Investors at the CIA and Google are backing a company called “Recorded Future” that monitors tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts in real time in order to find patterns, events and relationships that may predict the future. The news comes amidst Google’s so-called “Wi-Spy” scandal, that refers to revelations that Google’s Street View cars operating in some thirty countries snooped on private Wi-Fi networks over the last three years.
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John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Inside Google project.
Juan Gonzalez: Investors at the CIA and Google are both backing a company that claims to represent the next phase of intelligence gathering, according to a report from Wired. It’s called Recorded Future, and it monitors tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts in real time in order to find patterns, events and relationships that may predict the future. Google has done business with America’s spy agencies before, but this seems to be the first time the CIA and Google have funded the same startup at the same time.
The report comes on the heels of a new opinion poll released by the nonpartisan group Consumer Watchdog that shows nearly two-thirds of Americans are troubled by what’s being called Google’s “Wi-Spy” scandal. Wi-Spy refers to revelations that Google’s Street View cars operating in some thirty countries snooped on private Wi-Fi networks over the last three years. Google has admitted that its cars recorded communications from unencrypted home Wi-Fi networks as they photographed people’s homes for Google’s Street View.
Amy Goodman: Well, for more, we’re joined now by two guests. Here in New York, Noah Shachtman’s with us. He’s contributing editor at Wired magazine and editor of its national security blog, Danger Room, where he broke the story about Google and the CIA both investing in Recorded Future. And we’re joined in Los Angeles by John Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Inside Google project. He’s calling for congressional hearings into the Google Wi-Spy scandal.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Noah, let’s start with you. Just lay out what this relationship is. There may be people who don’t even know that Street View of Google, that you can go down the streets of New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and see people’s houses. And what else did they record?
Noah Schachtman: Right, so, you know, Google—we sort of make an implicit bargain with Google, right? Google reads our email to deliver advertisements. They look at how we’re traveling from point A to point B as they—as we use Google Maps. They look at our searches as we use Google Search. So we make—they read all that information, but we make a bargain with them that they’re not going to do anything too bad with it, that they’re going to observe their “don’t be evil” mantra. And that’s why this latest business arrangement is kind of troubling.
Amy Goodman: John Simpson, go further with the Street View and what you found with Wi-Spy.
John Simpson: Sure. What most people, I think, realized was that indeed these trucks and vans were taking photographs, but it then developed that they were recording data from open Wi-Fi networks and gathering other information about Wi-Fi networks as they went along. Initially, Google said that they were just locating the networks. And then they said, “Oh, my gosh! We made a mistake. We were actually gathering data,” which seems tremendously disingenuous when you—
Amy Goodman: Explain exactly what you mean when you say they’re—
John Simpson: —learn that they in fact patented the—
Amy Goodman: John, explain exactly what you mean when you say there weren’t just taking pictures, but they were gathering data from the Wi-Fi networks as they passed your house.
John Simpson:Well, sure, if you—if you have a Wi-Fi network and you’re sending email messages over it, passwords are going through it when you log on to websites, any of that sort of communications could be sucked up by their Wi-Spy snooping. And not only would it be sucked up, it was recorded on their servers. So there are parts of people’s personal communication that they have in their server network. And what they’re doing with that information is part of the problem. No one from Google has said why they were gathering it, what they intended to do with it, and what they have done with it. They’ve essentially said, “Trust us. We’re the company that believes ‘don’t be evil.’”
Juan Gonzalez: And when you say they’re storing it in their servers, one of the amazing things to me has been, as I’ve learned more about Google, that they virtually have created these huge tank farms all around the United States where they are storing all this data, and they’re collecting basically more information on the American people and on—in the world than practically any other company right now.
Noah Shachtman, I’m particularly interested in this issue of this new company, Recorded Future. How exactly will—how exactly is Recorded Future working? What are they doing with the information they’re gathering now for both the CIA—with CIA investment and with Google investment?
Noah Schachtman: So, Recorded Future is a company that strips out from web pages the sort of who, what, when, where, why—sort of who’s involved, you know, where are they going, what kind of events are they going to. And the idea is to find hidden links between actors that might not necessarily have visible links between them. So, for example, if I’m going to Aruba and there happens to be, I don’t know, you know, a terrorism conference in Aruba, perhaps I’m going to that terrorism conference. That’s sort of the idea.
Amy Goodman: And how is CIA and Google working together?
Noah Schachtman: So, most people don’t realize that the intelligence agencies have an investment arm. It’s called In-Q-Tel. And they invest money in promising companies, both to make a little cash and also to deliver those promising technologies to the intelligence community. So, in the early part of this decade, for example, In-Q-Tel invested in a company called Keyhole. Keyhole was then bought by Google in 2004 and became the basis of Google Earth, which is now how we can look at all those satellite cameras and what eventually became the basis for the Street View project, right? And what Street View is, is it’s part of Google Maps. It’s a way of—instead of looking at how you get from point A to point B, it’s a way to actually see the streets that you’re navigating. And so, when Google was taking pictures to develop that sort of 3-D view of the streets you travel on, that’s when it got into trouble collecting this Wi-Fi information. So that’s how it kind of all ties together.
Amy Goodman: And, of course, there’s a higher-level, much larger secret intelligence agency, and it’s the National Security Agency.
Noah Schachtman: Right. So, Google, its relationship with the NSA is unclear, as most things with the NSA are unclear. We know that they’ve done business together before. We know that Google sold them some products before, some servers. And we also know—excuse me—or we believe we know, that when Google suffered a pretty vicious hack attack earlier this year, it turned to the NSA. It turned to sort of the information security specialists of the NSA to help them out and try to figure out what was going on. Now, it gets a little bit complicated because that side of the NSA is not quite as black hat as the side that spies on us. There’s actually kind of two divisions within the NSA, one that’s relatively benign and one that’s relatively not benign. But it’s still—It’s yet another example of how Google and the country’s intelligence agencies are starting to get closer and closer together.
Juan Gonzalez: Have there been any attempts in other countries to begin to place limits on some of this cooperation between Google and—or their being able to use what they’re doing here in the United States, has spread to other countries?
Noah Schachtman: You know, the answer, I’m sure, is yes, but I don’t have details, I’m sorry.
Amy Goodman: Well, let me ask John Simpson, what are you calling on Congress to do?
John Simpson: Well, we want to know exactly what Google was trying to do when it sucked up all this personal communications when it was doing the Wi-Spying. And we’re also very concerned about precisely the nature of this growing relationship between our intelligence agencies and Google. And we think that both of those things need to be a subject of a hearing. Just like Tony Hayward came in and had to explain the Gulf oil spill, we think that Chairman Eric Schmidt needs to be called before the appropriate committee to explain what I think is the biggest information spill, if you will, in history. It’s virtually wiretapping, what they were doing with the Wi-Fi networks. And they need to be called on the carpet to account for that and why they did it. And so far there’s been no adequate explanation of what they were trying to do.
Amy Goodman: Who was championing this in Congress?
John Simpson:The more troubling aspect, too—
Amy Goodman: John, who was championing this in Congress? And what is Google’s response, not to mention the intelligence agency, if you can gather this, to your Inside Google project at Consumer Watchdog?
John Simpson: Well, Google has not been our best friend, you could say. In fact, early on, when we put out a press release they didn’t like, they actually tried to get our charitable funding revoked—contacted the Rose Foundation and suggested we ought not to be funded, which was not very good. In Congress, so far, we have not had any one respond to the call. We believe that the appropriate committee would be Commerce and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, possibly House Judiciary Committee, because they have jurisdiction over wiretap legislation. So, we’re still optimistic, particularly when, in the light of our poll, we had overwhelming support for some kind of a hearing from the voters that we polled. We think possibly when the Congresspeople are back in their districts, maybe they will indeed hear some of the concern from their constituents. So we’re optimistic that there will be a hearing.
Amy Goodman: John Simpson, I want to thank you for being with us, director of Inside Google project at Consumer Watchdog. And also thanks to Noah Shachtman, contributing editor at Wired Magazine.
White House visitor logs show that Alan Davidson, Google’s director of public policy and government affairs, has had at least three meetings with officials of the National Security Council since the beginning of last year. And John Simpson also has written that based on today’s Washington Post series, it appears Google holds classified US government contracts to supply search and geospatial information to the US government. That series, they did last week.