Palantir, a spy tech firm traded on the American stock exchange, secured a £27m contract with the UK Cabinet Office after being introduced by the former MI6 head, Sir John Sawers. The introduction occurred a year before the deal was finalized. Sawers arranged a meeting between Palantir’s CEO and the Cabinet Office permanent secretary, John Manzoni, in 2019. The company subsequently won the data deal without a competitive tender, emphasizing the advantages of its unique software.
The involvement of Sawers, who led the Secret Intelligence Service from 2009 to 2014, raises concerns about Palantir’s connections to British and American security agencies. Labour MP Clive Lewis expressed concerns about the “military-industrial-espionage complex” infiltrating public services. He also emphasized the need for transparency in such deals, especially given Palantir’s anticipated £480m NHS contract this autumn.
Documents from a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Palantir’s CEO met with Manzoni in July 2019, a meeting recommended by Sawers. The discussions revolved around Palantir’s strategy for UK public sector growth. Critics, including Cori Crider of Foxglove Legal, have pointed out the company’s “land and expand” strategy, where they offer free trials or low-cost contracts and later increase prices.
Palantir’s increasing influence in the UK public sector is evident, with the firm hiring several public servants and NHS executives. Sal Uddin, a former civil servant, joined Palantir after serving as a Software and Cyber Security Category Director for the Cabinet Office’s Crown Commercial Service. While Uddin was in post, the CCS approved Palantir for several government contracts.