4 October 2010
CIA mum on lawsuit alleging drone targeting errors
by Jeff Stein
The Washington Post


The CIA has declined comment on allegations that its drones have a targeting margin of error of up to 40 feet, a malfunction that could be contributing to civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The allegations have surfaced in a complex suit over intellectual property theft in Massachusetts, in which the developer of the targeting software testified that he was surprised to hear that the CIA was willing to use untested code in the drones.

"My reaction was one of stun, amazement that they want to kill people with my software that doesn't work," Richard Zimmerman, chief technology officer for Boston-based Intelligent Integration Systems (IISi), said in a sworn deposition in April.

Zimmerman said an executive from Netezza, his company’s partner in the venture, had told him and other company executives that “the CIA called them on the phone, said we need to target predator drones in Afghanistan, that this is a national security matter. We need [the software] up and running immediately.”

The spy agency was desperate for the software and willing to accept untested code in increments, the Netezza executive said, according to Zimmerman.

But IISi would not cooperate in a rush job, Zimmerman said -- at least not without some legal immunity in case the missiles missed their targets -- or as Zimmerman put it in his deposition: “without some sort of terms around that that indemnifies us in case that code kills people.”

IISi later discovered that an "illegally and hastily reverse-engineered" version of its software ended up on the CIA’s computers, the company is charging. It has sued Netezza for damages and is seeking an injunction to stop the firm and the CIA from using the software in its drones.

Netezza, headquartered in Marlborough, Mass., is in the process of being acquired by IBM.

The Netezza executive’s call, in which at least five executives from both companies participated, Zimmerman said, took place on Oct. 9, 2009, when the CIA was beginning to escalate the number of drone strikes in the war zones.

The CIA liaison on the project was identified in e-mail exchanges and testimony as “Skip McCormick,” who co-authored a 1998 book, “AntiPatterns: Refactoring Software, Architectures, and Projects in Crisis.”

A U.K.-based technology journal that has been covering the case, The Register, reported last month that a Hays W. "Skip" McCormick III “has worked at the CIA for several years.” It said that McCormick has also been a consultant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Northrop Grumman.

According his personal and book-publicity pages, McCormick is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and lead engineer at Mitre Corp., “focusing on object-oriented systems development and legacy systems integration.”

A publicity blurb says McCormick’s book “helps you navigate through today's dangerous software development projects.”

The CIA, which is not a party to the dispute, declined to comment on the case, and McCormick could not be reached for comment.

Netezza officials did not respond to requests for comment.

UPDATE: A Netezza spokesman said, "It is our policy not to comment on current and pending litigation. We believe that the claims made against Netezza by IISI are without merit and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves against those claims in court."

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