While many residents of Silicon Valley are smarting over the election of Donald Trump, Peter Thiel is sitting pretty. The Trump-supporting Facebook board member secured a position on the president-elect's transition team, and according to The Intercept could now stand to profit directly from Trump's announced intention to mass-deport millions of immigrants.
Thiel co-founded Palantir Technologies, a data mining company with current government contracts involving maintaining a database on immigrants and their families. The work, for which Palantir was paid "tens of millions of dollars," is on behalf of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations. Data gathered by HSI is routinely shared with Enforcement and Removal Operations — the agency that will likely be at the head of Trump's promised efforts to deport up to three million immigrants.
Deporting all those people isn't going to be an easy task, and will require detailed information on millions of men, women, and children living around the country. “If [Trump] wants to deport two to three million people, he’s got to rely on tactics that will divide communities and create fear throughout the country,” Kevin Appleby of the Center for Migration Studies of New York told the New York Times last month. “He would have to conduct a sweep, or raids or tactics such as those, to reach the numbers he wants to reach. It would create a police state, in which they would have to be aggressively looking for people.”
That "aggressively looking for people" part is where Thiel's Palantir can help. Per The Intercept:
In 2011, in an effort to radically overhaul its “pre-existing, non-optimal” system of data storage and analysis, ICE launched FALCON, according to a funding document. ICE turned to Palantir to implement the system, which would combine various streams of intelligence — including from law enforcement agencies outside ICE — into one tool. Palantir was even asked to design an iPhone app to allow ICE agents to query FALCON while working in the field. Public records show that in May of this year ICE signed a two-year agreement with Palantir for “operation and maintenance” of the FALCON system.
In addition to containing information on family relationships and immigration history, the records FALCON collects can also include photographs of subjects, employment information, educational background, and “geospatial data.” An analytics subset of the program, according to the Department of Homeland Security, allows HSI agents to create data visualizations “to identify trends, develop investigative leads, discover connections among investigations and targets, and enhance the overall investigative and analytic process.”
Mass deportations, and their potential reliance on FALCON, could mean drastically more work for Palantir. Palantir's current contract with ICE runs through November 2018.
Thiel has the president-elect's ear in an official capacity, too — he joined the transition team's executive committee on November 11 — while he simultaneously stands to benefit from future ICE contracts. With Thiel's spokesperson refusing to tell Politico whether or not the billionaire has signed an ethics agreement barring involvement in transition matters that could "directly conflict with a financial interest," there is good reason to imagine that Thiel is seeing dollar signs.