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Watch CNBC's full Interview with Palantir CEO Alex Karp at Davos

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Published on Jan 23, 2020
Palantir Technologies CEO Alex Karp joins CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin to discuss the company's contract with ICE, how he thinks about the Apple privacy debate, and its plan to IPO.

Palantir CEO Alex Karp said he stands by his company’s controversial work for the U.S. government, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The secretive Peter Thiel-backed data analytics start-up ramped up its work for governments in 2019, Karp said Thursday.

″​The core mission of our company always was to make the West, especially America, the strongest in the world, the strongest it’s ever been, for the sake of global peace and prosperity, and we feel like this year we really showed what that would mean,” Karp said in an interview with “Squawk Box” co-host Andrew Ross Sorkin from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Palantir has reportedly grown its inventory of government contracts to more than $1.5 billion in value by beating out more traditional defense contractors like Raytheon. Last March, Palantir won an $800 million contract to build an intelligence system to aid soldiers in remote environments. Since 2014, Palantir has worked with ICE to identify undocumented immigrants, prompting some employee protests.

“We started this contract under Obama, and obviously there’s a lot of legitimate concern about what happens on our border, how it happens, and what does the enforcement look like?” Karp told CNBC. “It’s a legitimate, complex issue. My personal position is we acknowledge the complexity. The people protesting, whom I respect, should also acknowledge that complexity.”

The company now has a private valuation of more than $20 billion and is reportedly considering an IPO next year.

Palantir is a Silicon Valley paradox: Seen as innovative and forward-thinking like its California counterparts but clandestine and hawkish like its D.C. competitors. While employees for Google, Apple and Amazon have loudly protested to their companies’ involvement in government work with private data, Palantir’s CEO has embraced the role of big tech companies in Washington.

“My house has been protested for many months, almost every day,” Karp said. “Our offices have been protested. Many Palantirians, who do not just follow what I say but are critical people, protested against it internally. Some people were so upset by it that they left. These are very hard decisions. I respect the people that that have decided they can’t be involved in this, but we have a position.”

Last month, Business Insider reported that Palantir is working on Project Maven, the Department of Defense program that Google dropped in March following employee backlash.

“If this were true, I’d be very proud,” Karp said about the reports, but didn’t confirm Palantir was working on the project.

Palantir’s work for the government has drawn the ire of some in Silicon Valley, especially as competitors like Google have turned down government contracts. Employees at Microsoft have protested over the company’s $480 million HoloLens contract with the Army. Karp, however, defends his company’s public-private relationship.

“It’s commonly known that our software is used in an operational context at war,” Karp said. “Do you really think a war fighter is going to trust a software company that pulls the plug because something becomes controversial with their life? Currently, when you’re a war fighter your life depends on your software.”

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