Saturday, June 7, 2014


Excerpts from Andy Greenberg and Ryan Mac's 8-14-13 Forbes article entitled "How a 'Deviant' Philosopher Built Palantir, a CIA-Funded Data-Mining Juggernaut":

"[Alex] Karp’s 24/7 security detail is meant to protect him from extremists who have sent him death threats and conspiracy theorists who have called Palantir to rant about the Illuminati. Schizophrenics have stalked Karp [Palantir's chief executive] outside his office for days at a stretch. 'It’s easy to be the focal point of fantasies,' he says, 'if your company is involved in realities like ours.'
"Palantir lives the realities of its customers: the NSA, the FBI and the CIA–an early investor through its In-Q-Tel venture fund–along with an alphabet soup of other U.S. counterterrorism and military agencies. In the last five years Palantir has become the go-to company for mining massive data sets for intelligence and law enforcement applications, with a slick software interface and coders who parachute into clients’ headquarters to customize its programs. Palantir turns messy swamps of information into intuitively visualized maps, histograms and link charts. Give its so-called 'forward-deployed engineers' a few days to crawl, tag and integrate every scrap of a customer’s data, and Palantir can elucidate problems as disparate as terrorism, disaster response and human trafficking […].
"And now Palantir is emerging from the shadow world of spies and special ops to take corporate America by storm. The same tools that can predict ambushes in Iraq are helping pharmaceutical firms analyze drug data. According to a former JPMorgan Chase staffer, they’ve saved the firm hundreds of millions of dollars by addressing issues from cyberfraud to distressed mortgages. A Palantir user at a bank can, in seconds, see connections between a Nigerian Internet protocol address, a proxy server somewhere within the U.S. and payments flowing out from a hijacked home equity line of credit, just as military customers piece together fingerprints on artillery shell fragments, location data, anonymous tips and social media to track down Afghani bomb makers […].
"The biggest problem for Palantir’s business may be just how well its software works: It helps its customers see too much. In the wake of NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s revelations of the agency’s mass surveillance, Palantir’s tools have come to represent privacy advocates’ greatest fears of data-mining technology — Google-level engineering applied directly to government spying. That combination of Big Brother and Big Data has come into focus just as Palantir is emerging as one of the fastest-growing startups in the Valley, threatening to contaminate its first public impressions and render the firm toxic in the eyes of customers and investors just when it needs them most […].
"Karp seems to enjoy listing reasons he isn’t qualified for his job. 'He doesn’t have a technical degree, he doesn’t have any cultural affiliation with the government or commercial areas, his parents are hippies,' he says, manically pacing around his office as he describes himself in the third person. 'How could it be the case that this person is cofounder and CEO since 2005 and the company still exists?'
"The answer dates back to Karp’s decades-long friendship with Peter Thiel, starting at Stanford Law School […]. Thiel had cofounded PayPal and sold it to eBay in October 2002 for $1.5 billion. He went on to create a hedge fund called Clarium Capital but continued to found new companies: One would become Palantir, named by Thiel for the Palantiri seeing stones from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, orbs that allow the holder to gaze across vast distances to track friends and foes.
"In a post-9/11 world Thiel wanted to sell those Palantiri-like powers to the growing national security complex: His concept for Palantir was to use the fraud-recognition software designed for PayPal to stop terrorist attacks. But from the beginning the libertarian saw Palantir as an antidote to–not a tool for–privacy violations in a society slipping into a vise of security. 'It was a mission-oriented company,' says Thiel, who has personally invested $40 million in Palantir and today serves as its chairman. 'I defined the problem as needing to reduce terrorism while preserving civil liberties.'"
To read the entire Forbes article about Palantir, click HERE.
For more on Palantir and its impact on local law enforcement (specifically in regard to the LAPD), you should watch Rachel Crane's recent CNN report.  Here's a brief excerpt from Crane's exchange with Captain John Romero of the LAPD:

RACHEL CRANE (CNN):  "Anybody who is a vehicle owner is in Palantir?"

CAPTAIN JOHN ROMERO (LAPD):  "Anybody who is a vehicle owner in a public place, and has passed a license plate reader, will be in our data set.  [W]e have a lot of data for people who have done nothing [illegal]."  [Emphasis mine.--RG]

To see CNN's entire report on Palantir, click HERE.

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