Legal Battle May Force CIA to Return Drone Code to Sender
Tech Firm Wants Faulty Pirated Software Taken Out of Circulation
An East Coast software development company is seeking a court order from a judge in Boston that, if granted, could require the CIA to return “hacked” software it acquired for use in the agency’s Predator Drone program.
The software firm, Intelligent Integration Systems Inc., or IISI, filed a motion recently for a preliminary injunction in Suffolk County Superior Court, where it has been engaged since last November in a heated legal battle with Marlborough, Mass.-based computer maker Netezza Corp.
Should the motion be granted, Netezza would be forced to round up all IISI software programs that it allegedly pirated, re-engineered for a new computer product, and then sold to various customers, including the CIA. That so-called “hacked” software, in the case of the CIA, is now being used to guide killer drones to their targets, according to IISI’s legal pleadings, despite the fact that the modified software doesn’t function properly.
The IISI/Netezza litigation revolves around a series of claims and counterclaims related to a sophisticated, analytical software program, known as Geospatial, that was developed by IISI and is capable of high-speed integration of spatial data (such as maps and visual images) with non-visual data — such as names and phone numbers.
The crux of the lawsuit between Netezza and IISI is whether IISI was required to create another version of its Geospatial software for a new computer that was launched by Netezza last year and ultimately sold to a major government client, which IISI’s pleadings allege is the CIA.
Both parties in the case agree that IISI did sell a version of Geospatial to Netezza that was designed to operate on that company’s prior computer platform, called the Netezza Performance Server.
However, IISI argues that, per a licensing agreement between the two companies, it was not required to develop a new version of its software to operate on Netezza’s latest hardware product, dubbed the TwinFin — unveiled publicly in 2009.
Late last month, the judge ruled in IISI’s favor, dismissing Netezza’s claims in a summary judgment ruling. However, IISI still has pending a number of counterclaims against Netezza, most of which stem from the computer-maker’s alleged unauthorized re-engineering of IISI’s Geospatial software and the subsequent sale of that flawed software to the CIA.
IISI’s pleadings in the case assert that, according to Netezza officials, the CIA needed the TwinFin, with operational IISI software, for use in its Predator Drone program, which involves the use of unmanned aircraft to target and kill people in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
After IISI indicated that it was not bound by contract to deliver that software, Netezza, according to IISI's pleadings in the lawsuit, created a re-engineered version of IISI’s Geospatial “that ran on the TwinFin, though very imperfectly, which it delivered to the CIA in October 2009, and which the CIA accepted.”
The problem, according to IISI’s court pleadings, is that “for some strange reason, many of the calculations [made by the hacked software] are a little off, from 1 to 13 meters.
The motion for a preliminary injunction filed last week with the court in Boston asks the judge to order that Netezza cease marketing, distributing or using Geospatial or it’s related Toolkit or any hacked or re-engineered version of the products, and to return all copies of hacked IISI software now operating on Netezza's TwinFin — which would include the software now running on TwinFins purchased by Netezza's customers, such as the CIA.
Also, if the preliminary injunction is granted, Netezza would be banned from making any further use of IISI's trade-secret and proprietary information; and, for a period of three years, it would be banned from developing, marketing or distributing any products that perform functions similar to Geospatial or the associated Toolkit.
From IISI’s recently filed motion in support of its request for a preliminary injunction against Netezza:
In this case, what Netezza did in creating the “hack” version of Geospatial was a clear breach of the “Reverse Engineering” and “Use of Proprietary Information” provisions of the [software licensing] Agreement …. Netezza’s actions were without IISI’s knowledge or consent and in complete and utter disregard for the language of the Agreement, and its own records prove what it did.
Netezzas’ own records also show that Netezza was motivated to take this action [create a hacked version of IISI’s software] in order to save face with the CIA, which considered a working Geospatial product as “the driver” in its decision to purchase the TwinFin….
More Than a Conspiracy Theory
It is not clear what the CIA will do should the judge grant IISI”s motion and require the return of the hacked software. An official spokeswoman for the CIA previously told Narco News that the agency “does not … comment on matters pending before U.S. courts.”
Although the fate of the CIA’s TwinFin software may still be up in the air, the potential for a software malfunction to cause serious havoc with an unmanned aerial vehicle, such as a Predator Drone, is no longer a matter of pure theory. Last month a Navy drone entered the airspace of the nation’s Capitol after being out of control for a half hour due to what the Navy called a “software issue,” the New York Times reported.
The example of the errant Navy drone seems to be a warning worth heeding. If the CIA is using flawed software re-engineered by Netezza “to target predator drones in Afghanistan,” as IISI’s pleadings in the lawsuit assert, then it is likely only a matter of time before innocent lives are compromised due to a “software issue.” In that sense, IISI’s motion for a preliminary junction, if successful, could be seen as a lifesaver.
In the mean time, the litigation between IISI and Netezza continues, with a court hearing scheduled on IISI’s motion for a preliminary injunction on Sept. 29.
Even though Netezza's breach-of-contract claims against IISI have been dismissed via summary judgment, IISI's still has pending a number of counterclaims against Netezza. Those pending claims include allegations of trade-secret misappropriation, unjust enrichment, conversion and business defamation.
IISI’s motion for a temporary injunction is being sought from the court prior to the judge's final ruling on the company’s remaining claims in the lawsuit. If IISI prevails, the temporary injunction, if granted, would likely then become permanent.
Stay tuned ……
A link to IISI’s memorandum of law in support of a motion for a temporary injunction
Past stories on this case: