Revolving Door: Former Obama Officials Help Silicon Valley Go After Defense Contracts

Revolving Door: Former Obama Officials Help Silicon Valley Go After Defense Contracts


Silicon Valley firms are learning that going after defense contracts in the era Donald Trump can raise moral issues and upset shareholders, employees, and rights groups who blog, tweet and write letters about it.

Google faced an internal rebellion over its work with the Defense Department to deploy cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology for drone warfare, part of a Pentagon initiative known as Project Maven.

More than 3,100 Google employees signed a letter to Sundar Pichai, the company’s CEO, protesting Google’s role in the project.

Amazon staffers expressed outrage over Amazon’s deal to provide facial recognition surveillance (called “Rekognition”) to law enforcement agencies. Employees asked Amazon to pull out of the arrangement.

Rekognition facial recognition software has a bad reputation for wrongly identifying people of color.

The American Civil Liberties Union released emails in June that provided new details on how police were using Rekognition. In response, Amazon employees, shareholders, as well as civil rights groups wrote letters petitioning Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to end the contracts with police.

On Thursday, Rekognition face-scanning software wrongly identified 28 members of Congress–many of them people of color–as individuals who had been arrested for a crime, according to a test by the ACLU, Fast Company reported.

Silicon Valley firms seeking lucrative business opportunities with the Pentagon face a range of obstacles, and a group of former high-level Obama administration officials are helping to bridge the divide between tech firms and the Defense Department, according to The Intercept.

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A new company called WestExec Advisors was co-founded by Antony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. Other retired senior officials working at WestExec include former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, and Lisa Monaco, a former counterterrorism adviser to Barack Obama.

How private companies secure government contracts is a familiar story, The Intercept reported:

They do it with “the help of officials walking through the revolving door between public service and businesses that take in large amounts of government cash.

“The revolving door is a longstanding feature of the military-industrial complex, and it can lead to distorted policy decisions based on the financial interests of former government employees who use their expertise and contacts in government to press policies that may or may not be in the national interest,” said William D. Hartung, an arms control expert with the Center for International Policy. “This phenomenon is now spreading to efforts to get Silicon Valley firms to collaborate with the Pentagon on issues like artificial intelligence and drone image recognition technology.”

Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work arrives at the Pentagon, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)


defense contracts
Former US President Barack Obama looks on in Kogelo, Kenya, Monday, July 16, 2018. Former U.S. President Barack Obama Monday praised Kenya’s president and opposition leader for working together but said this East African country must do more to end corruption. Obama, on his first visit to Africa since stepping down as president, commended President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga for cooperating following last year’s disputed presidential election which were marked by violence. (AP Photo Brian Inganga) / Image: Anita Sanikop