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
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.
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, "http://www.wired.com/dangerroom
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?
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.
John Simpson, go further with the Street
View and what you found with Wi-Spy.
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...
Explain exactly what you mean when you say
...learn that they in fact patented the..
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.
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.'”
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
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.
And how is CIA and Google working together?
So, most people don’t realize that the
intelligence agencies have an investment arm. It’s called
they invest money in promising companies, both to make a little cash and
also to deliver those promising technologies to the intelligence
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.
And, of course, there’s a higher-level, much
larger secret intelligence agency, and it’s the National Security
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.
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?
You know, the answer, I’m sure, is yes, but
I don’t have details, I’m sorry.
Well, let me ask John Simpson, what are you
calling on Congress to do?
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
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.
Who was championing this in Congress?
The more troubling aspect, too...
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
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 Congress-people
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
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
That series, they did last week.