Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire and prominent supporter of Donald Trump, has suggested Google’s alleged attempt to work with the Chinese military was “seemingly treasonous”.
Mr Thiel was speaking at the National Conservatism conference in Washington DC when he questioned, without providing evidence, whether Google had been “infiltrated” by foreign intelligence agencies.
In a list of three questions the former chief executive of PayPal compared the secrecy of the Manhattan Project – in which the US developed nuclear weapons – to that of Google’s artificial intelligence company DeepMind.
“Number one, how many foreign intelligence agencies have infiltrated your Manhattan Project for AI?
“Number two, does Google’s senior management consider itself to have been thoroughly infiltrated by Chinese intelligence?
“Number three, is it because they consider themselves to be so thoroughly infiltrated that they have engaged in the seemingly treasonous decision to work with the Chinese military [and not the US military?]”
Mr Thiel, 51, added: “These questions need to be asked by the FBI and the CIA, and I’d like them to be asked in a not excessively gentle manner.”
Google’s technology was being used by the Pentagon to analyse footage captured by drones until staff protests forced the web giant not to renew the controversial contract.
His references to the company allegedly working with the Chinese military appeared to be related to the firm’s plans to re-enter China with a search engine.
These plans were described as being at an “exploratory” stage, according to Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai, who announced they had been paused after protests from staff.
Mr Thiel, a wealthy and prominent US conservative activist, previously used his money to bankroll the ultimately ruinous lawsuit of gossip website Gawker after it outed him as gay in 2007.
He has also been involved in funding research into the controversial practice of receiving blood infusions from younger people to improve the health of adults in later life.
Google did not immediately respond to Sky News’ requests for response to Mr Thiel’s comments.