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Report: Big Tech profited from war on terror

September 10, 2021

A report by three US activist groups claims Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter made billions from US government contracts since 2004.

A projection of 0s and 1s onto the face of a woman
US military and intelligence agencies dramatically increased demand for cloud computing and GPS software since 2001Image: Reuters

Tech giants like Amazon, Google and Microsoft have made vast profits from US government contracts since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington DC, according to a new report by three US activists groups.

The report's release was timed to coincide with Saturday's 20th anniversary of the atrocities, which killed nearly 3,000 people and triggered the US-led war on terror.

Why Big Tech is under fire around the world

What does the report say?

The "Big Tech Sells War" report documents a massive increase in government contracts with Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter since 2004 — three years after the war or terror began.

The document, authored by the Action Center on Race and the Economy and social justice groups LittleSis and MPower Change, detailed how the growth in military and government contracts came at the same time as the tech giants' web platforms became ubiquitous.

The report's authors said the biggest contracts came from the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.

Among all the US agencies, at least $44.5 billion (€37.6 billion) in contracts were awarded to Big Techfirms.

According to the report, 86% of Amazon's government contracts and 77% of Google's were central to the war on terror.

In 2019, two tech giants pulled ahead of the others, with Amazon signing nearly five times and Microsoft signing eight times as many federal contracts and subcontracts compared to 2015.

The report pulled its data from Tech Inquiry, an online tool that allows users to explore US government contracts.

Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple's apps on a smartphone
The US Department of Defense alone spent $43.8 billion on Big Tech contracts since 2004, according to the reportImage: Hans Lucas/Imago Images

Easy road from govt to Big Tech

The activist groups also highlighted a "revolving door" between government agencies and tech giants, detailing how hundreds of government employees have taken positions with the same US multinationals that have received huge contracts.

Among them were former State Department employee Jared Cohen who later founded Google's Jigsaw, a technology incubator that aims to explore "threats to open societies." One of Jigsaw's first projects was to develop counterterrorism tools for social media platforms.

Another example was Steve Pandelides, who worked for the FBI for over 20 years and is now director of security at Amazon Web Services.

The activist groups have called for tighter rules to regulate the revolving door between the government and Silicon Valley.

Is the war on terror a lost cause?

What changed during the war on terror?

Al-Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001, triggered new security laws domestically, and an extended military campaign to root out terrorism worldwide.

The campaign became known as the US-led war on terror and sparked the invasion of Afghanistan — the hideout of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — and later, Iraq, even though Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was not linked to the 9/11 attacks.

Nearly 20 years of post-9/11 wars have cost Washington more than $8 trillion and caused about 900,000 deaths, according to estimates by the Costs of War project at Brown University.

9/11 ushered in an era of increased surveillance, where counterterrorism became the justification for new security laws and monitoring by governments —  ranging from mass data collection to the growing use of artificial intelligence tools.

Muslims, in particular, have been targeted and continue to face discrimination, suspicion and human rights breaches as a result of the heightened surveillance.

mm/dj (AFP, Reuters)