Creation of Orwellian surveillance apparatus belies claim that the U.S. is upholding democracy in the face of Russian authoritarianism.
On April 26, Palantir, a data analytics company founded with CIA seed money, announced an expansion of its operations in Lithuania after entering into a strategic partnership with Lithuania’s Ministry of Defense.
This announcement exemplifies how the new Cold War is being used to justify CIA collaboration with a foreign government in advancing intrusive surveillance operations targeting Russia and pro-Russian political elements. It also exemplifies how central the CIA is to the war in Ukraine, as Palantir is playing a key role in the war by tracking Russian military movements and helping Ukraine to coordinate battlefield maneuvers.
The U.S. claims to be supporting democracy against Russian and Chinese authoritarianism; however, Palantir’s methods are right out of George Orwell’s 1984.
While Western media consistently highlight the alleged human rights atrocities of Belarus’s socialist, pro-Russian government led by Alexander Lukashenko, it is silent on the intense political repression targeting socialists and anti-fascists in Lithuania, which will only be enhanced by Palantir’s growing presence.
Big Brother Is Watching You
Named after the omniscient crystal balls in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Palantir cut its teeth working for the Pentagon and CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.S. spies and Special Forces deployed its software to synthesize the blizzard of battlefield intelligence, and to avoid roadside bombs, track insurgents for assassination, and hunt down Osama bin Laden.
Before her appointment as Director of National Intelligence in January 2021, Avril Haines, the former CIA Deputy Director, was paid $180,000 by Palantir as a consultant.
Palantir’s technology has been described as “surveillance” or “data mining,” with the ability to analyze massive amounts of data from disparate sources and present its findings in colorful, easy-to-interpret graphics that look like spider webs.
Co-founder Peter Thiel—an early investor in Facebook who also founded PayPal—described Palantir as a “mission-oriented company” focused on “needing to reduce terrorism while preserving civil liberties” in a 2013 Forbes article.
Co-founder and CEO Alex Karp said that the company’s “software is used to target terrorists and keep soldiers safe” in a letter issued with the IPO filing.
Bloomberg News reported in April 2018, however, that Palantir—the world’s #1 Artificial Intelligence (AI) software platform—was weaponized against ordinary Americans.
Law enforcement agencies and corporations have used its software to comb through and then analyze people’s financial documents, airline reservations, cell phone records and social media postings.
Palantir has also partnered with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to help arrest families for deportation. The Los Angeles Police Department additionally taught officers to use the company’s “Palantir Gotham” tool to “construct a vast database that lists the names, addresses, phone numbers, license plates, friendships, romances, jobs” of city residents, regardless of whether they were under any suspicion of committing a crime.
A former JPMorgan cyber expert who used Palantir’s software said that “everyone’s a suspect, so we monitored everything.”
In September 2018, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL) wrote a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton, urging an investigation of the company before it went public.
One of many concerns raised by the representatives was incomplete information about investments in the company from In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital arm that partially funded the company when it was founded. A 2008 filing showed that In-Q-Tel owned at least 10% of the company, but more recent information is not available.
Ukraine War Profiteering
Palantir‘s latest offering makes clear the growing military applications of the company’s cutting-edge AI software in an expanding war against Russia via proxy.
In a theoretical scenario, a military operator tasked with monitoring the Eastern European theater discovers enemy forces massed near the border and is able to rapidly order reconnaissance drones and then a Reaper drone strike while jamming enemy communications.
Palantir has already been heavily involved in the Ukraine War by supplying Ukraine with software systems to help it target Russian tanks and track Russian troop movements.
Last June, Palantir CEO Alex Karp met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, after which he agreed to open an office in Ukraine. Karp later bragged that Palantir was “responsible for most of the targeting in Ukraine,” referring to Russian tanks, artillery and other weapons systems. Karp also told David Ignatius of The Washington Post that “Palantir AI was ‘winning’ the war for Ukraine.”
Palantir recently announced that it plans to deploy its software to help prosecute Russians for war crimes at the ICC. The software will combine intelligence and satellite imagery to build a map of evidence establishing the proximity of Russian equipment to crime scenes or aggregating photographs that Ukrainians have uploaded to social media and investigators see as relevant evidence.
This coincides well with Palantir’s growing role in Lithuania, whose government has staunchly supported Ukraine in the war with Russia while reinforcing an EU blockade on the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on its border.
Lithuania’s Defense Minister, Arvydas Anušauskas, said that the Palantir agreement would “strength[en] Lithuanian expertise in data-driven defense capabilities and [allow it to] becom[e] a center of excellence within the Baltic States and NATO.”
In 2019, the U.S. began stationing battle-size army units of around 500 troops in Lithuania on a rotational basis, and sent additional troops to Lithuania last year along with the other Baltic States, along with eight F-35 fighter jets and 20 AH-64 Apache helicopters. A NATO battlegroup has also been stationed at Lithuania’s main base in Rukla since 2017.
Lithuania is clearly evolving into a key command center for the U.S. proxy war in Ukraine and potential launching point for U.S.-NATO aggression into the Russian mainland, which the Palantir software would help to better enable.
Furthering Lithuania’s Domestic Repression
The Palantir software will also very directly enhance the repressive capabilities of Lithuania’s right-wing, pro-U.S., pro-NATO government, which has convicted tens of thousands of people on political charges since the end of Soviet rule, while depleting the country’s manufacturing sector through neo-liberal economic policies.
In the spring of 2018, a famous Lithuanian blogger named Simonas Zagurskas was arrested and imprisoned after he was suspected of having written articles on the events of January 13, 1991, when Soviet military forces were accused of killing 14 civilians and injuring 140 before they retreated and Lithuania was granted independence.
Zagurskas claimed that the victims were shot and killed by local militants and other snipers directed by representatives of the CIA who wanted to blame the killings on the Soviets. This was a prelude to the techniques used in the February 2014 Maidan coup in Ukraine that triggered the current war where Georgian snipers likely in the pay of the CIA shot protesters in killings that were framed on the pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych who was discredited and forced to flee Ukraine.
Zagurskas’ view on the events of January 13, 1991 in Vilnius is corroborated by Galina Sapozhnikova’s book, The Lithuanian Conspiracy and the Soviet Collapse, which is based on first-hand eyewitness accounts, including that of former USSR Foreign Minister Marshal Dmitry Yazov, who said, “everything was set up to cause mass discontent. They had to get the Soviet troops out of Lithuanian territory. How does one do that? Spill blood and provoke them. That is what they did. They outplayed us. Killed their own in order to win.”
Audrius Butkevičius, the director of Lithuania’s department of national defense in the early 1990s and a main orchestrator of the January 1991 drama, admitted to a Lithuanian newspaper that, on January 13, 1991, he deliberately aimed for civilian casualties, saying he “had no regrets since the deaths delivered a powerful blow to two main pillars of Soviet authority, the army and the KGB,” which never recovered. “Yes,” he said, “I planned to place the Soviet army in a very uncomfortable psychological position, so any officer would feel shame for being there.”
The bed of lies upon which Lithuania’s post-Communist state was established has set the groundwork for recent waves of repression in Lithuania targeting especially the Socialist Popular Front, which intensified following the 2014 Ukraine coup and the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine.
With access to Palantir’s software, Lithuania’s government can now monitor and track the Socialist Popular Front and other renegade political parties even more methodically than before, while more effectively supporting U.S. and NATO military operations in Ukraine that are leading us toward World War III.
In the fantasy classic, scenes from the future or past can be viewed using the object, but, as Newsweek points out, the information provided is unreliable and often used to deceive. ↑
Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez, a 31-year-old body shop mechanic, was seriously injured when six ICE agents burst into his family’s home last March without a warrant. He had been listed in the local gang database twice—in rival gangs. Catalan-Ramirez spent the next nine months in federal detention, until the city of Chicago admitted both listings were wrong and agreed to petition the feds to let him stay in the United States. ICE released him in January, pending a new visa application. “These cases are perfect examples of how databases filled with unverified information that is often false can destroy people’s lives,” said his attorney, Vanessa del Valle of Northwestern University’s MacArthur Justice Center. ↑
Palantir said its technology would allow investigators to access otherwise ring-fenced data while guarding against evidence tampering. ↑
Pabradė is one of the two military bases in Lithuania with adequate infrastructure for allied forces.
Galina Sapozhnikova, The Lithuanian Conspiracy and the Soviet Collapse (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2018), 16. ↑
One person whose death was attributed to Soviet soldiers also died from a heart attack and two others were hit by civilian cars and not Soviet tanks. ↑
Sapozhnikova, The Lithuanian Conspiracy and the Soviet Collapse, 28. Interestingly, U.S. regime-change specialist Gene Sharp had been spotted in Vilnius in February 1991.
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of four books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019) and The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018).
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.