Pentagon taps former Google CEO for Silicon Valley inspiration

The FBI might be at war with Apple, but the US military still loves Silicon Valley.

Eric Schmidt

Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. He'll lead a board that will advise the Pentagon on emerging tech.

Kay Nietfeld/dpa/Corbis

Tensions between Silicon Valley and the US government may seem to be at an all-time high, particularly with the headline-grabbing privacy battle between the FBI and Apple. But there's one agency that still has love for Silicon Valley: the Pentagon.

On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said that Alphabet Executive Chairman and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt will lead a newly created board meant to bring Silicon Valley-style innovation to the $600-billion-a-year military bureaucracy.

The 12-member group, called the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, will consult with the military on issues that are "deeply familiar to Silicon Valley companies," including data analysis and the use of mobile apps and Internet services, according to a Pentagon press release.

The Defense Department didn't make Carter available for comment. Alphabet didn't make Schmidt available.

Schmidt's work with the Pentagon is the latest example of the US military's efforts to cozy up with Silicon Valley at a time when the tech industry has been fighting back against government regulation and demands.

The revelation from Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency was using technology to spy on its own citizens, and a recent court order demanding that Apple help the FBI hack into a terrorist's iPhone have increased tensions between the government and some of the world's most valuable tech companies.

Still, the military has opened offices in Silicon Valley and attended major confabs, including the RSA security conference happening in San Francisco this week.

In fact, on the same day that it announced its creation of the innovation board, the Pentagon invited hackers to, well, "Hack the Pentagon," in an effort to test the country's cybersecurity defenses.

Last year, the military began partnering with more than 160 companies, including Apple, to create next-generation wearable technology, such as fabrics with embeddable sensors that could provide monitoring of soldiers or even warplanes.

The innovation board was announced during the RSA conference, where Carter spoke on Wednesday.

The Pentagon was light on the exact subjects Schmidt's board would tackle, but it did make clear that the board won't be discussing military operations or strategy. Carter and Schmidt share responsibility to pick the group's members, who, according to the Pentagon, will "represent a cross-section of America's most innovative industries."

Last year during the RSA conference, Secretary Jeh Johnson of Homeland Security said his department was opening an office in Silicon Valley to tap into the area's talent as the agency increasingly prioritized cybersecurity.

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