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June 14, 2013

Government, Private Companies Swap Intelligence, Tips

No more secrets?

Some of this I approve of, such as Microsoft tipping off the government about bugs and hack-exploits shortly before it widely disseminates patches to fix those bugs. This permits the government a short period of time to exploit the security holes in terrorists' or foreign officials' computers before they're fixed.

But I don't know the extent of it. And I don't know what the government gets in return.

Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said.

These programs, whose participants are known as trusted partners, extend far beyond what was revealed by Edward Snowden, a computer technician who did work for the National Security Agency. The role of private companies has come under intense scrutiny since his disclosure this month that the NSA is collecting millions of U.S. residents’ telephone records and the computer communications of foreigners from Google Inc (GOOG). and other Internet companies under court order.

Many of these same Internet and telecommunications companies voluntarily provide U.S. intelligence organizations with additional data, such as equipment specifications, that don’t involve private communications of their customers, the four people said.

Makers of hardware and software, banks, Internet security providers, satellite telecommunications companies and many other companies also participate in the government programs. In some cases, the information gathered may be used not just to defend the nation but to help infiltrate computers of its adversaries.

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), the world’s largest software company, provides intelligence agencies with information about bugs in its popular software before it publicly releases a fix, according to two people familiar with the process. That information can be used to protect government computers and to access the computers of terrorists or military foes.

...

The extensive cooperation between commercial companies and intelligence agencies is legal and reaches deeply into many aspects of everyday life, though little of it is scrutinized by more than a small number of lawyers, company leaders and spies. Company executives are motivated by a desire to help the national defense as well as to help their own companies, said the people, who are familiar with the agreements.

Most of the arrangements are so sensitive that only a handful of people in a company know of them, and they are sometimes brokered directly between chief executive officers and the heads of the U.S.’s major spy agencies, the people familiar with those programs said.

One thing that might be surprising to people is that there has long been a lot of cooperation between the CIA and private corporations in the tech area. The CIA's gadget shop, for example, would often go to private companies with specific needs, and private companies would put their engineers on the job to make them, say, a very miniaturized camera, or a battery that lasted for years (to power a hidden microphone and transmitter planted in an official's office), or so on.

In many cases these breakthroughs would then become subject of patents and tech items available to the general public, but only after a certain period of time during which the CIA had exclusive use of the technology.

The popular, but somewhat silly-sounding, idea that the CIA has technology that won't see the light of day for years is actually... true. (Citation: Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA's Spytechs, from Communism to Al-Qaeda by Wallace, Melton, et al. discusses this. The book is based on declassified documents, and the forward was written by George Tenet, so this book is relatively accurate and not some flight of fancy. )

I'm not entirely sure if I should be alarmed by this because this scary-sounding secret tech alliance between the CIA and private tech corporations has been going on since, I don't know, at least the forties.

Now, sharing citizens' private data is something else again, but... Here's the thing: Google is already spying on you and collecting your information. Google is the world's largest espionage organization. Not the NSA, but Google.

Microsoft is a somewhat smaller one, and Apple, and Amazon, and etc...

I don't know how much more alarmed I should be that the government is recording my data when practically every large tech company on earth is already doing it.

I Wonder if There are Secret Patents and a Secret Patent Office. I think there must be. Patents are public. That's the point of them -- in exchange for an inventor voluntarily telling the world how his device works, and adding to the world's net wealth of technological knowledge, he receives a government-granted right of exclusive use of the patent for a period of years. After that period, the patent lapses, and now anyone can use it.

But if a corporation is doing work for the CIA, and they create a patentable innovation, they surely would want a patent on that. The trouble is, they can't get a public patent. The whole point of the CIA's request for a super-long-lasting tiny battery is that they don't want the world to know they have such things.

So I wonder -- and I think it must be the case -- that somewhere in the law, or perhaps some secret Executive Order, there's a provision that says corporations' will get the benefit of the patent without publicly disclosing it, and that their official patent application -- when they seek it, after the CIA has used it for some years -- will be back-dated to reflect the actual date of invention.

Not sure how this would work. Gotta be going on, though.



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posted by Ace at 01:24 PM

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