20 Years of the War on Terror

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Major U.S. Policy Decisions

Within a month after the 9/11 attacks, President GW Bush went to work authorizing bombs to be dropped on Afghanistan. A few weeks later, Congress passed the Patriot Act, which authorized the government sweeping powers to collect our personal data. In just over a year Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, under which Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol operate, to “improve information sharing” of personal data on “invisible enemies.”

Below highlights 20 years of US policy that created a demand for tech.


George W. Bush standing at podium

The Authorization of Military Mobilization

September 18, 2001

President GW Bush signs into law a joint resolution authorizing military mobilization against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The resolution becomes the justification for many “counterterrorism” efforts, including the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, to surveilling Americans, to establishing the detention camps in Guantánamo Bay. Representative Barbara Lee is the only member of Congress to vote no on the resolution.

data center

NSA Starts Collecting Data

October 4, 2001

President GW Bush authorizes the National Security Agency to collect communications data such as phone and internet records in bulk. The focus was on communications with at least one communicant outside the United States or for which no communicant was known to be a citizen of the United States. The program known as STELLARWIND continued until 2011.


Bombs on Afghanistan

October 7, 2001

The US, with British support, starts dropping bombs on Afghanistan.

man backlit with glowing data screen

The Patriot Act Signed into Law

October 24, 2001

The Patriot Act is passed in Congress with overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans. The act authorizes sweeping powers for the government to surveil Americans and even indefinitely detain immigrants who aren’t charged with crimes. Its passage opened the doors for Big Tech to become, first and foremost, the brokers of our personal data, selling to government agencies and private companies at home and abroad and unleashing the era of the data economy.

The Drone Strike

November 2001

The first successful drone strike is completed in Afghanistan, killing al-Qaida’s military chief Mohammed Atef and Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law.

Guantanamo Bay protesters wearing prison jumpsuits in front of white house

Guantánamo Bay

January 2002

The first detainees arrive at Guantánamo Bay’s detention camps. Bush calls Iraq a part of an “axis of evil."

National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS)

September 10, 2002

Bush introduces the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which required any non-citizen from mostly Muslim majority countries entering the United States to register.

Authorization for Military Force signed into law

October 16, 2002

Bush signs the 2002 Authorization for Military Force into law, paving the way for US military force against Iraq.

Homeland Security Act

November 2002

Congress passes the Homeland Security Act by Congress which creates the Department of Homeland Security and the US Customs and Border Protection and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement within it. DHS’s sole mission is to “protect the American homeland” against “invisible enemies” and to “improve information sharing among our intelligence agencies” and “look for potential trends.”

Grants given to "combat terrorism"

January 2003

US government begins giving state and local grants via the State Homeland Security Grant Program to supplement federal efforts to “combat terrorism.”

DHS officially begins operations.

March 2003

DHS officially begins operations.


March 20, 2003

The US invasion and occupation of Iraq begins.

FISA Amendments Act signed into law

July 10, 2008

George W signs FISA Amendments Act in law. Section 702 requires tech and telecommunications companies to provide the US government with access to emails and other communications to aid in national security investigations. The NSA received access to Microsoft servers in September 2007; to Google in January 2009; to Facebook in June 2009; to YouTube in 2010; and to Apple in October 2012. The act was reauthorized in 2012 and 2018.

Executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp

January 22, 2009

Obama signed executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp and end the CIA’s secret blacksite prison program and post 9/11 torture apparatus. No charges were brought against anyone for the violent treatment of individuals held there.

Drone strike in Pakistan

January 23, 2009

Obama launches his first drone strike in Pakistan.

No funds to close Guantanamo

May 2009

Democrats and Republicans in the Senate unite to vote 90-9 to withhold the necessary funding to close Guantanamo.

The Virtual Border Wall

January 2011

DHS spends $1B on plans for a tech-heavy “virtual wall” along the US-Mexico border. The plans were then canceled.

Peter King and the "radicalization" of Muslim Americans

March 2011

Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, holds hearings about the “radicalization” of Muslim Americans

Countering Violent Extremism

August 2011

Obama introduces local and national strategies for Countering Violent Extremism. This program has been used to criminalize and spy on Muslim communities.

Syria and Iraq

September 2014

US led coalition bombing of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The Muslim Ban

January 2017

Trump signs an Executive Order to ban all foreign nationals from majority Muslim countries and Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

U.S. military raid in Yemen

January 30, 2017

Trump conducts first U.S. military raid in Yemen. The attack kills 8-year-old Nawar, whose father Anwar al-Awlaki and brother Abdulrahman, 16, were killed in US drone strikes in 2011.


Trump drops the Mother of All Bombs on Afghanistan.

April 2017

Trump drops the Mother of All Bombs on Afghanistan.

US-Mexico Border Wall

February 2020

Trump diverts nearly $4B in Department of Defense funding to $11B in funding from DHS and other agencies for a wall on the US-Mexico border.

Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention

May 2020

DHS launches Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP) as a rebrand of CVE programs.

Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships

May 2021

DHS rolls out the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3), yet another rebrand of CVE. Secretary Mayorkas also announces a new, dedicated domestic terrorism branch to ensure DHS develops the expertise necessary to produce intelligence needed to combat threats posed by domestic terrorism and targeted violence.

Repeal 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force

June 2021

U.S. House of Representatives votes to repeal 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force. Biden announces his National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism.

Drone Strike on Somalia

July 2021

Biden carries out his first drone strike on Somalia.

U.S. Forces leave Afghanistan

August 2021

US forces leave Afghanistan but Biden makes clear the demand for war tech will continue: “We are developing a counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region, and act quickly and decisively if needed.

When Start-Ups Became "Big Tech"

Over the same period of time as the Global War on Terror, corporations like Amazon and Google went from tiny operations out of a car trunk and a garage respectively, to becoming among the most profitable corporations in the world.

Below is a very brief history of some important landmarks in Big Tech’s history.


Google launches on Stanford University’s network


Facebook launches

JULY 2006

Twitter launches


Amazon launches the first AWS market product for cloud services


Google acquires YouTube for $1.65B


Microsoft launches the first version of Azure

Microsoft launches the first version of Azure, its cloud computing software. Azure would later take on significant government contracts.


Amazon becomes more valuable than Walmart

JUNE 2017

Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.4B

MAY 2021

Amazon acquires MGM for $8.45B

Developments in Big Tech's War on Terror

As the GWoT progressed and Big Tech corporations grew in usership and scale, the federal government increasingly turned to Big Tech to assist in carrying out their GWoT policies and strategies.


Below are a few important turning points in the relationship between Big Tech and the US government throughout the GWoT.

JUL 2010

Google's Cloud Application Suite

Google becomes the first tech corporation to launch a cloud application suite that passes federal certification to handle sensitive material.

JUN 2011

Amazon contracts with DoD

AWS wins its first federal contract with the Department of Defense.

JAN 2016

Obama meets with tech executives

Obama meets with executives from YouTube, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and LinkedIn in Silicon Valley to address anti-terrorism measures on their platforms.

FEB 2016

Twitter shuts down 125k accounts

Twitter shuts down 125k accounts associated with ISIS since 2015.

MAR 2016

Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt to lead Defense Innovation Advisory Board

The Department of Defense announces plans to establish a Defense Innovation Advisory Board. Chaired by then Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, the board is aimed at bringing Silicon Valley innovation and best practices to the US military.


Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube come together to form the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism

OCT 2019

Microsoft gains $10B, 10-year cloud computing contract with the Pentagon

Microsoft wins out over Amazon and is awarded a $10B, 10-year cloud computing contract with the Pentagon called JEDI (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure). Google was previously in the running but dropped out over pressure from employees. The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism becomes an independent organization led by an executive director and full-time staff, funded by Facebook, Google’s YouTube, Twitter, and Microsoft.

AUG 2020

Prime Air

Amazon gets federal approval to fly delivery drones called Prime Air.

MAR 2021

Microsoft gains $22B contract with US Army

Microsoft is awarded a contract for up to $22B to supply augmented reality headsets to the US Army.

JUL 2021

Pentagon reimagines $10B JEDI contract

The Pentagon cancels the $10B JEDI contract originally awarded to Microsoft in favor of reimagining the contract for multiple Big Tech awardees following relentless legal challenges from Amazon.