Drishtikone Newsletter #332: Corporate Nationalism and Wars

Nationalism is a bad word. Except when it is West's own security interest. How do companies, power elite, establishments work to profit from wars and destroy countries? A deep look.

Last updated on Mar 20, 2022

Posted on Mar 20, 2022

A vision of Tomorrow Women doing the (Shhh...) finger to mouth graffiti 
Artist: Unknown
Photo by George Pagan III / Unsplash

It has happened
and it goes on happening
and will happen again
if nothing happens to stop it.
The innocent knew nothing
because they are too innocent.
The poor do not notice
because they are too poor.
And the rich do not notice
because they are too rich.
The stupid shrug their shoulders

because they are too stupid.
And the clever shrug their shoulders
because they are too clever.
The young do not care
because they are too young.
And the old do not care
because they are too old.
That is why nothing happens to stop it.
And that is why it has happened
And goes on happening
And will happen again. (English translation of a poem written by the Austrian  poet Erich Fried)


We are all celebrating Holi around the world this week. Drishtikone wishes everyone a very Happy Holi! Please do read our view on Holi from our newsletter last year (Holi is to Surf with the Existence, not really about a “Victory of Good over Evil”!)

Nationalism - the dirty word

In May 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the biggest threat to "global order".  

Nationalism.

Nationalism is a word that is immediately linked to Totalitarianism and the Nazis.

The idea is that when one who is defined as an "enemy" by the Western bloc shows self-interest - it is akin to being a Nazi. The US and the allied Europeans, however, have the facility of calling their own self-interest as well "Security interests."

So Blinken warned the UN.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the United Nations Security Council on Friday that the international order was in “serious jeopardy” in comments that decried what he described as rising nationalism and repression around the world. (Source)

But what is nationalism really?  Are Western countries as far away from the notions of nationalism as they preach or are they high on the idea as well?

Let us do a reality check here.

Google AI and China

In December 2017, Google announced the launch of a small Artificial Intelligence Center in Beijing.

That’s why I am excited to launch the Google AI China Center, our first such center in Asia, at our Google Developer Days event in Shanghai today. This Center joins other AI research groups we have all over the world, including in New York, Toronto, London and Zurich, all contributing towards the same goal of finding ways to make AI work better for everyone. Focused on basic AI research, the Center will consist of a team of AI researchers in Beijing, supported by Google China’s strong engineering teams. We’ve already hired some top experts, and will be working to build the team in the months ahead (check our jobs site for open roles!). Along with Dr. Jia Li, Head of Research and Development at Google Cloud AI, I’ll be leading and coordinating the research. Besides publishing its own work, the Google AI China Center will also support the AI research community by funding and sponsoring AI conferences and workshops, and working closely with the vibrant Chinese AI research community. (Source)

That move very quickly became an issue about corporare "patriotism test for Google".  Was it aligned to the US national interests or not?  Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder and tech billionaire wrote an op-ed in New York Times - ‘Good for Google, Bad for America’

The thrust was clear.  Tech for America is the patriotic thing to do.

On the national security front, researchers who help China with applications for artificial intelligence have been accused of enabling Chinese military advancement. Thiel, whose company Palantir works extensively with the Department of Defense, says the “patriotic” thing to do is for tech to serve U.S. military interests. But many experts and academics disagree. They say the risks of Chinese tech collaboration are serious, but that ethical questions are better centered on standards of transparency and consent than on notions of loyalty and patriotism. (Source)

Some suggested that looking at the working of the tech giants in terms of patriotism is highly problematic because it conveys "that companies or individuals exercising that freedom to reject U.S. military partnership are somehow unethical."

This was the most "American thing" to do.

The top US military brass, however, clearly and unambiguously, articulated the moral binary.

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford told the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia that the US and its allies are the “good guys”. “I have a hard time with companies that are working very hard to engage in the market inside China, then don’t want to work with the US military,” he said. “I just have a simple expression: “We are the good guys.” (Source)

Two years later the lab was closed.

In 2019, Shumin Zhai, a lead scientist in Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) team was named as the researcher whose paper had helped the Chinese to sharpen the accuracy of their new stealth fighter jet, J-20.

Google has denied contributing expertise to the Chinese military after taking part in research that could be used to sharpen the accuracy of China’s new stealth fighter jet. A lead scientist from Google took part in research in Beijing with applications that include military, medicine and education, according to China’s largest government science institute. The research paper, about the development of new computer-human interaction technology, focuses on a smart target-selection assistant that can speed up on-screen mobile target selection by more than 50 per cent and improve accuracy by nearly 80 per cent, the government institute said. (Source)

Google confirmed its involvement via the researcher but denied that this work was linked to any military use.

“This paper addresses a very general research question in user experience design of how people interact with moving items on a touch screen,” said a Google spokesperson on Wednesday. “This paper is simply not about military applications. (Source)

The biggest concern that America had was that J-20 may erode its own lead in stealth fighters technology and race.

So it's safe to say that Google's tentacles extend in more areas than it's known publicly. Now, the company is under fire over a research paper authored by Shumin Zhai, a 'Human-Computer research scientist' at Google. Dr. Zhai's research paper will help the Chinese military improve target tracking for the country's fighter pilots flying the Chengdu J-20. The J-20 is China's first fifth-generation stealth fighter that's designed to play catch up to the American F-22 Raptor. It's also the world's first fifth-generation fighter aircraft designed outside the United States. (Source)

Project Maven and pushback

In April 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense launched a project called Project Maven, also known as Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Function Team (Source). It was an artificial intelligence (AI) project that studies imagery and could eventually be used to improve drone strikes in the battlefield.  

The objective of Project Maven included - "to develop and integrate “computer-vision algorithms needed to help military and civilian analysts encumbered by the sheer volume of full-motion video data that DoD collects every day in support of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations." The first set of algorithms was planned for installation on "warfighting systems" by end of 2017. (Source)

However, 3000 Google employees signed a petition to protest against Google's involvement in the "business of war."

Google letter NYT (Source)

For the love of War

World War I: In 1911, Dupont the "Chemicals" company, was colloquially known as the "Powder Trust".  It had a monopoly on the military powder business which the US government had allowed it to retain.

The British were dependent on American explosives powder.

To produce one ton of explosive powder, 8-12 tons of raw materials were required.  Sometimes the Raw Material - Finished Good (powder) ratio would reach 20:1.

Those were the days of German submarines doing the rounds of the seas.  It was very hard to bring in the raw material easily.  The Nitrates for the explosives had to come from Chile.  That is where Du Pont stepped in.  And Pierre du Pont drove a tough bargain in order to save his own investment in plant set up and expansion.

For a cost of 50 cents to produce the powder, the British had to pay $1 and had to deposit the funds for expansion in advance.  As the war went on, Du Pont's bottom-line kept on swelling.  Before the war started, Du Pont's Net profits averaged 11.57% of the invested capital - $5.26 million.  By 1915, the profits had gone up over 10 times to $57.40 million!  

By 1916, they were $82.1 million.  (Source: Warhogs: a history of war profits in America by Stuart Brandes (pg 133/134))

JP Morgan played a similar role in the banking sector.  It became known as the "Money Trust".  In 1915, they were selected by the British government as its official purchasing agent in the US.  They got exclusive control over all British military purchases in the US during the First World War.

War is big money for the corporate world.  Specifically, those who have some cozy relationship with those running the nation.

Iraq War: Dick Cheney and his relationship with Halliburton has been documented fairly well.

After his initial stints in government under Republican administrations, including time as George H.W. Bush’s secretary of defense, Dick Cheney entered the private sector, where he used contacts he made during his time in government to enrich himself. All told, he would earn more than $44 million from Halliburton.... After Cheney enriched himself by exploiting contacts with various corrupt Arab autocrats that he made while drawing a public salary, he returned to public life as vice president. Halliburton donated to his campaign, and got numerous lucrative contracts during the Bush administration’s tenure, even as it was discovered to have overcharged the U.S. for prior services rendered. (Source - The Atlantic)

During the 8-year long Iraq War, at least $138 billion was paid to the private or public companies for private security, building infrastructure, and feeding the troops.  This money came from the US taxpayers.

10 contractors received 52% of the funds.  As per a study done by Financial Times, the biggest beneficiary was the Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

The US has overwhelmingly borne the brunt of both the military and reconstruction costs, spending at least $138bn on private security, logistics and reconstruction contractors, who have supplied everything from diplomatic security to power plants and toilet paper. An analysis by the Financial Times reveals the extent to which both American and foreign companies have profited from the conflict – with the top 10 contractors securing business worth at least $72bn between them. None has benefited more than KBR, once known as Kellogg Brown and Root. The controversial former subsidiary of Halliburton, which was once run by Dick Cheney, vice-president to George W. Bush, was awarded at least $39.5bn in federal contracts related to the Iraq war over the past decade. (Source: Financial Times)

Needless to say that the Iraq war was a windfall for the politicians who made the case for the war while putting forth the profiteering of some companies ahead of American and Iraqi lives.  Companies that could benefit these politicians.

The argument for war in Iraq while the real war on terror was ongoing in Afghanistan - sham as it was as was evidenced by the Kunduz airlift - was predicated on two fake arguments:

  1. Iraq tried to purchase 500 tons of yellowcake uranium powder from Niger, a country in North Africa, which could be enriched and used in nuclear weapons.  The story was fake.  It went from fake documents concocted by the Italian Intelligence SISMI to the 2003 State of the Union address.  Those infamous "Sixteen Words".
A few months after the robbery, Western intelligence analysts began hearing that Saddam Hussein had sought yellowcake—a concentrated form of uranium which, if enriched, can be used in nuclear weapons—from Niger. Next came a dossier purporting to document the attempted purchase of hundreds of tons of uranium by Iraq. Information from the dossier and, later, the papers themselves made their way from Italian intelligence to, at various times, the C.I.A., other Western intelligence agencies, the U.S. Embassy in Rome, the State Department, and the White House, as well as several media outlets. Finally, in his January 2003 State of the Union address, George W. Bush told the world, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Two months later, the United States invaded Iraq, starting a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people, cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and has irrevocably de-stabilized the strategically vital Middle East. Since then, the world has learned not just that Bush’s 16-word casus belli was apparently based on the Niger documents but also that the documents were forged. (Source; Vanity Fair)

2. Iraq had purchased thousands of aluminum tubes that the Bush administration argued were destined for uranium centrifuges.  A claim that the United Nations' chief nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei rejected in the first week of March 2003.

In the weeks leading up to the war, senior administration officials repeatedly stated that Iraq had attempted to acquire more than 100,000 high strength aluminum tubes for gas centrifuges to be used for enriching uranium. Highly enriched uranium is one of the two materials that can be used to make nuclear weapons.  This claim was made by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, and finally by President Bush on September 12, 2002, in his address to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. The president repeated this claim on several occasions, including in his State of the Union address to Congress in January 2003. The contention was also featured in Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. (Source)

These two issues have been very accurately depicted in the movie "Fair Game".  Here is a scene from the movie regarding the whole aluminum tube fiasco.

In modern times, wars have meant staggering profits and contracts for the corporate world.  Let us talk about another major war.

Afghan War: Pentagon spent well over $14 trillion during the Afghan war until 2021.  A third to half of this money went to military contractors.  (Source: Watson Institute, Brown University)

Just 5 companies - Lockheed Martin ($29.1 billion); Boeing ($18.0 billion); Northrop Grumman ($15.6 billion); General Dynamics ($14.6 billion); and Raytheon ($14.5 billion) - received between 25% to 33% of all the Pentagon contracts. (Source: Archived page of Council on International Policy (CIP))

The scale and the depth of corruption within the US government and the administration with respect to profiteering from the Afghan war was truly staggering.  Lobbying is the American vehicle for bribes and corruption.  During the Afghan wars, the weapons makers had employed over 700 lobbyist every year over the 5 years prior to 2021!  That is over one lobbyist for every Congress man and woman!

Weapons makers have spent $2.5 billion on lobbying over the past two decades, employing, on average, over 700 lobbyists per year over the past five years. That is more than one for every member of Congress. Numerous companies took advantage of wartime conditions—which require speed of delivery and often involve less rigorous oversight—to overcharge the government or engage in outright fraud. In 2011, the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan estimated that waste, fraud and abuse had totaled between $31 billion and $60 billion. (Source: Watson Institute, Brown University)

Even though for public consumption, the popular narrative was about the money that was spent on "rebuilding Afghanistan" and/or security of that nation, the truth was something else altogether.

The American taxpayers' money was not going out to Afghanistan for the benefit of their citizens but was being plowed back to the United States.  War was simply a mechanism for diverting money from the common taxpayers to the American power elite.  Christine Fair shared in her analysis of the August 2021 report by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction titled Lessons from twenty years of Afghanistan Reconstruction that 80-90% of the outlays earmarked for Afghanistan returned to the US economy.

As of June 30, the United States has spent about $144.98 billion in funds for reconstruction and related activities in Afghanistan since fiscal year 2002, including $88.61 billion for security (including $4.6 billion for counternarcotic initiatives); $36.29 billion for governance and development (including $4.37 billion for counternarcotic initiatives); $4.18 billion for humanitarian aid; and $15.91 billion for agency operations. Although these numbers are staggering, much of U.S. investment did not stay in Afghanistan. Because of heavy reliance on a complex ecosystem of defense contractors, Washington banditry, and aid contractors, between 80 and 90 percent of outlays actually returned to the U.S. economy. (Source: Foreign Policy)

The American Military-Industrial Complex (AMIC) is the all-powerful group of the power elite that controls the peace and wars around the world.

Big Tech and Techno Nationalism

Techno-Nationalism is the link between nationalism and technology.  The focus on adherence by Google to American national interests for example.

Techno-nationalism is a new strain of mercantilist thinking that links technological innovation and capabilities directly to a nation’s national security, economic prosperity and social stability.  The state, therefore, must intervene and guard against opportunistic or hostile state and non-state actors. Techno-nationalism seeks to attain competitive advantage for its stakeholders, both locally and globally, and leverage these advantages for geopolitical gain. (Source: Forbes)

In September 2021, researchers from advocacy and research groups Little Sis, Action Center for Race and the Economy (ACRE), and MPower Change shared an interesting report.

It showed the close links between the US government and the Big Tech giants and how the Big tech giants have profited tremendously from the War on Terror over 20 years.  One of the biggest assertions by this group is:

The Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense have collectively spent at least $44B on services from Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter. (Source: Big Tech Sells War)
Source: Big Tech Sells War

Microsoft's entire cloud computing has been built on the back of the DHS contracts.

Another interesting find by this research team was "Revolving Door".  You see, hundreds of people keep moving between the FBI, National Security Agency, Departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security, and Justice Department. Well, that is to be expected.

What is really intriguing is that major players within these agencies that are key to the "Global War on Terror (GWoT)" have also been handling key positions within the big tech companies.  Here is a sampling.

Source: Big Tech Sells War

So when we see a rise in hatred towards Hindus being backed or patronized by the Social media giants like Twitter, Facebook, Google, Instagram, and Youtube, you can draw a link with the larger establishment goals of some administrations towards India in general and Hindus in specific.

To bring the overwhelming incidences of hate towards the Hindus, an Artificial Intelligence initiative has started to monitor Hindu hate (or Hindumisia) in an objective manner.

Instead, a domain-specific approach may offer the best chance of success. With that in mind, an initiative was kickstarted to build an automated tool to detect hatred directed at Hindus on social media, especially on Twitter.  An outcome of such an effort is hindumisia.ai — an initiative that prides itself on taking an analytical approach to countering anti-Hindu sentiment on social media, particularly Twitter. The tool was launched on 12 March 2022 and is accessible here. (Source)

The website publishes Daily statistics such as the number of anti-Hindu tweets and handles, as well as real-time 24-hour trends as well as monthly statistics.

Source: Hindumisia.ai

Nationalism and security-establishment relationship is not just a thing of the past from World Wars I and II or from the Iraq war but also the entire new global order.  Everyone feels that their brand of nationalism is just mere security, while another's concern for their nation is nationalism (and by extension totalitarianism).  

What has happened with respect to how the tech giants or AMIC players or the oil and gas large companies have contributed to the destruction of so many countries, societies and economies while upholding the strategic geopolitical game that the power elites in the US are playing is the greatest lesson that we need to learn about our current times.

How fake narratives are used (like Niger yellowcake and Aluminum tubes in the Iraq war) to destroy perfectly fine countries is now a matter of record.

The power of tech giants could be used even more devastatingly upon unsuspecting countries and populations.


Video corner: How Dangerous is Big Tech

GAFA - (Google Amazon Facebook Apple) is the acronym for the four main Big techs.  In March 2021, during the pandemic, four of Europe's most powerful women sent a letter to Brussels with a dire warning. The pandemic had shown how much the EU depends on foreign technology, they wrote — and this needs to change. Their language was diplomatic — but the underlying message was clear: It’s time to rein in Big Tech.

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