11 October 2010
CIA drones could be grounded by software suit
by Jeff Stein
The Washington Post


A judge’s December ruling in an intellectual property law suit between two software firms in Massachusetts could strip the CIA’s Predator drones of their targeting software, the CEO of one of the companies says.

Intelligent Integration Systems (IISi) of Boston, Mass., developer of a sophisticated mapping software that guides CIA drones, has accused Netezza, its onetime partner in the deal, of stealing its technology after it refused to go along with an expedited production schedule allegedly demanded by the CIA. IISi maintains that its unique software was not ready for use in the Predator system and would cause missiles to miss their targets by up to 40 feet.

"My reaction was one of stun, amazement that they want to kill people with my software that doesn't work," IISi’s chief technology officer said in a sworn statement last April.

In August IISi won a summary judgment against Netezza, which had accused it of breach of contract for not going along with the stepped-up production schedule.

IISi’s counterclaim, that Netezza had wrongfully terminated the contract, was allowed to proceed by Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Margaret R. Hinkle.

The CIA’s future use of IISi’s technology, moreover, was thrown into jeopardy this week by the judge's approval of a stipulation that forbade Netezza from sharing any copies of IISi ‘s Geospatial and Extended SQL Toolkit products with IBM, which has made a $1.7 billion bid for the company.

Now IISi has asked the court to for a preliminary injunction to halt the use of its software by Netezza or any other client. Judge Hinckle’s decision is expected on Dec. 7.

A favorable ruling, said IISi's chief executive officer Paul Davis, would revoke the license of any company or agency using it, including the CIA, from Nov. 20, 2009 onward. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, a combat-support unit of the Defense Department, also uses the software.

“Any installations that took place after that date are unlicensed,” Davis said in a phone interview. The company would not permit customers to use “hacked” versions of its software.

One the legal questions are settled, moreover, Davis said, IISi would have to go back to redevelop the product, which would include extensive testing and quality assurance drills.

That would take “certainly multiple months, at least,” he said.

It is not known whether the CIA has a back-up plan in the event it cannot use any version of IISi's products.

CIA spokesman George Little said the agency would have no comment on litigation to which it is not a party.

Netzeeza said it will "vigorously" fight the injunction.

"The parties have not conducted full discovery with respect to IISi’s counterclaims and damages for our termination of the agreement have not been determined," the company said in its latest quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), filed Sept. 9. "We deny that we used trade secrets or proprietary information of IISi and intend to vigorously contest ISSi’s motion for preliminary injunction and to vigorously defend ourselves against IISi’s remaining counterclaims, to which we continue to believe we have meritorious defenses."

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