Yes, there are raptors in the Valley

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Recent articles (such as one in Vanity Fair) about Amazon’s multibillion-dollar contracts to use its massive data systems to host national security and defense data for the Department of Defense and U.S. intelligence agencies have raised some surprise and alarm among those who had the “Do No Evil” impression of Silicon Valley and related tech companies. Surely their raison d’etre is to make vast knowledge available to the world, facilitate the retail experience, and create an Electronic Athenian Democracy via social media … while, perhaps, generating a little ad revenue along the way.

While many Americans expect some degree of National Security Agency-style snooping and old-fashioned censorship, and some find it disturbing, the idea of actually doing business with the defense and intel folks might seem like a plunge into the dark side.

{mosads}Here’s the reality: The “Valley” (Silicon Valley, but also, in the broader sense, America’s new high-tech businesses) has been heavily funded and supported by the Defense Department and its sister agencies since its very inception.


As a graduate engineering and economics student at Stanford University in the late 1960s, I took a part-time job as an quality control engineer at the early Fairchild Camera and Instrument chip factory in Mountain View, California, one of the first “fab” plants that gave birth to Silicon Valley and provided its name. This was a full decade before the rise of PCs and the “chip revolution,” and the silicon chips at that time were used for … wait for it … Polaris  submarine-launched missiles and other military applications.

Just as DARPA developed the internet, Darth Vader has quietly lurked behind most of the Valley’s Jedi Warriors. Perched on the shoulders of nearly every tech titan have been the raptors (U.S. and others), with sharp eyes trained on any strategic defense advantage.

The irony, of course, is that the new Amazon contract is called JEDI (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure — LOL, only in D.C.!). The Star Wars reference is obvious, especially in the context of an imminent U.S. Space Force. What most people might not know is that Lockheed Missiles & Space Co., at the time the largest employer in the Valley, received an initial contract for President Reagan’s own “Star Wars” missile defense system.

The traditional narrative of the Valley would put 1985 as the first year of Apple’s Macintosh. In the above context, Steve Wozniak, the “Rebel Commander” who received the patent for the Apple just a month before the release of the first Star Wars movie in 1977, had a father who worked at Lockheed and also on the Polaris missile project.

In this same year, another Valley legend, David Packard, who previously served as deputy secretary of Defense, organized the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management, which published its report in June 1986 focusing on leveraging new technologies, e.g., the Valley.

In retrospect, there is little surprising about any of this. What is surprising is that many are surprised that the Valley is not a pristine utopian playground, but would be subject to all the normal human impulses of defense, monopoly, growth, control and leveraging opportunity to the max.

In the end, an Amazon is designed for one thing: she is built for war.

Grady Means is a writer and retired corporate strategy consultant. He was an engineer at both Fairchild and Northrop, served as special assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller for domestic policy in the Ford White House, and was an economist and policy analyst for Secretary Elliot Richardson in the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1971-73.

James Hanley, who wrote a historical review of the defense industry in Silicon Valley as an honors thesis at Stanford University, contributed research for this article. A master’s candidate at the University of Chicago, he is prototyping a thesis/book.

Tags Lockheed Corporation Missile defense Silicon Valley UGM-27 Polaris United States Department of Defense

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