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Palmer Luckey’s border surveillance startup is getting $13.5 million to monitor Marine Corps bases

Palmer Luckey’s border surveillance startup is getting $13.5 million to monitor Marine Corps bases

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An Anduril Lattice sentry tower
An Anduril Lattice sentry tower
Anduril Industries

Government documents reveal that Anduril Industries, the surveillance startup founded by Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey, received a US Marine Corps contract earlier this month. The $13.5 million contract covers “autonomous surveillance counter-intrusion capabilities” at four Marine Corps bases — two in Japan, one in Hawaii, and one near the US-Mexico border in Yuma, Arizona.

The Marine Corps contract was officially awarded on July 15th, according to a Federal Business Opportunities notice. Further documents, published by Latinx activism organization Mijente under the Freedom of Information Act, say that Anduril will be providing surveillance “capability as a service” — which means it will be shipping, installing, and maintaining its own technology as well as training government personnel in using it.

The Marine Corps tested Anduril drones last year

The tech includes Anduril’s Lattice platform, which can theoretically detect human figures using artificial intelligence, as well as Lattice sentry towers equipped with arrays of sensors. It’s supposed to be fully phased in by September 20th and run for a one-year period with an option to extend. Anduril offers drones that support the Lattice program as well, and the Marine Corps tested the option last year, although they don’t mention drones here.

Mijente also published documents showing two contracts with Customs and Border Patrol — one $4.8 million contract for “border surveillance equipment” including towers, and a $203,000 contract for a “small unmanned aerial system” — possibly the Lattice drones.

According to a filing, the military bases include Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler in Okinanawa, Japan; the Marine Corps Base Hawaii on the island of Oahu; the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona; and the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan. The Marine Corps wanted technology that could “autonomously detect and classify objects as humans on foot, wheeled and tracked vehicles on land, surface swimmers, and surface vessels and boats.” The filing describes Anduril as the only company capable of meeting these requirements — “while some vendors offered products/services that performed some element of the overall requirement, none could perform all of the tasks autonomously.”

Anduril’s tech will be used for “counter-intrusion capabilities”

Luckey founded Anduril in 2017 with support from venture capitalist Peter Thiel. The company is reportedly working on the Pentagon’s controversial Project Maven drone program, and it’s partnering with the UK’s Royal Navy to launch autonomous mine-hunting ships. But it’s best known for designing “virtual border wall” tech to surveil the US-Mexico border.

A 2018 Wired profile claimed the tech had helped customs agents arrest 55 people crossing the US-Mexico border over a 10-week test period, although the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t commented on its overall effectiveness. The US Border Patrol arrested more than 104,000 people last month, and tens of thousands — including many children — are being held in detention centers that are often overcrowded, filthy, and disease-ridden.

Mijente released the documents as part of a campaign against companies selling technology to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. Employees at some large tech companies have protested defense and border patrol contracts, with varying results — Google scaled back its work on Project Maven after internal dissent, while Microsoft has defended its work on defense programs. After Google agreed to let its Maven contract expire last year, Luckey co-published a Washington Post op-ed that criticized Google for “ostracizing the military,” and he’s stated that Anduril is supposed to help give the US a technological edge over China and Russia.