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CIA May Have Bought Faulty Drone Software

Netezza, the CIA and the House Intelligence Committee, which helps oversee the CIA's budget, declined interview requests for this story, each citing policies against commenting on issues related to pending litigation. But much of the story already lies in court documents housed at the Suffolk County Superior Courthouse in Boston, where the case is awaiting summary judgment. According to Intelligent Integration Systems officials, those "vital military operations" involved targeting enemy combatants with predator drones.

"The dispute before the court is about contract terms and the core legal issue wouldn't be any different whether it involved direct-mail marketing applications or the CIA," says Paul Davis, CEO of Intelligent Integration Systems. "But the nature of the work exposes some large problem areas for Netezza that go beyond a contract and our product. A customer like the CIA needs a fail-safe solution, not just a data-warehouse product."

Court documents, company emails

The predator drones' role in the companies' conflict comes to light in a court deposition of Intelligent Integration Systems Chief Technology Officer Rich Zimmerman, in which he recalls a Friday, Oct. 9, 2009, conversation with Jim Baum, CEO of Netezza, and Jon Shepherd, Netezza's general manager for location-based services. Zimmerman says Netezza officials told him it was Intelligent Integration Systems' "patriotic duty" to develop the geospatial software for the new hardware in a matter of days, even if there wasn't sufficient time to ensure its accuracy.

According to Zimmerman's deposition, Baum told him "the CIA called them on the phone, said we need this to target predator drones in Afghanistan, that ... we need Spatial up and running immediately. Jon Shepherd made a comment somewhere along the way that [suggested], 'just give us anything ... we need it right now.' "

Asked by Intelligent Integration Systems' attorney how he responded to the request, "my reaction was one of stun, amazement that they want to kill people with my software that doesn't work," Zimmerman said in the deposition.

The case file includes emails among Netezza officials, in which they discuss how to handle the situation, in light of the fact that Intelligent Integration Systems wouldn't give up its source code while the customer is in a hurry. The emails imply that Netezza promised a product to the CIA before anyone had developed it. They also reference "floating point" difficulty, a mathematical computing issue that can lead to accuracy problems. (A Nov. 12 email from a Netezza account manager refers to "errors in the spatial toolkit hack." "Hacking" usually means gaining unauthorized access to a computer, a key point in Intelligent Integration Systems' countersuit.)
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