Palantir’s software is used to sift through massive amounts of data to help the military identify enemies’ whereabouts, potential attacks and other battlefield information. On Friday, a spokesman for Thiel explained that the technology allows the military to have a more targeted response to threats, which could render unnecessary the wide-scale conflicts that Thiel sharply criticized.
“If we can pinpoint real security threats, we can defend ourselves without resorting to the crude tactic of invading other countries,” Thiel said in a statement sent to The Post. Palantir declined to comment through a representative.
On Oct. 31, Thiel told reporters in Washington that “while households struggle to keep up with the challenges of everyday life, the government is wasting trillions of dollars of taxpayer money on faraway wars. Right now we’re fighting five of them, in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.”
William D. Hartung, who oversees the arms and security project at the Center for International Policy, said Thiel’s outspoken stance on the country’s wars makes him an anomaly among contractors, who tend to voice support for or decline to comment on government initiatives on which they are bidding for business.
“I can’t think of anyone who is majorly contracting with the Pentagon who would criticize the Iraq War or … our bombing strategy in Syria. He does stand out in that regard,” said Hartung, who has also opposed some of the military’s actions in Iraq and Syria.
“It does verge on the hypocritical and it’s kind of strange, as he is speaking out about the war right at the moment he is suing to get involved in more contracts,” Hartung said. “If his beliefs are that strong, there’s plenty of other ways to make money.”
Government agencies agreed to pay Palantir Technologies at least $356.8 million for work performed between 2007 and 2016, government records show. The Defense Department was its largest government customer in all but one of those years, followed by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
The total value of the contracts awarded to Palantir is actually higher. Many contracts are paid in a series of installments as work is completed or funds are allocated, meaning the total value of the contract may be reflected over several years. In May, for example, Palantir was awarded a contract worth $222.1 million from the Defense Department to provide software and technical support to the U.S. Special Operations Command. The initial amount paid was $5 million with the remainder to come in installments over four years.
Defense industry consultant Loren Thompson said some commercial technology companies see an opportunity to use their expertise and products to ultimately save the government money and contribute to less destructive aspects of the war effort. The Defense Department and other agencies have made a more concerted effort to engage the industry in recent years for this reason.
“Basically, the argument here is if [the government] would use the right technology then they could minimize the cost and the human consequences regardless of what kind of war we’re fighting,” Thompson said. “This is big data, this is not things that blow up and cause collateral damage.”
Nevertheless, Thompson added: “Whatever Thiel’s political convictions may be, business is business.”
Thiel co-founded Palantir Technologies in 2004. The company formed an early connection to the defense and intelligence communities: In September 2005, Palantir received $2 million from In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s investment arm. A self-proclaimed libertarian, Thiel said Palantir was conceived as “a mission-oriented company” in a 2013 Forbes profile.
“I defined the problem as needing to reduce terrorism while preserving civil liberties,” Thiel told the magazine.
In recent years, Palantir has steadily built up its government business and hired lobbyists to help pave further inroads in Washington, lobbying disclosure records show. Its software was heralded by numerous high-profile defense and intelligence officials in the Forbes article, but also criticized by privacy experts who question whether Palantir’s software actually violates the privacy rights and liberties that Thiel intended it to protect.
On its website, the firm boasts of its software’s applications in war zones: “From strategy to operations to tactics, from reachback facilities to the tactical edge of the battlefield, Palantir Defense gives the warfighter immediate access to the latest critical information, removing the technical barriers to better data-driven decision making.”
Palantir sued the Defense Department earlier this year and argued that it had unjustly barred Palantir from competing for a contract with the Army to process data about the battlefield, such as weather conditions and enemy locations, and make it available to foot soldiers. The firm asserted that the agency’s procurement practices failed to consider commercially available software built by firms outside the stable of regular government contractors.
The company’s attorney, Hamish Hume, told reporters last Monday that the ruling was “a victory not just for Palantir but for taxpayers and our whole procurement system” because it would “make it more appealing for innovators like Palantir to come to Washington and compete for government business,” The Washington Post reported.
Less than an hour earlier, the company’s chairman was sharing a different message. Thiel has been heavily criticized by others in the tech industry for his vocal support of Trump, including his Republican National Convention speech in July and a campaign donation of $1.25 million last month.
“I think Trump voters are also tired of war,” Thiel said Oct. 31. “We have been at war for 15 years and we have spent more than $4.6 trillion, more than 2 million people have lost their lives, and more than 5,000 American soldiers have been killed. But we haven’t won.”
“The Bush administration promised that 50 billion [dollars] could bring democracy to Iraq. Instead, we’ve squandered 40 times as much to bring about chaos,” he continued.
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