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Palantir, the War On Terror's Secret Weapon 276

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-blame-the-elves dept.
hessian tips a story in BusinessWeek about Palantir, a system designed to aggregate disparate data points gathered by intelligence agencies and weave them into a more useful narrative. The article summarizes it thus: "Depending where you fall on the spectrum between civil liberties absolutism and homeland security lockdown, Palantir’s technology is either creepy or heroic." "The day Fikri drives to Orlando, he gets a speeding ticket, which triggers an alert in the CIA's Palantir system. An analyst types Fikri's name into a search box and up pops a wealth of information pulled from every database at the government's disposal. There's fingerprint and DNA evidence for Fikri gathered by a CIA operative in Cairo; video of him going to an ATM in Miami; shots of his rental truck's license plate at a tollbooth; phone records; and a map pinpointing his movements across the globe. All this information is then displayed on a clearly designed graphical interface that looks like something Tom Cruise would use in a Mission: Impossible movie."
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Palantir, the War On Terror's Secret Weapon

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  • Hello (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Titan1080 (1328519) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:02PM (#38175714)
    Big Brother.
  • The Intersect (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:03PM (#38175728)

    Soon: The contents of Palantir are sent in a coded email to a wage-slave computer tech at a large big box electronics store. Hijinks ensue.

  • Re:Hello (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:05PM (#38175740)

    Big Brother.

    1984... is freaking real

  • Deeply creepy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jawnn (445279) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:11PM (#38175770)
    ...and the cries of an outraged populace are stunning in their absence. Sad days, for sure.
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:14PM (#38175792) Homepage Journal

    can't wait to see the all seeing eye, can only be around the corner.

    Who would have thought that the US Government was Sauron? The same monster which consumes over four trillion dollars of our work certainly is a monster of epic proportion. No wonder that they now even feel the need to take mythic names for what they do.

    Who needs Skynet when we have all sorts of fantasy names to assign the latest abuse of our rights by our government. The US defeated (or outlasted) communism of the Soviet Union for what, a Soviet Union style government masquerading as a Republic. From control exerted over industry to health care its nearly complete, we even get the same choice in our elections, which is to say none. Vote for whomever the government has approved from these two sides of the same coin.

    Oh, ignore the guy behind the curtain; in your bedroom.

    Occupy Wall Street was too many miles North of where it should been, and targeting the wrong foe. Just as the Tea Party figured out and OWS was only hinting at, the real problem in the US isn't the rich and corporations but the politicians who use their position to empower the rich and corporations all the while securing themselves their position

  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:20PM (#38175838)

    ...to me. Collate their combined services and presence on the web, and you'll know "everything about anyone".

    Google is not empowered to use force against the populace, nor to maintain order, nor to enact law. The Government is. There is a subtle difference.

  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:23PM (#38175854)

    I think the summary is wrong in one aspect.

    The article summarizes it thus: "Depending where you fall on the spectrum between civil liberties absolutism and homeland security lockdown, Palantirâ(TM)s technology is either creepy or heroic."

    Fuck "homeland security lockdown". Think more about who has access to that information and whether you trust THEM with this kind of information about your daughter.

    Do you believe that there are more terrorists in the USofA than there are perverts who would have access to that system?

  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:25PM (#38175866)

    Actually, now that I think about it, it is very appropriate. IIRC, the system was created for aggregating information on people who are not American Citizens, and coded to ignore and discard all data it received on American Citizens, but management removed that functionality because there was no oversight over them. Although created to be used by Good as of old a Palantir might have been used by the Lords of Gondor to track the affairs of neighboring lands, the system was taken and used for evil--indeed, one could even say that the prospect of visions within it corrupted the minds of those who watched, as with Denathor.

  • 451 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cornwallis (1188489) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:35PM (#38175906)

    When I first read Fahrenheit 451 decades ago what struck me most was when the authorities zeroed in on some hapless fall-guy who took the hit for Guy Montague. All that mattered to the public watching the video was that *someone* took the fall.

    It did not matter if a crime took place. It did not matter if the real perp got caught. The public need for resolution was achieved at the expense of some/anyone. In my current work with databases I see errors that get accepted as fact even if I explain why the error occurs. Similar to my dear departed grandmother telling me "I saw it on TV so it must be true". Good grief, why is everyone so willing to hand-off their self-actualization/responsibility to some government flunkies?

    Right about the same time my parents gave me 1984 to read and I've been watching us ride that slippery slope. So sad and so unnecessary except it DOES keep the powers-that-be in power!

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:43PM (#38175942) Homepage Journal

    More like "Google on steroids", with access to non public data as well as public.

  • Re:Hello (Score:5, Insightful)

    by u38cg (607297) <calum@callingthetune.co.uk> on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:47PM (#38175960) Homepage
    This quote, from the very end, is interesting:

    Thiel...says civil liberties advocates should welcome Palantir. âoeWe cannot afford to have another 9/11 event in the U.S. or anything bigger than that,â he says. âoeThat day opened the doors to all sorts of crazy abuses and draconian policies.â

    There is something in that, I think. You can argue all you like about rights and what makes just law, but the fact is such events tend to drive the national mood squarely towards security over civil liberty.

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:47PM (#38175964) Journal

    Is Echelon, which was operated by the "five eyes" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AUSCANNZUKUS) still in operation? Is Palantir tied into it? Presumably that would give it a lot more data to work with.

    Anyway, I'd be much more concerned with making sure the data matched with the right person. For example, remember how many spellings there were for Colonel Qaddafi, and he presumably wasn't trying to mask his identity! (At the U.N.: "I'm sorry Mr. Qaddafi but we don't have you down as speaking to the general assembly now, we have someone by the name of Khaddafi".)

    I wonder if the recently announced initiative to collect the biometrics data for EVERY living Afghani (which will then be given to the U.S.) was "encouraged" by the U.S. for this reason. I doubt that the Indian effort to do the same for 1.2 BILLION(!) Indians had anything to do with the U.S. (but you never know, both countries ARE U.S. allies). I guess we'll know if other U.S. "allies" in the middle east (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq?) follow suit. THEN these systems could begin to really track down terrorists (who by and large come from that part of the world).

  • by artor3 (1344997) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @03:56PM (#38175994)

    Do you believe that there are more terrorists in the USofA than there are perverts who would have access to that system?

    Yes. Yes, I do. The whole "pervert around every corner just waiting to rape YOUR DAUGHTER!" argument is every bit as exploitative and dishonest as terrorism scare-mongering.

  • by fa2k (881632) <pmbjornstad&gmail,com> on Saturday November 26, 2011 @04:12PM (#38176052)
    Since the CIA have all this info, they should be allowed to data mine it as much as they please. They get most of this info from people using credit cards (at least in the example). It's entirely optional to use credit cards, and people should be more careful about using them if they think it's creepy that the government can put together the info they are handing over. Alternatively, I think there would be large demand for a financial service that was easier to use than cash, but didn't hand over all the transactions to the CIA. Either way the problem, and the solution, are not related to Palantir.
  • Re:Hello (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @04:22PM (#38176098)

    You can argue all you like about rights and what makes just law, but the fact is such events tend to drive the national mood squarely towards security over civil liberty.

    While true, I don't think appeasement is the right way to handle the problem. For one thing, no matter the sales hype, there is no way that this system can guarantee there won't be any more major attacks (hell, their own promotional example relies on the bad guy being stupid enough to get a speeding ticket, as if a dedicated terrorist won't be doing everything he can be appear to be law abiding).

    So, we install Big Brother, a major attack still eventually gets through and now the baseline for new crazy draconian abuses is just that much higher to start with. But in the mean-time before that all goes down, our entire society suffers the knock-on effects of living in a surveillance state.

  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday November 26, 2011 @04:24PM (#38176106)

    Yes. Yes, I do.

    Strange, because the statistics show 88,097 cases of forcible rape reporting in 2009 in the USofA.
    http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/data/table_02.html [fbi.gov]

    Now, how many deaths by terrorists in the USofA in 2009?
    Zero.

    88,097 vs 0.
    And yet you believe that the system will be good enough to keep out the perverts who would abuse it.

  • by artor3 (1344997) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @04:27PM (#38176128)

    How many of those forcible rapes were by intelligence agents who used their work tools as part of the rape, over the past ten years?

    Now how many deaths by terrorists in the same time period?

  • Were is the line (Score:3, Insightful)

    by deodiaus2 (980169) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @04:29PM (#38176134)
    Unfortunately, there is very little enforcement about the line between terrorists and dissidents. Suppose that the African Civil Rights program were in motion right now, instead of during the 1960's. How many of the activities that happened then would be considered fighting for freedom vs fighting against the US. Or suppose that the South were trying to succeed from the Union. Would that be considered treason, or fighting for one's own liberty?
    Fundamentally, a government which has enormous power over the constituents is considered right no matter what the fundamental issues are at hand. People are very persuaded and easily motivated to tow the party line, especially if they have somewhat of a stake in the outcome.
    Consider the bail out of the US banks in 2008. Something like 70% of the people did not support the bailout, yet it went through. Suppose that citizens had taken up arms to influence this decision. How many of those people would have been successful in stopping their future tax revenues from ending up in the hands of rich and elite gamblers who decided to speculate in MBSs? With this level of surveillance, it would be easy to round up and send off to detention camps those who publicly opposed OUR government. The rest would fall into line. We laugh at the Soviets, but we have the best form of government that money can buy.
  • by migla (1099771) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @04:34PM (#38176154)

    Do you believe that there are more terrorists in the USofA than there are perverts who would have access to that system?

    Yes. Yes, I do. The whole "pervert around every corner just waiting to rape YOUR DAUGHTER!" argument is every bit as exploitative and dishonest as terrorism scare-mongering.

    I understood the point differently:
    The potential of misuse by idiot government thugs/bureaucrats and thereby trouble for people is greater than the terrorist threat.

    Maybe if this is just a CIA thing, where they all are real smart professionals, it wouldn't be a widespread problem (unless ones views differ from those of the CIA).

    But in general, a huge problem about this new big brother society of ours is that the people at the monitors are security guards and police officers. Have you seen those? I wouldn't let those be in charge of filming everybody all the time. There's too many stupid jerks there who'd circulate stuff they find amusing.

  • Nice try. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday November 26, 2011 @04:53PM (#38176206)

    How many of those forcible rapes were by intelligence agents who used their work tools as part of the rape, over the past ten years?

    So, from 11-26-2001 until 11-26-2011 (10 years) you want me to provide you with statistics for forcible rape?

    Why can't you provide them? After all, that is your new claim, isn't it?

    Now how many deaths by terrorists in the same time period?

    Again, from 11-26-2001 through 11-26-2011 (10 years) ....

    Oh, I see what you were trying to do. You were trying to get the WTC attacks included to make the numbers look more favourable to your new claim.

    Except you didn't realize that they had happened more than 10 years ago.

    Anyway, I've already supported my position with the statistics. If you want to change your position to include the WTC attacks then you're going to have to do your own research on rape statistics for whatever time frame you finally settle upon.

    Remember, statistics first. Then opinions.
    You run into problems when you get that backwards.

  • Re:Hello (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hedwards (940851) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:11PM (#38176280)

    That was my thought, regardless of where you are on the spectrum it's creepy. Where you are on the spectrum dictates whether or not you realize it to be so.

    There's absolutely no way that aggregating huge amounts of information about people without warrants and then trolling through it is anything other than creepy.

  • Re:Hello (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EdIII (1114411) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:19PM (#38176324)

    What's creepy and deeply ironic is the name.

    The Palantir were created by good to accomplish communication and ostensibly protection similar to satellite photography. However, they were appropriated by evil and used to lie, distort the truth, and fill the world with oppression.

    Privacy advocates (such as myself) are rightly worried about such technology for exactly the reason their name implies.

    That's creepy.

  • Re:Hello (Score:4, Insightful)

    by causality (777677) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @05:34PM (#38176384)

    I wouldn't be so sure about that. If you read the article, it starts out with the story of a suspicious character by the name of Mike Fikri. Fikri has bought a one-way ticket from Egypt to Florida, he's making bank withdrawals from Russia, talking to suspicious people in Syria, scoping out crowded places at Disneyworld. The scenario lays out something a lot like the lead up to 9/11: lots of individual actions that alone mean nothing, but together make a huge red flag and make this guy a Person of Interest. And Palantir can allow the government to spot this guy before he executes his plot. And you start thinking, wow, if this technology really spotted this guy, maybe it's worth thinking seriously about it.

    All of that is really easier than deciding not to use economic warfare to push other nations around? It's easier than not using our intelligence agencies to overthrow elected governments and replace them with dictators who play ball with us?

    Or did you think they hate us for our great freedoms? In that case they should like us by now and admire the path we're on.

    Basically, the War on Terror proponents want to engage you in a debate that goes like this: "Aren't you willing to give up just a little liberty for a lot of security?" It's a reasonable proposition for anyone but a hardcore libertarian

    So not being a coward makes one a hardcore libertarian? Or being observant enough to recognize the problems with the government's brand of "security" and the way it's always sold in terms of fear requires a particular political philosophy?

    See this is the problem with politics. Everyone wants to be a member of some team and then it's a "go team go!" mentality instead of starting with the facts, a good understanding of history, and proceeding from there. I'm happy to dismantle every program like this and then take my chances of dying in a terrorist attack. I'm more likely to get struck by lightning but I'll chance that too, even without a portable Faraday cage.

  • Re:Hello (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday November 26, 2011 @06:11PM (#38176636) Homepage Journal

    Creepy, definitely creepy.

    a system designed to aggregate disparate data points gathered by intelligence agencies and weave them into a more useful narrative

    A "more useful narrative".

    The use of that term of art sends shivers up my spine. I'm not comfortable with our intelligence agencies "weaving" "narratives".

    Looking back at the second half of the past century, I see a hell of a lot of human suffering that came from intelligence agencies "weaving narratives".

  • Re:Hello (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ultranova (717540) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @07:17PM (#38177118)

    palantir drives people mad and doesn't tell exactly what's going to happen anyhow!

    It's not the Palantir that drives them mad, it's Sauron using it to feed them misinformation that makes them do really stupid things, drawing the Good Guy's forces away from dealing with the actual attack. Which, I might add, shows a potential problem with such systems: all you have to do is have your underlings act suspiciously, so the system starts throwing alarms, and then have them pass by the same town. You don't even need to actually do anything, just act suspiciously and let paranoia do the rest.

  • Re:Hello (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anthony Mouse (1927662) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @07:28PM (#38177190)

    Right now, the TSA is sitting on what I have been told is plenty of evidence that they have stopped a significant number of incidents.

    Even if true, that doesn't actually tell you anything. The question is whether the data mining efforts were required to stop them or if they would have been caught using more traditional methods.

    As for the "our detection methods are secret so the bad guys can't counter them" argument, that isn't consistent with a democracy. The public has to be informed before they can make a decision. The people making these claims have perverse incentives: They might genuinely be doing something good, they might just be exaggerating in order to keep their jobs or get more funding. The only way you can tell is if you actually evaluate what they're doing.

    If you want to argue that preventing terrorism is more important than having democracy and therefore we should in effect give these people unaccountable autonomy to protect us, I feel like most reasonable people are not going to agree to that. Or if they do we're in trouble. There are some things more important than catching bad guys.

  • Re:Hello (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rust627 (1072296) on Saturday November 26, 2011 @07:31PM (#38177224)

    problem is, we are talking governments here.
    if 10 years of government eavesdropping and data matching does not produce any credible result in an anti terror area, any other department that can will have its fingers in the data somewhere.
    and of course Government departments are not justified by results, Government departments are justified by budgets, so if it is spending all of its budget, then it is working . If at that point it is not achieving results this is only because either it does not have a big enough budget or it is not gathering enough data...
    Once a government department or division is started it is incredibly hard to stop, too many people get caught up in work and they will fight to maintain their jobs irrelevant of how immoral or useless their positions are.

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