US Government Attorney Writes Narco News Over CIA Drone-Code Story
Missive Inspires Yet More Intrigue
Narco News today received a very interesting e-mail from an intelligence agency seeking information about the ongoing CIA drone-code scandal that has surfaced in a lawsuit filed in a Boston court.
A Department of Defense attorney, who works for an agency called the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA, penned the e-mail.
The NGA, in addition to being part of the Pentagon’s intelligence arm, also has a close relationship with the intelligence agency central to the drone-code litigation: the CIA.
The NGA’s Web site reveals that the agency has a support team imbedded inside the CIA that “has been a powerful force in assimilating CIA into the National System for Geospatial Intelligence, … integrating geospatial intelligence … into the CIA’s processes, building collaborative partnerships, increasing NGA–CIA developmental opportunities and facilitating cross-training programs.”
Consequently, receiving an e-mail from an NGA attorney is an interesting development, particularly when the missive relates to Narco News’ ongoing investigative coverage of the drone-code scandal — which became public due to a legal row between two Massachusetts technology companies who are battling over the rights to 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.
IISI earlier this year won a partial summary judgment in the case and currently has a motion for a preliminary injunction pending before the court, with a hearing date set for early December. Should the motion be granted, Netezza would be forced to round up and return to IISI all software that Netezza, according to court pleadings, allegedly pirated, re-engineered for one of its new computers, and then sold to various customers, including the CIA.
That allegedly “hacked” software, in the case of the CIA (which is not party to the lawsuit), is now being used to guide killer drones to their targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, IISI alleges in court filings, despite the fact that the modified software doesn’t function properly.
In prior reporting on the story, Narco News spoke with Leutrell Osborne, a former case officer with the CIA, who added another twist to the drone-code scandal by suggesting that the NGA might also somehow “be connected” to the purchase of the allegedly hacked IISI software.
The NGA’s mission, according to its Web site, is to develop “imagery and map-based intelligence solutions for U.S. national defense, homeland security and safety of navigation.” That means the agency works with the Department of Homeland Security, which also operates, via its Customs and Border Protection agency, at least seven Predator B drones, most along the U.S southern border, with two more slated to be operational by 2012.
Susan Meisner of NGA’s public affairs office confirms that her agency has a support team at the CIA, “and at numerous other agencies.” However, during an interview with Narco News in August, she also said “we [NGA] don’t have anything on a contract with Netezza,” in response to a question about whether the agency might have acquired a Netezza computer running the allegedly “re-engineered” IISI software.
Narco News recently sent Meisner a follow-up e-mail on the same matter, after the Washington Post published a story that seemed to be in conflict with Meisner’s claim regarding Netezza.
Following is the e-mail sent to NGA’s Meisner on Oct. 12:
My name is Bill Conroy. I'm a correspondent with an online investigative publication called Narco News, which covers the drug war. I have spoken with you previously concerning a story about a lawsuit filed in Boston over the alleged misappropriation of proprietary software called "Geospatial" by a company called Netezza.
At the time we talked, back in August, I asked you if Netezza does any work for NGA. You replied that your agency doesn't "have anything on a contract with Netezza."
Recently I ran across a report in the Washington Post that indicates the same Geospatial software [developed by a Boston company called Intelligent Integration Systems Inc. and allegedly, according to the lawsuit, misappropriated by Netezza for resale to the government] is being used by NGA:
Is the statement in the Washington Post story above accurate?
Now, to be clear, the lawsuit is complicated, and some sales of Geospatial by Netezza were authorized. The lawsuit deals with a set of sales on a specific computer called the TwinFin, which were allegedly not authorized by IISI.
So my follow-up questions, if the statement in the Washington Post story is accurate, are as follows:
Is the Geospatial software running on a Netezza TwinFin computer at NGA?
If so, is it being utilized in any drone-related programs involving NGA?
I appreciate your response, to the extent that is possible.
Narco News [www.narconews.com]
Meisner got back to Narco News by phone last week to address the questions. She indicated that she checked with individuals within the agency who she thought would be able to address the questions, and provided them with Narco News’ e-mail as well.
“I can’t find anyone who is familiar with Geospatial,” she said.
Meisner pointed out that NGA is a huge agency, however, and also conceded that it is possible the software is in use in a classified setting, or as part of a joint CIA/NGA program in which the CIA controls the software. If either scenario is in play, Meisner might not be made privy to the information.
And so, with that backdrop, the e-mail that arrived today, addressed to Narco News, raises the intrigue level on this drone-code story yet another notch.
Dear Mr. Conroy:
I’m an attorney with the DoD’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). It was with great interest to NGA that I read your excellent article on the Netezza v. IIS, Inc. lawsuit.
I would like your assistance please if you have some time today. I located on your article a link to Judge Hinkle’s decision, dated August 20, 2010, however, I would like to obtain other legal pleadings in the case, such as the plaintiff’s complaint, the defendant’s answer and counterclaims, the actual motion for summary judgment filed by IIS, Inc., and Netezza’s response.
I am using this information only for an official government purpose in advising the agency as to whether there are any potential concerns if the Judge were to grant the injunction.
Please email or call me if you wish to discuss. Thank you very much.
Assistant General Counsel
Office of General Counsel
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
What can be inferred from Mr. Rickert’s e-mail is up to you, kind readers, to decide.
The words of Paul Davis, co-founder and CEO of ISSI, however, seem apropos at this time.
When you sell something that doesn't exist, the risks can be endless.
In this case, it seems there may be at least some risk that the allegedly faulty software sold to the CIA for its drone program might have spread beyond that agency, maybe even to NGA, and maybe, by extension, even to the drones now operating along the U.S. borders.
Time will tell.
Beyond Davis’ one-sentence warning above provided to Narco News for a prior story, he and other IISI officials declined further comment, referring Narco News to the court pleadings.
Likewise, Netezza spokesman Glen Zimmerman has declined to comment, indicating previously that it is his company’s policy not to discuss “pending litigation.”
As for those court pleadings, Narco News has already put a number of them up on the Internet via links in its stories to date on the drone-code scandal. As a service to our readers, including Mr. Rickert, Narco News once again provides links to the core pleadings below.
NOTE: Links to various other court documents/exhibits filed in the pending lawsuit between Netezza and IISI lodged in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston can be found in the previously published stories in this series.
Past stories on this case: