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The CIA-Backed Start-Up That's Taking Over Palo Alto

The highly secretive software developer controls 10-15 percent of the city's commercial real estate inventory.

Mark Neuling / CNBC

Downtown Palo Alto, Calif., the heart and soul of Silicon Valley and former home to Google, Facebook and PayPal, is slowly turning into a scene out of “Lord of the Rings.”

Palantir Technologies, a highly secretive software developer whose name is derived from a magical crystal ball in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel, has been gobbling up real estate in the upscale home of Stanford University, and — according to critics — uprooting a vibrant start-up ecosystem in the process.

Unlike its start-up predecessors, which outgrew the cramped streets of Palo Alto and moved to more traditional corporate campuses in nearby Menlo Park and Mountain View, Palantir is intent on staying put and expanding. The company controls about 250,000 square feet of office space, or 10 to 15 percent of the commercial inventory, spread over 23 or so buildings. Some of its leases are for a decade or longer.

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