The historic granting of New Zealand citizenship to Trump supporter Peter Thiel made the headlines recently. Thiel’s connections to New Zealand seem to be more than citizenship and property ownership though.
New Zealand spy agencies and our elite Special Air Service soldiers have long-standing commercial links with a controversial big-data company founded by surprise Kiwi Peter Thiel, the Herald can reveal.
An investigation into Thiel’s links to New Zealand has found his firm Palantir Technologies has counted the New Zealand Defence Force, the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications and Security Bureau as clients with contracts dating back to at least 2012.
The connections between Palantir – controversial in the United States over its long links with National Security Agency surveillance operations and Thiel’s backing of President Donald Trump – and the New Zealand government has long been shrouded in secrecy.
Journalism isn’t dead yet (Matt Nippert wrote the article).
The revelation caused Kennedy Graham, Green Party spokesman for intelligence and security matters, to call for a delay to the passage of the New Zealand Intelligence and Security Bill, which today passed its second and penultimate reading.
The article is currently time stamped 8:48 pm last night – when did Graham here the ‘recvelation’?
Graham said the New Zealand-Palantir connection was “potentially huge” and raised more questions than it answered.
“The Parliament should not be too hasty until these things properly come to light,” he said.
Some of the Palantir story has been known for some time.
This mystery is undercut by official publications by the agencies themselves over the past few years disclosing its use. A recently-advertised job description for the SIS said a key performance measurement would be that “appropriate user champions are identified within teams and provided with support to develop the Palantir skills of their team.”
Jobs advertised in Wellington by Palantir itself warn successful applicants “must be willing and able to obtain a Government security clearance in New Zealand”. The company has been a regular fixture at university careers fairs since 2013.
And a brief item in the military magazine Army News in 2012 stated a trial of the company’s software was being piloted, but this wasn’t the first time it had been deployed in New Zealand.
“Palantir intelligence software is in use with a number of our domestic and foreign partners,” Army News said.
I’ve heard the company (and Thiel’s association) coming up in past coverage of GCSB and legislation issues.
The company became controversial in the United States over its close working relationship with the NSA in building programs designed to draw together disparate datasets – many obtained from widespread surveillance.
“Palantir’s technology is dual-purpose,” says Intercept security director Morgan Marquis-Boire, who noted it was put to some controversial uses – including recent news it was assisting the identification of undocumented migrants for deportation action by United States authorities.
“They’re sometimes the front-end search box for that great dragnet in the sky,” he said.
Morgan said the adoption of Palantir by New Zealand agencies was not surprising given the long-standing intelligence-sharing alliance with the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. “I can’t say I’m surprised, given Five Eyes,” he said.
So is it an issue, or does it just make a good story?
The influence of Thiel – who was revealed by the Herald to have been awarded New Zealand citizenship under exceptional circumstance provision by the then-Minister of Internal Affairs in 2011 – on Palantir is obvious.
The renewed interest in Thiel and Palantir seems to due to Thiel’s close connections to Donald Trump. If it wasn’t for that I doubt it would have been given much if any attention.