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Greasing the Revolving Door: Palantir Recruits Down Under

When he announced at the end of April that he would be retiring, thereby vacating the federal seat of Eden-Monaro, the Australian Labor Party’s Mike Kelly welled up. He noted persistent “health issues” from his time in the service of the Australian Defence Forces, including a worsening osteoarthritic situation and deteriorating renal condition. He had endured some ten invasive surgeries in recent times. He spoke, implausibly, of having made no enemies in politics. He had “stared into the face of true evil, whether it was genocidal warlords in Somalia, or murdering militia in Timor, or war criminals in Bosnia, or staring into Saddam Hussein’s face and the dirty-dozen, so called, in Iraq.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese was full of lapping praise. “Mike Kelly is an extraordinary Australian, and he has brought a great deal of dignity, talent, capacity and commitment to this Parliament.” His labours “on defence and national security issues” in Parliament had been “second to none”.

Then came the revolving military door, where evil dons a different visage for its recruits. “I have been fortunate,” Kelly revealed even before the dust had settled, “to be able to take up a job offer with Palantir Technologies Australia that will enable me to work within my physical limitations but still be in a position to make a difference in relation to the issues that matter to me.” Good of the Silicon Valley-based Palantir: generous to an ailing man; considerate of his limits but happy to stroke the ego.

To work with the data mining security outfit Palantir Technologies can hardly be regarded as ethically elevating, certainly for a former member of parliament who had supposedly spent time gazing at faces evil and malevolent. But then again, his gaze must lack a certain resistance, bewitched as he is by this “amazing organisation” staffed by “some of the finest talent and quality personnel in the world.”

In recent times Kelly has given Palantir some free parliamentary advertising. In 2018, he told his fellow members that, “Companies like Palantir … effectively vectored Osama Bin Laden’s location so these are companies and capabilities that we need to work with.” The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security was also informed by Kelly of the Palantir’s “massive $US12 billion international effort on security issues.”

The company oozes of the slime that is the military-industrial complex, and counts the Central Intelligence Agency as an exclusive customer, though its client list has ballooned to include other government agencies, hedge funds and big pharma. In 2003, it got off the ground with US information analysts, among them Peter Thiel, champing at the bit to use data mining tools developed for PayPal.

Since then, the entity has developed search tools have given it pride of place in the security environment, earning it a credible fourth place in the “evil list” of technology companies compiled by Slate. Its software has found its way into the operations of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC). But in addition to encouraging bouts of faux patriotic heroics (Kelly notes the company’s role “in over 30 countries in the fight against COVID-19”), it has also veered into disdainfully murky territory. The same company, for instance, linked arms with Berico Technologies and HBGary Federal in 2011 to target WikiLeaks and smear the credibility of journalist Glenn Greenwald. The plan was revealed in emails obtained by the hacker group Anonymous, which managed to penetrate the servers of HBGary to unearth the nasty proposal to wage a campaign of misinformation against WikiLeaks and its supporters.

At the time, Palantir chief-executive Alex Carp, in a statement, was all contrite in severing ties with HBGary. With his hands firmly in the cookie jar, Carp claimed that his company “does not build software that is designed to allow private sector entities to obtain non-public information, engage in so called ‘cyber-attacks’ or take other offensive measures.” He also apologised specifically to Greenwald “for any involvement that we may have had in these matters.”

Carp and his company have since busied themselves with such humane endeavours as finding, in his words in a CNBC interview, “people in our country who are undocumented.” Over the years, Palantir’s role in aiding US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s deportation efforts has been skirted over. Its public relations arm has insisted that only Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) within ICE is of interest to them, rather than Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). This is a distinction with bare difference, given that ERO avails itself of Palantir’s technology in conducting its deportation operations.

Kelly’s decision has caused a flutter of interest in various media stables, from Crikey to Sky News. Despite being at different ends of the journalist’s spectrum, they are in broad agreement that the decision to join Palantir reeks. Chris Kenny, an anchor for Sky, picked up on the sick card played by Kelly and was far from impressed. “Remember it’s less than two weeks since former Labor frontbencher Mike Kelly resigned from his seat saying he was too sick to serve out the term.” Not to be deterred, he confirmed with some swiftness that he had “already taken up a new job”, one with “a major US technology firm that does a lot of defence work.” Such behaviour demonstrated, in Kenny’s eyes, that the member was “apparently … not up to serving out another two years in parliament, but he is up to lobbying for a US tech giant.”

Kelly is yet another addition to the military-industrial complex that snaps up public servants and representatives at will. In February 2020, Australia’s former domestic intelligence spy chief, Duncan Lewis, was appointed to the board of the world’s tenth largest weapons making concern, Thales. He had waited a mere five months. At the time, few pundits deemed it problematic that a man privy to a nation’s secrets would take up a post with a French company which, admittedly, has a 35 per cent share of Naval Group, the lead contractor of Australia’s bloated Future Submarines project.

A stint in public service, it seems, is merely a prelude for moneyed rewards in the security sector, where conflicts of interest cease to be relevant, and lobbies run riot. Accountability is not so much diminished and ditched along the way. Companies operating in this realm know that securing a notable ex-politician or civil servant will grease the wheels and lead to deals. The gullible citizenry is left none the wiser.

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15 comments

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  1. Phil Pryor

    It is piss weak, and a slap in the face of those who vote in line with personal attitudes to responsiblity, a better future, a more open local and world society. Spying is a mental raping and pillaging. We are rotted and gutted, each of us, with the BIG PENISES in electronics and spying, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, Google and others, who want us reduced to the lowest wipe of peasant shit, subject to utter control in a worse than post Orwell world. What an intrusion, invasion, and a former ALP defence type does this…Trumpian.

  2. Jack Cade

    He is not the first ‘Labor’ politician to join the natural enemies of the people. He won’t be the last. The true ALP died in 1975.
    People exhort Gough as the benchmark, and so he was, with Cairns and Hayden, and Clyde Cameron. But they had vicious enemies in the ALP.
    When I was young and innocent I lived in Brisbane for a year or so, and I talked politics with the then leader of the Qld ALP – Jack Houston, whose son rented a cottage on a small
    farm my then girlfriend’s family owned. When Gough was being talked about as the new leader, Houston became apoplectic – ‘WE DON’T WANT WHITLAM – ANYBODY BUT!!’
    So the rot was already setting in.
    Graham Richardson is the most flagrant example of people with no morals or consciences. There are lots of Richo’s in the ALP. In fact, I don’t understand how a party of the people can have a ‘right faction’.
    The price of true freedom is eternal vigilance; any ‘new’ party will be infected as soon as it gets traction. I don’t know how it can be avoided.

  3. Steve Smith

    Just when you think “They’re Alright”, self-interest and greed kicks in. Is there a politician that is actually there for us.

  4. king1394

    Sadly, it is only after they leave that we find out where a polly’s heart lies. Quite a few do take on important roles with organisations that work for good in the world, and others just line their pockets by selling influence and inside knowledge.

  5. Hotspringer

    I’m with Jack Cade. The ALP died with the coup d’etat.

  6. Lawrence S. Roberts

    Tweedle Dum and Dee as the Good Doctor used to say.
    The ALP is part of the problem
    Federal Politics and the system is the problem; its a break on progress.

  7. New Bruce

    Australians need a clause in the constitution, or parliamentary rules, or wherever, that puts a hiatus into the “career” of our politicians and higher office public servants post politics. 5 years between leaving office and taking up a role in private enterprise.
    Retirement mid term should mean that the relevant dunderhead involved has to wait until the next election before a change of employment.
    A further step would be to stop their parliamentary pensions as soon as private sector employment, even as an advisor, begins.
    I don’t know how We the Voter will ever get this done, it would be like getting our pollies to vote themselves a 50% pay cut.

  8. Paul

    First thought was MK is self-interested, par for the course; second thought, what’s in it for Palantir? They now have a Labor drone with a military background in their pocket in case LNP goes down at the next election. The military is important as it’s the shield between the elite and the peasants. Who is the Peter Thiel besides his new boss? Bloomberg cites Thiel is against taxes, government, women and the poor. He’s one of the Big Tech transhumanists. The scary thing is he is a fan of parabiosis, the process of having younger people’s blood transfused into his own veins as a cure for aging. Now where did I see that topic pop up lately? That’s right – it’s a potential cure for covid19, ie convalescent plasma transfusion. No connection surely, no-one would think of misusing a pandemic to lift the profile of blood donation for the covert use by people scared of aging and death. Other worshippers at the altar of transhumanism include Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Google executives such as Eric Schmidt and Larry Page.
    AI is as good as its programmers.

  9. Jack sprat

    Dwight Eisenhower parting speech as president invoked the warning of the increasing power of the military industrial complex . This from a former high ranking military man whom if I remenber correctly first coined the phase. If Christopher Boyce was correct , USA ‘s military intelligence organizations where instrumental in toppling the Whitlam government . General Smedley Butler confessed that when he was serving in the US marines that he was a gangster for capitalism .Seems the more things change the more they stay the same .

  10. RomeoCharlie29

    When Kelly announced his early retirement, I had the temerity to ask what was he thinking, meaning in relation to a by-election at a difficult time for Labor. It was pointed out to me he was retiring on grounds of ill health. Now we find out he has copped what looks like a nice little earner from a dodgy company whose praises he sang in Parliament several times. Normally, though not always, it’s LNP pollies who pull stunts like this but now Kelly has made it hard for his party to put the heat on blatant abuses of the knowledge earned by parliamentary service. That Kelly joins a company of dubious morality is just sad. Still, consistent with Civid 19 restrictions, and his health issues, presumably he will be working from home.

  11. Michael Taylor

    I am disappointed in Mike Kelly, but it’s his life so I guess he can do what he wants with it. But there’s a touch of Turnbullism about it: chuck your principles out the window if there’s a buck in it.

  12. Mark Shields

    “I don’t understand how a party of the people can have a ‘right faction’”. Well said Jack Cade.

  13. Trevor

    Well well well. Three holes in the ground.

    Liberal lite ex military gangsta Kelly pulls the midterm hiatus stunt, then shows his true colours.

    Cancel Parliamentary Super for retiring Politoxics taking another job. Dollar for dollar discount
    On wages earned while pulling in public funded Politoxic Pension

    Kelly must think Australian’s are a bunch of mugs

    Fuck off warmonger

  14. calculus witherspoon.

    Just about identical to my thoughts and agree with most of the comments.

    This sort of shit has killed our democracy.

  15. Andrew Smith

    One comes to expect similar from LNP types but too many in the public sector and Labor politics who worship the US style prosperity gospel, for some years e.g. Carr, Beasley, Bligh, Ferguson etc. It’s not just the sub-optimal ethics, but makes them look shallow in appearing to be corporate wannabes; what were they in politics for?

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