Betting on Thiel: Palantir Awarded US/UK Coronavirus Tracking & Space Force Software Contracts

Betting on Thiel: Palantir Awarded US/UK Coronavirus Tracking & Space Force Software Contracts

April 22, 2020 – Palantir, the surveillance firm founded by Trump ally Peter Thiel, has landed a contract with the federal government to track Coronavirus, the Daily Beast reports. The article entitled Trump Administration Turns to Peter Thiel’s Palantir to Track Coronavirus claims that Thiel’s firm will work with HHS and create a database:

A Silicon Valley company co-founded by a close ally of President Donald Trump will play a major new role in helping the government track the spread of the coronavirus, pulling information that is being used by top administration officials, including the president himself.

Palantir, the data-mining firm created by investor Peter Thiel, is best known for its work with global intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies. Now, the company has a contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to help the federal government create a new data platform called HHS Protect Now. 

The Daily Beast has confirmed that Palantir will provide a major aspect of the analytics platform. Sources familiar told The Daily Beast that Palantir’s data suites will be a primary contributor to HHS Protect Now, if not the core element of the tool. 

Palantir’s involvement in the creation of a new government coronavirus data platform system underscores the Trump administration’s reliance on close political allies of the president to respond to the global pandemic. Thiel was Trump’s earliest and highest-profile backer in Silicon Valley, and delivered a prime-time speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention. A top donor to conservative causes and the first outside investor in Facebook, Thiel was, according to The Wall Street Journal, instrumental in pushing the social networking giant to allow politicians to lie in advertisements on the platform. It’s a policy that many outside observers believe will help the Trump campaign—which Thiel has again pledged to support. – The Daily Beast

The article appears to be emphasizing the fact that Peter Thiel has been a vocal Trump supporter, so they are saying this is evidence Trump awards contracts based on personal ties. However, Palantir has a history of working with the federal government and states, as well as the military and unlike Google, does not praise China. Its software is designed for scalable tracking, which has been used in association with ICE, so it would seem to be a good, sensible choice based on that criteria.

The article goes on the claim that the project, called “HHS Protect Now Platform” will be unveiled later this week, and that it will “pull data” from “across the federal government, state and local governments, healthcare facilities, and colleges, to help administration officials determine how to ‘mitigate and prevent spread’ of the coronavirus, according to a spokesperson for the department.”

This is part of a larger trend for Palantir who has been working with the U.S. Army. As Google works with China on Artificial Intelligence, Thiel is prompted to call on the FBI and CIA to investigate them.

As reported by Lizette Chapman of Bloomberg in just February of this year, Palantir recently won a contract worth $823 million to provide special software to the Department of Defense (DOD):

The contract is the second half of a larger project. Palantir and Raytheon Co. won the first half of the deal in 2018, worth $876 million. This second part involves Palantir working with BAE Systems to replace the U.S. Army’s Distributed Common Ground System, used for aggregating and analyzing data, which has faced technical challenges. Palantir sued the Army in 2016 to win the right to compete for the new contract after the U.S. Government Accountability Office determined the old system was underperforming and over budget. 

The deal will increase annual sales at Palantir’s government division from its current $500 million or so, according to people familiar with Palantir’s finances who asked not to be identified discussing private information. 

Investor Peter Thiel co-founded Palantir in 2004, and the company’s software has been used for controversial ends like enabling the immigration deportation policies championed by President Trump, as well as for philanthropic ones like preventing sex trafficking and finding missing children.

About half of Palantir’s business relies on deals with large corporate customers like Merck KGaA and Airbus SE,  which use the software to manage drug discovery and improve supply chain logistics.

The company is exploring both an IPO and a direct listing, but does not yet have a target date for going public, Bloomberg has reported. – Bloomberg

As the article states, Palantir is looking into supply chain logistics and strengthening the medical supply chain as well as the new drug discovery process.

Tom McKay of Gizmodo is also reporting on this most recent move by the Trump Administration in an article entitled Trump Admin Gives Coronavirus Tracking Contract to Peter Thiel’s Palantir: Report that discusses this as well as the United Kingdom’s NHS contract:

Palantir, the surveillance firm founded by conservative billionaire Peter Thiel, has landed a contract with the feds to build a database tracking the spread of the novel coronavirus around the country, according to the Daily Beast.

Sources told the publication that Palantir data products will be primary, or even core, to a Health and Human Services project called Protect Now and will pull data from federal, state, and local governments, as well as universities and medical facilities. The purpose of the project is to ‘mitigate and prevent spread’ of the virus, an HHS spokesperson told the site. Palantir’s involvement is likely to raise eyebrows, as Thiel is both its chairman and a prominent Donald Trump supporter who has pledged to support the president’s re-election campaign. He also reportedly was involved in pushing Facebook, where he holds a board seat, to allow political lies in ads, even setting up a meeting between Mark Zuckerberg and Trump at the White House. (Disclosure: Thiel secretly bankrolled a lawsuit that bankrupted Gizmodo’s former parent company, Gawker Media.)…

…According to the Wall Street Journal, Palantir data predicted the potential for the coronavirus to become a worldwide crisis earlier this year—something that experts in infectious diseases and public health also saw coming. It also already has pandemic modeling contracts in over a dozen foreign countries, including with the UK’s National Health Service, the Greek government, and some states in Germany. However, the paper reported that Palantir was facing pressure from investors to start turning a profit even as some of its wealthiest corporate clients were cutting back due to pandemic losses, resulting in plans for deep cost-cutting and a potential delay to its initial public offering. Thiel sold some of his stake in the company at below its $20 billion valuation, sources told the Journal. – Gizmodo

I think this reflects a change, not only in the Trump administration but in the National Security establishment — to rely no longer on companies like Facebook and Google who have seemed eager to work with our adversaries.

“Palantir has helped the National Security Agency with espionage, has contracts with the Pentagon to provide real-time maps and analytics to soldiers in the field, and provided backend support for NYC Office of Special Enforcement crackdowns,” the article points out.

Earlier this week, Sandra Erwin of Space News reported on a contract between Palantir and the U.S. Space Force for data and software:

WASHINGTON — Data analytics company Palantir has won a contract to provide software and data services to U.S. Space Force units that track objects in orbit and monitor space traffic.

The contract is for a project called Kobayashi Maru, an effort started last year by the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center to replace decades-old space command-and-control software with modern apps.

Palantir, based in Silicon Valley, was selected for the project by the Space Enterprise Consortium, an organization that SMC created in 2017 to attract startups and nontraditional companies to the defense market. Known as SpEC, the consortium announced the contract award on April 14. The value of the contract was not disclosed.

Contracts awarded by the SpEC are not like traditional military procurements. Members of the consortium, currently about 360, receive solicitations for bids, and one or more winners are selected per project. The companies then develop prototypes that, if successful, can transition to production on a short timeline. For the Kobayashi Maru project, other companies are expected to get contracts in addition to Palantir.

Kobayashi Maru, named after a training program in Star Trek’s Starfleet Academy, was created following a years-long failed effort to develop a Joint Space Operations Center Mission System.

The consortium issued a solicitation for the Kobayashi Maru project on Jan. 20. Bidders were given 15 days to respond.

‘The Space C2 (Kobayashi Maru) data-as-a-service platform will provide the United States Space Force a robust and flexible set of data streaming and storage technologies as well as data access patterns for the Space C2 system-of-systems,’ according to a program description sent to consortium members. ‘The vendor shall provide software licenses and professional services (as necessary) to implement this integrated platform and train users.’

The space data services will be tested at the Combined Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California; and at the National Space Defense Center at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. These are the military’s primary units that track space traffic and orbital activities. – Space News

The fact that Palantir was awarded these recent major contracts will probably send a message to the big tech companies in Silicon Valley that think it’s cute to work with adversaries like Communist China: We are watching. It should be noted, this contract is different than traditional government contracts. A consortium of companies are tapped to produce prototypes and Palantir likely won’t be the only company being awarded a contract.

Not everyone sees these recent developments as good:

Some see this as too much concentration of power in the hands of one company:

Many are suspicious of Thiel and his motives:

Evidently, Thiel and a slew of other Silicon Valley bigwigs created doomsday bunkers in New Zealand, which is becoming more Orwellian and authoritarian each day.

Some claim that Thiel and Kushner are allies and are now working on a Patriot Act for health data:

I don’t think things are as black and white as some people would like us to believe. While Peter Thiel may be a horrible man, he has made some astute and important observations about big tech and globalization.

I believe this is something that the Trump administration understands. Just as recently as yesterday’s Coronavirus task force presser, President Trump pointed out the 20-plus-year de-industrializion of America and the sending of our jobs and manufacturing overseas.

There are many things here that are alarming. There is also the need for change in Silicon Valley. I am hoping that President Trump is aware of these major concerns of the American people — that we have the rights of privacy and to have our health information protected.

This story is still developing, please check back for updates. 

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