In a fairly epic new Vanity Fair profile, the magazine reports that Peter Thiel is the frontrunner to become the chair of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB), a meta intelligence entity that functions independently from the nation's spy agencies.
The makeup of the board has varied over the years; while some presidents stock it with intelligence experts from the private sector, others reward political allies as they might in other appointee positions. Vanity Fair reports that while it sounded like Thiel's potential role was off the table in August, now the PayPal co-founder is again in talks to take the top post.
The Trump administration's PIAB site is not functional at this time, but the Obama administration offers its archived description of the board's role:
The Intelligence Oversight Board oversees the Intelligence Community’s compliance with the Constitution and all applicable laws, Executive Orders, and Presidential Directives.
It complements and supplements, rather than duplicates the oversight roles of the Director of National Intelligence, Department and Agency Inspectors General and General Counsels, and the Congressional Oversight Committees.
Thiel might be controversial, but he's a logical fit for the key intelligence advisory role. His data mining company Palantir is probably most famous for its contracts with government intelligence agencies and he's a longtime Trump ally who has never wavered in response to the kind of controversial choices by the Trump administration that provoke outspoken backlash from most corners of Silicon Valley. Under a normal presidency, his investment in companies with active government contracts might stir up conflict of interest questions with the PIAB role, but it's hard to imagine that being a hurdle under a president who actively promotes his family business from the highest office in the land.
As a senior aide to the White House told Vanity Fair, "Peter has indicated that if he takes the P.I.A.B. position he intends to take a comprehensive look at the U.S. intelligence community’s information-technology architecture. The source added that "He is super-concerned about Amazon and Google [and Facebook]... He’s concerned about the monopolistic tendencies of [all three] companies and how they deny economic well-being to people they disagree with." If the latter part of that quote holds up, it's a strange and telling priority set for the man who put Gawker out of business. It also has way more to do with regulation than intelligence, but Thiel's vision of a governmental paradigm shift has always been broad.
Given his longstanding proximity to Trump, Thiel has been in a position of influence from day one, but if rumors plays out, a formal intelligence appointment could still be an ascension of sorts for one of Silicon Valley's most divisive figures.