Intellectual property suit could clip wings of CIA drones

Posted by David Gomez

It seems that no one is immune to patent law. And as a recent intellectual property (IP) suit alleges, the CIA’s unmanned drones that operate all over the world could very well be acting in violation of US legislation.

Intelligent Integration Systems claims in a lawsuit that parts of the targeting software that operate the drones are pirated and insufficient for accuracy. IISi says that former partner Netezza pirated IISi’s Geospatial Toolkit and Extended SQL Toolkit for a government client. Evidence from the court case revealed that the government client happened to be the CIA.

IISi is waiting for December 7, 2010, when Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle is expected to make a ruling in this case. IISi is looking for an injunction that will stop Netezza from using it’s toolkits for three years. IISi is saying that Netezza also used a “hack” version of their software that did not have complete targeting ability just to rush it out to meet the CIA’s deadline.

What are the results of using a hacked version of targeting software with incomplete functionality on a CIA rush job? You get predator drones that might be missing their targets by almost 40 feet. What’s another 40 feet of collateral damage when you are trying to wage a war on evil?

And the CIA isn’t alone. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency also uses the alleged pirated software to assist the Department of Defense in homeland security.

In emails acquired by online magazine Fast Company it is clear that both IISi and Netezza were aware of the major flaws in the Geospatial toolkit at the time of the alleged IP violations. The terminology used by IISi is "far from production ready code."

In a few emails refered to in the Fast Company article by Neal Ungerleider, in September of 2009 IISi CTO Rich Zimmerman complained of "problems with some very intricate floating point calculations that are causing me to fail a lot of my regression tests" he also said the toolkits are not "production ready."

IISi and Netezza had a falling out over the CIA rushed deadlines.

IISi dropped out of the project because they did not feel comfortable with the project. They felt so uncomfortable at one point about the potential for error because of the CIA deadlines, that they wanted some type legal protection if flawed toolkits were to be used.

You know, just in case the drone missiles missed their targets.

After IISi and Netezza split, Netezza decided to continue to work with the CIA to deliver targeting software to the CIA. Netezza told the CIA they could deliver the software they wanted in the fast turnaround time they demanded.

And that is what led to the alleged hacking of a flawed guidance system and its sale to the CIA. Top IISi personnel felt there was not enough time to fix bugs let alone deliver a finished product.

Drone attacks are controversial. A lot of people feel that these unmanned bombers just lay waste to civilian area with little regard for accuracy or concern for the noncombatants on the ground.

Now we are finding out there very well could be something to the claims that the CIA drones are responsible for the death of far more innocent lives than they are actual terrorists.

The writer of the Fast Company article Ungerleider makes an interesting observation that I want to bring up. He asks why is it that business lawsuits tend to spill the guts on counterterrorism operations.

Well, I often wonder that myself. What is going on here is insane. I hope the judge rules in favor of IISi so we can begin to find out why such an important CIA targeting system was hacked and rushed into production before it was ready.