SAN FRANCISCO - How badly does Google want to keep under wraps a mysterious project taking shape on a barge in San Francisco Bay? Badly enough to require US government officials to sign confidentiality agreements.
At least one Coast Guard employee has had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the Internet giant, said Barry Bena, a US Coast Guard spokesman. Another person who would only identify himself as an inspector for a California government agency had to do the same.
Moored in the shadow of the Bay Bridge off of Treasure Island, a former military base, the nondescript barge is stacked several stories high with white shipping containers, and sprouts what appear to be antennas on top. The hulking structure, half shrouded in scaffolding, has stirred intense speculation in the Bay Area since reports of its existence surfaced late last week.
Technology website CNET theorized that the vessel might be a floating data center that will house banks of computers. Local TV station KPIX said the barge is intended to serve as a floating retail store for Google's "Glass" wearable computer device - although its external appearance, at least thus far, doesn't suggest such a purpose.
Adding to the mystery, a second similar barge was recently spotted in Portland, Maine, and is also registered to By and Large LLC, according to local media reports.
The company itself is keeping mum, refusing even to acknowledge its affiliation with the vessels.
Secrecy is a standard business practice in Silicon Valley, where technology companies such as Apple Inc go to great lengths to keep their latest gadgets under wraps and a constellation of blogs compete to reveal highly prized details.
But the concealment effort surrounding the barge is in another league. Chain-link fences and security guards encircle a pier and a couple of nearby buildings on the island, which sits between San Francisco and Oakland.
A California state inspector, who said he had business in the hangar-like Building 3 where some of the early construction took place, told Reuters he had to surrender his mobile phone and sign a confidentiality agreement in order to enter.