Coast Guard explains silence on Google's mystery barge

CNET and others have asked the US Coast Guard for details about Google's mystery structure in the San Francisco Bay, to no avail. The Coast Guard now says why it's staying mum.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
3 min read
The mysterious Google barge project, seen with both the new and old eastern spans of the San Francisco Bay Bridges in the background Josh Miller/CNET

Since CNET first broke news about Google's connection to a mystery structure atop a barge in the San Francisco Bay last week, the Coast Guard has said almost nothing about the project.

Now, information obtained from the Coast Guard by The Day Connecticut through a Freedom of Information Act request suggests that the structures aboard the mystery barges -- one in San Francisco Bay and another in Portland, Maine -- are meant to be moved from city to city.

Up close with Google's mystery barge (pictures)

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On Wednesday, the Coast Guard told CNBC that Google is behind the project -- which CNET has also confirmed with the National Park Service and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. But it has had little if anything to say to anyone else.

This afternoon, the Coast Guard has issued a statement explaining its general silence on this closely-watched topic.

The Coast Guard regulates commercial maritime commerce and ensures compliance with applicable safety, security, and environmental protection requirements.

In this capacity, the Coast Guard conducts hundreds of inspections across the region on a wide variety of commercial vessels. During the course of these activities, Coast Guard personnel are often exposed to sensitive proprietary information, new technologies, and other trade secrets. Regardless of the company or entity involved, the Coast Guard has an obligation to protect sensitive proprietary information, as a company's competitive posture and business interests depend on it.

Regarding the barge BAL0010 moored at Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, Coast Guard personnel have been onboard to conduct routine inspections and ensure compliance with applicable, safety, security, and environmental protection regulations.

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the Coast Guard had said that some of its representatives signed non-disclosure agreements with Google. But Coast Guard spokesperson Anna Dixon told CNET Thursday that the information had been provided to Reuters in error. In fact, she said, "there were some non-disclosure agreements signed by some members of the Coast Guard. They were signed with the entities overseeing the operations where the vessel's moored. Those weren't signed in conjunction with any Coast Guard regulatory authority. They were signed as a courtesy to the facility."

Dixon was unable to elaborate. But she did add that, "The Coast Guard typically doesn't sign non-disclosure agreements."

Meanwhile, The Day Connecticut also reported that the Portland, Maine structure was constructed using shipping containers built in San Francisco. That work almost certainly took place inside Hangar 3, a huge building on Treasure Island that CNET was first to link to the mysterious Google project.

The publication's assertion that the vessels are meant to operate "in various ports, with the first being New York Harbor," jibes with a tip that CNET received last week that the mystery barge in San Francisco is a secret Google Glass store of some kind that is meant to be floated from city to city. The tipster, who asked to remain anonymous, but who is well-connected in Silicon Valley, said he'd gotten his information from multiple sources at Google.

Regardless of the ultimate purpose of the mystery barges, one thing is clear: work has stopped on the project on Treasure Island, and it has yet to get underway in Maine. Asked if the Coast Guard had ordered the work stoppage, Dixon said "No, the Coast Guard did not stop any work on the barge."