Is the Web to Blame for Silicon Valley’s Close Ties to U.S. Intelligence Agencies?

By Jennifer Moire 

Whistleblower Edward Snowden appears to be following in the footsteps of Julian Assange now that the U.S. government officially charged the contractor with leaking classified information about secret surveillance programs.

Over the weekend, Snowden left Hong Kong to reportedly seek asylum in Ecuador, while Assange just marked his one year anniversary at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

Update:  Edward Snowden reportedly left Hong Kong for Moscow late Sunday, but the plane that was supposed to carry the whistleblower out of Russia was empty.  The U.S. is trying to get the Russian authorities to turn Snowden over.  Moscow is allegedly only a transit point and it is currently unknown where Snowden might be headed.

What does this have to do with Silicon Valley? Snowden’s leak revealed the existence of PRISM, the government program that enables the National Security Agency to request customer data from nearly every big player in Silicon Valley, from Facebook to Apple.

While initial reports about PRISM suggested that the companies involved operate at arm’s length from U.S. agencies, The New York Times reveals that U.S. tech firms may be closer to the intelligence community than once thought.

Perhaps too close for comfort.

Both entities share one thing in common:  Staking their future in the burgeoning business of  “data analytics,” which has grown exponentially thanks to the web.

Need proof? When Facebook‘s Chief Security Officer Max Klein left in 2010 he didn’t land at another Silicon Valley company but went to work at the NSA, the article reveals.The story also sheds light on just how involved, even proactive, tech firms are in responding to the government–going as far as to build in-house teams to understand how they can more fully comply with demands from the intelligence community.

The Times discloses Skype‘s Project Chess, a secret in-house program that’s exploring how calls can be made more easily available to law enforcement.

Snowden’s leaks not only revealed the company’s inclusion in PRISM, they also revealed that Skype figured out how to cooperate with law enforcement before its purchase by Microsoft, despite a denial by executives last year that changes were made at the behest of Microsoft.

The article points out what is well known in intelligence circles: That the U.S. government goes so far as to recruit potential employees at hacker conventions; and the Central Intelligence Agency runs the venture capital fund, In-Q-Tel, which identifies emerging technologies that would benefit the government.

Readers, are you comfortable with the increasingly close ties between Silicon Valley and U.S. intelligence agencies or is the relationship a part of the natural evolution of the web?

Image by Maksim Kabakou.