China Transwarp: Can This Be a Palantir Challenger?

July 24, 2017

One of my sources provided me with a link to a write up which may be translated as “Yujialong star ring technology common to build China Palantir” or “Yu Jialong together star ring technology together to build China’s Palantir.” The link to the original article is here. “Yu Jialong” is a subsidiary of Boone Group, which may no longer be in operation. The point of the write up is that a group of Chinese wizards is working to create a “Chinese Palantir. The group is hoodek up with Six Ring Technology. TenCent is providing some financing.

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This may be the experts who are tackling the Palantir like system.

There is the challenge of seamlessly importing the file formats used by developers of cyINT eDiscovery systems. I have added it to mist of companies engaged in moving beyond Analyst’s Notebook and Gotham systems.

Stephen E Arnold, July 24,2017

Palantir Technologies: The Buzzfeed Beat

July 3, 2017

I read “There’s a Fight Brewing between the NYPD and Silicon Valley’s Palantir.” Two points about this story. Palantir Technologies, a vendor profiled in my CyberOSINT and Dark Web Notebook reports is probably going to keep its eye on the real journalistic outfit Buzzfeed. I don’t know much about “real” journalism, but my hunch is that if Palantir’s stakeholders find the Buzzfeed write up coverage interesting, some of those folks might spill their Philz coffee.

The other point is that the New York Police Department may find questions about its contractual dealings a bit of distraction from the quotidian tasks the force faces each day. I would not characterize “real” journalists asking questions “annoying,” but I would hazard the phrase “time consuming” or the word “distracting.”

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“You want me to believe that?” asks Max, a skeptical show dog who knows that some owners will do anything to win.

The point of the “Fight Brewing” write up strikes me as a story designed to suggest that Palantir Technologies may be showing some signs of stress. When I read the story, I thought of the news which swirled around some of the defunct enterprise search companies when one of their client engagements went south. Vendors hit with these situations can do little but ride out the storm.

Hey, enterprise search was routinely oversold. When a system was up and running, the results were usually similar to the results generated by the previous “solution to all your information problems.” The search engineers who coded the systems knew that overpromising and under delivering were highly probable once the on switch was flipped. But the sales professional were going to say what was necessary to close the deal. In fact, most of the fancy promises about an enterprise search system set the company up for failure.

Is that what’s going on in the NYPD-Palantir “showdown”? To wit:

Palantir explained the system’s functions and outputs. The NYPD signed on. Then when the system was installed, additional work was needed to make the Palantir system meet the expectations set by the Palantir sales engineers.

The “Fight Brewing” story says:

The NYPD quietly began work last summer on its replacement data system, and in February it announced internally that it would cancel its Palantir contract and switch to the new system by the beginning of July, according to three people familiar with the matter. The new system, named Cobalt, is a group of IBM products tied together with NYPD-created software. The police department believes Cobalt is cheaper and more intuitive than Palantir, and prizes the greater degree of control it has over this system.

Keep in mind that I, before I retired in 2013, had been an adviser to the original i2 Group Ltd., the company which created in my opinion the analytic and visualization method which defines modern cyber eDiscovery in the 1990s.

The notion that IBM, which now owns i2’s Analyst’s Notebook, is working hard to close deals in key Palantir accounts from what I have heard in the general store in Harrod’s Creek.

I don’t have to go much farther than my own experience to get a sense that the “fight” may be a manifestation of how the world works when it comes to making sales for systems like Palantir’s Gotham or IBM’s i2. In my work career I have seen some interesting jabs and punches thrown to close a deal.

The NYPD, like any organization, wants systems which work and represent good value. Incumbent vendors have to find a way to retain a customer. Competitors have to find a way to get a licensee of one product to switch to a different product.

I noted this statement in the “Fight Brewing” story:

Palantir has struggled to expand its work with the police force, the emails show. As of March and April 2015, Palantir had had “little exposure to the top brass,” and although it wanted to add more business, “the door there clearly still remains closed given the larger political environment,” staffers wrote in emails. A staffer at one point invoked a phrase popularized by Thiel, author of Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, saying that Palantir still needed to get “from 0->1 at NYPD.”

Now how many police forces in the US can afford a comprehensive cyber eDiscovery system like Palantir Gotham or IBM Analyst’s Notebook? This is an important point because the number of potential customers is quite small. For example, after NY, LA, Chicago, Miami, and maybe three or four other cities, the sales professional runs out of viable prospects. How many counties can foot the bill for the software, the consultants, and the people required to tag and analyze the data? The number is modest. How many US states can afford the investment in high end cyber eDiscovery software? Again, the number is small, and you can count out Illinois because getting bills paid is an interesting challenge. The same market size problem exists for US government entities.

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Palantir: Outside In or In In or?

June 12, 2017

I try to keep up with Palantir Technologies’ news. I love the job openings; for example, a real estate person for the firm’s New York office. I noted a more substantive item called “Palantir Goes from Pentagon Outsider to Mattis’ Inner Circle.” General James Mattis is affectionately known by some as “Mad Dog.” In 2016, a real journalist described General Mattis as a “warrior monk.” For me, I will stick with General Mattis and ignore suggestions that he would only visit a monastery if it were stocked with certain essential items. I have heard these items include beer and possibly. Well, never mind.

The point of the write up is that on General Mattis’ watch, Palantir is a technology outfit which interests him. Perhaps a more accurate statement is that the functionality of Gotham matches his A to B thinking with regard to getting actionable intelligence.

The write up tells me:

Palantir’s startup mentality has led it to shun the way business is typically done in Washington and, as a result, made some enemies in the process, including some larger, more traditional defense companies.

I wondered, “Is IBM one of those traditional companies?” What’s a little out of court settlement between friends?

The point of the write up seems to be that three people working in the General Mattis’ unit had some involvement with Palantir. The 64 dollar question is, “So what?”

The write up put my mind at ease with this statement:

Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners, said he is “skeptical” that three staffers with ties to Palantir will cause the Pentagon to flip its position on the company or start doing business with it. But he said having these Silicon Valley voices on the inside could foster a continuation of some of former Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s priorities to build bridges between the Pentagon and industry in hubs of innovation. “It was debatable whether this whole push that Carter had when he was SecDef would survive,” Callan said. “When you have people at Palantir in the positions they are, you have to believe there are some voices that are not just standing in the visitors area waiting to get in and talk about it.”

My experience is that one’s work experience can be a plus. I snagged a gig while working at a well known firm with Craig Hosmer, then a Congressman and a retired admiral. Big time consulting firms and high profile government contractors flow into and out of the government in my experience.

Is Palantir now in or is Palantir sort of in? Of course, Palantir could be “in” but still on the outside? Other permutations are possible, but almost anything is possible when one catches Potomac fever even writing about employees’ work history.

Stephen E Arnold, June 12, 2017

Palantir Technologies: A Beatdown Buzz Ringing in My Ears

April 27, 2017

I have zero contacts at Palantir Technologies. The one time I valiantly contacted the company about a speaking opportunity at one of my wonky DC invitation-only conferences, a lawyer from Palantir referred my inquiry to a millennial who had a one word vocabulary, “No.”

There you go.

I have written about Palantir Technologies because I used to be an adviser to the pre-IBM incarnation of i2 and its widely used investigation tool, Analyst’s Notebook. I did write about a misadventure between i2 Group and Palantir Technologies, but no one paid much attention to my commentary.

An outfit called Buzzfeed, however, does pay attention to Palantir Technologies. My hunch is that the online real news outfit believes there is a story in the low profile, Peter Thiel-supported company. The technology Palantir has crafted is not that different from the Analyst’s Notebook, Centrifuge Systems’ solution, and quite a few other companies which provide industrial-strength software and systems to law enforcement, security firms, and the intelligence community. (I list about 15 of these companies in my forthcoming “Dark Web Notebook.” No, I won’t provide that list in this free blog. I may be retired, but I am not giving away high value information.)

So what’s caught my attention. I read the article “Palantir’s Relationship with the Intelligence Community Has Been Worse Than You Think.” The main idea is that the procurement of Palantir’s Gotham and supporting services provided by outfits specializing in Palantir systems has not been sliding on President Reagan’s type of Teflon. The story has been picked up and recycled by several “real” news outfits; for example, Brainsock. The story meshes like matryoshkas with other write ups; for example, “Inside Palantir, Silicon Valley’s Most Secretive Company” and “Palantir Struggles to Retain Clients and Staff, BuzzFeed Reports.” Palantir, it seems to me in Harrod’s Creek, is a newsy magnet.

The write up about Palantir’s lousy relationship with the intelligence community pivots on a two year old video. I learned that the Big Dog at Palantir, Alex Karp, said in a non public meeting which some clever Hobbit type videoed on a smartphone words presented this way by the real news outfit:

The private remarks, made during a staff meeting, are at odds with a carefully crafted public image that has helped Palantir secure a $20 billion valuation and win business from a long list of corporations, nonprofits, and governments around the world. “As many of you know, the SSDA’s recalcitrant,” Karp, using a Palantir codename for the CIA, said in the August 2015 meeting. “And we’ve walked away, or they walked away from us, at the NSA. Either way, I’m happy about that.” The CIA, he said, “may not like us. Well, when the whole world is using Palantir they can still not like us. They’ll have no choice.” Suggesting that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had also had friction with Palantir, he continued, “That’s de facto how we got the FBI, and every other recalcitrant place.”

Okay, I don’t know the context of the remarks. It does strike me that 2015 was more than a year ago. In the zippy doo world of Sillycon Valley, quite a bit can change in one year.

I don’t know if you recall Paul Doscher who was the CEO of Exalead USA and Lucid Imagination (before the company asserted that its technology actually “works). Mr. Doscher is a good speaker, but he delivered a talk in 2009, captured on video, during which he was interviewed by a fellow in a blue sport coat and shirt. Mr. Doscher wore a baseball cap in gangsta style, a crinkled unbuttoned shirt, and evidenced a hipster approach to discussing travel. Now if you know Mr. Doscher, he is not a manager influenced by gangsta style. My hunch is that he responded to an occasion, and he elected to approach travel with a bit of insouciance.

Could Mr. Karp, the focal point of the lousy relationship article, have been responding to an occasion? Could Mr. Karp have adopted a particular tone and style to express frustration with US government procurement? Keep in mind that a year later, Palantir sued the US Army. My hunch is that views expressed in front of a group of employees may not be news of the moment. Interesting? Sure.

What I find interesting is that the coverage of Palantir Technologies does not dig into the parts of the company which I find most significant. To illustrate: Palantir has a system and method for an authorized user to add new content to the Gotham system. The approach makes it possible to generate an audit trail to make it easy (maybe trivial) to answer these questions:

  1. What data were added?
  2. When were the data added?
  3. What person added the data?
  4. What index terms were added to the data?
  5. What entities were added to the metadata?
  6. What special terms or geographic locations were added to the data?

You get the idea. Palantir’s Gotham brings to intelligence analysis the type of audit trail I found some compelling in the Clearwell system and other legal oriented systems. Instead of a person in information technology saying in response to a question like “Where did this information come from?”, “Duh. I don’t know.”

Gotham gets me an answer.

For me, explaining the reasoning behind Palantir’s approach warrants a write up. I think quite a few people struggling with problems of data quality and what is called by the horrid term “governance” would find Palantir’s approach of some interest.

Now do I care about Palantir? Nah.

Do I care about bashing Palantir? Nah.

What I do care about is tabloidism taking precedence over substantive technical approaches. From my hollow in rural Kentucky, I see folks looking for “sort of” information.

How about more substantive information? I am fed up with podcasts which recycle old information with fake good cheer. I am weary of leaks. I want to know about Palantir’s approach to search and content processing and have its systems and methods compared to what its direct competitors purport to do.

Yeah, I know this is difficult to do. But nothing worthwhile comes easy, right?

I can hear the millennials shouting, “Wrong, you dinosaur.” Hey, no problem. I own a house. I don’t need tabloidism. I have picked out a rest home, and I own 60 cemetery plots.

Do your thing, dudes and dudettes of “real” journalism.

Stephen E Arnold, April 27, 2017

Palantir Technologies: Still a Go To Buzzfeed Topic

April 26, 2017

There’s nothing like leaked information and alleged missteps by top dogs. I have become somewhat tired of ad hominem revelations. How about some good old technical analysis?

That question is likely to be ignored or dismissed as the howling of an old person in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky. That’s okay, but I want to comment briefly about “Palantir’s Relationship With The Intelligence Community Has Been Worse Than You’d Think” and then circle back to a way to write about Palantir without the the National Enquirer thrill of humans who trip over their sneakers’ shoe laces.

The idea in the write up, in my opinion, is:

[Palantir’s] chief executive described the CIA as “recalcitrant” in the summer of 2015.

The topic is Alex Karp, not the Palantir Technologies’ Gotham system and how it compares to alternatives cropping up like weeds around the mine drainage pond near my log cabin in rural Kentucky.

I learned:

One source of the tension, these people said, has been Palantir’s failure to quash persistent publicity about its CIA business and about its supposed role in helping to track down Osama bin Laden.

Big surprise. Marketing clashes with engineers. Engineers side with the client. When marketing yaps about a client, there is blowback. This is news?

I found this assertion interesting as well:

The Palantir software, built with the CIA in mind, works better for managing HUMINT, or intelligence from human sources, than SIGINT, or intelligence from signals, which is the NSA’s bread and butter, people familiar with it say. Even Palantir insiders say it’s not surprising that the NSA relationship never took off.

I did my share of fumbling and bumbling in Washington, DC. I learned that the reasons why a particular vendor’s system does not take off in certain situations can be a result of many factors. Let me highlight a few to underscore why generalizations based on a two year old video and chatter about secret work can drag red herrings across a procurement:

  1. There is conflict, distrust, or active dislike between a player on the government’s side and on the vendor’s side. Is it possible for a Navy captain to refuse to work with a vendor’s contact who is an Admiral Rickover acolyte. You bet your mug of death cow on that being accurate.
  2. The procuring agency wants its own toys. Now the objective procurement process can be shaped to keep the big dog happy. Consequently, certain products, systems, and software get acquired even though lower level professionals do not want that product, system, or software. Don’t you love Oracle?
  3. There is a conflict between philosophies about to complete a mission. Operations folks like to go from A to B and achieve the objective. Some of those objectives are not the sort of thing one talks about at lunch Cosi’s in DC or in the aisle at the Interbay Meat Market. There is natural fiction between analysts who monitor intercept feeds and operations types who get shot at. Side with one or the other, but having both as best buds is tough.

There are other issues which enter into procurements, but I don’t need to rehash the fact that certain Beltway Bandits are aces at one government agency and losers at another. Vendor history can also play a role. Hey, if you want to kick IBM out of some projects, give it a whirl and let me know how your next job hunt is going, okay?

My point is simple one. I would prefer to read about the differences between Gotham and Analyst’s Notebook in comparison with systems from Centrifuge today. I cannot get interested in or excited about a two year old video.

But today, hey, anything goes. I try to identify silly write ups like the one coming along about why Thomson Reuters is the answer company. Maybe the reason is that Thomson Reuters has licensed Palantir Technologies’ software. That’s sort of interesting.

The old video. In front of staff. Sigh. A contractor’s bad relationship. Sorry. Boring. Routine. Part of the game. Just like CEOs who say things which perhaps should have been phrased differently.

Stephen E Arnold, April 26, 2017

Palantir Technologies: A First for a Content Processing Outfit

January 18, 2017

Palantir Technologies visibility has an upside and a downside. The upside is that the company’s brand, its Gotham system, and its Metropolis are gaining traction among executives in a range of disciplines, not just the heady world of Wall Street or the less well travelled pathways of law enforcement and intelligence professionals.

I read “Tech Workers Are Protesting Palantir’s Involvement with Immigration Data.” If accurate, the write up is one of the first reports of people getting antsy about systems and methods which are going on 30 years old. FYI I did a tiny bit of work for i2 Group, the outfit which developed Analyst’s Notebook in the 1990s. That system used techniques known to researchers in the UK, France, and elsewhere for decades. The point is that the “protest” is something that companies involved in data analysis have not experienced. I am not bringing a dog to this fight. I think it is intersting that awareness of what one can accomplish using graph analysis, centuries old math, and basic information access methods is now triggering what may be a potentially contentious public protest. (Get those permits, folks.)

The write up points out:

As Trump prepares to take office, a Silicon Valley group demands Palantir account for systems that could be used for mass deportation.

From elected officials who disavow the president elect to skilled professionals who are worried about what the president elect “may” do, search and content processing has only rarely faced a group of concerned people. Even Autonomy, an early player with BAE Systems in data analysis for government tasks, is essentially invisible despite a high profile lawsuit with Hewlett Packard. There was a protest more than a decade ago in front of Autonomy’s Cambridge offices, but I can’t recall why a group of about a dozen people showed up and then dispersed. Outfits like FinFisher or Vupen make news in specialist publications. The idea of a mass protest in front of the Gamma Group offices in the UK is a rare event.

The Palantir to-be protest reported in the article pivots on what might happen in the future. Future reporting is an interesting genre. The write up states:

Due in part to a Verge report from last month, a group of tech workers in Silicon Valley has announced that it will hold a demonstration outside the headquarters of Palantir Technologies in Palo Alto next Wednesday to protest the company’s involvement in intelligence systems used by federal immigration authorities.

The news service takes some credit as a catalyst and writes about what will happen on Wednesday, January 18, 2017, in a write up published online on January 13, 2017. (Where are these folks at Kentucky Derby time when I have to pick a horse for the big race?)

I learned (I think this is the correct tense for writing about reporting the future):

We want to make it clear that the overall tech community is watching what Palantir does,” says Jason Prado, a software engineer at Facebook and member of the Tech Workers Coalition, the group organizing the Palantir demonstration. “And we want to hold the tech community overall accountable for the values that we as a community have.”

The write up does some more tense dancing with this statement in the write up:

This week, both Thiel and Palantir’s CEO, Alex Karp, separately pledged that Palantir will not be used to build a Muslim registry — a demand listed by Prado’s group. “We think that’s fantastic,” says Prado, “but we’re also interested in their possible involvement in what we see as mass deportation and we plan to continue pushing on that.”

More interesting for me was or is this statement in the write up:

Last month, I reported for The Verge that Palantir had provided largely-secret assistance to the US Customs and Border Protection agency in administering a complex intelligence platform known as the Analytical Framework for Intelligence, or AFI, which collects and analyzes troves of information on immigrants and other travelers entering, exiting, and moving within the United States.

The “I” refers to Spencer Woodman, who is both a trigger and a documenter of the present and the future.

The president elect seems to know about Palantir’s platform or “Analytical Framework for Intelligence.” I interpret Palantir’s approach as a series of components which go beyond what the 1990s-anchored i2 system does.

The write up by Mr. Woodman states:

Last month, I also reported that Palantir had signed a $34,650,000 in contracts with ICE to help build and maintain a large database and analytics platform called FALCON, which contains employment information, criminal records, immigration history, family connections, as well as home and work addresses. According to Department of Homeland Security oversight documents, FALCON is meant for use by ICE’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations, which pursues serious cross-border crimes such as human trafficking, drug interdiction, and child pornography and is a separate entity from ERO. Tasked with enforcing unverified employment, HSI has conducted some of ICE’s most controversial recentimmigration raids on businesses employing undocumented Immigrants — the sort of operations that many immigrant advocates fear will expand under Trump.

From my point of view, I made a mental note of several points:

  1. The article or wrtie up as I term these online news/opinion/commentary essays makes it clear that what will happen in the future is due in part to the information presented in the author’s articles present and past. That’s very interesting.
  2. The technology revealed as a source of concern is, at least to me, very old news. There are newer and more more effective systems than those offered by Palantir. (No, I will not identify these vendors nor will I respond to email or telephone inquiries on these matters unless the call comes from a present or former client or via a referral from a trusted source. Do your own homework, gentle reader.) Palantir acquiores companies because it must or has to juice up is decade old system.
  3. The blurred role of the author and the write up as a “report” and a “prediction” makes it difficult for me to know why the article is not labeled as content marketing. I made a mental sticky note, however.

I think the assembly/protest is worth monitoring. I look forward to more “real” journalism on this matter. Frankly mixing up what did happen, what is happening, and what will happen in the future is somewhat confusing to me. I prefer a nice tidy timeline and outputs from a predictive analytics system like Record Future’s to help me make decisions about an event. I am also interested in making bubble gum cards for the individuals of interest, generating a graph of relationships, and pumping open source content through a series of text analysis procedures.

That, hoowever, is a great deal of work. I can understand why some “real” journalists prefer a phone call or two, some self referntial links, and Google Web searches when writing about what will happen on Janaury 18 five or more days before the 18th.

Stephen E Arnold, January 18, 2017

Palantir Factoid: 2016 Government Contract Value

December 21, 2016

I read “Palantir CEO at Trump-Tech Summit Raises Red Flags.” The idea is that Palantir is a peanut when compared to publicly traded giants like IBM and Microsoft. The presence of Peter Thiel, an adviser to the Trumpeteers, adds some zip to both Facebook and Palantir. But Palantir’s Alex Karp was at the meeting as well. The idea is that the Trumpeteers continue to get stereophonic inputs about technology and other matters.

This is the factoid which caught my attention. I assume, of course, that everything I read online is dead center accurate:

Palantir received about $83 million from the government this year tied to 71 transactions, according to USASpending.gov.

What happens to Palantir’s bookings if some changes to the DCGS program come down the pike? Perhaps Palantir will be running some meetings at which giants like IBM are going to be eager participants. On the other hand, IBM and some of the folks at the Trumpeteers’ technology summit might not be happy.

Net net: I was dismayed at the modest bookings Palantir has garnered. I expected heftier numbers.

Stephen E Arnold, December 21, 2016

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