long has had ties to military, intelligence agencies." That's the title of a story in today's
Mercury News (CA), which reports that some of Silicon Valley's leading Internet companies have been rocked by disclosures about their involvement with the secret
government intelligence program called PRISM.
PRISM is a clandestine national security electronic surveillance program that has been operated by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) since 2007. But its tie-in with Silicon Valley hardly represents the first instance of U.S. military and intelligence officials turning to the tech industry for help.
The Mercury News story includes a revealing quote from longtime Silicon Valley Watcher Lenny Siegel, who now runs the nonprofit Pacific Studies Center in Mountain View. " The industry has always tried to make it seem like it was all venture capitalists and free thinkers. And it does include those people ," Siegel said. "But there's no question that the government, particularly the military, was a driving force in the development of the computer technology that we use today."
The newspaper article makes this further point: "Experts say the government has had good reason to cultivate ties with Silicon Valley companies.... The valley has what U.S. military and intelligence agencies want: cutting-edge technology and online services--from social networks to Web-based email and video chat rooms--that people all over the world use to communicate and share information."
Brandon Bailey of the Mercury News says Silicon Valley's ties to the government are decades old.
"Back in the 1980s, the valley's biggest employer was Sunnyvale's Lockheed Missiles and Space, which developed weapons and spy satellites for the Defense Department. The Internet itself started as a defense research project. And military contracts helped support the famed SRI think tank in Menlo Park, where researchers have developed and in some cases spun off pioneering technology used in robotics, mapping and the voice-recognition software that powers Apple's (AAPL) Siri personal assistant."
Not surprisingly, as the Mercury News also points out today, the CIA has its own venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel, to help finance promising tech startups. "Software-makers such as Palo Alto's Palantir Technologies sell sophisticated programs that law enforcement and intelligence agencies use to analyze vast amounts of data. Mainline companies such as Cisco Systems (CSCO), Oracle (ORCL) and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) have multimillion-dollar contracts to supply computer hardware and tech services to the military and other government offices."
According to the Mercury News, tech companies have also collaborated voluntarily with U.S. authorities in areas such as computer security. In recent years, Intel's (INTC) McAfee unit and other security firms have shared information and advised government officials about computer viruses and other malicious Internet attacks.
"The government, in turn, has provided access to some of its knowledge on the subject, the Mercury News reports in conclusion: "A few years ago, according to Bloomberg News, U.S. authorities gave Google co-founder Sergey Brin a top-secret briefing on a Chinese army unit that was linked to an attack on Google's network."