology.

The “think” part of that was clear. Cohen was a member of the neo-liberal think tank, Council on Foreign Relations, with a stated expertise on “terrorism; radicalization; impact of connection technologies on 21st century statecraft; Iran.” But what exactly were they “do”-ing? According to leaked internal emails from Stratfor, a Texas based geopolitical intelligence company, Cohen was using Google to do “things the CIA cannot do.

The email stated that:

Cohen’s directorate appeared to cross over from public relations and “corporate responsibility” work into active corporate intervention in foreign affairs at a level that is normally reserved for states.

In other words, they were doing things only governments do.

Aside from Schmidt and Cohen, there were two other members of the Google delegation at the interview with Assange. The first was Scott Malcomson. Introduced as the editor of the book, Malcomson was also a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the former adviser and speech writer for National Security Director and UN Ambassador Susan Rice.

There was also Lisa Shields. Shields was the Vice President of Communications for the Council on Foreign Relations. But at the time, she was also Schmidt’s girlfriend, interesting because Schmidt was married at the time.

Of the four people that Google sent to meet with Assange, two were Google employees, two were government employees, three were members of the Council on Foreign Relations, and all four had deep ties to Washington D.C.

Assange was correct.


Google’s government connections ran counter to its public image, an image that Google executives have defended publicly and often.

When Edward Snowden revealed Google’s participation in the NSA’a PRISM surveillance program, Google co-founder Larry Page staunchly denied knowledge of the project. Page claimed that Google had never even heard of PRISM until Snowden leaked its existence to the American public:

We have not joined any program that would give the US government — or any other government — direct access to our servers…We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.

And while this was technically true, the response was a carefully worded legal deception. This was revealed by none other than the NSA’s general counsel, Rajesh De. In testimony he provided to a US government watchdog group, De, revealed that:

On top of that, the NSA paid millions of dollars to help Google cover the costs of compliance:

The National Security Agency paid millions of dollars to cover the costs of major internet companies involved in the Prism surveillance program

So, while Page’s denial was technically true, so were the accusations against Google. Not only did they give the government full assistance in the collection of data, they were paid millions to do it.


PRISM was not the only time that Google has falsely or deceptively denied government relationships. When asked about Google’s connections to the NSA, Eric Schmidt said:

There is no relationship and no linkage between the National Security Agency and Google… There wasn’t one, there isn’t one, and there’s not going to be one.

And yet, Google’s involvement with not only the NSA, but with the entire intelligence community, is easily documented. Consider Intellipedia:

A new generation of analysts, determined to drag their Cold War–era colleagues into the world of Web 2.0 information-sharing, have created Intellipedia, a classified version of Wikipedia they say is transforming the way U.S. spy agencies handle top-secret information by fostering collaboration across Washington and around the world

When the government was building Intellipedia, guess who they turned to for the search technology?

When the nation’s intelligence agencies wanted a computer network to better share information about everything from al Qaeda to North Korea, they turned to a big name in the technology industry to supply some of the equipment: Google Inc.

The Mountain View company sold the agencies servers for searching documents, marking a small victory for the company and its little-known effort to do business with the government.

Google was paid $2 million dollars to supply “the computer servers that support the network, as well as the search software that allows users to sift through messages and data.” And despite the fact that Intellipedia was “maintained by the director of national intelligence and is accessible only to the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and an alphabet soup of other intelligence agencies and offices,” as part of its contract, Google provided the technical support.

Far from having no relationship with the NSA, the NSA was actually one of Google’s clients.

Down the Rabbit Hole

So how far did Google’s government ties go? All the way back to the beginning, it turns out.

If you look up Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s 1998 research paper, Anatomy of a Search Engine, you can see that funding for the original research behind Google was provided by DARPA:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military.

From the very start, Google was being developed as a potential military technology. But Google’s has gone to great lengths to create a public narrative that paints them as opposed to military research.

For instance, they recently made a big show about their decision to pull one of their robots out of a DARPA robotics competition. Numerous stories emerged painting Google as a noble company that had withdrawn from the competition because it did not want to receive DARPA (ahem, military) funding. One headline even read, “Google finally proves it won’t pursue military contracts, pulls leading robot from DARPA competition.”

And yet, a quick glance at Google Enterprise Government shows that Google has partnered with numerous companies with deep government, military and intelligence ties. Among these are Blackbird Technologies, which was closely affiliated with the security firm Blackwater. DLT Solutions sells technology products to the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. And NT Concepts provides “investigative products and services for more than 100 U.S. Government, military, and civilian departments and agencies.”

But Google does more than just partner with government organizations. It also recruits from them.

They may have refused DARPA robot funding, but the former Director of DARPA, Regina Dugan, was hand picked by Eric Schmidt to come work for Google. Like Cohen, Dugan was recruited by Eric Schmidt and placed in charge of a special projects division created just for her. Her playground – known as ATAP – is largely secret. But some of her key contributions have been to bring the DARPA culture and mentality to Google.

Google hired Rob Painter to become its Chief Technologist at Google Federal. Who is Rob Painter? The former Director of Technology Assessment at the CIA’s venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel:

In-Q-Tel of Arlington, Virginia, United States is a not-for-profit venture capital firm that invests in high-tech companies for the sole purpose of keeping the Central Intelligence Agency, and other intelligence agencies, equipped with the latest in information technology in support of United States intelligence capability

Or, there is Michele Weslander Quaid. Currently, she’s Google’s Chief Innovation Evangelist. But before that she was a CIA contractor that worked for the Secretary of Defense, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

These are just a few examples of the revolving door that exists between Google and the government. The list goes on.

Intelligence Gathering Products

Considering that Google is one of the biggest intelligence agencies in the world, Google’s affinity for intelligence agents is hardly surprising. After all, Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” But, before you can organize the world’s information, you need to collect it. And Google does that by any means necessary.

Enter Google’s products.

Many people are unaware that most of Google’s core offerings are free because they are used for advanced data collection. This data collection sometimes takes place in conjunction with government intelligence agencies and often in spite of serious privacy concerns.

Consider the CIA’s involvement in the development of Google Maps:

In 2004, after taking over Keyhole, a mapping tech startup co-funded by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the CIA, Google developed the technology into Google Maps, an enterprise version of which it has since shopped to the Pentagon and associated federal and state agencies on multimillion-dollar contracts.

Or how Google Street View cars collected private personal data:

…between 2008 and 2010, “Google’s Street View cars collected names, addresses, telephone numbers, URLs, passwords, e-mail, text messages, medical records, video and audio files, and other information from internet users in the United States.”

When the privacy breach was first discovered, Google fought to keep the whole thing secret. When that failed, they explained the breach by saying that the private data was collected by accident. However, the original design documents showed that the ability to collect personal data had been built in to the software from the very start. The stated reason? So Google could figure out what you were doing. Because of that, Google ended up having to pay $7 million in fines.

Then there is the issue of Gmail constructing psychological profiles of people based on their email:

  • All communication was subject to deep linguistic analysis;
  • conversations were parsed for keywords, meaning, and even tone;
  • individuals were matched to real identities using contact information stored in a user’s Gmail address book;
  • attached documents were scraped for intel — that info was then cross-referenced with previous email interactions and combined with stuff gleaned from other Google services, as well as third-party sources…

Combined with the fact that millions of people are walking around with Android phones, we are able to see the foundation for Eric Schmidt’s terrifying quote:

We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.

Okay. You know everything about us. Why?

Google Nation

Answers to Google’s strategic outlook can be found in the books and papers released by its top executives.  A paper written by Cohen and Schmidt for the Council on Foreign Relations is particularly enlightening. In the paper, The Digital Disruption: Connectivity and the Diffusion of Power, Schmidt and Cohen argue that the increase in connectivity will render governments and corporations vulnerable to sudden change. They begin the paper with this warning:

The advent and power of connection technologies — tools that connect people to vast amounts of information and to one another — will make the twenty-first century all about surprises.

It’s an auspicious start, especially considering that DARPA’s slogan is “Creating & Preventing Strategic Surprise.” So, they want to prevent surprises. But what do they mean by surprises? They continue:

Governments will be caught off-guard when large numbers of their citizens, armed with virtually nothing but cell phones, take part in mini-rebellions that challenge their authority… And technology companies will find themselves outsmarted by their competition and surprised by consumers who have little loyalty and no patience.

The surprises they are worried about – the threat to corporations and governments alike – is you and me.  They are worried about people getting together and making independent decisions. In their eyes, a connected populace is a threat to governmental and corporate control. They label this threat “The Interconnected Estate.”

And while they believe that “some countries, primarily major connected powers such as the United States, EU member states, and the Asian economic powerhouses” will be able to “regulate the interconnected estate within their own borders,” they conclude that “not all states will be able to control or embrace the empowerment of the individual.” (emphasis added)

That’s where Google comes in.

At first, Schmidt and Cohen hint that without technology companies, governments cannot survive:

… although it remains uncertain exactly how the spread of technology will change governance, it is clear that old solutions will not work in this new era. Governments will have to build new alliances that reflect the rise in citizen power and the changing nature of the state. Those alliances will have to go far beyond government-to-government contacts, to embrace civic society, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector.

But later on, they (almost) come out and say what they really mean:

In an era when the power of the individual and the group grows daily, those governments that ride the technological wave will clearly be best positioned to assert their influence and bring others into their orbits. And those that do not will find themselves at odds with their citizens.

It’s not exactly join us or die, but the message is clear: If you don’t want your citizens to revolt, you’d better partner with us.

And, that’s exactly what the government has done.

In addition to its various missions on behalf of the State Department, Google is an official member of the Defense Industrial Base:

The Department of Homeland Security defines the Defense Industrial Base as “the worldwide industrial complex that enables research and development, as well as design, production, delivery, and maintenance of military weapons systems, subsystems, and components or parts, to meet U.S. military requirements” The Defense Industrial Base provides “products and services that are essential to mobilize, deploy, and sustain military operations.”

And despite its public image, Google seems to relish its new found role. As Eric Schmidt put it:

“What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies will be to the twenty-first.”

Far from a just motto, “Don’t Be Evil” is starting to sound increasingly like a command.

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