Must-Read: Intercept’s Exposé on Google’s Remarkably Close White House Ties

The Intercept’s exposé The Android Administration: Google’s Remarkably Close Relationship With the Obama White House, in Two Charts” is an eye-opening, must-read for anyone interested in Google’s outsized power and political influence, or in the integrity of the U.S. Government’s public accountability and impartiality in administering justice and the federal policymaking process -- free of commercial and financial conflicts of interest.  

Importantly The Intercept, was founded by the investigative journalists who first broke the Snowden-NSA scandal, and who have a stated mission that “journalism should bring transparency and accountability to powerful governmental and corporate institutions. They certainly have succeeded in their mission with this signature, enlightening, data-driven analysis.

What is the important context here?

According to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, “the standards of ethical conduct for employees of the Executive Branch… are designed to address not only actual conflicts of interest, but also activities that give rise to the appearance of such conflicts.” [bold added]

The U.S. Executive Order on Ethics and Transparency in the Executive Branch dated January 21, 2009, states:  "2.Revolving Door Ban -- All Appointees Entering Government.  I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.”

So what?

The Intercept’s meticulous cataloging and interactive display of Google’s exceptionally close ties with this Administration by individual make clear that there is at least a demonstrableappearance that the U.S. Government’s business systematically may not be “conducted with impartiality and integrity as required under Federal ethics rules.

Is perception reality here?

It certainly is for the rest of world’s Governments and those outside the United States looking in. Foreign Governments and their senior officials weren’t born yesterday. They know where there is this much smoke there is likely a very substantial fire. It is just common sense.

To those outside the U.S., this analysis based on data from the White House’s own databases is particularly damning because it proves without much doubt that Google is indeed America’s de facto National Champion and the primary designated winner from America’s Internet industrial policy that ensures that no matter what, heads or tails, Google’s interests predominantly win.

Going forward what the U.S. Government needs to do to restore the public’s trust is too investigate, document and communicate if these appearances of conflicts of interest have ever become actual conflicts of interest resulting in improper influence of enforcement actions or policies that are commercially beneficial to Google Inc.  

For example, has the Administration robustly administered and overseen the code of ethics and internal controls to ensure that former Google employees or consultants coming into the Administration en masse have:


  • Put their Google stock holdings in a blind trust or divested them;

  • Recused themselves with the relevant offices of legal counsel with letters to the file that they will not participate in enforcement or policy matters related to Google’s commercial interests for a period of time; and

  • Have abided by any other required internal controls like those concerning improper back-channel communications with their former employer, Google Inc.

In short, with due deference to Abraham Lincoln, has “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” perished from this earth, and been replaced apparently by government of Googlers, by Googlers, for Googlers?   

It is incumbent on the U.S. Government and the Administration to communicate persuasively to the public that this disturbing perception is not reality.


Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, an emergent enterprise risk consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, some of which are Google competitors, and Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests. He is also author of “Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc.” Cleland has testified before both the Senate and House antitrust subcommittees on Google and also before the relevant House oversight subcommittee on Google’s privacy problems.