Thursday in the wild world of Big Tech, it was revealed that Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt cozied up to Pentagon officials, and even watched them blow up a truck with a drone in live time.
“In 2016, Eric Schmidt, then the executive chairman of Google parent Alphabet, watched as Predator drone operators at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada destroyed a truck in a combat zone somewhere in the world,” Daily Mail said.
Schmidt chairs the Defense Innovation Board, an advisory panel to the Pentagon, just one of many close ties that Silicon Valley titans have with Washington, D.C. With the contracts that tech giants like Google have to do work on behalf of the government, it is often difficult to tell where private industry ends and federal government begins.
“The Pentagon says that the board is a vital way for defense planners to gain insight into fast-evolving technology, and that site visits such as the one at Creech allow the board to see current technology in action and make recommendations for improvement,” according to the report.
However, the coziness of the relationship between Silicon Valley and D.C. is being questioned now that companies like Google and Amazon are competing for a 10-year, $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, which will provide cloud services for the Pentagon.
Silicon Valley tech companies often donate massive amounts of money to political candidates. Google donated over $160,000 to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid, while Amazon and Facebook donated over $25,000.
In 2017, a year after Schmidt’s visit to the Pentagon where he watched the drone blow a target to smithereens, Google “won a $17 million Pentagon subcontract for Project Maven, which used machine learning and AI to help the military identify drone targets.” (By the way, Google quietly dropped “Don’t Be Evil,” its famous motto, from its code of conduct last year).
Apparently, many of Google’s employees still believe in the old code. After backlash, Google did not renew its Project Maven contract, and has now dropped out of the running for JEDI. Amazon and Microsoft are the top candidates to pick up the new government job.
Daily Mail also detailed Amazon Chief Jeff Bezos’ close relationship with former Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
“One startling incident that occurred in August 2017, when then-Defense Secretary James Mattis flew to the West Coast to personally swear in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to the Defense Innovation Board,” according to the report.
Pentagon employees rushed to warn Mattis that personally swearing in Bezos was against protocol, and would not be good for optics. Further, Bezos did not even have to go through a background check or obtain a security clearance to become a member of the board.
The meeting went on as scheduled, and Mattis also met with Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Sundar Pichai and Sergey Brin from Google.