Surveillance Drone

U.S. tech companies have been working so closely with the Pentagon on Ukraine War operations, they might as well be re-christened “Tech Force.”

The latest intrigue surrounding the downing of a U.S. drone by a Russian jet over Ukraine provides a ready example of how the U.S. government has managed to draw civilian tech companies into producing weapon technologies. 

U.S. drone surveillance in the latest incident was created as part of a program called Project Maven, as reported by watchdog group techinquiry.org.

The project originally involved Google working with the Pentagon on Drone based AI-powered surveillance technology. But in 2018, when news of the working relationship angered many at the company, the effort was spun off to a defense-focused firm called Rebellion Defense.

The firm, founded by former Director of the Defense Digital Service Chris Lynch (likely with the blessing of the Pentagon), received backing from former Google executive Eric Schmidt.

The surveillance capabilities of AI drone technology utilized in Project Maven is extensive, a techinquiry.org detailed in a 16 March post. They also noted that other tech companies like Microsoft have been involved in subcontracts involving the project.

Interestingly, in late 2022, the Pentagon supposedly abandoned a Rebellion Defense contract involving development of AI technology that could significantly extend drone surveillance capabilities and analysis via improving “MQ-9 Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery labeling quality through Rebellion Defense’s SAR colorization methodology.”

That was according to a Vox report.

Some of the controversy surrounding Rebellion has been its supposed focus on developing lethal AI-automated weapons technology that might be sold or offered to other countries.

According to the Vox reporting in December:

“At worst, Rebellion’s ambition to automate decision-making could lead to algorithms with lethal power. Think Skynet in the Terminator films.”

In the case of U.S. drone use over Ukraine, it appears Rebellion Defense technology might have been used in the MQ-9 Reaper drone brought down last week.

As techinquiry.org put it in a post titled “What We Know About Project Maven, Reapers, and Ukraine”:

“Given the NGA’s disclosure last week that Project Maven was deployed in Ukraine by a ‘military partner,’ and the existence of public contract notices detailing Project Maven’s integration into the Synthetic Aperture Radar of MQ-9 Reapers, it is worth determining whether Project Maven inadvertently contributed to one of the most significant military escalations of our time.”

By escalation, techinquiry.org was referring to the U.S. direct involvement in using drone technology vis a vis the Russia Ukraine conflict. 

Intermediaries Often Used to Distance Tech Giants From Their Military Contracting

To give an idea of how tech companies and the U.S. government obscure their working relationships, consider this passage from a detailed late 2021 techinquiry.org report, Easy As PAI:

Another complicating factor is that companies often sell their products to governments through intermediaries:

• Google famously subcontracted on the Pentagon’s project to apply AI to triage Wide Area Motion Imagery drone surveillance (Project Maven) through ECS Federal, LLC, which was acquired by (publicly traded) staffing company ASGN Incorporated in 2018.

• ServiceNow, Inc., an American cloud computing company which acquired Canadian AI provider (and human rights branded) Element AI in November of 2020, resells its products to the U.S. government through Integrated Solutions Management, which was acquired by ECS Federal in December 2020.

• Amazon Web Services, Inc. has sold more than $57M of its cloud computing to U.S. Customs and Border Protection through Four Points Technology, L.L.C and more than $44M to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services through JHC Technology, Inc., which was acquired by Effectual, Inc. in January 2020.

It should be clear that major U.S. tech companies, one way or another, despite their oft-declared pledges regarding “ethics,” have been weaponizing their advances in AI and other technologies to supply the Pentagon and U.S. government.

For related reading, see “AI WILL DECIDE ITS OWN KILL TARGETS” (14 Mar 2023) and “AI BEING TRAINED TO FIGHT FOR WOKEISM AND WAR”(13 Dec 2022).

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