Google’s Payoff from DOD: 20 Cheap Fuel Flights to Tortola

Screen shot 2013-09-13 at 1.47.45 PMGiven that I’m very interested in the carrots and sticks the government uses to get tech companies to help spy on us, I find it rather interesting that from 2007 until August 31, DOD was allowing Google to pay for jet fuel at Moffett Field near Google’s HQ in Mountain View at DOD’s substantially discounted rate.

Granted, this arose because Google provided a light airplane to perform scientific flights for Ames Research Center.

NASA officials have pointed to a related agreement by the Google executives to perform scientific flights and other NASA-related transport. That mostly has involved flights by an Alpha jet, a small trainer bought by the Google executives and used by NASA to measure atmospheric greenhouse gases and ozone.

[snip]

[T]he contract between H211 and the Pentagon stated that the fuel was supposed to be used only “for performance of a U.S. government contract, charter or other approved use,” and said violations could trigger civil or criminal penalties. There is no indication of any such investigation.

Flight records from the Federal Aviation Administration suggest that the vast bulk of the flights by the Google executives’ fleet have been for non-NASA purposes.

The main jets in the fleet—a Boeing 767, Boeing 757 and four Gulfstream V’s—have departed from Moffett a total of 710 times since 2007, FAA records show. The most frequent destinations were Los Angeles and New York, but the planes also flew 20 times to the Caribbean island of Tortola; 17 to Hawaii; 16 to Nantucket, Mass.; and 15 to Tahiti.

This agreement went into place before Google joined PRISM, for example (though I’m sure Google was already helping NSA on its storage challenges before that). Though I really look forward to Google defending these fuel purchases because so much of what they do is “for performance of a U.S. government contract.”

This is peanuts to a company as rich as Google; access to the airport is probably worth more to Google execs than the cheap gas.

Still, it’s a perk. The kind of perk that might explain why Eric Schmidt believes all this spying is just the nature of society. (h/t Kevin Gosztola)

There’s been spying for years, there’s been surveillance for years, and so forth, I’m not going to pass judgment on that, it’s the nature of our society.

Spying is the nature of society in the same way as special perks for those who help in it, after all.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. What Constitution says:

    Surely you’re not suggesting that Google allowed itself to be corrupted by mere filthy lucre. (Yes, I called you Shirley). Certainly the motive was earnest patriotism. Or maybe fear of prosecution and/or harassment. But mere money having an impact upon Google executives’ decisions affecting the integrity of its customers’ privacy rights? Say it ain’t so. OK, maybe it’s indeed so. Just maybe. I am also intrigued by the thought of reviewing the passenger manifests for some of those flights. How may times did Clapper or Alexander hang out in Tortola “on business” (not, of course, that they couldn’t commandeer a government jet for the same purpose and bury that in the $52 Billion a year)?

  2. peasantparty says:

    I offer you more torches to set the weeds on fire so that we may continue to see clearly.

    I offer you a fleet of tumbrels to carry off the corpses of dead talking points, and corrupt policy.

    I offer you all the horses to pull the tumbrels to the grave and guillotine!

    Go, MARCY!!!!!!

  3. Rayne says:

    I’ve wondered whether Schmidt’s exit from Google was due in no small part to a fundamental difference in ideologies between Schmidt and Sergei Brin. Schmidt’s tenure at Google as CEO was impacted greatly by 9/11 only months after he assumed his leadership role.

  4. P J Evans says:

    I certainly hope that Google will do the right thing and reimburse the Pentagon (at market rate) for the fuel.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Peanuts it is, but it’s an important bag of peanuts, as you mention. It means that Gaggle is DOD spthecial. It takes top tier access, people with juice to make this sort of thing happen. The skids are down and greased for Gaggle and DoD to discuss and implement projects and their compensation with nary a mention to the public, shareholders, customers or critics.

  6. Julie says:

    No, spying is not “the nature of our society”. It is, however, the nature of sociopaths – the core of their nature, in fact. Projection – projecting your beliefs upon others – is also in the nature of sociopaths.

  7. C says:

    This is the same Eric Schmidt who on an NPR program asserted that he wouldn’t use his system to spy on anyone because “it would come out” and “they would get caught”. Well he did and they did get caught. Now what?

    Given that Germany just announced a national push to develop its own IT infrastructure I guess what is getting rid of Google.

  8. C says:

    O/T but apropos:

    In May 2013 Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt appeared on NPR’s program “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” to play a trivia game. Prior to the game he chatted with the host. The audio can be found here:

    http://www.npr.org/2013/05/11/182873683/google-chairman-eric-schmidt-plays-not-my-job

    A transcript of the interesting portion (emphasis mine) reads:

    SAGAL: Mountain View. And they’ve got this screen up that shows, like, Google searches right now, things that people are typing into the search engine, so you know. If you wanted to, could you just flip a switch on your office computer and just, like, read my emails just for the hell of it?

    SCHMIDT: Yes, and I would lose my job, be fired, and be sued to death.

    (LAUGHTER)

    SAGAL: If you admitted it.

    (LAUGHTER)

    SCHMIDT: Someone would find out, trust me.

    SAGAL: Really?

    SCHMIDT: Yes.

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