‘Project Nimbus key asset in Israel’s war on Gaza, occupied Palestine’

‘Project Nimbus key asset in Israel’s war on Gaza, occupied Palestine’

‘Highly likely Project Nimbus is being used by Israel in its AI-enabled warfare in Gaza, mass killing of Palestinians,’ says author and journalist Antony Loewenstein- ‘Silicon Valley must be held accountable,’ says Loewenstein- New revelations about Israeli military’s possible use of Google, Amazon services are concerning, says International Crisis Group expert Alessandro Accorsi- UK tech sector group United Tech and Allied Workers calls on Google and Amazon ‘to end their complicity in apartheid and genocid

By Rabia Ali

ISTANBUL (AA) – Google and its ties with the Israeli government are front and center in headlines again, as several workers have been arrested and fired in the US for staging sit-ins at the company’s offices.

Workers have been protesting for years against the tech giant’s work with the Israeli government and military, calling for the shutdown of Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion agreement that also includes Amazon, which they say has made Google an “active arm of the Israeli genocidal war machine” against Palestinians.

Their concerns have been backed by tech experts and analysts such Antony Loewenstein, who believes the controversial project plays a central role in Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.

“Project Nimbus is a key asset for Israel’s military-industrial complex in its war in Gaza and across occupied Palestine,” said Loewenstein, author of The Palestine Laboratory, a widely acclaimed book on Israel’s arms and surveillance industry.

The Project Nimbus agreement was announced by Israel’s Finance Ministry in 2021 and, on the face of it, related to the tech giants jointly providing cloud computing services and helping Israel build local cloud storage server centers.

Other details of the contract were mostly kept secret, but reports from outlets such as The Intercept revealed some startling details, like how the cloud services would give Israel greater AI-powered capabilities for facial and image recognition used for mass surveillance of Palestinians.

It also included enhanced means for tracking objects and sentiment analysis, a discredited technology with high risks of misuse.

Soon after the deal was announced, workers from Google and Amazon came out against it, saying Israel would use it “for further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians,” and facilitate the “expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land.”

Over the past three years, protests have continued and workers of Google and Amazon set up groups like No Tech for Apartheid, dedicated to advocacy against projects such as Nimbus, which they say “are helping to make Israeli apartheid more efficient, more violent, and even deadlier for Palestinians.”

- How is Project Nimbus being used in Gaza?

Since launching its war on Gaza last October, Israel has killed nearly 34,000 Palestinians and injured almost 77,000, laid waste to large swaths of the enclave, displaced millions and left them facing famine and starvation.

Various reports over past months have shed light on Israel’s use of AI technologies in its ongoing assault on Gaza, especially investigations by news outlets +972 Magazine and the Hebrew-language Local Call.

These revealed the use of AI programs such as The Gospel, Lavender and Where’s Daddy?, which used mass surveillance to identify tens of thousands of Gazans as targets, track and strike people specifically in their homes, and essentially run a “mass assassination factory” that works with minimal human oversight.

As massive computing power is required for such software, experts say that is where Project Nimbus would have proven vital for the Israeli military.

“It’s highly likely that Project Nimbus is being used by Israel in its AI-enabled warfare in Gaza, the mass killing of Palestinians by machine,” said Loewenstein.

“Both Google and Amazon are knowingly assisting Israeli actions,” he added.

Eran Cohen, an officer and organizer at United Tech and Allied Workers (UTAW), told Anadolu the Israeli military is using Google Cloud technology as part of the “very secretive” Project Nimbus agreement.

“There have been many campaigns calling to end the contract, but Google silences these voices time and time again. Technical work done at Google tends to feed into other projects, and particularly many of the AI models being developed at the company now are being adopted across the company and to external users as well,” Cohen said.

Another expose by Time magazine earlier this month confirmed that Google is “providing cloud computing services to the Israeli Ministry of Defense and … has negotiated deepening its partnership during Israel’s war in Gaza.”

Commenting on the report, Alessandro Accorsi, social media and conflict expert at the International Crisis Group, said: “I think the new revelations that the IDF can use those services, and so they could probably use them also to power all sort of cyber tools and non-kinetic tools and AI machine learning algorithms that can be used in the war efforts, are concerning.”

Another worrying aspect, he added, is Google’s response “that they have no way of monitoring the way Israel is using their services.”

He said this falls under the category of dual-use technology, which refers to innovations with both civilian and military applications.

“A lot of dual-use technology that is exported to countries has to go through a vetting process, but in this case, since it’s presented as civilian … I do not believe the US government did any vetting,” Accorsi told Anadolu.

On the use of AI tech in conflict, he warned of the problem of bias in training databases and the issue of systems functioning on probability.

“When you apply these to war, even if it’s 99% accurate, you will still make mistakes. Humans might tend to over rely on these systems and not spot those mistakes,” he said.

- Accountability and complicity

This week’s protests at Google have spiraled into firings by the tech giant, with the company sacking 28 employees over the New York and California sit-ins.

No Tech for Apartheid labeled the move a “flagrant act of retaliation,” saying it clearly shows that “Google values its $1.2 billion contract with the genocidal Israeli government and military more than its own workers.”

A statement put out by the group on Thursday said Google “continues to lie to its workers, the media, and the public” with claims that Project Nimbus is not linked to “weapons or intelligence services.”

“Yet, reporting from TIME Magazine proves otherwise: Google has built custom tools for Israel’s Ministry of ‘Defense,’ and has doubled down on contracting with the Israeli Occupation Forces, since the start of its genocide against Palestinians in Gaza,” read the statement.

UTAW’s Cohen voiced support for the ongoing protests, reiterating that the “primary goal of the campaign is to drop the Nimbus contract so that Google and Amazon technology can stop being used by the Israeli military.”

“The union, as the voice of workers in the UK tech sector, calls on Google and Amazon to end their complicity in apartheid and genocide,” he said.

Loewenstein also stressed that “Silicon Valley must be held accountable for its role.”

No Tech for Apartheid asserted that the “mass, illegal firings will not stop us.”

“On the contrary, they only serve as further fuel for the growth of this movement,” the group said.

“Make no mistake, we will continue organizing until the company drops Project Nimbus and stops powering this genocide.”

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