If there’s one thing that distinguishes Ron Paul from the rest of the GOP field, it’s his principled stand against American empire and his ardent defense of individual liberties. Paul’s opposition to wars, bloated defense budgets and government spying on US citizens has made him a hero among some young conservatives. His seemingly rock-solid principles and radicalism have even drawn some on the left; unlike even left-wing Democrats, Paul has said he wants to abolish both the CIA and the FBI to protect individual “liberty.”
So it should come as a shock and disappointment to his followers that Ron Paul’s single largest donor—his Sheldon Adelson, as it were—founded a controversial defense contractor, Palantir Technologies. The company profits from government espionage work for the CIA, the FBI and other agencies, and last year it was caught organizing an illegal spy ring targeting opponents of the US Chamber of Commerce, including journalists, progressive activists and union leaders. (Palantir takes its name from the mystical seeing stones used by characters in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to spy on one another.)
According to recently filed FEC disclosure documents, Ron Paul’s Super PAC, Endorse Liberty, has received nearly all of its money from a single source, billionaire Peter Thiel. So far, Thiel has contributed $2.6 million to the Super PAC, providing 76 percent of the its total intake.
Thiel, a self-described libertarian and opponent of democracy who made his fortune as the founder of PayPal, launched Palantir in 2004 to profit from what the Wall Street Journal described as “the government spy-services marketplace.” The CIA’s venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, was brought in to back up Thiel as one of Palantir’s first outside investors. Today, Palantir’s valuation is reported to be in the billions.
A recent BusinessWeek profile explained how Palantir makes its money—and why Ron Paul’s followers should be bothered:
Depending where you fall on the spectrum between civil liberties absolutism and homeland security lockdown, Palantir’s technology is either creepy or heroic. Judging by the company’s growth, opinion in Washington and elsewhere has veered toward the latter. Palantir has built a customer list that includes the U.S. Defense Dept., CIA, FBI, Army, Marines, Air Force, the police departments of New York and Los Angeles, and a growing number of financial institutions trying to detect bank fraud. These deals have turned the company into one of the quietest success stories in Silicon Valley—it’s on track to hit $250 million in sales this year—and a candidate for an initial public offering. Palantir has been used to find suspects in a case involving the murder of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent, and to uncover bombing networks in Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. “It’s like plugging into the Matrix,” says a Special Forces member stationed in Afghanistan who requested anonymity out of security concerns. “The first time I saw it, I was like, ‘Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap.’ ”
It gets worse: the technologies and know-how acquired over years of spying on suspected foreign terrorists and threats were turned against US citizens. In what became known last year as “Chamber-gate,” Palantir was outed by Anonymous as the lead outfit in a private espionage consortium, with security technology companies HBGary and Berico; the groups spent months “creating electronic dossiers on political opponents of the Chamber through illicit means.”