Bloomberg News noticed an interesting wrinkle in the saga of the Iran nuclear deal as President Donald Trump prepared to make a major announcement on its fate Tuesday afternoon: Trump supporter Peter Thiel and his Palantir Technologies, Inc. provide crucial services for verifying Iranian compliance.
Bloomberg explains the relationship between Palantir and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA):
Palantir has spent years modifying its predictive-policing software for inspectors at the Vienna-based IAEA, which was founded in 1957 to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The tool is at the analytical core of the agency’s new $50 million Mosaic platform, turning databases of classified information into maps that help inspectors visualize ties between the people, places and material involved in nuclear activities, IAEA documents show.
That sets up Palantir, which Thiel and his partners built with CIA funding, as the platform of choice for assessing the documents Israel claims to have detailing Iran’s secret efforts to build a bomb. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Iran’s arch foe, announced the trove just days before Trump’s May 12 deadline to either make good on pledges to scrap the deal or extend sanctions relief.
Bloomberg goes on to insinuate that Israeli intelligence might insert false information into the trove of documents it obtained, which might “trigger a flurry of unnecessary snap inspections” to the great annoyance of the Iranians unless Palantir’s software can separate the wheat from the chaff.
At which point the narrative turns to suspicions that Thiel will throw a wrench into the works of his own software program to benefit his pal Donald Trump:
Palantir’s role at the IAEA, which has access to information that governments don’t, has come under increasing scrutiny since the company revealed a worker’s misuse of Facebook Inc. data in March, according to diplomats and international officials. Also of concern for an international agency known for its independence are Thiel’s close personal ties to Trump, these people said.
Thiel, a PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor, dined at the White House with Trump and the Israeli-born co-chief executive officer of Oracle Corp., Safra Catz, just hours after the president spoke with Netanyahu about Iran on April 4.
A deputy White House press secretary, Lindsay Walters, declined to comment on what was discussed at the dinner. Palantir declined to comment. An IAEA spokesman said the agency’s data-mining program operates in “a secure environment” and within its “existing legal framework.”
Nowhere in the article is there any persuasive technical analysis of whether Thiel could force the Mosaic system to return force results to make Iran look dirty. The closest anyone comes is Andreas Persbo of verification firm Vertic, who restates the old computer adage about garbage-in, garbage-out: “You will generate a false return if you add a false assumption into the system without making the appropriate qualifier. You’ll end up convincing yourself that shadows are real.”
That is a truism that does nothing to indict Thiel or Palantir since every information processing system ever created is vulnerable to consuming bad data and producing inaccurate output. Given that Palantir has major contracts with sensitive entities such as the U.S. Special Operations Command, one presumes its products have been evaluated to ensure Thiel doesn’t have a secret means of corrupting the output for political purposes.
Then again, in a time when the American people are finding Big Tech thumbs pressing on all manner of online scales and private data is much more vulnerable than they thought, perhaps it’s natural to be suspicious of every computer system.
As to whether Peter Thiel has some kind of conflict of interest with Trump and the Iran deal, there is no reason to suspect the IAEA’s need for Palantir software will diminish no matter what happens to the Iran nuclear deal, and the IAEA isn’t going anywhere. Iran’s secretive nuclear weapons program isn’t going away, either.