Debunking: “Google in bed with CIA”

Okay, somebody claimed that Google is in bed with the CIA. I thought about debunking this one via haiku, but the 5-7-5 verse syllable structure was really constraining. Even tanka, which goes with 5, 7, 5, 7, and 7 syllables on each line was too limiting. Dax says that I should debunk using rap, but I lack the hipness, Dax-dawg. So I’m going with a fictional dialogue.

The short answer is that this story is completely untrue. I would have pegged this story as one that would rattle around conspiracy sites and various blogs, but wouldn’t get traction with well-known blogs. But John Battelle surprised me by mentioning it on October 29th, and I believe that he asked Google’s PR (that’s public relations, not PageRank) team to comment on whether Google was in bed with the CIA. On November 2nd, Battelle got an official Google statement on the CIA allegations: “The statements related to Google are completely untrue.”

Here’s where the fictional dialogue comes in to play. In order to make a statement like that, you just know some poor PR person had to walk around the company making absolutely, 100% sure, that Google is not in bed with the CIA. Eventually the PR person would probably end up talking to a random co-founder, just to be completely positive. Here’s how I imagine the dialogue going. Note: I am totally making this dialogue up.

Random Google PR person: Hey, co-founder, can I grab a minute of your time?

Random Google Co-founder: I’m on my way to a meeting, you can walk with me if you want.

PR person: So a site on the web claims that Google is in bed with the CIA.

Co-founder: Huh? What are you talking about?

PR person: There’s this site claiming that Google is, like, in bed with the CIA. So, are we?

Co-founder: Dude, why are you bothering me with crap like this? Of course we’re not! I think somebody’s pulling your leg.

PR person: No, really, it was a serious inquiry. As long as we’re talking about this, can I check on just a couple other things?

Co-founder: Sure.

PR person: Are we a, let me find it, “proxy NSA outfit”?

Co-founder: What the hell are you talking about?

PR person: Someone said that “Google’s ceaseless drive to dominate Microsoft and reap untold profits has come at the expense of privacy as the company jettison’s [sic] its “don’t be evil” mandate and merges itself into a proxy NSA outfit, creating all the tools necessary for the state to suffocate its subjects under an inescapable high-tech panopticon control grid.”

Co-founder: PR person, have you been smoking crack? I seriously think someone is having fun with you. When the government sent subpoenas to 34 different companies requesting user queries and behavior, Google was the only company that said no. That was earlier this year; don’t you remember that?

PR person: So that’s a no?

Co-founder: That’s a definite no. I’ll never understand why people fixate so much on search engines. We don’t even know who people are. ISPs know everywhere people go on the web, including search engines, and they actually know things like the user’s name, address, and probably a credit card number. But even though ISPs have a strict superset of the data that search engines have for any given query, people pay more attention to search engines instead. It’s weird.

PR person: Yup. Anyway, just a few more. Did Google intentionally “disappear”

Co-founder: That name sounds familiar. Is that the guy where we weren’t able to reach his site to crawl it back in 2002, and he seemed to think that Google intentionally delisted him?

PR person: That’s the guy. He said: “This makes me very nervous for public confidence in your service since I know there is pressure on a lot of people (including govt employees here in the UK) not to allow the public to access information about the occult – which I have begun to mention on my front page in connection to the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963.”

Co-founder: Didn’t someone from the PR team personally reply back in 2002 and say that Google’s crawler couldn’t reach his site?

PR person: That’s right.

Co-founder: If we replied personally and explained it back in 2002, why would he believe us any more now?

PR person: I see your point. Hey, speaking of the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963, did Google have anything to do with that?

Co-founder: (The random co-founder stops in his tracks and stares at the PR person). What the hell? Google was founded in 1998! How could we have anything to do with the Kennedy assassination?

PR person: 1963 to 1998 is 35 years. 35 is a round number. Some people have been asking.

Co-founder: You have totally lost it! What’s next? Sasquatch monitors our crawl? The Loch Ness Monster works on search quality?

PR person: I didn’t hear a firm denial on the Kennedy thing. Are you just trying to muddy the water with sarcasm?

Co-founder: (Sigh.) Google had nothing to do with Kennedy’s death.

PR person: Thank you. Just a yes/no, that’s all I need.

Co-founder: Whatever. You’re weirding me out, man.

PR person: We’re almost done. A couple month ago, an Oxford critic said that he wasn’t showing up, and he was worried that Google might be suppressing him. He said, and I quote, “What price the Goflood-Oxreg agreement?”

Co-founder: What’s a Goflood-Oxreg agreement?

PR person: I have no idea. It sounds either good or bad, but I can’t decide which.

Co-founder: Huh. Wait a minute. Didn’t someone look into this, and it was just a difference in data centers? The site wasn’t showing up because one data center had the newest version of a binary and another data center didn’t?

PR person: Oh, that’s right, so there’s a place to point to for that fellow. Nevermind. Now, about the black helicopters.

Co-founder: What black helicopters?

PR person: You know, the ones that the government uses to ferry the Illuminati to meetings with the Knights Templar after the Trilateral Commission tells the Federal Reserve how to set the interest rates? We got a question about whether we plan to sell HelicopterWords. You know, ads on the black helicopters.

Co-founder: Okay, I’ve had enough of this. Get back to work.

PR person: (grins) So that’s a no on HelicopterWords. Check. Okay, that’s all I needed–thanks!

I want to re-iterate that this is just my personal imagination, even though I feel for the PR person who had to field that CIA inquiry.

By the way, I did embed a secret message in this post. The alternating red/green lines of color are my way to say happy holidays to everyone. 🙂

97 Responses to Debunking: “Google in bed with CIA” (Leave a comment)

  1. That just made my day Matt. Nice to see a good imagination at work.

  2. OMG! The writings on bilderberg are the works of a paranoid person! Truely insane.

  3. Methinks you protest too much… 😉

    The truly funny part of this whole thing is that ‘IF’ google was affiliated with the CIA, ECHELON or NSA, google would be denying it like crazy anyway…

    So you can’t win this argument Matt, no matter what you or google say.

    The fact is you worked for the NSA (Internship) and you and google (as long as you work for them) are NEVER going to get away from that… never.

    Maybe you should just admit it and threaten people with being put in a secret prison if they talk about it…. just like the ‘real’ thing does…

  4. Poor Mr. Cutts. Now you have to answer to all these delusive articles.

    Excellent imaginary conversation, by the way.

  5. Matt,

    Are you suggesting that ISPs collect all their users’ data and store it indefinitely? That’s what privacy people are bummed about — not that Google *sees* the data as it passes through the system, but that it is actively *storing* the data.



  6. yo matt I think they got what they wanted allot of free advertisment,
    I think it was you who said write something controversial and it seems to draw the hits.

    I am drawing up now my “Google is in Bed with Alien” blog so I can get the hits he has from his post.

    Nice link bait I would say.

  7. Best post ever! I cant stop laughing. I’ve talked to some folks that believe this mess (not friends mind you — but smart computer folks that are… a bit crazy). Cant wait to share this link! Just what I needed. Thanks

  8. > 1963 to 1998 is 35 years. 35 is a round number. Some people have been asking.

    You posted this blog at 12:47. 47 minus 12 is *also* 35. Coincidence? I think not…

    So is Nessie a good office mate?

  9. Another case of blogging for readers, not for search engines…? 😉

  10. That’s really funny 🙂

  11. Nice post Matt, I havnt been on this blog for a while , busy with a lot of things but glad our team can read up now and again

    From all of us

    Have a Merry Christmas

  12. I read it in an Aarin Sorkin, West Wing, walking while talking with the camera angles coming in from different rooms and down the corridor kind of way.

  13. I personally saw two Googlers at the CIA when they brought me in for questioning. I can’t say what the questioning was about but I can confirm the Google rumour. There. It’s been confirmed. End of argument. Oops. Gotta go. There’s someone at the do……..

  14. I love the line “Sasquatch monitors our crawl?” The next update should be called “Sasquatch”.

  15. No connection to the Kennedy thing. Rats. There goes ANOTHER great page idea….

  16. That is so Daniel Brandt.

  17. JLH, that’s totally it! You and me are mindmelding on this. Anyone want to act the scene out on YouTube? 🙂

  18. Always Behind Dave

    I want to see a skit where they eventually run out of hallways to walk down…nice dialogue Mr. Cutts.

  19. My vote for the daftest post ever.

    I’ll retract this comment the day Google actually admits it is in bed with the CIA.

  20. If the green red text is your way of sending out holiday cheer I am glad you are not my secret Santa! Hold it a second maybe having you as a secret Santa might be good too as I can imagine your friends and relatives scratching their heads as they look at a coupon for “1 Free Expedited Re-inclusion Request” tucked in their Christmas cards, that would be pretty sweet actually.

    Happy Holidays Matt and thanks for all the efforts!

  21. That was fun Matt.

    Let’s see if your server can handle the Digg effect.


  22. Just be careful with the shadows … we don’t want to mess up the scene like we did in ’69.

  23. That Co-Founder’s speech patterns sound an awful lot like Sergey’s. 🙂

  24. Thanks Matt, after a long week of abuse it was quite a refreshing read. Might be some truth to “Google is in Bed with Alien” wasn’t Vanessa spotted in a video with that Y guy?

    Has Big Brother morphed into a Site Map?

  25. What about the rumor that Google hired you soley because you were still licensed to kill due to your work at the NSA ?

  26. I only have one question: why not just tie your can to Kim Jong-Il? At least he’s got cool stuff like 10-ton nuclear warheads for Google to play with. 🙂

  27. I wouldn’t be super ‘frustrated’ or ‘upset’ over this type of a thing if I where Google. Success breeds attention. Would Google rather be GigaBlast or some other small engine?

  28. If there’s no conspiracy, why can’t I get my HelicopterAds to show up first? 🙂

  29. Google maintains what is probably the single largest database of information on the world, ever. Google’s search index contains many significant details on the lives of millions of people, and Google has some pretty advanced data analysis tools and expertise.

    I’m not naiive enough to think that covert operational agencies of governments (no, not just the US government, but every government) wouldn’t want to get their grubby little hands on that data.

    Whether or not the CIA have access beyond going to and typing in “death to america” I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me. It also wouldn’t suprise me if you didn’t know about it, Matt, if it was happening.

    Google is one of the most important companies in the world, of course the ‘intelligence community’ would want to keep an eye on it (or preferably keep it as an ally.)

    (Note: I’m not a conspiracy nut. I don’t believe Matt Cutts is really Condolezza Rice in an elaborate costume, and I don’t believe Sergey Brin is hiding Osama in his mansion’s guest bedroom. I don’t believe Google are “in bed with the CIA”, just that the CIA would love it if they were.)

  30. Ok Mr Debunker so what are you doing with all that data you’re gathering? Perhaps using in your ranking algo to determine which sites people are visiting how long they are there and how many pages they are visiting? What about Google reader are you aggregating subscription rate and volume data figuring out which sites people are visiting? Why are you redirecting HTML links in Gmail through Google first instead of going directly to the website, maybe you want to know which sites people are visiting?

  31. This post cracked me up man… Good job!

    Thing is, the CIA/NSA might not be calling the shots at Google, but what if.. Well, what if one of Google’s 9000 employees is an undercover for some agency? Particularly an employee who has access to Google’s db and can run queries all days.

    Ever think of that?


  32. > ISPs know everywhere people go on the web,
    > including search engines, and they actually know things
    > like the user’s name, address, and probably a credit card
    > number.

    But Matt, I gave you guys my credit card number as part of Google Answers! And you got my bank account details in AdWords too! And I gave you my address, don’t you remember, when I requested to get those AdSense checks! And my full name is stored in your Google Account of me, too! And you have all my searches ’cause I’m logged in, and all my emails ’cause I use Gmail, and all my surfing history ’cause I use the Google Toolbar! And you know when I chat with peope, ’cause I got Google Talk, and all my vacation snapshots I uploaded to Picasa, the option which hides the URL, and you know all the files on my hard drive, ’cause I got Google Desktop! And don’t you know last time I went to the doctor, I put up an appointment in Google Calendar. You know where my doctor is located, don’t you, ’cause I looked it up on my mobile Google Maps! And you know what I buy, ’cause I paid with Google Checkout! You know how many people visit my website, ’cause I got Google Analytics in it, and you know all my friends, ’cause I use Orkut! How could you forget all that? Do I need to provide my credit card data again? I will, I will!

    [ This was a fictional answer. Besides, privacy issues are for the paranoid 😉 ]

  33. I started to respond to your comment for real, Philipp. Then I saw the last sentence. 🙂

  34. Uhmmm, I would say Google is in Bed with the CIA, if you type in CIA into google you always get the CIA, its not a sponsored link and if google listings are all dependant on other sites linking to yours who would possibly want to link to the CIA… Conspiracy me thinks and my poor site doesnt even get a single hit 🙁 think I might have to resort to buying one of those ad spaces on the black helicopters, how much???

  35. Really nice. Loved it

  36. Matt, It’s because I was channeling you earlier today when taking a look at a site that’s been banned, asking myself, “what would Matt see?”

    I’d get on the you tube video but my production skills are not nearly up to par..but I know who is.

  37. The most cryptic of messages ever as well!

    So let me get this straight? This is fictional? 😀

    Matt is taking up part time comedy writing… I won’t even be able to try repeat this one in the pub! Quite niche!

  38. Matt,

    The rumour is that Google keeps all data it’s ever recorded. That’s a vast amount of personal data. Of course there’ll be questions related to privacy. Having said that, the UK government has access to all UK ISPs anyway so perhaps it’s irrelevant for those in the UK anyway.

  39. JLH, I could do it with sock puppets: a co-founder puppet and a PR person puppet. I’ve got a few more things to debunk though, so I think I’ll work on them first.

  40. On the subject on debunking !! Debunk this….

    Even though Google’s presence is Global they clearly do not actually recognise the concept of Global trade and competition where hosting suppliers should be able to harvest customers from around the world.

    Because Google insist on assuming the target location/audience of a web site is based on where it is hosted !!!! thus they use the location of the server to filter local SERPs.

    For those that think a .com is a U.S. domain, think again! the TLD you should be thinking is .us so for all those firms and webmasters out there who use their brain to find a better quality hosting provider / pricing structure – beware! as Google will penalise you if you go abroard away from your target audience to benefit yourself or your customers.. as “local” SERP’s has the illogical hand of Google filtering out what was once very relevent sites from what the prospective customer will now see.

    Recently, I have noticed that Google’s methods of allocating country location to domain names is causing certain problems to some of my clients domain names appearing in Google’s “local” SERP’s pages. Let me briefly explain…….

    Why Google doesn’t give the Webmaster an option in their control panel to allocate main target location of website is beyond me and very short sighted by Google. Or could they be hand in hand with certain Hosting providers in the big hubs around the world engaged in anti-competitive practices to rip the customer base off ???

  41. Hey Matt, why don’t you mention your own previous employment by the Intelligence industry??

  42. I heard Google was responsible for the that guy getting the dentist drills that were used on Dustin Hoffman in the Marathon Man.

    Even though, Google wasn’t around then, they still had a hand in it.

    Is it safe?

  43. LOL More likely Google owns the CIA ;-).

  44. LOL loved it 🙂 Happy holidays to u too

  45. You meant Merry Christmas, right? This war on christmas thing is getting out of hand. “Happy Holidays” is a sham.

  46. Has it occurred to any of the tin foil hat wearers that…

    …Google has developed technology that’s good at digging through lots of information?

    …The intelligence community has lots of information to dig through?

    The U.S. government throws billions of your tax dollars away every year paying big defense contractors to produce all sorts of software to help them manage their information better, and most of what they get for it is CRAP. If some bright soul in the intelligence community put two and two together and said “hey, Google is good at this, let’s license their technology to sift through our own data,” then I say good on ’em.

    Maybe the intelligence community owns a few hundred Google Search Appliances. Or maybe the’ve replicated Google’s crawler and storage architecture for use on their own stuff. Does that mean they’re “in bed?” Not any more than they’re “in bed” with HON because they own a few thousand desks.

  47. “Hey Matt, why don’t you mention your own previous employment by the Intelligence industry??” Joe Blogger, because it’s not relevant.

    I’ve always been happy to verify that I interned for the Dept. of Defense in college. See for example, where I talked about it:

    Daniel Brandt of claims you worked for the NSA before, and that you have “a top-secret clearance.” Any comments on him and his statements?

    I have mixed feelings about Daniel Brandt. I disagree with a great deal of what he says and how he says it. For example, his theory that Google’s index size was limited by 4 byte docids was just 100% wrong. I also think the little graphics on do more harm than good to the site’s credibility. This one is my favorite (Google as puppeteer pulling the strings on a reporter).

    But you’re probably more curious about whether I, Matt Cutts, am a secret connection between Google and the Military-Industrial Complex, the Illuminati, or any other shadow government and their black helicopters. And the answer is no. 🙂 The University of Kentucky offers college students a co-operative education program where you alternate between working for a semester and studying for a semester. Students can work at places from Kodak to Lexmark to NASA to the Department of Defense. I decided to co-op at the DoD because I wanted to get some real-world experience and I wanted a job at an interesting place. For a young college student, co-operative education shows you what to expect after you graduate, and it was useful for me to see the good (and the bad) of a real workplace.

    I doubt that I left much of a lasting impact on the DoD, and in turn I don’t believe that they implanted me with any mind-control chips that would allow them near Google’s servers. 🙂 I believe whatever security clearance I had lapsed years ago. Thanks for asking and giving me the chance to clear that up. Daniel Brandt, if you happen to read this, would you mind updating your “Spooks on board at Google” page to note that I do not have a security clearance? Thanks!

  48. Um, I hope the CIA if they are so intelligent does do something with Google. Its a goldmine of information about individuals. If they aren’t I would consider them not really that intelligent.

  49. Jim, I woke up this morning and I was on the front page of Digg, so I guess the submission worked. I never installed WP-Cache 2.0 after the last digg wave, so now I really have to get my butt in gear. 🙂

  50. Google is the rebranding of microsoft. slowly, it has your trust. The Arpanet was originally designed for this type of stuff it was a DoD project you know. If all these people think that the CIA is not looking at Google data well I hope Santa Claus brings you nice presents this year say hi to the tooth fairy.

  51. Sorry, was my use of the word “crap” too much for everyone?

  52. Unfortunately, my eyes can’t tell red and green apart too well so I missed the happy holidays easter egg 🙂

  53. webasylum:

    While I’m not, and never have been, in agreement with local results being based solely off of domain name and/or IP address, I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume or even suggest that it’s because Google is in bed with major hosting providers.

    Personally, I don’t even think it should go as far as the webmaster console. There are other options that could be automatically employed:

    1) WHOIS info (for those domains that are not proxied.)
    2) Site footers and headers which contain the location address(es).
    3) A scan of the contact page.

    Then, if necessary, use the webmaster console.

    I tend to agree with you, though…it’s something I’d like to see addressed as a Canadian. Anyone who has built an ASP-based site of any significance has experienced the gross incompetence and lack of ability on the part of Canadian hosts to support the language and/or configure the server correctly for even such simple tasks as writing to a database (I’ve dealt with 10 Canadian hosts, and all 10 have messed this up completely.)

    So my server is in the States…for this and a series of other reasons. And for my clients who use my server and registered .coms back in the day when registering a .CA required $50-$75 USD per annum, a series of additional online forms, six passes through a metal detector, and a 3-hour grilling by two bad cops just to be sure that it was a legit registration, registering a .CA and 301ing the .com to the .CA isn’t justified. This only affects a couple of clients though, and it’s not a major issue as a result.

    Big G’s not the only one that has issues that way. All three do.

    But I’m with you and I ask aloud: is there going to be any work in regards to regionalization of content any time soon?

  54. “I don’t believe that they implanted me with any mind-control chips” im sure thats what most would say if they had been implanted or if gang probed by aliens, ofcourse you would deny it, lol besides if the chips control the mind, how would someone ever know???

    “I wanted a job at an interesting place” – NASA wasnt an interesting place???

  55. Starts working on draft version of “Matt Cutts loses Top Secret Security Clearance for Failing to Share Google’s Data with the CIA”

    OK just kidding … really … put down the large heavy object 😉

  56. Problem is that noone beyond one or two people would really know if the CIA were working within google – they’d just send over a talented recruit or two or three; and google founders or PR people wouldn’t even notice.
    My guess is that yes, there probably are govt officials in Google; and in an even more international company like Microsoft there are probably spies from every country where they have employees – at least that could explain all the holes in Windows – one backdoor for each country where they have an office.

  57. Dont dissasemble Johnny 5

    Google + Myspace +Porn =The devil(CIA) A omnipotent allpowerful entity with eyes everywhere taking advantage of our cyber community and the price of so called anonymity.

    The thought that your secret is safe in some super server in a huge room with lead walls and super clean spooks in white coats tallying up your demise. The fact that if I type “bomb” I will cause one of there red flags to blink and that spook will be epileptic and instead of pushing the green button he will push the red one.


  58. And the unbiased Warren Commission determined without a shadow of a doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK

  59. Matt, come on. Let’s be serious here. You are setting up the PR guy in your dialogue as a total straw man. Illuminati? Black helicopters? Panopticon control grids? Give me a break. Most reasonable people really do not believe that crap. Those are not the things that concerned citizens are concerned about. To make up dialogue that paints anyone concerned about privacy as an Illuminati-monger is, frankly, irresponsible and does not serve your larger goal of myth debunking.

    Forget the conspiracy nonsense for a moment. The fact is, the PATRIOT act gives the government the right to demand personal information from companies in secret, and makes it illegal for those companies to reveal that the government has sought this information. Now, let us also look at relatively recent information that has come to light around warrantless wiretapping and AT&T cooperation with the government (e.g. through those data centers in San Francisco). I am sure the full truth is yet to come out, but even the most reasonable of people understand by now that, in some way, shape, or form, the government has been exercising the quiet information collection powers granted to it in the PATRIOT act. Do you agree with this? Is it really that crazy or “panoptic” of us to think that the government is doing something as mundane as exercising the powers it granted to itself through the PATRIOT legislation? Nothing conspiratorial about that at all.

    Now, if this is a reasonable thing to agree upon, that the government has actually used its legal powers of information gathering, is it so unreasonable and conspiratorial simply to wonder whether the government has asked Google for information? Not the public, porn case. But in a quiet, PATRIOT terrorist manner. Heck, if I were in the government, I think I would be a fool if I didn’t at least TRY to use this legal power to find terrorists. Is it really so unreasonable to think this way?

    If it is not unreasonable, if you can agree that rational, non-conspiratorial people might actually have valid concerns over secret sharing of information, in whatever form that sharing takes, then you need to address that. But you do us all a huge disservice if you address it by trying to paint anyone that asks the question as a black helicopter Illuminati nut.

    I think John Battelle explored the issue much better in his book. Let me help you with the debunking by quoting it here. I claim fair use in this short quotation, as it is for illustrative, pedagogical purposes, so hopefully this isn’t a copyright issue. From “The Search”:

    In early 2005, I sat down with Sergey Brin and asked what he thinks of the PATRIOT Act, and whether Google has a stance on its implications. His response: “I have not read the PATRIOT Act.” I explain the various issues at hand, and Brin listens carefully. “I think some of these concerns are overstated,” he begins. “There has never been an incident that I am aware of where any search company, or Google for that matter, has somehow divulged information about a searcher.” I remind him that had there been such a case, he would be legally required to answer in just this way. That stops him for a moment, as he realizes that this very answer, which I believe was in earnest, could be taken as evasive. If Google had indeed been required to give information over to the government, certainly he would not be able to tell either the suspect or the inquiring journalist. He then continues. “At the very least, [the government] out to give you a sense of the nature of the request, ” he said. “But I don’t view this as a realistic issue, personally. if it became a problem, we could change our policy on it.”

    So, Matt, that is all you needed to say. That paragraph pretty much sums up the whole myth. You don’t need to make up some ridiculous, crazy nut conspiracy straw man, and have him wave his hands around (vicariously, through the PR person) at some “anonymous” Google co-founder. You don’t need to make up dialogue for this anonymous co-founder, either. No, the Sergey Brin quote from Battelle’s book gives you everything you want to say: “There has never been an incident that I am aware of where …Google…has somehow divulged information about a searcher.” That paragraph gives the answer without insulting our intelligence.

    Creating the conspiracy nut garners you points with the Google fanbois; they eat it right up. But what it fails to do is acknowledge that there are a good number of reasonable people out there, with reasonable, understandable and even logical concerns. And by glossing over certain aspects of the issue, like the fact that, if the government had asked for information, Brin would also be legally required to answer the way he did, you lose the chance to really address, and thus really debunk, this issue.

    [For example, given that we already know Google has not released any data to the government via the PATRIOT Act, not from your made-up dialogue but from an actual Sergey Brin quote, it would be highly relevant if you addressed the corollary: (1) Has the government ever asked Google for information, via the PATRIOT Act? Not that you complied, but did they ever ask? And (2) If so, how did Google actually manage to protect all of us and legally not comply with the request? Matt, do you remember a month or two ago when Google asked Yahoo and MS for information on its book scanning programs, in order to help bolster its own legal arguments? Maybe if you shared with MS and Yahoo (and the rest of us) the manner in which you were able to legally avoid complying with the PATRIOT Act, that might help Yahoo and MS in their ability to protect our privacy as well. Help do some good for society as a whole by helping out your competitors in this one matter. And as a side bonus, the myth would be irrevocably debunked.]

    So please, the next time you go about debunking, please try to treat the issue with a little more seriousness. I know you are trying to be funny when you mention the JFK assassination, but by painting anyone with the least bit of concern over the issue as a nut, you minimize and belittle (and ignore) anyone with further honest, legitimate questions. One doesn’t have to believe that Google has “merged itself into a proxy NSA outfit” capable of suffocating all of its subjects in order to have a straightforward concern over whether information is being shared.

    With all respect. And happy holidays, back at ya 🙂

  60. What lbft said.

    Much of the reply seems to be:

    1) Vigorously pumelling of straw-men. No, the Google logo is not The Mark Of The Beast.
    But Google *does* have huge stored databases, much of it linkable to a person’s identity through various services.

    2) Fallacy of the excluded middle
    ISP data-retention is a big issue. In fact, that dovetails neatly with Google’s databases, since if one uses the ISP database to link people to IP, and Google’s databases to link IP to behavior, that’s an awesome surveillance system. All almost completely privatized.

    3) Misleading implication
    As Google-watchers should know, the Google opposition to the DOJ study was based mostly on trade-secret reasons. It was not some brave civil-libertarian opposition. Google has flogged this relentlessly for the PR value, which might be understandable given its image problems on the topic, but nowhere proves what it’s alleged to prove (“Look, we made a huge PR fuss over trivia – thus, we’ll stand up to the CIA!”)

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to write as if there’s no *legitimate* *grounds* *for* *concern*. Outside observers are hardly going to get all the details rights (CIA? NSA? FBI? Secret Service? Off-The-Shelf Operation?), and there’s always crazy people. But just because there’s paranoids doesn’t mean there aren’t justified suspicions (SWIFT data scandal? AT&T/NSA monitoring? etc.)

  61. is it really paranoid to think there’s more to the world?

    Is it?

  62. That’s really funny! This is one of the best posts we have been.Thanks.
    Happy Christmas.

  63. Greetings, Seth! I respectfully disagree with you on #3. It didn’t matter whether it was for COPA or whatever reason: from the beginning, we considered it very important to defend against the government’s request for two full months of queries. Certainly the trade secret aspect was a strong argument we used, but I was there for the Google discussions, I spent most of February working on the declaration to fight that request, so I know that the reason Google fought so hard was for our users’ privacy. I’ve seen you say similar things on e.g. Google Blogoscoped, and I wanted to note that I disagree completely with you on point #3. If you read my declaration in the DOJ case, you saw the extra protections that Google puts in place to protect user data (e.g. please review paragraphs 31-34 of the declaration).

    My counterpoint is that Google attracts scrutiny while other search engines hide ads in their search results, or skew their results with pay-for-inclusion, yet few people closely examine the practices of other search engines. It used to frustrate me when I would see a see different hotel/travel results for two different search engines when both engines were powered by the same Inktomi database. In each case, the travel/hotel results from each engine skewed toward the travel/hotel properties offered by the respective engines. That is, search engine A would return A’s travel/hotel property near the top of the organic search results, while search engine B would return B’s travel/hotel property. Yet both engines A and B were powered by Inktomi, which meant each was turning the scoring knob to favor their own properties. Since Google wasn’t involved, no one else ever noticed.

  64. Hey, Daniel Brandt stopped by to comment, but he posted on my comments policy over here.

    I’ll copy the comment over on this thread as well:

    I’ve been following Robert David Steele’s career since the early 1990s, and I feel that he is more credible than Matt Cutts. Steele also says he knows Larry Page. I don’t agree with much that Steele says on a philosophical level. For one thing, he is pro-Google in a manner that I find rather silly. Basically, he thinks Google can become some sort of a benevolent World Brain if they do things right. I feel that any such techno-utopianism is fundamentally dangerous and flies in the face of what we know about human nature from the study of history.

    But the point is that Steele has made some rather specific statements about Google in bed with the CIA.

    He names the CIA’s point man for the Google/CIA interface as someone he knows, Dr. Rick Steinheiser in the Office of Research and Development. Yes, the guy is for real — you can Google him. Now then, why won’t Matt Cutts start dealing with the specifics of Steele’s statements, instead of insulting everyone seeking more information on this issue? It’s a rough guess, but my feeling is that Steele knows about one thousand times more people in the intelligence community than Matt Cutts, and probably has a better perspective on the issue even if he doesn’t work at the Googleplex.

  65. Greetings, Mr. Brandt. The article you cited also claims that “Google was also caught red-handed attempting to bury the Charlie Sheen 9/11 story at the height of its notoriety.” I know by direct experience that claim was false.

    A note to commenters: please be civil. If I see any ad hominem attacks, esp. on Mr. Brandt, your comment will be pruned and I may delete all your other comments on this blog.

  66. As silly as conspiracy theories sometimes are, they reflect some kind of subconscious emotion–in this case the idea that since Google holds so much of our information, it could do dangerous things with it.

  67. “I think Google took money from the CIA when it was poor and it was starting up and unfortunately our system right now floods money into spying and other illegal and largely unethical activities, and it doesn’t fund what I call the open source world,” said Steele, citing “trusted individuals” as his sources for the claim.

    And yet, on Steele’s company site.

    Kind of a familiar-looking logo above the fold on the left side, isn’t it? Let’s Supersearch the site! 😉

    Matt, level with us: you’re not debunking because you’re trying to do damage control. You’re debunking because all the sensationalistic crap is too much fun not to play with. Come on. Admit it. 😉

  68. Multi-Worded Adam, I honestly didn’t think this particular post would attract so much serious discussion. If anyone is interested in Open Source Intelligence (that’s something Robert Steele is a big fan of), there was a good article in the New York Times last week:

    And of course Brandt has been doing some version of that, gathering citations from open publications, with NameBase for years while the rest of you lazy bums were watching the Cosby Show and TRL.

  69. Matt, as you know, the government went down to one week of queries, and later after it went to court, to 5,000. Plus they were very clear that they didn’t want any identifying information. Google’s PR on this takes advantage of people’s ignorance of the difference between a piddling records subpoena, and heavy-duty National Security. To the general public, it’s all “The Government”. You guys know better.

    Even assuming the most charitable interpretation for Google, the fact remains that it was an absolutely costless action, and one that yielded enormous favorable PR. That’s a very far cry from situatiions which would have legal gag orders involved and some real risk.

    And higher scrutiny is part and parcel of having the brand being so prominent.

    By the way, for the record, right now I’m not all that impressed by the specifics of the CIA allegations (as much as I can even make them out). But the possibility is almost prosaic, especially given again SWIFT and AT&T/NSA.

  70. SethF, you may not know, but it took a lot of effort to get the request down to 1 week. Even that was too much for us. I believe the government admitted it would only need 5,000 queries only *after* many (all?) of Google’s declarations had been filed. And a precedent in this case would not have been good at all. The action may have seemed costless to you, but it sure caused a hell of a lot of distraction and stress for me from December to February. I believed it was a very serious matter from the first time I heard of it, and I’m glad we fought it tooth and nail.

    Anyway, I’d rather concentrate on the many things we agree on. I agree that more scrutiny is part and parcel of being well-known. Although it’s stressful, it’s a good thing when people give us grief for not handling things in the perfect way. It pressures Google to keep doing better in lots of little ways (e.g. visible DMCA notices, alerting webmasters that their sites have been hacked) that other engines don’t bother with. And all those little things add up and eventually engender more loyalty from our users.

    Okay, I really need to go to bed now. It’s close to 3 a.m. my time.

  71. Just for the record Matt…

    You say you interned at DoD, but isn’t NSA part of the DoD?

    Did you Intern at NSA?

    Did you work on data collection, classification and storage when you interned at the DoD?

  72. [quote]“Hey Matt, why don’t you mention your own previous employment by the Intelligence industry??” Joe Blogger, because it’s not relevant.[/quote]

    It is relevant Matt, it is what this is ALL about…

    Matt, If you want to debunk this ‘rumor’ you sure are going about it in a strange way.

  73. Google isn’t the only one, apparent AT&T is too….

  74. Well, you denied being involved with the Illuminati, but I see no denial of belonging to Majestic 12! 😉

  75. That was a nice little play you put on, but it does nothing to debunk the claim. Your PR person would be the last to know of anything like that was going on. And even if they did know, they would do everything in their power to deny it, because that’s their job. You can’t deny that google deals with goverment departments, and I’m sure the details of many of those dealings never get revealed to the public. By definition, that is conspiring with the CIA. I expect all large corporations with matters of national security to deal with the goverment to keep america safe. To deny those dealings is expected, but unbelievable. I think the better topic is “Google in Bed with China More than Our Own Government.”

  76. robert steele was on the alex jones show a couple days ago again. here’s a link to the recap on he stands by his statements and states that google is “lying” (he used that word) regarding its denial of ongoing involvement with the CIA. he also stated that the relationship is “small but significant” and that google has not been able to do most of what the CIA has asked it to do.

    michael hampton, a blogger reporting on the homeland security business, blogged extensively about a google CIA relationship back in february of 2006 and again this past october. he claims his sources confirm steele’s comments.

    a google CIA relationship has already been established, connections go back to VC funding and to the keyhole acquisition.

    what is most unfortunate, though, is the way most people immediately dismiss even the mere reporting of comments made by ex-CIA agents regarding a google/CIA connection as irreputable “conspiracy theories”. such individuals are clearly ignorant of the CIA’s history, its use of media companies to control propaganda (as admitted in declassified documents pertaining to operation mockingbird) and through the CIA’s use of front companies (as clearly and thoroughly outlined in ex-CIA officer Victor Marchetti’s book The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence.).

    perhaps there is no relationship between google and the CIA, or that it is entirely innocuous. to assume this blindly, though, can only be done by those ignorant of history.

  77. As one of the people who dismissed it, I can give you at least three reasons why I did:

    1) The information gathered by Google is either obtainable by the government through search (querying the engine), trackable through other means than Analytics (AWStats, Live Stats, etc.), or at best inaccurate (IP addresses can be spoofed, and geotargeting based on IP is far from an exact science…see AOL for a prime example.)

    2) Even if the claims WERE true, there are very simple countermeasures for users to avoid the trap as it were. Users could simply not use the Google services outright and search for alternatives.

    3) The webmasters who have made these types of claims claims have done nothing at all to boycott big G, and in many cases (e.g. Steele) have used Google as the search engine of choice for their sites.

    Don’t believe me? Click the link I posted earlier. You’ll see it there. The guy who CLAIMS big G is lying is using the tool and thereby contributing to the very same potential data mining and security breach he rails against! That’s a hole in the conspiracy argument big enough to drive a Mack truck through!

    Want another example? Here you go:,GGLF:2006-19,GGLF:en&q=site%3agoogle%2dwatch%2eorg

    Google’s biggest basher isn’t blocking big G from accessing his site and thereby runs the risk of hypocritically using the very search engine he speaks out against as a source of traffic.

    Let’s see him block the Googlebot from indexing the site.
    Let’s see Steele do so.
    Let’s see everyone who subscribes to the conspiracy theory to do so.

    Go ahead. You want to whine about the data mining? You want to whine about the CIA arrangement, assuming there is one? Go ahead and stop contributing to it. Boycott it.

    (Yeah, like THAT’S ever gonna happen.)

    This, among other things, is why I dismissed the theory: there is simply too much hypocrisy and lack of anything substantial to back it up. Show some real, hard evidence and show how you’re not contributing and then step forward.

    kid mercury, I will give you credit for one thing: at least you had the stones to stand up and say who you were. That’s straight-up. Your head’s not quite in the right place yet, but at least you’re not afraid to stand up and I respect that.

  78. Addendum: just found another example on the Homeland Stupidity site.

    Anyone notice who supplies the ads in the top right corner of the articles themselves? Kinda looks familiar, doesn’t it? All mah hypocrites on the west side say WUT! WUT!

  79. This is funny but also a nice subject to talk about . . . Aaaah don’t we all like to talk about some conspiracy stuff ? ? ?

    How can you test if Google’s in bed with CIA ( I don’t want to imagine what an orgy this would be ). Well, you write something on your website, something the CIA wants, but it must be something the CIA realy has to go after, it has to sound very true. Also this subject has to be something that would make Google remove the website from the index, something agaisn’t the Google politics. If the content is up, the only thing you have to do is wait.

    If the CIA gets you first then you know Goolge has nothing to do with the CIA, but if you get a message from Google that your website has been removed from the index, and a couple of moments later you some guy dressed in black give you a free ticked to Cuba . . . then you know that there something wrong in the neighborhood 😀 . But hey, don’t be sad, you might be the first prisoner to see the new high security prison block Hellyburton built in Guantanamo.

    Hey, what about the Google coockies that expire in 2038 . . . couldn’t this be some kinda information collector about your surfing habbits which also sends the MAC address of the connection you use to surf the web to Google. There’s a special room with huge servers about two miles under the Google building which contians all kinda data bout you . . . They know who you’re mad about ( mad in a way a fan is ), which ware sites you visit, what your sexual habbits are ( what I mean is what porn site you visit regulary ) etc. etc.

    Oooh, btw, I read somewhere that ther Roswell crash wasn’t a crash of a flying saucer full with aliens . . . What happened was actualy a time machine sent back from Google. Due to a software problem the time travel device wans’t metarialised on the ground . . . it was materialised about two miles above the surface . . . so it crashed and the rest is known 😀 😀 😀

  80. >>>”The webmasters who have made these types of claims claims have done nothing at all to boycott big G.”

    Where is the logic in boycotting?
    You sound like G.W. Bush… don’t like em, don’t talk to em… Not a sound policy in politics or anywhere else for that matter.

    As far as your example of google watch… it would be rather ridiculous to have a site that is all about google not be in the google index… At least I think so.

    >>>”Your head’s not quite in the right place yet”

    Maybe kid mercury’s head is not in the right place (not my place… or yours to judge), but his argument has merit, yours did not.

    FYI – After he read this thread, Daniel Brant of google watch emailed me with a copy of your old Resume Matt…
    Rather interesting reading, I’d hire you in a heart beat, but I don’t think I could afford you and I don’t really need someone with ALL your classified government experience. 😉

  81. You sound like G.W. Bush… don’t like em, don’t talk to em… Not a sound policy in politics or anywhere else for that matter.

    Okay, so if you don’t like a company, it doesn’t make sense to have nothing to do with them if at all possible (which it certainly is in this case?)

    And if these people who have such big issues with privacy and government relationships and international terrorist threats and whatever other conspiracy theories du jour are floating around, they can’t use the other search engines out there?

    It’s not just a vicious rumour kids…they really do exist! Matt’s even mentioned them in this blog.

    As far as whether should be in the Google index, I’m not saying Google should censor it. I’m saying that, if Brandt really believes that the company is as evil as it is, he should make a point of keeping himself out of the same index. It’s not hard to do. A little robots.txt magic and he’s done.

    But he won’t do that. Why? Because he covets the Google traffic. As do the other sites. And in the case of the other sites, they covet the additional services big G provides. That is blatant and obvious hypocrisy on their parts, and it means that anything further that they might have to say on the issue can at best be taken with a very large grain of salt.

    As far as merit goes, my argument has some strong facts that cannot and should not be conveniently ignored:

    FACT: Steele uses Google for his site’s internal search engine. The link was posted earlier. Go look if you don’t believe me. This stands alone as far as discrediting the story goes.

    Funny, though: it’s the thing that gets ignored the most in all of this by those who would choose to support the conspiracy theory.

    FACT: uses Google Adsense on the same page where they post the article.

    FACT: None of the sites block the Googlebot in any way, shape, or form.

    I don’t have a problem with people complaining…they MIGHT be right. But when these people, in at least two cases, make direct use of Google services for business purposes, they’re biting the hand that feeds them.

    If these people truly believed what they were saying, and truly believed in the causes that they fought for, they would not contribute in any way, shape, or form to the company that provides the services they so emotionally and vaguely get up on their soapbox and complain about. Otherwise, they’re hypocrites. There really isn’t a better word to describe it.

    Choice 1: do something about the problem you claim is there.
    Choice 2: remain hypocritical.

    It’s that simple.

  82. >>>Okay, so if you don’t like a company, it doesn’t make sense to have nothing to do with them if at all possible (which it certainly is in this case?)

    Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring google (or anything else) is the way a ten year old would deal with the problem.

    Adults face problems and deal with them.

  83. Happy Holidays to you and yours too, Matt. 🙂 Thanks for the laughs.

    (From a usual lurker.)

  84. Hmm very interesting investigation :p ahaha, who is thr prguy ? is it Matt Cutts? l dont trust google other than they are always tring to get the biggest cake from web incomes, so whynot, google co founders might think whoever pays higher l can work for them, thats very normal if u think in this side, but what about the keeping the web moe clean ? respecting our costemerts requests. thats nonsense what gogle do , if they do. if they loose peoples trust, they get loose in a short time.

  85. Nice to see your thread up and running maybe the fact this page disapeared a while was a cia conspiracy

  86. Conclusive Proof We Went to the Moon

    I have, on occasions, danced with the delusionati.
    Maybe false flags do fly.
    Perhaps there was a conspiracy of liberty,
    But we certainly went to the moon.

  87. Just a quick thought, why does Google now ask for your library card number when setting up a new email account? Wasn’t there some bruhaha about text in the patriot act making it legal to record what books people are checking out? This was a really big issue with privacy and free thought advocates.

    I agree with the guy that said “methinks you protest too much” As my sicilian grandfather used to say, “trust everyone and trust no one”

  88. When I was thinking I just inventend the Helicopter Ads … I had to find this post.
    Damn ! 🙂

  89. So you also do not believe in the existence of the Pat Robertson Intelligence Scholars program either? You all doth protest creatively and excessively, I’ll give you that.

  90. It’s nice to see soe people actually thiking for themselves in some of the comments.

    I have no proof that the CIA is in bed with google, but you only need to understand how the CIA works, and research all of the criminal activities they’ve been engaged in since they were formed after WW2.

    You can never discount anything these crooks (CIA) are blamed for, as their documented track record is crazier than any fiction we’ve ever seen produced.

    There are tons of free documentaries out there, like secrets of the CIA, and the power of nightmares, research for yourselves people!

  91. Nice imagination, BUT … get real – the name of their contact at the CIA has been exposed.

    His name is Dr. Rick Steinheiser, he’s in the Office of Research and Development at the Central Intelligence Agency. “One of the problems with privatized power is that it’s not subject to public audit,” said Steele, arguing that groups should rally to “put Google out of business unless they’re willing to go the open source software route.”

    Robert David Steele, a 20-year Marine Corps infantry and intelligence officer and a former clandestine services case officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, is the CEO of

  92. Well… let us not forget the Web was born out of DARPA. There is also an encrypted, secure layer of digital data flows not accessible or visible to the public. Hey wait a minute I think I saw big foot on my monitor.

  93. I expect all large corporations with matters of national security to deal with the goverment to keep america safe.

  94. Now why would a debunking piece by a Google employee about Google being in bed with the CIA be at the top of a Google search? Of course Google is a CIA operation.

  95. The comments made in response to your article are quite depressing, Matt. It shows how prevalent the “anti-conspiracy” nuttery has become.

    Google is known to have worked with the NSA. An example from February of this year can be found here:

    Say, Mr. Cutts, isn’t that the intelligence agency you “formerly” worked for?

  96. It is all well known and documented. But you guys know that already, don’t you ? So do we!

  97. Hello, I know this is a bit of an old topic, but there are several things that I would like to point out.

    This is not strictly about the Google – CIA relationship, if any. This is about the Google – People – CIA relationship. I am not affiliated to either (except the people, of course) but I see both good things and potential bad things at stake here. The bad things apply if and only if the process isn’t fine tuned and, at the same time, receiving feedback from all the parties involved.
    There are a lot of ways in which Google and the CIA could work together for the good of the people. Imagine a counterfeiting operation, for example. A location-based modeling of the places of reported counterfeit goods or finances could lead to a quicker apprehension of the bad guys and to less damage sustained by private institutions, therefore to more good for the people then if the counterfeiting process were to continue (if we presume that the state uses its non-counterfeited resources to support the people and to apprehend the bad guys, of course). Another point would be theft or loss of certain electronics. Items that have either a GPS or a way to link up to the net can be built to automatically let the authorities know where they are, via an automated email, if the devices is broken into, an email that might contain the fingerprint of the thief for example (if the touchscreen/pad is made to collect it). More good for the people (less items lost and stolen), implemented and data-crunched by Google (because they know their stuff when it comes to both soft and hard tools) enforced by the state (or the CIA, in major felony operations). These are only two examples of the mechanisms that should be allowed to work, in this triangular relationship.

    Then there’s the matter of abuse. Let’s take online piracy, what can be set up to avoid abuse is a random, but anonymous and voluntary, Jury of 12 that can vote on wiretapping files to decide if they are worthy and ethical to pursue or not. In this scenario, the public could just relax while browsing the web. If that doesn’t work, someone could buy the file-sharing sites that are active and use the advertising income on the site to pay the content providers (for the ripped movies, music and software) according to the number of downloads per item. File-sharing sites can also be a novel way to advertise new content before its general launch to create hype in markets. There are a lot of mechanisms that one could think of to make sure that all three poles of this hypothetical relationship are happy together.
    The thing to realize is that Google and the CIA are made of people, and that they can actually help people provided that they implement feedback cycles to their operating procedures that involve constant input from the general population, non-affiliated to neither Google and the CIA.

    I wanted to do a 5-7-5-7-7 tanka as well, but it’s 5 o’clock in Romania and I all I can think about right now is sheep jumping fences.

    So, regarding this Robert Steele, pardon me but he somewhat sounds like a comic book character.