Politics USA

When Sergey Brin was developing what became the Google search engine at Stanford in the nineties, he would rollerblade into a room at the University, brief two (non-university) individuals on the progress of his research, answer their questions, listen to their suggestions and rollerblade back to wherever he came from.

Those two people – whom we name below – were tied to government intelligence agencies fostering research on massive digital data collection and information systems.

To quote from the astonishing research and subsequent expose by Nafeez Ahmed that is the basis for this article, “Google…had been enabled with a significant amount of seed funding and oversight from the Pentagon: namely the CIA, the NSA and DARPA.”https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e#.mn5rgsnh1

If you are not familiar with DARPA, the acronym stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and if there is a Doctor Strangelove of the Military Industrial Complex, DARPA gets the part.

But I am getting way ahead of myself.

THE HIGHLANDS FORUM: The unseen hand of government intelligence

 Our story starts in 1994, when Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, William Perry founded an entity inside the Department of Defense (DoD) called The Highlands Group.

Perry picked Richard (Dick) O’Neil to head up the organization. O’Neil was a former Navy cryptologist with a specialty in “perception management.”

Just so we’re clear, this isn’t a program from your optometrist. No this comes from the dark world of government intelligence.

The Department of Defense “…describes perception management as an intent to provoke the behavior you want out of a given individual.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perception_management

It has long been known that the CIA cultivated “…relationships with journalists in the most prominent sectors of the American press corps, including four or five of the largest newspaper in the country, the broadcast networks, and the two major weekly news magazines.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perception_management

“In late 2001 after 9/11, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld created the Pentagon’s Office of Strategic Influence (OSI). …The OSI was dismantled less than five months after its creation when sources alleged to the press that one of its goals was domestic influence…. In fact, strategic influence, special plans, psychological operations and perception management are all direct synonyms within the DoD.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perception_management

O’Neil had written a paper for the Navy War College about perception management that called for a strategy of information warfare. What is information warfare? You get a sense of it from the targets O’Neil specified.  He named three targets:  “…adversaries, so they believe they are vulnerable; potential partners ‘so they perceive the cause [of war] is just’, and finally, civilian populations and the political leadership so they ‘perceive the cost as worth the effort.’”

After his Naval service, O’Neil joined DoD and was the Deputy for Strategy and Policy in a communication and intelligence section of the Pentagon when Perry tapped him to run The Highlands Group.

Highlands’ purpose was to support the DoD’s policies on information warfare. As it was set up inside the Department of Defense, Highlands was able to coordinate  “information operations” throughout the federal military and intelligence agencies.

In short, Highlands was plugged into all major spook farms.

In 1998, The Highlands Group restructured itself. It exited the legal umbrella of the Department of Defense, but not the patronage of the mother ship. The organization changed its name to The Highlands Forum and went private, positioning itself as an “intellectual capital venture firm” and consultant to the Pentagon.

The restructuring was said to be an effort to avoid subjecting the Highlands’ meetings to “bureaucratic restrictions.”

In fact, the move was designed to remove Highlands from the jurisdiction and regulations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Under FACA, it is a violation of federal policy to hold  secret, closed-door meetings with non-governmental special interests and make policy recommendations. And that is exactly what Highlands was doing.

As a private entity, FACA did not apply to Highlands and the door was quietly closed on any transparency or public engagement.

Highlands was (and still is) sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. It had the added benefit of being midwifed into existence with the help of DARPA and ONA (The Office of Net Assessment – one of the most elusive and influential entities within the DoD). With godparents like these,  Highland’s access  to the heads of virtually all U.S. surveillance and reconnaissance agencies was guaranteed.

“The Forum,” Ahmed says, “operates as a two-way influence bridge in that private sector corporations and think tanks provide information to Highlands, which are forwarded to DoD.”

“And the DoD in turn can use Highlands to determine and influence what is going on in the private sector.”

For 20 years, the Forum has “…provided an off the record space for some of the most prominent members of the shadow intelligence community to convene with senior U.S. government officials alongside other leaders in relevant industries.”https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e#.o4zuwgw1x

Forum meetings not only include senior military and intelligence officials, but representatives from major defense contractors as well as many of the usual suspects: the Rand Corporation, Booz Allen, Cisco, Google, IBM, Microsoft, AT&T, G.E., key members of Congress (both parties), members of the energy sectors, and media including The Washington Post, The New York Times, the BBC, UPI, Newsweek and others.https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e#.o4zuwgw1x

It is Highlands’ executive structure that is most telling.

Office of Net Assessment

The Highlands Forum has two Co-chairs. One is the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), for years headed by the Andrew (Andy) Marshall.

Marshall headed up the Office of Net Assessment (ONA) from 1973 to his retirement in January 2015 at the age of 93. This is one of the Pentagon’s most powerful agencies, and is considered the Secretary of Defense’s internal ‘think tank.’ ONA conducts highly classified research on future planning for defense policy across the US military and intelligence community.

Speaking at a Harvard seminar shortly after 9/11, Highlands’ President, O’Neil said, “Andy Marshal is our co-chair, so indirectly everything that we do goes back into Andy’s system.”https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e#.mn5rgsnh1

Referred to as Yoda, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz —  the hawks of the neoconservative movement in American politics — were among Marshall’s “star protégés.”

Need we say more?


 DARPA develops “futuristic” military equipment and intelligence programs for the Department of Defense of which it is an integral part.

But let us be more specific.


 This is the organization that brought Agent Orange to millions of Vietnamese and tens of thousands of American servicemen. The horrors of the genetic mutation that has resulted from this DNA-devastating toxin continue to ravage the Vietnamese population as we speak. The DNA mutations are being passed generationally.

At home, U.S. veterans continue to suffer the carcinogenic effects of Agent Orange to this day.


DARPA is also the creator of that all time favorite domestic spying program – the Total Information Awareness (TIA). Iran-Contra co-conspirator, Admiral John Poindexter was selected to lead DARPA’s new office of “Total Information Awareness.”

Under the guise of protecting us from terrorism, the U.S. intelligence community turned their sights onto the American public.

In 2002, New York Times reporter, John Markoff wrote, “The Pentagon is constructing a computer system that could create a vast electronic dragnet, searching for personal information as part of the hunt for terrorists around the globe — including the United States.”

“… it will provide intelligence analysts and law enforcement officials with instant access to information from Internet mail and calling records to credit card and banking transactions and travel documents, without a search warrant.”http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/09/politics/09COMP.html

This was followed by fire-breathing article in the New York Times by William Safire about the TIA.

“If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you:

“Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend — all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as ‘a virtual, centralized grand database.’”

“To this computerized dossier on your private life from commercial sources, add every piece of information that government has about you — passport application, driver’s license and bridge toll records, judicial and divorce records, complaints from nosy neighbors to the F.B.I., your lifetime paper trail plus the latest hidden camera surveillance — and you have the supersnoop’s dream: a ‘’Total Information Awareness’’ about every U.S. Citizen.”

“This is not some far-out Orwellian scenario. It is what will happen to your personal freedom in the next few weeks if John Poindexter gets the unprecedented power he seeks.”


Big Brother salivates.

But with Styron’s article and others exposing the TIA’s Orwellian surveillance architecture, the public pushed back – decrying the massive violation of privacy and violation of the 4th amendment.

Congress took action.

In an act of uncommon sanity, Congress axed the budget for the TIA, and the program shut down.

Eh…er…uh, not really.

“Core components of TIA were being ‘quietly continued’ under ‘new code names,’ according to Foreign Policys Shane Harris, but had been concealed ‘behind the veil of the classified intelligence budget.’ The new surveillance program had by then been fully transitioned from DARPAs jurisdiction to the NSA.”https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e#.mn5rgsnh1

Which brings us to the third element of The Highlands Forum that shapes its mission in a major way.


SAIC stands for Science Application International Corporation. It is one of the most powerful defense contractors in the country. SAIC is singled out on the Highlands website and referred to as their “partner” for the last ten years.

To say SAIC works in close collaboration with the U.S. intelligence community is taking understatement to a whole new level. SAIC doesn’t work with just any old spy agency; no, they suckle at the breast of the top of the government intelligence teat – the NSA.

The National Security Administration, of course, is America’s senior electronic and digital spy agency.

The NSA is SAIC’s biggest customer. And…SAIC is the NSA’s largest contractor.

Isn’t that special?

Oh, and by the way, when John Poindexter left DARPA, he got a super-juicy position with SAIC.

Indeed, SAIC and the NSA created what came to be called Xkeyscore, a surveillance clone of John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness program.

“We also now know thanks to Snowden that the NSA’s XKeyscore ‘Digital Network Intelligence’ exploitation system was designed to allow analysts to search not just Internet databases like emails, online chats and browsing history, but also telephone services, mobile phone audio, financial transactions and global air transport communications — essentially the entire global telecommunications grid. Highlands Forum partner SAIC played a key role, among other contractors, in producing and administering the NSA’s XKeyscore, and was recently implicated in NSA hacking of the privacy network Tor.”https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e#.mn5rgsnh1

Which brings us full circle – back to the public face of the massive, multi-billion dollar search giant that is now the electronic eye of planet Earth


 “Google,” says Ahmed, “is a smokescreen behind which lurks the U.S. military industrial-complex.”

My only quibble with that statement is that it should be called the U.S. military and intelligence industrial–complex.

It was in 1994 – the same year Highlands was founded – that Sergey Brin and Larry Page, two Stanford University Ph.D. students made their breakthrough on the web crawling and page ranking system that remains today the core of  Google. During the years of its development – through the mid-nineties until 1998 when Google was launched commercially – its development was monitored and funded by U.S. government intelligence.

Despite being a Stanford grad student, Brin regularly reported to two (non-university) members of a sensitive intelligence data-mining program – Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham and Dr. Rick Steinheiser.

At the time, Thuraisingham was employed by the MITRE Corp – a major  defense contractor. At MITRE, she managed a program called the Massive Digital Data Systems (MDDS) initiative. Steinheiser worked for the CIA.  This project was sponsored by the NSA and the CIA.

Thuraisingham is now a Distinguished Professor and Executive Director of the Cyber Security Research Institute at the University of Texas. In an article, hosted on the University website and quoted in Ahmed’s article, she says,

In fact, the Google founder Mr. Sergey Brin was partly funded by this program while he was a PhD student at Stanford.

I remember visiting Stanford with Dr. Rick Steinheiser from the Intelligence Community and Mr. Brin would rush in on roller blades, give his presentation and rush out. In fact the last time we met in September 1998, Mr. Brin demonstrated to us his search engine which became Google soon after.https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e#.nzgx7mb82

“‘The duration of Brins funding,she saidwas around two years or so. In that period, I and my colleagues from the MDDS would visit Stanford to see Brin and monitor his progress every three months or so. We didnt supervise exactly, but we did want to check progress, point out potential problems and suggest ideas.’”https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e#.nzgx7mb82

 Thuraisingham also stated that the intended customers of the MDDS program were ‘”DOD, IC, and other government organizations.’” Translation: the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, and other government agencies.

While the MDDS program was funded by the CIA and NSA via MDDS, DARPA was also tied to early seed funding for Brin and Page.

DARPA – along with other agencies – provided financial support to The Digital Library Initiative – a multi-agency program of the National Science Foundation – that in turn supported the early research on what was to become Google.

The U.S. intelligence community – both public and private – is a tight-knit network of multi-billion dollar corporations and senior intelligence agencies that trade personnel like the NFL.

As one example of the incestuous relationship between defense contractors and the government intelligence universe, take the case of Dr. Anita K. Jones.

In 1993, when the MITRE Corporation launched the MDDS  program at Stanford for the intelligence community, the good Dr. Jones was a trustee and on the Board of MITRE. Jones had also served on the board of SAIC from 1987-1993 (the NAS’s brother from another mother).

In ’93, she became the head of DARPA, a position she held from 1993-1997 (Google’s formative stage under MDDS).

As the head of DARPA, she co-chaired the Highlands Forum. Dr. Jones is also on the board of In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s very own technology venture capital fund.

Anita was the Queen of Intelligence community hopscotch -MITRE> SAIC> DARPA> HIGHLANDS > CIA  – in fact, let’s call Anita the spook community’s all-time party girl.

Well, all that funding was a long time ago, you say. And other organizations, both public and private, also provided early development funding for the big G.

And in that, you would be right.


Today, they certainly don’t need money. Google has a market capitalization of $367 billion (more than a third of a trillion), and roller-blading Sergey Brin is the 30th richest man in the world, worth $36.7 billion.

Go Sergey.

(Larry isn’t doing so bad either – net worth, $32.7 billion).

So, no need for all of those messy government intelligence connections anymore. Right?

Eh…not so fast.

Michele Weslander Quaid, an ex-CIA contractor and former senior Pentagon intelligence official is now Google’s Chief Technology Officer.

Oh, that’s special.

“Quaid’s last role before her move to Google was as a senior representative of the Director of National Intelligence to the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Task Force, and a senior advisor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence’s Director of Joint and Coalition Warfighter Support… Both roles involved information operations at their core.”https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e#.nzgx7mb82

But Michelle now has a playmate- the former Director of DARPA, Regina Dugan, to be exact.


In March 2012, Regina,  who as director of DARPA was also co-chair of the Pentagon Highlands Forum, — followed her colleague Quaid into Google to lead the company’s new Advanced Technology and Projects Group. During her Pentagon tenure, Dugan led on strategic cyber security and social media, among other initiatives.https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e#.nzgx7mb82

There’s more, but you get the picture.

Is Google a “smokescreen behind which lurks the U.S. Military-industrial-complex?”

You decide.

We conclude with the compelling words of President Dwight Eisenhower as he concluded his second term in office in 1960.

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.”

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.”

“The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

“We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/indust.html

If ever there was a time to be vigilant, it is now. Sometimes Congress does the right thing when communicated to loud enough and often enough. They killed the Total Information Awareness program. Yes, DARPA schlepped it over to the NSA under the radar. But when the public gets mad enough, Congress has been known to act.

Try it.

Finally, if you want to get more control of your digital privacy, we recommend the Privacy Black Paper by Sovereign Man. It is available here at no charge: https://www.sovereignman.com/digital-privacy/

And for those who want to keep up with the investigative journalism of Nafeez Ahmed, you can do so here: https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence

Keep your powder dry.
John Truman Wolfe and Jack Hennessy

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