SPOTFIRE, THE CIA'S CYBER TERRORIST-FINDER: CARNIVORE 2.0
by Charles Carreon
4:24 pm, August 26, 2005
Larry Greenemeier for InformationWeek wrote this almost cluelessly upbeat article about Spotfire, a piece of software created by a CIA-funded “VC R&D project,” (wow-we're open about this stuff these days, aren't we?). Doesn't matter what they call it. Once we read the label, it's clearly Carnivore 2.0. You remember Carnivore, the software that let Admiral Poindexter — convicted felon and guru of Total Information Awareness — read all our email. Carnivore evolved from Echelon, and while it was neat to read all that email, the intellibots didn't like spam much, either. Kind of like having your coke cut far below Noriega-quality, spam ate into the data-richness of Carnivore's turf. And they realized, they needed to take it further. Screw raw information — let's digest it, process it, drill down into people's lives and just see the red dots light up blinking “terrorist cell in Omaha.” Once you get to that point, then probable cause can be premised on computer error, and we can blow up anybody like the FBI did the Branch Davidians, and no one can be blamed. It's just a regrettable computer error. At least, that's the ominous unintended consequence of any software that links up political thoughts, speech, identities and geography. You are the target, and the bomber is staffed by a cowboy on a mission.
Revealing E-Mail's Secrets Aug. 1, 2005 Tool lets analysts create a picture of communicators and can be used to fight terrorists and help businesses
With the threat of terrorism high, the intelligence community is investing in technology that can help analysts quickly examine communications, particularly E-mailed messages, in order to spot suspected terrorists. Backed by In-Q-Tel, the CIA's technology incubator, Spotfire Inc. this week will introduce a tool for uncovering patterns and relationships in information extracted from E-mail messages that will be as useful for anti-terrorism efforts as it will be for analyzing business data.
Homegrown programs and text-mining tools are available from a variety of vendors to extract data about an E-mail and information contained within a message. Spotfire's product, DecisionSite for Email Analysis, goes to work on that data and presents the results in tables or grids with different-sized splotches of color that indicate data patterns. DecisionSite's Email Portfolio feature allows analysts to store and link E-mail addresses and any other attributes to build a detailed picture of communicators and their activities. E-mail messages also can be mapped geographically using a variety of mapping technologies, including ESRI Inc.'s ArcGIS software.
Spotfire is looking to push business intelligence and reporting to the next level for both government agencies and commercial businesses, CEO Christopher Ahlberg says.
In-Q-Tel first approached Spotfire in 2003 when the CIA-backed venture-capital firm was looking to invest in technology that could find critical patterns by translating and analyzing data. “Unstructured information is at the core of the analysis that the intelligence community wants to do,” Ahlberg says.
Although In-Q-Tel is neither part of the CIA nor a government agency, it does receive input from the CIA regarding where it should invest. “We never know if the CIA uses the technology in which we invest,” says Eric Kaufmann, In-Q-Tel's managing partner and senior VP. “They give us a general direction, such as visualization.”
Kaufmann won't say how much In-Q-Tel has invested in Spotfire, but the firm sees the company's visualization technology as a breakthrough for E-mail analysis. “We identified Spotfire as a leader in the visualization” market, he says. That market is important because it's a place where visualization hasn't yet been used. “E-mail has become an increasing part of electronic discovery.”