CIA Drone-Code Scandal Now Has A Big Blue Hue
U.S. Commercial Media Finally Jumps on the Story After British Publication Cribs Narco News’ Coverage
One of the largest and best-known corporations in the world, IBM, is now on center stage in a dispute between two Massachusetts technology companies — one of which is accusing the other of essentially stealing its software code and reselling it to the CIA for use in the Predator Drone program.
The two tech firms are currently embroiled in a lawsuit filed in a county courthouse in Boston that revolves around a sophisticated software program, known as Geospatial. The software was developed by Boston-based Intelligent Integration Systems Inc. (IISI) and licensed, with restrictions, to another Boston-area company, Netezza Corp., a maker of high-speed data-warehouse computers.
Late last month, IBM announced that it planned to acquire Netezza, a publicly traded company that employs some 500 people, in a deal valued at $1.7 billion.
In light of the pending acquisition, and to protect their interests, IISI and Netezza recently agreed to a “stipulation regarding disclosure” that was filed with the court.
“The parties … agree … that between now and the closing of the acquisition of Netezza by IBM as announced publicly on Monday, September 20, 2010, … Netezza Corporation will not disclose to IBM any copies of IISI [software] source code, binary code, object code, installation scripts or specifications,” the stipulation agreement states.
The Case at Hand
IISI claims in its court pleadings that the CIA sought to use Netezza computer hardware with operational IISI software in the agency’s 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 the software for the particular Netezza computer model, called a TwinFin, Netezza, according to IISI's legal pleadings, created a re-engineered version of Geospatial “that ran on the TwinFin, though very imperfectly, which it delivered to the CIA in October 2009, and which the CIA accepted.”
In an effort to protect its intellectual property from further exploitation, IISI filed a motion with the court last month for a preliminary injunction, with a hearing on that motion slated for Dec. 7. 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 allegedly “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 recent stipulation agreed to by Netezza and ISSI creates a temporary firewall between IBM and Netezza designed to assure that Netezza does not share information about IISI’s Geospatial software with IBM.
The stipulation clearly protects the intellectual property of IISI from being immediately absorbed by a large and powerful corporation like IBM, nicknamed Big Blue.
But, it also seems designed to protect the interests of Netezza as well, since the stipulation concedes no ground on the part of either company and falls far short of a draconian ruling by the judge, such as a temporary restraining order, that could possibly throw a big wrench in the still-pending IBM acquisition deal. The upcoming hearing on IISI’s motion for a preliminary injunction, therefore, promises to be a high-stakes courtroom showdown, with a billion-dollar-plus acquisition deal hanging in the balance.
Steal This Story
The IISI/Netezza drone-code spat has drawn global press attention in recent weeks, in the wake of a Sept. 24 article that appeared in The Register. The UK publication proclaimed breathlessly in the story’s headline: “CIA used ‘illegal, inaccurate code to target kill drones’ ”
The story, penned by a British reporter, quotes liberally from the IISI/Netezza court pleadings filed in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston — quite a distance across the pond from England.
Those court pleadings, at the time The Register published its story, were not available online, other than via Narco News, which posted them with prior stories it published on the case on Aug. 8, Aug. 21 and Sept. 16 — all in advance of The Register’s Sept. 24 story. And this writer is quite confident in asserting, based on reliable sources, that The Register report relied heavily on Narco News’ reports and the court records it posted online.
And that would be fine, if The Register reporter, in his story, had exercised the professional respect to acknowledge Narco News’ work (just as Narco News acknowledged in its initial coverage the original reporting done on the drone-code litigation by thestreet.com).
Of course, that did not happen. As a result, Narco News, a nonprofit that operates on a shoestring budget in the public interest, essentially became a crib sheet for The Register, and, by extension, all the commercial media that picked up the story from the British publication and failed to acknowledge the journalistic service provided by Narco News.
Counted among that slow class is the Washington Post’s “SpyTalk” column, which earlier this month devoted more than a few words to the IISI/Netezza drone-code case and saw fit to credit only the Register, describing it as “a U.K.-based technology journal that has been covering the case.”
I guess that’s just another example of the intelligence failures that have plagued Washington.
Past stories on this case: