Palantir, the $20 billion data-crunching giant funded by Peter Thiel, is working with the U.S. Coast Guard, which has found itself on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic as ships become floating incubation laboratories for deadly outbreaks of the coronavirus.
According to federal procurement records, Palantir’s tools will help the U.S. Coast Guard’s “Readiness System in response to [the] COVID-19 pandemic.” The sum is small— just $11,250 is assigned to the order—but it’s a “blanket purchase agreement call,” meaning it’s one order that forms part of wider work with the contracting organization.
Palantir, based in Palo Alto, California, has been sealing deals across the world to help governments respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, Forbes revealed how the company, once heavily criticized for its work with American agencies tracking down illegal immigrants, had sold its tech to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the U.S. agency sought to monitor what masks, ventilators and staff hospitals required to fight the pandemic.
It’s unclear what the U.S Coast Guard’s “readiness system” is or how Palantir tech is helping. Typically its tools draw in masses of data from various sources – in the case of CDC, for instance, the myriad hospitals and health organizations across America – and make it easy for customers to analyze, organize and find patterns in the information. Palantir declined to comment and the U.S. Coast Guard hadn’t responded to requests for more detail.
Coast Guard rescues Americans on cruises
Part of the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard has been working alongside the CDC to help evacuate cruise ships hit by COVID-19 outbreaks. It’s now facilitated the screening, quarantine and repatriation of 250,000 passengers from more than 120 vessels in the last three weeks. That included the Grand Princess, the cruise ship that was held off the coast of San Francisco in February and was linked to a burst of coronavirus cases in California. The government agency not only provided protective gear to those on the embattled cruise ship, but also evacuated infected passengers. On April 3, the Coast Guard said it helped offload more than 1,200 passengers from cruise ships Zaandam and Rotterdam at Port Everglades, Florida.
Palantir has a long history of working with U.S. intelligence and military, one that’s often caused concern amongst human rights organizations. The CIA was an early investor via the agency’s In-Q-Tel venture fund and the company came into the spotlight after it was credited with helping hunt down Osama bin Laden. According to public contract records, it has hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with the United States Special Operations Command and the U.S. Army. The latter signed a $30 million contract in December 2019.
Palantir’s healthy side
Palantir’s recent work has included various health-related contracts. In January, Palantir signed a contract with the National Institutes of Health for $3.6 million for “comprehensive data capabilities” to the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief “to support administration of HIV-related programs.”
Palantir had previously told Forbes it was working with more than 12 national governments in their respective coronavirus efforts. The U.K.’s NHS had already revealed it was using Palantir tech in much the same way as the CDC. But there was some pushback from privacy groups in the U.K., largely thanks to the Silicon Valley company’s surveillance work and its sales to the Immigration Customs Enforcement department, which used Palantir data harvesting tech during its work chasing down undocumented immigrants.
The company was founded by social theory Ph.D. Alex Karp, a close associate of Palantir investor Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist and Trump ally. It’s one of various tech giants, including Google and Oracle, who are trying to use their data crunching capabilities to help fight COVID-19. As Forbes reported last week, Larry Ellison, the billionaire founder of Oracle, has built a database tracking every single COVID-19 treatment and its effectiveness on patients.