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Thursday, 03 March 2016 12:11

Google-US government nexus widens with Schmidt sinecure Featured

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The cosy nexus between Google and the US government has been underlined yet again with the appointment of Eric Schmidt, a former chief executive of Google and now chairman of Google's parent Alphabet, to a government sinecure.

Overnight, Schmidt was appointed as the chairman of the US Defence Innovation Advisory Board, according to an announcement from the Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook.

The board's brief is to "provide department leaders independent advice on innovative and adaptive means to address future organisational and cultural challenges... including the use of technology alternatives, streamlined project management processes and approaches – all with the goal of identifying quick solutions to DoD problems".

The creation of the board comes at the same time as the Pentagon announced a program titled Hack the Pentagon to invite hacking experts to test the security of its web pages and networks. Money and recognition is on offer for those who pass through the vetting process and participate. No doubt, Google will play some kind of role in this too.

According to a story that ran in the Wall Street Journal last year, Google had, in the six years prior to March 2015, met senior White House officials on 230 occasions, which means an average of one meeting a week. That's an extraordinary level of access for a commercial company.

Seven former Google officials are employed in federal policy or law enforcement areas that are of commercial interest to Google, according to Scott Cleland who writes the Precursor Blog. They are:

Megan Smith has been chief technology officer and assistant to President Barack Obama since September 2014. She was employed as a senior Google executive from 2003-2014.

Alexander Macgillvray, the deputy US chief technology officer for intellectual property and privacy since September 2014, was Google’s deputy general counsel for intellectual property from 2003-2009.

Mikey Dickerson, deputy US chief information officer and administrator of the US digital service since August 2014, served as a Google senior engineer from 2006-2013.

Michelle Lee, head of the US Patent and Trademark Office since November 2012, was Google’s deputy general counsel and head of patents and patent strategy from 2003-2012.

Renata Hesse, deputy assistant attorney general for criminal and civil operations of the antitrust division of the US Department of Justice since May 2012, was an outside counsel to Google during the Department of Justice's opposition to the proposed Google-Yahoo advertising agreement.

David Gelfand, deputy assistant attorney general for litigation of the anti-trust division of the US Department of Justice since August 2012, represented Google in the Federal Trade Commission’s 2010 antitrust review of the Google-Admob transaction. He may have also served, in the same capacity, as the Department of Justice's anti-trust litigation liaison to the European Commission’s Directorate of Competition.

Joshua Wright, one of five US Federal Trade Commission Commissioners since January 2013, handled anti-trust-related academic consulting work for Google. He pulled out of all Google matters before the FTC until January last year.

Cleland has several more details about the extraordinary privilege that Google enjoys within the US government and his post is well worth a read. A follow-up article is also worth poring over.

The pollination happens the other way too. Jared Cohen, who co-authored a book with Schmidt, is a former US State Department executive, and is now the head of Google Ideas. In 2009, Cohen and Schmidt co-wrote a policy piece for the Council on Foreign Relations’ journal Foreign Affairs, praising the reformative potential of Silicon Valley technologies as an instrument of US foreign policy.

If this is all coincidence, then it is indeed remarkable. Somehow, I think there is more design than accident involved.

Photo shows Schmidt meeting US defence secretary Ash Carter on Wednesday and is courtesy the US Department of Defence.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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