20 years since 9/11
How Big Tech Sells War on Our Communities
Since 2001 the “Global War on Terror” has become a household phrase that has set the political, economic, and ideological agenda for the US and its accomplices. The GWoT has done less to keep people safe from terror as it has to grow the reach of US militarism and imperialism and terrorize people across Southwest Asia to Africa, throughout the Global South, and here in the United States. The terrorizing of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities in the US by police is another expression of this ideological war that shares the same tools and strategies of surveillance and control.
The 2000s saw the rise of profits and prominence of US Big Tech. While tech corporations like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter became more and more a part of our everyday lives, these same companies were providing tools to the US military and government to help fuel their war on Muslim communities. From databases to drones, US Big Tech is complicit in and has profited from this never-ending war against Muslims at home and abroad.
Four of the top five federal agencies that have the highest demand for Big Tech services are all central to foreign policy or were established as a direct result of the Global War on Terror. Since 2004, these agencies have spent at least $44.5 billion on services from Big Tech.
→ When the US chooses war over aid, Big Tech profits.
The Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense have collectively spent at least $44B on services from Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter. That same amount of money could:
→ Microsoft has successfully grown its cloud computing business with DHS and is poised to take on their even bigger cloud computing contracts.
Microsoft, which has been contracting with DHS since 2005, has steadily increased its cloud computing and IT services contracting with DHS until it won a five year, $230M contract in 2020. Other potential contracts could spell enormous revenues for Microsoft, be it billions of dollars through an upcoming cloud computing contract that the Pentagon explicitly stated would be well-suited for Microsoft, or a 10-year contract worth $3.4B for a DHS data center that the agency announced earlier this year.
→ Though Big Tech contracts may seem small, their impact is significant.
Just one month after Trump instituted the third version of the Muslim ban in September 2017, Facebook sold $350,000 worth of advertising to promote, among other things, federally-funded “Extremism Watch” news outlet that covers “stories on violent extremism trends” in largely Muslim-speaking countries. The outlet’s current Trump-appointed director is a known anti-Muslim bigot who in 2010 accused Muslims of “intellectual suicide.” Considering Facebook is the world’s third most visited site and over 2.7B people use Facebook daily, $350,000 worth of ads has the potential to influence billions of people.
The above figures reference Big Tech contract data pulled from Tech Inquiry’s US government contracts explorer and subcontract data from Tech Inquiry’s 2020 analysis. Although these databases are the most comprehensive collection of publicly available government contracts, they do not include information on many more, possibly significant contracts that are not fully disclosed publicly for reasons that are unclear. Therefore, the figures represented here are very likely an underrepresentation of the total contracts and subcontracts and their potential values that these corporations hold. Raytheon and Northrop Grumman data from USAspending.org. Dollar amounts refer to total potential contract value.
How many pounds of food the US government could have given to Yemen instead of paying off Big Tech.
How many times the US government could have fed the entire population of Afghanistan instead of paying off Big Tech.
How many times the US government could have given critical assistance to the entire population of Iraq instead of paying off Big Tech.
In response to the 9/11 attacks, the US government set in motion 20 years of policy decisions targeting Muslim, Black, and brown people in the name of fighting terrorism that continues through today. As with the wars before it, the Global War on Terror (GWoT) created massive and unprecedented demand for tech to support the building of sprawling surveillance systems, pilotless deadly drones, and virtual border walls. This demand helped to create the data economy and the tech industry as we know it, helping to launch tech companies from tiny at-home operations to trillion-dollar “Big Tech” as we know it. Listed are 20 years worth of war policies targeting Muslim people and people of color at home and abroad and instances of Big Tech rising to the occasion to help build out the Global War on Terror.
Note: These timelines are focused only on the landmark policies and contracts between Big Tech and the federal government that characterize the GWoT. It does not explicitly include the countless horrors and deaths that have occurred as a result of these policies, nor the many instances of impacted communities leading the resistance to these policies.
Crescendo is a project of the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE), MPower Change, and LittleSis.