Illustration by TIME; reference image courtesy of Alex Karp

For two decades, the brash CEO of Palantir has courted U.S. government agencies to win secretive and often controversial contracts. His company, named after the mystical seeing stones in Lord of the Rings, has sold its data-mining tools to clients including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the FBI, the U.S. Army, the CIA, and other Western intelligence agencies. Alex Karp’s insistence that American technology companies have an obligation to support the U.S. government has often upset investors and some employees. “We’re never high on the popularity list,” he says.

But now, Karp, 55, believes that rising fears about China’s AI ambitions and the role of major technology firms in Ukraine’s fight against Russia are nudging the industry his way. “The first shot of the AI revolution was actually when people saw its implementation on the battlefield,” says Karp, who was the first CEO of a major Western company to visit Ukraine after Russia’s invasion and meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. With tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon joining the West’s mobilization against the Russian invasion, “the sentiment has changed,” he says. “This is something where we need to galvanize the country.”

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Karp, who pursued a Ph.D. in philosophy before co-founding Palantir in 2004 with his Stanford law-school classmate Peter Thiel, hails the company’s work as a “higher calling.” “We’re like this weird band that’s playing music everyone thinks is somewhat annoying and screechy, and saying, ‘No, this is the music you’re going to love,’” says Karp. “And now we’re very happy more people are appreciating it, and other bands are playing it to a larger audience.”

Karp has long shrugged off criticism about potential privacy violations or government misuse of Palantir’s technology. When other tech companies like Google dropped defense contracts with ICE after concerns from employees over the data’s potential use to deport immigrants, Palantir doubled down on its controversial partnerships. “I think it’s just blatantly ridiculous,” says Karp, who argues that with AI-driven military technologies set to determine the global balance of power, Chinese companies don’t have the same qualms. “I think we should immediately have a law that all technologies produced in the U.S. will be available to the U.S. government.”

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