Analysis The close relationship between Google and the US government has long been a concern.
Aside from the fact it is persistently one of the biggest lobbyists in DC, there has also been: the last-minute change made to net neutrality rules solely because of a letter received from Google; the unusual dropping of anti-trust investigations into the search giant; the curious "non prosecution agreement" it reached with the FBI over drug ads; and the fact that a review of logs showed that Google execs meet with White House officials on average once a week.
In the latest release of emails from Hillary Clinton's private email server – ostensibly over the sacking of the US embassy in Benghazi – it's clear that Google also has its fingers in the US government's foreign policy department.
At the center of this particular wheel of influence is Jared Cohen, a former State department official who was tapped to become the director of Google Ideas.
Far from what you may think that job entails however – 3D mapping or next generation email – Cohen's job appears to be a private sector extension of the State department's goals.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange wrote a long treatise against Cohen and his boss Google chairman Eric Schmidt in which he warned "Google Is Not What It Seems."
In that post, Assange highlighted the very government-like activities that Cohen was undertaking, including visits to Egypt during the uprising, planned trips to Palestine and Turkey, a trip to Azerbaijan to "engage the Iranian communities closer to the border," a trip to Afghanistan to persuade the mobile phone companies there to move their antennas onto US military bases, a trip to Lebanon reportedly to set up a rival to Hezbollah, and a meeting with Bollywood execs in London where he allegedly offered funds and connections to Hollywood if they inserted anti-extremist content into their films.
When emails from private intelligence firm Stratfor were leaked, they included reference to Google's – and Cohen's – efforts. One note read:
Google is getting WH [White House] and State Dept support and air cover. In reality they are doing things the CIA cannot do ... [Cohen] is going to get himself kidnapped or killed. Might be the best thing to happen to expose Google's covert role in forming up-risings, to be blunt.
While Julian Assange has a well-known tendency to draw weak connections and extrapolate coincidences into full-blown conspiracies, two recent Clinton emails suggest he may not be far from the truth.
In one, Jared Cohen emails deputy secretary of state William Burns as well as Clinton's deputy chief of staff Jake Sullivan and her senior advisor Alec Ross to tell them about a new tool Google was developing to track defections from the Syrian government.
"Deputy Secretary Burns, Jake, Alec, Please keep close hold," it began. "My team is planning to launch a tool on Sunday that will publicly track and map the defections in Syria and which parts of the government they are coming from. Our logic behind this is that while many people are tracking the atrocities, nobody is visually representing and mapping the defections, which we believe are important in encouraging more to defect and giving confidence to the opposition."
Why such a tool would even occur to a company like Google is beyond us, but such was the interest that the email was forwarded to Hillary Clinton and she responded with a request for it to be printed out.
And that is why this particular email is now visible – because Clinton directly responded to it. It is a virtual certainty that there have been many, many other emails sent between Cohen and the top of the State department that we have not seen.
In a different but also worrying exchange, a second email appears to show high-level discussions and agreement between the State Department and Google/YouTube over the controversial short film Innocence of Muslims, which was posted on YouTube and caused an outcry for its purposefully insulting messages about Allah and was initially blamed for causing the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi.
The White House and Google were very careful to stress at the time that they were not seeking to influence one another, but the email string – which came complete with the personal mobile phone numbers of both Google CEO Larry Page and YouTube CEO Salar Kamangar – suggests otherwise.
While it is understandable and to a degree acceptable that a large corporation would seek to influence the government in its favor, these emails and the degree of quid pro quo they clearly imply puts yet one more red flag on the relationship between Google and the Obama Administration. ®