What is the founding story behind Palantir

Laura Rudas at Palantir: In the orbit of the secret services

All roads lead to Silicon Valley: This is definitely true for young professionals with ambitions. The latest example is the former SPÖ politician Laura Rudas, who now works for the IT group Palantir. The company was recently valued at $ 20 billion in an investment round and is considered one of the most important Silicon Valley companies not yet listed. Rudas will take care of the development of new business areas. In 2014, after six years as federal manager of the SPÖ, she resigned to complete a year of study at Stanford. Now she is looking forward to starting at this "very exciting" company, announced Rudas on Thursday on her private Facebook page.

Suppliers to NSA and Co

Although Palantir is also considered "very exciting" by surveillance critics, "exciting" can be seen as a synonym for "angry". Because Palantir is one of those groups that do business primarily with the so-called three-letter authorities. For example with the CIA, the FBI, the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The US secret services have relied primarily on electronic surveillance since 2001.

Naturally, there is a huge "haystack" of information. Palantir helps companies with special software to identify the proverbial needle in the haystack. Big data should therefore be reduced to "useful" data. Of course, this also makes sense in sectors other than government surveillance: Palantir software was used by investigative journalists who investigated trafficking in human organs in the same way. Hedge funds and large banks are also among the customers of the IT group.

SAP, CSC and Palantir

The dual usability of big data programs is also illustrated by other companies: With "Hana", the German IT giant SAP supplies database software that is used in numerous industries - but also at the NSA. Computer Sciences Corporations (CSC) is another example. In the wake of the NSA affair, the German government therefore decided to only award public contracts to companies that are guaranteed not to work with secret services outside Germany.

Palantir, Rudas' new employer, aroused the skepticism of data protection officials not only because of his business partners. In 2011, for example, hackers published documents from the law firm Hunton & Williams LLP, which wanted to hunt down supporters of the whistleblower platform Wikileaks - using technology from Palantir. Company boss Alex Karp had to officially apologize and end the business relationship.

CIA provided entry fee

But the company's founding history is already closely linked to the secret service industry. Specifically, In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA, is said to have delivered two million dollars to the then newly founded Palantir in 2003. With In-Q-Tel, the CIA wants to promote start-ups that "can develop important technologies for the US secret service industry," as it says on the CIA website. In terms of market value, Palantir is without a doubt the CIA's largest investment today. Some industries, such as biotechnology, are heavily subsidized with CIA money. One company co-financed by In-Q-Tel was satellite photo specialist Keyhole, which was later taken over by Google. This resulted in Google Maps, which is now the most widely used map service.

In addition to the CIA, it was mainly Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel who brought Palantir forward. Thiel is considered a nose for profitable investments: in 1998 he invested in the payment service PayPal, which is now a billionaire company. In 2004, Thiel became the first investor to join the then small social network Facebook. At Palantir, Thiel is still chairman of the board. Incidentally, just like Rudas, he studied at Stanford before turning to the IT industry. (Fabian Schmid, September 11, 2015)