Peter Thiel’s controversial data analytics firm Palantir quietly secured a £28m contract from the Ministry of Defence last year, taking the total value of UK government deals won by the company to at least £39m.
Palantir has become a lightning rod for concerns about Silicon Valley’s work with the US state in recent years, but the company enjoys a lower profile in Britain despite a rapid expansion of its UK operations.
An employee of the firm revealed at a conference earlier this year that its London office is now its largest globally. It had a total of 434 staff in the capital in 2018, according to filings reported by the Telegraph last month.
The company’s latest deal with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) relates to “the provision and support of a search visualisation and analysis system”, a contract notice unearthed by NS Tech reveals.
It marks just the latest in a series of multi-million-pound defence contracts awarded to the firm. Palantir won £9m of MoD contracts in the 2015-16 financial year and a £1.7m deal last year to help the ministry stem the tide of staff leaving the Royal Navy. It also won a £741,000 Cabinet Office deal in 2015.
The deals come as the MoD embarks on a major transformation programme to meet the challenges posed by modern warfare. As NS Tech reported last month, the ministry has also agreed to pay IBM nearly £4m to develop a prototype military software platform powered by artificial intelligence.
According to a contract notice, the department sees the “land artificial intelligence” platform as a way of gaining “operational advantage over [its] adversaries”. Former MoD IT director Gerry Cantwell told NS Tech at the time that the duration of the contract suggested the proof of concept had been set up to determine what was technically possible, ahead of a follow-on procurement.
Details of Palantir’s work with the British government are closely guarded, but a page on the company’s website sheds some light on its operations in the defence space. It states: “Palantir Defense allows warfighters to interact with all of their data from all of their systems from a single point of access, in unprecedented ways.
“Unstructured message traffic, structured identity data, link charts, spreadsheets, telephony, documents, network data, sensor data—even full motion video can be searched simultaneously and intuitively, without the need for a specialized query language.”
Palantir was named after an all-seeing orb possessed by Sauron, the arch-villain of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The company is backed by the CIA, worth an estimated $11bn and is expected to list on the stock market in the coming years.
Its chairman, Peter Thiel, co-founded Paypal, was the first outside investor in Facebook and one of Silicon Valley’s few public supporters of Donald Trump. He also bankrolled Hulk Hogan’s court case against the news site Gawker.