More so than perhaps any other Silicon Valley startup, Palantir Technologies is poised to play a central role in the Trump era.
Its data-mining technology has long been used by federal agencies, and its chairman, the billionaire Peter Thiel, emerged last year as Donald Trump’s most prominent supporter from the tech world. Alex Karp, the Palantir CEO, joined the chiefs of much larger tech companies in a meeting with Trump shortly after the election. Thiel was there, too, seated prominently at Trump’s left.
But an internal Palantir video exclusively obtained by BuzzFeed News shows that Karp, the CEO, was full of withering criticism for Trump more than a year before the election. In a Palantir staff meeting in August 2015, the video shows, Karp derided Trump’s “fictitious wealth,” called him a bully, and condemned his campaign rhetoric on deporting immigrants. He also said he had given Trump a brush-off.
“I’ve had the rare opportunity to meet Trump, which I turned down — I mean, this is off the record — but like, I don’t respect — like, I respect nothing about the dude,” Karp said in a roughly 45-minute-long “beer sync” talk that ranged widely, from company news to his own life philosophy. The meeting was filmed by Palantir.
“Like, you could almost make up someone that I find — it would be hard to make up someone I find less appealing,” Karp said of Trump.
Palantir, a Silicon Valley data-mining firm with a $20 billion valuation, relies on federal contracts for a significant portion of its revenue. It works for the CIA, the FBI, the Marine Corps, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, deploying engineers to analyze and visualize the customers’ data. It’s currently trying to get a lucrative contract from the Army — an effort so important to Palantir that it took the Army to court, and won, after it wasn’t considered for the work.
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Karp’s comments in 2015 reveal an ideological divide between the Palantir CEO and the man who is now his most important customer. Among other projects, Palantir is currently working on software for the government’s immigration enforcers that observers say could be used to help carry out Trump’s deportation goals.
Trump’s plan to “throw out all immigrants,” Karp said, “makes no sense” and “is bringing up the worst that a society can bring up.”
The remarks also highlight a divide inside Palantir itself. Thiel, who co-founded Palantir along with Karp, gave $1.25 million to support Trump’s campaign, spoke in support of Trump at the Republican National Convention, and joined Trump’s transition team. Karp has not publicly expressed his views on President Trump, though he said before the election that he was supporting Hillary Clinton. At the time Karp made the comments in the video, Thiel was still months away from endorsing Trump.
Palantir, which counts foreign governments and big corporations among its customers, has long said that it has certain corporate values, and that it will prioritize ideology over financial incentives when making business decisions. For example, Karp told Fortune magazine that Palantir turned down business from a tobacco company out of concern that the company would use the technology to sell cigarettes to vulnerable communities. Still, Palantir told The New York Times that, for example, it has contracts with the Israeli government despite objections from some employees.
In an interview with Forbes in January, responding to fears that Trump might seek to create a registry of Muslims living in the United States, Karp said Palantir had not been asked to build such a registry, and "if we were asked, we wouldn't do it."
A Palantir spokesperson declined to comment on the 2015 video.
Karp shared his views on Trump while expounding on economic inequality and fears of social unrest. Trump, he said, might do well politically, since he was responding to people’s economic anxiety. But Karp, a billionaire, also jabbed at Trump’s wealth.
“It’s like, the guy inherits $50 million and has a fictitious wealth he claims of 10 — it’s probably like half a billion,” Karp said. “So you inherit $50 million in the 70s, and you have — let’s just say you have $20 billion now. You guys can do compounding math. That’s not a good return. So even purely on the vulgar metric of, like, as a business person, then as a person, and then, like, as a bully — in any case, I don’t care if you guys vote for him or whatever, I’m just saying.”
Karp said he hoped he had seen the last of Trump.
“I think Trump, I don’t know what’s going to happen to him. I quite frankly would like him to go away, but, you know, he may do very well, because he’s sitting up and saying, you know, no one’s on your side, which may be true, it’s all dysfunctional, which may be true, and it’s going to be worse for your kids than for you,” Karp said.
“Therefore we should throw out all immigrants. Like, who’s going to do the work?” Karp added. “It’s like, it makes no sense. But you have to ask yourself, something that makes no sense, that, like, de facto is bringing up the worst that a society can bring up — which is, like, blame the people that work really hard, and that we need, and that are coming here at the risk of their life, instead of the dysfunction that you may have helped create — why is that person so successful?”