The first decade of the 21st century saw rising profits and the rise of big tech companies in the United States. While companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter have become part of our daily lives, these same companies have been providing tools to the U.S. military and government to help fuel their war on so-called terrorism.
September 11 and the beginning
As with the wars that preceded it, the war on terror left a huge and unprecedented demand for technology to support the construction of surveillance systems, deadly drones, and virtual border walls.
This helped create the data economy and the technology industry as we know it. During the same time period of the war on terror, tech startups turned into trillion-dollar big tech companies.
During the war on terror, big tech companies made billions of dollars through contracts with the U.S. military and other government agencies, primarily with agencies central to the war on terror, and became among the most profitable companies in the world.
Since 2001, demand from U.S. military and intelligence agencies for cloud computing and GPS software has soared, as the defense industry has grown increasingly digital.
Google sold its AI model to the Department of Defense to make drone strikes more deadly (Shutterstock)
As a result, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and other big tech companies have made billions of dollars by offering services such as critical cloud computing software for storing and analyzing data, GPS to track cross-border movement, and algorithms to improve facial recognition technology to target people around the world.
From Google's sale of its AI model to the Department of Defense to make drone strikes more deadly, to Amazon's sale of cloud services to run the NSA's surveillance software, the list goes on and on, as big tech companies have been complicit in this never-ending war.
These companies have benefited greatly from the 20-year war on terror, increasingly seeking federal and subcontracts with the U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies after Sept. 11.
Frightening doubling of profits
The number of contracts between the federal government and big tech companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Twitter has doubled since 2004.
From 2007 to 2019, DHS contracts with Silicon Valley giants increased 50-fold.
Microsoft secured $42 billion in contracts with the Pentagon, $267 million from the Department of Homeland Security (Reuters)
For example, Amazon and Microsoft benefited significantly from this increase between 2015 and 2019, with Amazon seeing a 400 percent increase in all federal contracts, while Microsoft enjoyed an 800 percent increase.
Microsoft secured $42 billion in contracts with the Pentagon, $267 million from the Department of Homeland Security, and about $108 million from the Department of Justice (mostly with the FBI).
Amazon benefited about $77 billion from contracts with the Pentagon, $28 million from Department of Homeland Security contracts, and about $<> million from the Department of Justice.
Google received $16 million from the Pentagon, $4 million from the Department of Homeland Security and about $<> million from the Justice Department.
Facebook received about $167,363 from the Pentagon and $<>,<> from the Department of Homeland Security.
Although contracts seem small, their impact is significant. Just a month after Trump issued the third version of the Muslim ban in September 2017, Facebook sold $350,<> worth of ads to promote the federally funded extremist news outlet Extremism Watch.
Given that Facebook is the third most visited site in the world, with more than 2.99 billion monthly active users and 2.04 billion daily active users, the $350,<> in ads has the potential to affect billions of people.
Facebook is the third most visited website in the world, with more than 2.99 billion monthly active users (Getty Images)
Since 2004, five government agencies have spent at least $44.7 billion on services from the five tech companies mentioned above.
The Department of Defense had the largest share of spending ($43.8 billion), followed by the Department of Homeland Security ($348 million), the State Department (258 million), the General Services Administration (244 million), and the Department of Justice.
Four of the top five agencies spending on big tech contracts have been central to foreign policy or established as a direct result of the war on terror.
Given that there is so much profit to be made from U.S. government contracts, these tech companies are aligning their priorities with those of the United States, whether it's national security or the war on terror.
Silicon Valley owes its existence to efforts dating back to World War II and the Cold War, benefiting from military spending and protection from competition in the form of grants, early contracts, and government-backed monopolies.
As a result, the technologies that dominate life today – from networked devices to semiconductors that power computations – are a direct result of U.S. policy.
Neutrality is no longer a priority
Today, the proliferation of surveillance technologies such as facial recognition surveillance or companies like Palantir are seen as examples of this influence in the post-September 11 era.
These companies provide an example of the lack of technology neutrality, as it is a key element in building a post-September 11 order.
Although big tech companies always stick to neutrality, the facts show that this is not true, as they build tools with very specific applications. From 2004 to today, big tech companies have seen a significant rise in federal demand for their services, particularly from the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.
Besides increasing their contracts with the federal government, big tech companies have also been able to exclude traditional military contractors — such as Raytheon and Northop Grumman — who have seen their contracts stabilize or decline since 2010.
Of the Big Five tech companies, Microsoft has the closest relationship with the federal government: The company saw a jump in defense contracts during the Trump administration, contracts increased nearly 6-fold in just two years from 2016 to 2018, and more than 81 percent of all government contracts the company has since 2011 with central agencies were in the war on terror.
Google signed more contracts with the Defense Department than Amazon and Microsoft from 2004 to 2015, mostly for cloud computing services; 77 percent of all government contracts for the company since 2005 were with agencies central to the war on terror.
During the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019, the Pentagon nearly doubled its contracts with these tech companies, dwarfing growth in contracts for the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Department of State.
Relations between Microsoft and the Department of Homeland Security during the first two years of the Trump administration skyrocketed as demand for more cloud computing infrastructure to support more deportations and family separations grew.
Amazon has secured $77 billion in contracts with the Pentagon, $28 million with the Department of Homeland Security and $<> million with the Justice Department (Reuters)
In 2020, Microsoft won a $230 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security, and sought another $3.4 billion cloud computing contract announced by the department as part of the Pentagon's $10 billion cloud computing contract.
Moreover, the relationship between big tech companies and government agencies continues, and there are hundreds of people who have moved between jobs in the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice, as well as the FBI and the National Security Agency.
Each of these government agencies has played a key role in carrying out the war on terror, or has dealt with privacy, national security, intelligence, military and government technological development issues.
In addition, key figures in the war on terror agencies now have key positions in technology companies. These include Kelly Andrews, a senior lobbyist at Microsoft who has worked at the Department of Homeland Security for years, Jana Kay, Amazon's cloud security strategist since 2018 who has served in the Department of Defense for more than a decade, Steve Pandelides, who worked for the FBI and now manages security at Amazon Web Services, and Joseph Rozik, who was instrumental in creating the Department of Homeland Security and is now executive director of homeland security and counterterrorism. Microsoft.
With such a close, growing relationship between these agencies and these companies, which are harvesting an increasing number of contracts, it would not be surprising that counterterrorism priorities then became a priority for big tech companies, as they seek to prioritize the needs of these agencies over the needs of their users.
Previous data is from Tech Inquiry, which allows users to explore U.S. government contracts, but includes contracts whose information is publicly available, so the numbers are very likely to be much higher.
In conclusion, it can be said that while arms manufacturers have received a lot of attention as exploiters of the war on terror, technology companies also have a big role, because the tools for fighting the war are now different, focusing on the digital battlefield based on metadata, drones and artificial intelligence.