This is the story of how a multibillionaire who has dedicated his life to advancing the cause of the Israeli national security state is now in control of Great Britain’s most sensitive public and military data.
In 2020, software giant Oracle won a gigantic contract with the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) to provide it with cloud infrastructure, digital assistance, data visualization software, mobile hub and development tools. The military is far from the only British institution entrusting its most sensitive data to the Texas-based firm, however. The Home Office, Office of National Statistics and National Health Service, among others, also rely on Oracle databases to function.
For years before signing the MoD agreement, Oracle founder Larry Ellison had been ingratiating himself with the British establishment, employing all manner of well-connected individuals at his foundation. Among these included media executive and father-in-law of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Matthew Symonds, who earned over $600,000 per year as the executive director of the Larry Ellison Foundation. Richard Meredith, a longtime director of the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was also snapped up at a similar salary to become deputy executive director.
Many other well-connected British government officials, including Vel Gnanendran, went straight from the Larry Ellison Foundation into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and worked there at the time that the body signed off on the lucrative Oracle contracts. For years, the Larry Ellison Foundation also bankrolled the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the former U.K. prime minister’s new political project.
Yet, just after as the partnership with the Ministry of Defence was secured, Ellison abruptly shut down his foundation, prompting speculation that it had fulfilled its purpose.
“Our mission to support Israel”
Why this should be of concern is that both Ellison and key Oracle figures have made clear that their business model is less about making money, and more focused on furthering the interests of the Israeli national security state.
Furthermore, few people realize how important Oracle is to the functioning of the modern world. It is the third-largest software company globally. Yet because it sells its products to businesses and governments rather than consumers, it is far less known than competitors such as Microsoft or Amazon. Nevertheless, it is as important to the modern hi-tech economy as its rivals, its software and databases powering the likes of Netflix, Zoom, financial corporations such as JPMorgan Chase, as well as a myriad of educational institutions.
While opening a new data center in Jerusalem in 2021, the company’s Israeli-American CEO, Safra Catz, laid out Oracle’s purpose, stating,
We are not flexible regarding our mission, and our commitment to Israel is second to none. This is a free world and I love my employees, and if they don’t agree with our mission to support the State of Israel, then maybe we aren’t the right company for them. Larry [Ellison] and I are publicly committed to Israel and devote personal time to the country, and no one should be surprised by that.”
Catz made the comments in response to a question about Israel’s poor human rights record and the rebellion of Silicon Valley employees refusing to facilitate the country’s war crimes. In 2017, Catz was offered the position of U.S. Director of National Intelligence.
Ellison, if anything, is even more forthright in his support for the Israeli government and its agenda. The billionaire – currently the fourth-richest individual in the world – has bankrolled the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) for years, giving tens of millions of dollars to the Friends of the IDF, including the largest single donation the organization has ever received. In 2017 alone, he pledged $16.6 million to build a new training facility for IDF soldiers defending, in his words, “our home”. As Ellison explained:
Through all of the perilous times since Israel’s founding, we have called on the brave men and women of the IDF to defend our home. In my mind, there is no greater honor than supporting some of the bravest people in the world, and I thank Friends of the IDF for allowing us to celebrate and support these soldiers year after year. We should do all we can to show these heroic soldiers that they are not alone.”
This was far from his first donation to the organization. Three years previously, he gave $9 million at a star-studded gala – the largest donation on a record-breaking night for the FIDF.
The big tech mogul also has a direct hand in furthering the Israeli settlement project. In 2007, he met with then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to pledge half a million dollars in support to the Israeli border town of Sderot.
But if Ellison can count Livni as a friend, then Benjamin Netanyahu is virtually family. The pair have been close for many years; Ellison even flew Netanyahu out to his private Hawaiian island to vacation together. There, he offered the embattled prime minister a seat on Oracle’s board, replete with a salary of $450,000.
Netanyahu had previously gone to Ellison, encouraging him to buy out the struggling Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in an attempt to change the outlet from an adversary of his political project into a mouthpiece for his Likud Party.
Unsurprisingly, Oracle has signed numerous deals with the Israeli national security state.
Egyptian engineer Dr. Mahmoud Sobhy quit his job with the software company Oracle this week in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.
He quit after learning that Oracle Founder Larry Ellison annually donates millions of dollars to support Israel’s occupation forces. pic.twitter.com/XOSvrssNSD
— MintPress News (@MintPressNews) January 24, 2023
“The Israelis think they control the Foreign Office. And they do!”
In recent years, Israel and pro-Israel groups have managed to amass considerable influence over U.K. government policy. A measure of this is the fact that, by 2021, one-third of the cabinet – including then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson – were directly funded by the Israeli government or pro-Israel organizations. Chief amongst these groups is the Conservative Friends of Israel, who have claimed that 80% of Tory members of parliament belong to their organization.
The Israel lobby has been able to shape government policy, to the point where they blocked Boris Johnson’s appointment of Alan Duncan to the post of Middle East Minister. Johnson, according to Duncan, was “indignant”. “They shouldn’t behave like this”, the prime minister reportedly said about the Israelis, but acquiesced to their demands. “The Israelis think they control the Foreign Office. And they do”, Duncan later wrote. Home Secretary Priti Patel (a longtime champion of the apartheid state) also secretly flew to Israel for “off the radar” talks with Netanyahu – a huge breach of ministerial codes, for which she later resigned.
The Israeli Embassy also played a key role in the coordinated smear campaign demonizing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, an operation that helped to ensure Johnson’s electoral victory in 2019.
In addition to this, there have also been national security questions raised about the extent to which Israeli businessmen have bought up key British industries. Last year, for example, Patrick Drahi’s attempt to purchase 18% of BT, the formerly state-owned telecoms giant that owns and controls much of the country’s telecommunications infrastructure, was put on hold due to concerns over national security.
That a company like Oracle that defines itself so explicitly as pro-Israel raises serious concerns over the nature of the work they do for the United Kingdom or any other nation. How can the Ministry of Defence or the Home Office’s data be considered uncompromised in these hands?
The CIA in all but name
“The Oracle database is used to keep track of basically everything,” Ellison once said, adding,
The information about your banks, your checking balance, your savings balance, is stored in an Oracle database. Your airline reservation is stored in an Oracle database. What books you bought on Amazon is stored in an Oracle database. Your profile on Yahoo! is stored in an Oracle database.”
This should be of concern to everyone, as Oracle itself started off as a project for the Central Intelligence Agency. Indeed, Ellison named his company after Project Oracle, a 1970s CIA operation he worked on.
“Our very first customer was the Central Intelligence Agency,” Ellison boasted, telling the story of how, in 1977, the CIA commissioned his firm to build them a database. From there, Ellison immediately began pitching to other wings of the national security state, and within months had secured contracts with Navy Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence and the NSA. The bottomless pit of money available for the military has helped turn Oracle from a tiny operation to a $46 billion dollar per year behemoth.
One of Oracle’s largest deals came in 2020, when it was part of a consortium that won a 15-year contract with the CIA and the other 16 U.S. intelligence agencies said to be with tens of billions of dollars.
Part of the reason the CIA trusts Oracle is that the company’s upper echelons are filled with ex-CIA executives. A case in point is former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was appointed to the company’s board in 2015. David Carney, who spent 32 years at the agency, rising to become its third-in-command, also joined Oracle, heading up its information assurance center.
Indeed, on its own website, Oracle aggressively recruits CIA agents, sharing stories of former spooks who have gone on to succeed in its ranks. One of those is Senior Technical Program Manager Andrew C. “As an Intelligence Officer in the US Navy, as well as in the CIA, Andrew has had to lead, build teams, and work on fast-breaking projects, all things Oracle requires on a regular basis,” Oracle writes, before actively encouraging other agents to apply,
Now that you’ve heard about Andrew’s experience, are you ready to join Oracle National Security Region team? If you hold a U.S. Government Top Secret SCI or higher clearance, click here to check out our latest opportunities. Once you’ve found an opening that fits your talent, passion, skills, and background, apply for us to consider you. Create the future with us.”
The revolving door between Oracle and the CIA also swings the other way, with Oracle staff finding employment in Langley, VA.
The Silicon Valley giant also works closely with the U.S. military. “Oracle Cloud is advancing Department of Defense mission success”, it boasts on its website. Oracle notes that it is “delivering real-time intel to warfighters”, thereby “securing command and control at the tactical edge.” Thus, by the company’s own telling, it is a centerpiece of both the military-industrial-complex and the national security state. Big media outlets agree: “Larry Ellison is a billionaire today thanks to the CIA” concluded Business Insider.
If Ellison had his way, however, Oracle would be an even more crucial part of a greatly expanded national security state. In the immediate wake of the September 11 attacks, he flew in for a series of meetings with top Bush-era officials, including NSA chief Michael Hayden and Attorney General John Ashcroft. There, he likely pitched an idea he had been promoting for some time: a single, comprehensive national security database that collected every piece of information possible to identify someone, from thumbprints and iris scans to medical history and social security details. “The single greatest step we Americans could take to make life tougher for terrorists would be to ensure that all the information in myriad government databases was copied into a single, comprehensive national security database,” he insisted.
In the end, even the Bush administration balked at such a sweeping project. Nevertheless, Oracle has deeply ingratiated itself into the world of policing and surveillance. In 2012, at the height of an anti-NATO demonstration, U.S. law enforcement used Oracle’s Endeca software to match protestors’ tweets with data about their criminal records, 911 calls and other information to pre-arrest demonstration leaders before the action took off.
Since then, Oracle has sold the same or similar software to authorities in Europe, South America, the Middle East and China. Job listings for developers at Guantánamo Bay also note that familiarity with Endeca and Oracle software is a desired trait.
Oracle is far from the only Silicon Valley giant with questionable ties to intelligence. Here at MintPress, we have exposed how Facebook’s top ranks are filled with former FBI and CIA agents, how ex-Israeli spies have found roles working for Microsoft and Google, and uncovered what we termed a “NATO to TikTok pipeline.”
Yet the openness with which Oracle and Ellison work with the Israeli state to further its interests should be highly concerning to those working in national security. Israel already has a long history of using its tech industry to surveil and eavesdrop on foreign governments.
Can it really be a wise idea for the United Kingdom to entrust its most sensitive government, health and defense data to a company with such close ties to the Israeli government?
So far, Great Britain has overlooked the potential grave national security threat this poses. Surely this cannot continue indefinitely.
Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News
Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.org, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.
Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic, political campaigner, and a MintPress video and podcast host. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique, and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network, and The Peace and Justice Project founded by Jeremy Corbyn.