The investment arms of the CIA and Google are both backing a company that monitors the web in real time — and says it uses that information to predict the future.
The company is called Recorded Future, and it scours tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents — both present and still-to-come. In a white paper, the company says its temporal analytics engine “goes beyond search” by “looking at the ‘invisible links’ between documents that talk about the same, or related, entities and events.”
The idea is to figure out for each incident who was involved, where it happened and when it might go down. Recorded Future then plots that chatter, showing online “momentum” for any given event.
“The cool thing is, you can actually predict the curve, in many cases,” says company CEO Christopher Ahlberg, a former Swedish Army Ranger with a PhD in computer science.
Which naturally makes the 16-person Cambridge, Massachusetts, firm attractive to Google Ventures, the search giant’s investment division, and to In-Q-Tel, which handles similar duties for the CIA and the wider intelligence community.
It’s not the very first time Google has done business with America’s spy agencies. Long before it reportedly enlisted the help of the National Security Agency to secure its networks, Google sold equipment to the secret signals-intelligence group. In-Q-Tel backed the mapping firm Keyhole, which was bought by Google in 2004 — and then became the backbone for Google Earth.
This appears to be the first time, however, that the intelligence community and Google have funded the same startup, at the same time. No one is accusing Google of directly collaborating with the CIA. But the investments are bound to be fodder for critics of Google, who already see the search giant as overly cozy with the U.S. government, and worry that the company is starting to forget its “don’t be evil” mantra.
America’s spy services have become increasingly interested in mining “open source intelligence” — information that’s publicly available, but often hidden in the daily avalanche of TV shows, newspaper articles, blog posts, online videos and radio reports.
“Secret information isn’t always the brass ring in our profession,” then CIA-director General Michael Hayden told a conference in 2008. “In fact, there’s a real satisfaction in solving a problem or answering a tough question with information that someone was dumb enough to leave out in the open.”
U.S. spy agencies, through In-Q-Tel, have invested in a number of firms to help them better find that information. Visible Technologies crawls over half a million web 2.0 sites a day, scraping more than a million posts and conversations taking place on blogs, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon. Attensity applies the rules of grammar to the so-called “unstructured text” of the web to make it more easily digestible by government databases. Keyhole (now Google Earth) is a staple of the targeting cells in military-intelligence units.
Recorded Future strips from web pages the people, places and activities they mention. The company examines when and where these events happened (“spatial and temporal analysis”) and the tone of the document (“sentiment analysis”). Then it applies some artificial-intelligence algorithms to tease out connections between the players. Recorded Future maintains an index with more than 100 million events, hosted on Amazon.com servers. The analysis, however, is on the living web.
“We’re right there as it happens,” Ahlberg told Danger Room as he clicked through a demonstration. “We can assemble actual real-time dossiers on people.”
Recorded Future certainly has the potential to spot events and trends early. Take the case of Hezbollah’s long-range missiles. On March 21, Israeli President Shimon Peres leveled the allegation that the terror group had Scud-like weapons. Scouring Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s past statements, Recorded Future found corroborating evidence from a month prior that appeared to back up Peres’ accusations.
That’s one of several hypothetical cases Recorded Future runs in its blog devoted to intelligence analysis. But it’s safe to assume that the company already has at least one spy agency’s attention. In-Q-Tel doesn’t make investments in firms without an “end customer” ready to test out that company’s products.
Both Google Ventures and In-Q-Tel made their investments in 2009, shortly after the company was founded. The exact amounts weren’t disclosed, but were under $10 million each. Google’s investment came to light earlier this year online. In-Q-Tel, which often announces its new holdings in press releases, quietly uploaded a brief mention of its investment a few weeks ago.
Both In-Q-Tel and Google Ventures have seats on Recorded Future’s board. Ahlberg says those board members have been “very helpful,” providing business and technology advice, as well as introducing him to potential customers. Both organizations, it’s safe to say, will profit handsomely if Recorded Future is ever sold or taken public. Ahlberg’s last company, the corporate intelligence firm Spotfire, was acquired in 2007 for $195 million in cash.
Google Ventures did not return requests to comment for this article. In-Q-Tel Chief of Staff Lisbeth Poulos e-mailed a one-line statement: “We are pleased that Recorded Future is now part of IQT’s portfolio of innovative startup companies who support the mission of the U.S. Intelligence Community.”
Just because Google and In-Q-Tel have both invested in Recorded Future doesn’t mean Google is suddenly in bed with the government. Of course, to Google’s critics — including conservative legal groups, and Republican congressmen — the Obama Administration and the Mountain View, California, company slipped between the sheets a long time ago.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt hosted a town hall at company headquarters in the early days of Obama’s presidential campaign. Senior White House officials like economic chief Larry Summers give speeches at the New America Foundation, the left-of-center think tank chaired by Schmidt. Former Google public policy chief Andrew McLaughlin is now the White House’s deputy CTO, and was publicly (if mildly) reprimanded by the administration for continuing to hash out issues with his former colleagues.
In some corners, the scrutiny of the company’s political ties have dovetailed with concerns about how Google collects and uses its enormous storehouse of search data, e-mail, maps and online documents. Google, as we all know, keeps a titanic amount of information about every aspect of our online lives. Customers largely have trusted the company so far, because of the quality of their products, and because of Google’s pledges not to misuse the information still ring true to many.
But unease has been growing. Thirty seven state Attorneys General are demanding answers from the company after Google hoovered up 600 gigabytes of data from open Wi-Fi networks as it snapped pictures for its Street View project. (The company swears the incident was an accident.)
“Assurances from the likes of Google that the company can be trusted to respect consumers’ privacy because its corporate motto is ‘don’t be evil’ have been shown by recent events such as the ‘Wi-Spy’ debacle to be unwarranted,” long-time corporate gadfly John M. Simpson told a Congressional hearing in a prepared statement. Any business dealings with the CIA’s investment arm are unlikely to make critics like him more comfortable.
But Steven Aftergood, a critical observer of the intelligence community from his perch at the Federation of American Scientists, isn’t worried about the Recorded Future deal. Yet.
“To me, whether this is troublesome or not depends on the degree of transparency involved. If everything is aboveboard — from contracts to deliverables — I don’t see a problem with it,” he told Danger Room by e-mail. “But if there are blank spots in the record, then they will be filled with public skepticism or worse, both here and abroad, and not without reason.”
Major Corporations Are Downloading Those 100 Million Facebook Profiles off BitTorrent
Remember that torrent yesterday that contained the personal information off of 100 million scraped Facebook profiles? I thought it was strange that the guy didn't sell this information, since many companies would be interested. Turns out they are interested. Reader Clint discovered that all you had to do is use something like Peer Block, which grabs the IPs of the other users also downloading the torrent and identifies which company or university or organization they belong to. You can check this yourself by hopping on the torrent and doing the same thing.
Here are the major companies that are downloading the torrent. A couple caveats to these. Just because a company is on the list, doesn't mean that it's a sanctioned download by the company itself to grab the user information for some purpose. It could easily just be some dude at the company who wanted to download the torrent himself to check it out. Also, the IP addresses assigned to a company might fluctuate (they usually don't, much, unless major companies change their connection to the internet, so it should be mostly accurate).
A.C. Nielsen Agilent Technologies Apple AT&T - Possible Macrovision Baker & McKenzie BBC Bertelsmann Media Boeing Church of Scientology Cisco Systems Cox Enterprises Davis Polk & Wardwell Deutsche Telekom Disney Duracell Ernst & Young Fujitsu Goldman Sachs Halliburton HBO & Company Hilton Hospitality Hitachi HP IBM Intel Intuit Levi Strauss & Co. Lockheed-Martin Corp Lucasfilm Lucent Lucent Technologies Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Mcafee MetLife Mitsubishi Motorola Northrop Grumman Novell Nvidia O'Melveny & Myers Oracle Corp Pepsi Cola Procter and Gamble Random House Raytheon Road Runner RRWE Seagate Sega Siemens AG SONY CORPORATION Sprint Sun Microsystems Symantec The Hague Time Warner Telecom Turner Broadcasting system Ubisoft Entertainment Unisys United Nations Univision USPS Viacom Vodafone Wells Fargo Xerox PARC
Russia to introduce 'draconian' Minority Report-style law
Legislation will give security services powers to arrest people for crimes they have yet to commit
Russian citizens can be issued official warnings about crimes that they have not yet committed under powers granted to the security services today.
President Dmitry Medvedev signed off on a new law giving the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, the right to caution people suspected of preparing acts of extremism, or to jail them for obstructing the agency's work.
The powers appear similar to those enjoyed by Precrime, the police unit in the 2002 Hollywood film Minority Report. "This is a draconian law reminiscent of our repressive past," said Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the Solidarity opposition movement.
Rights activists had hoped Medvedev would rein in the security services, after his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, a former KGB colonel, stuffed his administration with hawkish veterans. The Kremlin's tough stance comes against the backdrop of a disparate but emergent civil movement protesting against corruption and authoritarian government.
Under the new provisions, the FSB will be able to echo Soviet practices. The punishment for ignoring a warning was unclear, but 15-day jail sentences are envisaged for "obstructing an FSB officer's duties". Sergei Ivanenko, a leader of the Yabloko party, called it "the law of a police state". He said: "If such a law exists in a democratic country then it is limited by a very powerful system of civil, public and parliamentary control. In our conditions it will mean absolute power for the security services."
Rights activists, who fear the measures could be used to stifle civil disobedience, had expressed optimism that Medvedev might step in to quash the legislation.
Report: NSA creating spy system to monitor domestic infrastructure
The National Security Agency has begun work on an "expansive" spy system that will monitor critical infrastructure inside the United States for cyber-attacks, in a move that detractors say could end up violating privacy rights and expanding the NSA's domestic spying abilities.
The Wall Street Journal cites unnamed sources as saying that the NSA has issued a $100-million contract to defense contractor Raytheon to build a system dubbed "Perfect Citizen," which will involve placing "sensors" at critical points in the computer networks of private and public organizations that run infrastructure, organizations such as nuclear power plants and electric grid operators.
In an email obtained by the Journal, an unnamed Raytheon employee describes the system as "Big Brother."
"The overall purpose of the [program] is our Government...feel[s] that they need to insure the Public Sector is doing all they can to secure Infrastructure critical to our National Security," the email states. "Perfect Citizen is Big Brother."
"Raytheon declined to comment on this email," the Journal reports. Some officials familiar with Perfect Citizen see it "as an intrusion by the NSA into domestic affairs, while others say it is an important program to combat an emerging security threat that only the NSA is equipped to provide," the Journal states.
The program is reportedly being funded under the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, a program launched by the Bush administration in January, 2008, and continued under the Obama administration. The initiative is budgeted to cost $40 billion over several years.
MONEY TO BE MADE
In a report published last month, Cecilia Kang at the Washington Post described cyber-security as "Washington's growth industry of choice," and companies in the business are "in line for a multibillion-dollar injection of federal research dollars." Kang reported: Delivering the keynote address at a recent cybersecurity summit sponsored by Defense Daily, Dawn Meyerriecks, deputy director of national intelligence for acquisition and technology, said that along with the White House Office of Science and Technology, her office is going to sponsor major research "where the government's about to spend multiple billions of dollars."
Tom Burghardt at Pacific Free Press notes that the conference at which Meyerricks spoke was sponsored, among other firms, by Raytheon.
1) Facebook's leading Venture Capitalist firm is Accel Partners
2) Accel Partner's CEO is Jim Breyer
3) Breyer is the former chair of the National Venture Capital Association (NVAC), where he served with Gilman Louie, CEO of In-Q-Tel. In-Q-Tel is a venture capital firm established by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1999. This firm works in various aspects of information technology and intelligence, particularly in "tools for the rapid deployment of distributed, economical data collection networks. Systems that are self-organizing or that provide tools for the aggregation and management of data from large numbers..." and other items "of interest to the CIA."Breyer has also served on the board of BBN Technologies, a research and development firm also closely tied to In-Q-Tel. In fact BBN shared board members with In-Q-Tel, such as Anita Jones, former Director of Defense Research and Engineering for the U.S. Department of Defense. Her responsibilities included serving as an advisor to the Secretary of Defense and overseeing the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).