General Intelligence

Peter Thiel’s Former Chief of Staff Now Has a $60 Billion Pentagon Budget

Meet the man tasked with staying ahead of China

Dave Gershgorn
Published in
3 min readAug 14, 2020
United States White House CTO Michael Kratsios
United States White House CTO Michael Kratsios delivers a speech on the last day of the Web Summit in Lisbon on November 7, 2019. Photo illustration. Photo: Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images

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The last three years have been good for Michael Kratsios’ career.

In 2017, he left his post as chief of staff for controversial Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel to become the White House chief technology officer. Last month, he became the fourth most powerful person at the Pentagon.

Kratsios, now acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, is in command of a $60 billion Pentagon budget and tasked with keeping the United States’ tech ambitions ahead of China.

“Fundamental to preserving our strategic superiority and our way of life is to retain America’s technological dominance,” Kratsios said in a virtual event on August 13, held by the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology.

With Kratsios in the Pentagon, a small piece of Thiel’s mindset is now installed in the cornerstone of the nation’s defense apparatus. The new undersecretary’s refrains aren’t dissimilar to what Thiel has called for in the past: fewer regulations on tech and closer collaboration between Silicon Valley and the Department of Defense.

He has also found ways to skirt regulation when testing new technologies. The Pentagon is testing 5G on military bases, leap-frogging the permits and partnerships that private companies like Verizon and AT&T have to navigate.

Kratsios is a relative tenderfoot to government work. His colleague, undersecretary of defense for intelligence Joseph Kernan, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy a decade before Kratsios was born. But Kratsios’ relationship to the new cadre of government tech contractors, like Thiel-backed Palantir and Anduril, sets the stage for a new era of collaboration between the tech industry and the military.

As Kratsios said in his Georgetown remarks, his job is to make sure that the people working on A.I. collaborate with the people designing hypersonic missiles. And my bet is that Thiel might have some…



Dave Gershgorn

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.