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Google actively aiding intelligence agencies?

Nate Anderson / ARS Technica | October 31 2006

Flashback: Former Intelligence Agent Says Google In Bed With CIA

Former intelligence officer Robert David Steele recently appeared on the Alex Jones show to make the provocative claim that Google is currently cooperating with secret elements in the US government, including the CIA.

Steele, who now runs OSS.net and is a proponent of open source intelligence, said that "Google has made a very important strategic mistake in dealing with the secret elements of the U.S. government—that is a huge mistake and I'm hoping they'll work their way out of it and basically cut that relationship off." In his view, Google's attempt earlier this year to avoid turning over information to the Department of Justice was little more than a hypocritical charade.

Steele has made these claims for some time; back in January, he said the same things at a conference organized by his company at which several sources came forward and spoke about the alleged cooperation. According to security site HSToday.us, which had a reporter in attendance at the conference, one unnamed security contractor "said three employees of an intelligence agency he declined to identify are in Mountain View, Calif. where Google is based, working with the company to leverage the search engine company's user data monitoring capability in the interests of national security."

No hard evidence for these claims was presented, and those in a position to have direct knowledge of such an arrangement have been unwilling to speak about it on the record. Google traditionally prefers not to comment on such allegations, and did not respond to our requests for comment by press time.

It's clear that the company is not opposed to working with the intelligence and defense communities in principle. Products such as Google Earth are explicitly marketed to such industries, with Google claiming that its products allow "analysts and operatives to get the job done effectively and in record time."

Whether the famously idealistic company is actively assisting the CIA and NSA is a different question, though, and one that remains unanswered. If the allegations have any merit, then it's no great stretch to imagine that other leading search engines have attracted the government's interest. Will major Internet companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google turn out to be as involved in surveillance as the telecommunications companies? Or did all these shadowy sources get the story wrong?

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