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CIA used 'illegal, inaccurate code to target kill drones'

'They want to kill people with software that doesn't work'

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Enter Skip

Yet according to Baum's response, that is how the CIA worked. "It is the CUSTOMER who has indicated that he is willing to work with IISi and Netezza to accept code progressively," he wrote.

As a follow up, Davis got a call from a man who identified himself as Skip McCormick, of the CIA, to discuss speeding up the port of Geospatial. Davis was recuperating from a heart attack and could not speak at any length. Straight after the the call, however, he received an email from McCormick with a CIA address.

Hays W. "Skip" McCormick III, from his book

"We depend on the Geospatial tools here every day," it said.

"We just upgraded to a [TwinFin], but it doesn't yet have the Geospatial tools. I'm trying to figure out what options are available for getting them asap."

Davis had doubts the contact was genuine but The Register has established that a Hays W. "Skip" McCormick III, co-author of a 1998 book on software project management, has worked at the CIA for several years. Sources including conference guest lists record his involvement in software projects at the agency. According to book publicity he previously worked as a consultant to DARPA, Northrop Grumman and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Further evidence of the CIA's apparent acceptance of untested software is offered by an internal Netezza email from the same day as the crucial conference call. "A US Gov customer is expecting the toolkit to be available as soon as Monday for use in a mission-critical project," wrote project manager Razi Raziuddin.

"They do understand we won't have a fully-qualified, production-ready release and are OK with it."

Immediately after IISi's refusal to deliver untested Geospatial code, internal emails disclosed to the court show Netezza executives began making alternative arrangements. "I want to set up some time on Thursday to get on the phone with you guys to talk about some options in the event we need an alternative TwinFin solution," Shepherd told Netezza engineers in an email.

Thank God for optimists

On the Thursday one of the engineers told Jim Baum via email that "it appears" Geospatial was working on TwinFin. On Friday it emerged that however Netezza adapted the software, the results were inaccurate.

"For some strange reason many of the calculations are a little off, from 1 to 13 metres," wrote Joe Wiltshire, a federal account manager at Netezza.

Jim Baum: "We are likely screwed"

"The customer is not confident they can live with the uncertainty in meters unless we can tell them a bit about why this is happening."

"No matter how you slice this, we are likely screwed," Netezza CEO Baum replied.

The unreliable results were traced to a floating point problem, but less than a week later Wiltshire reported to Shepherd that in fact "they are satisfied" and believed "the minor discrepancy in metrics... is due to [TwinFin] doing a better job".

"Thank God for optimists," came Shepherd's reply.

The solution was later referred to as "the spatial toolkit hack" in Netezza emails when it began producing further errors in November. The existence of the hack, and its use at the CIA was only revealed after Netezza sued IISi, claiming it breached its 2008 contract by refusing to port Geospatial to TwinFin.

That case was dismissed last month, with the judge finding that contrary to Netezza's repeated claims, IISi was under no obligation to carry out the work. Discovery also revealed that Shepherd had called on staff to develop "our own version of the spatial toolkit", which was introduced in January this year as "Netezza Spatial", which is available on the open market.

Now IISi claims both the hack and Netezza's own software are illegally based on reverse engineering and misappropriation of its trade secrets, and is pursuing an injunction that if granted would block their use by anyone. It's unclear which, if either, is currently in use at the CIA. A hearing on the injunction application is scheduled next week.

The complex case, which has so far received scant press attention, has the potential to embarrass the CIA, and the White House. President Obama has significantly expanded use of clandestine drone assassinations, despite heavy criticism from the UN and others.

Questions remain over whether repeated Netezza claims that the CIA needed Geospatial for drone assassination operations were correct, and the full truth is unlikely to be made public. However, the suggestion the agency accepted a rushed job and saw inaccuracies in an optimistic light is likely to draw further controversy to the programme.

Netezza and IISi both declined to comment for this story. A CIA spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation, especially if it is not a party to the lawsuit. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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