How CIA-backed Palantir embedded itself in the NHS

一本道理不卡一二三区 The AI firm which tracked down bin Laden now eyes a new target

一本道理不卡一二三区Britain’s battle against coronavirus has had plenty of heroes. Peter Thiel may be the most unlikely one of all. The Trump-supporting Silicon Valley billionaire is the founder of Palantir, a data crunching company better known for its shadowy work for intelligence agencies including MI5 and the CIA – and helping track down Osama bin Laden.

Palantir’s technology is used by BP to boost efficiency and by the US and UK armed forces to wage war.

So when the NHS revealed that Palantir was building emergency data mining tools一本道理不卡一二三区 to help Britain cope with the pandemic – for no fee – there were understandable reservations. What might be expected in return?

“Palantir has a lot of toxic baggage with its contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the way in which its software is being used,” says Phil Booth, founder of Med Confidential, a campaign group focused on heath data privacy.

In reality, Palantir’s offer of help for the NHS should probably not have come as a surprise.

一本道理不卡一二三区The company has been courting the UK health service – and its £120bn annual budget – for years and its software has already won a place on the Government’s online catalogue for civil servants to pick from.

Louis Mosley with Julie Mills, the Kensington mayor in 2011 Credit: Alpha Press  

一本道理不卡一二三区Until now, however, despite lucrative contracts with other government departments and lengthy discussions, there had never been an NHS project which Whitehall felt required Palantir’s software.

In the past few weeks, that has changed – in what Mr Thiel must view as a victory for the chief of Palantir’s UK business: Louis Mosley.

一本道理不卡一二三区The UK boss of the secretive CIA-backed data company which is helping the NHS tackle coronavirus is Louis Mosley, the nephew of the former motor racing boss Max Mosley and grandson of Sir Oswald Mosley, the Telegraph understands.

With no official title on the website or social media presence, Mosley, 36,  who has previously been pictured in Tatler, has been leading the UK office of the Silicon Valley company for almost three years.

一本道理不卡一二三区The former Tory activist worked in academia and finance before taking the reins at Palantir, which was founded by early Facebook-backer Peter Thiel. 

Mr Mosley is not listed on the company's most recent documents filed to Companies House, which name as directors the former Foreign Office advisor Sir Daniel Bethlehem, who is understood to have an independent role overlooking corporate governance, and Alexander Carp, Palantir's chief executive. 

Software engineering companies often have a flat hierarchical structure owing to the nature of collaborative, project-based work, however it is unusual for a company of Palantir’s size not to announce who is running its European hub and London office with 600 employees and is in control of most of the research and development of its premier data mining platform, Foundry. 

It all began with an invitation from Boris Johnson in March. As the pandemic hit, about two dozen leaders from the UK technology industry were invited to No 10 to be asked to help.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary and mastermind of NHSX – the health services’s technology arm – and Johnson’s adviser, Dominic Cummings, have made no secret of their wish to boost the UK health system’s use of cutting edge tools.

Cummings is a long-standing fan of Thiel’s, praising him on a blog back in 2017. One of the least sexy, yet most critical, challenges was integrating bits of data from hospitals, laboratories and factories so that the Cabinet could get a better grasp of how the virus was spreading – and make better decisions.

一本道理不卡一二三区Also on the wishlist was better contact tracing and modelling to help predict how the disease would evolve.

一本道理不卡一二三区The companies pitched and within days Google, AWS, Microsoft, Palantir and Faculty AI were asked to start work immediately.

一本道理不卡一二三区For Palantir, that meant putting 40 engineers to work – for a nominal fee of £1. For just over a month, the NHS has been using Palantir’s Foundry software to bring together lab test results, hospital and supply chain data to see which hospitals need beds, gear or ventilators.

It is possible that the contact tracing data from the NHS app being trialled一本道理不卡一二三区 on the Isle of Wight could also be integrated, leading to earlier predictions.

Oswald Mosley, the British fascist was the grandfather of Louis Mosley, the chief of Palantir’s UK business Credit: Getty Creative  

It’s fair to assume Palantir won’t keep offering its services for free forever. After all, there are wages to be paid. And with its employees receiving an average £220,000 per year according to records from 2019, they do not come cheap.

Some believe that it is access to NHS data, among the most lucrative data sets in the world, that is the real attraction here.

“Palantir is asking for £1 to send tens of software engineers,” says Eerke Boiten, director of Cyber Technology Institute at De Montfort University.

一本道理不卡一二三区“If you look at their behaviour in the US they clearly do not see themselves as a charity and they do not act like they have a social conscience. So what’s the reason behind it?”

Palantir now has 600 employees in its London office. Foundry is largely engineered here.

In the past, the political views of Thiel and Alexander Karp, the US chief executive, who has described himself as a socialist, have proven divisive. The company says politics is left at the door.

With winter coming – when the NHS is under maximum pressure – and the threat of a second wave, UK health chiefs may need all the help they can get. Just as Palantir saw coronavirus coming by calling in employees from different countries, it might have predicted that it will be embedded into our health system for the foreseeable future.

But it won’t be without a fight. “We must beware Palantir – and any other data mining company – bearing gifts during a pandemic,” says Ioannis Kouvakas, legal officer at Privacy International.

一本道理不卡一二三区“Palantir’s welcome assurances must be verified once the pandemic is over. This is the only way we can make sure that a public health crisis will not turn into an opportunistic power grab.”

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