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Shining light on the CIA

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Several readers commented on our story about the CIA contracting with Amazon for cloud services.

Reader James Woods wrote: Why is there even a need for the CIA to study the American public, since America is a free society?

Frank Konkel responds: The CIA’s mission is twofold: It gives accurate and timely intelligence on foreign threats to national security, and it conducts counterintelligence or other special activities relating to foreign intelligence and national security when the president asks it to do so.

While I can’t speak to information the CIA obtains about American citizens, the agency has made an enormous effort to collect mammoth caches of information – data from social media, data from sensors (like what might be produced from drones), and smart machines. Humans, connected to the Internet via cell phones, mobile devices and laptops, are information producers in their own right, and right now, the CIA is getting to the point where it can store this kind of information and compare it to other data sets. Many of those data sets would be unstructured data, but with the advent of big-data technologies and growing computational power, predictive insights are now possible based on a wealth of disparate information.

The CIA would probably not comment on your question, but my guess is if they did, they’d say something like "Look, America is a free society, and if we want it to stay that way, we’re going to have to adapt to evolving technology out there because everybody else will."

ITM noted that the CIA declined to comment because it "does not usually disclose details of our contracts, the identities of our contractors, the contract values, or the scope of work." ITM commented: Q: ...because? A: "Shut up, slave."

Frank Konkel responds: While "no comment" responses are never what a journalist wants to hear, in this case, it is fully expected. The CIA has a duty to protect national security. You don’t go talking about something on the record that, if publicized, could even remotely put a target on your back, so to speak.

An anonymous commenter wrote: And the simple solution, cutting down the number of overlapping intelligence agencies, never occurred to them?

Frank Konkel responds: The members of the intelligence community, a collection of 17 agencies including the CIA, are all charged with unique missions. With regards to evolving information technologies, different agencies lead the way in different facets, as per the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise strategy. For instance, the CIA and NSA are spearheading where the IC goes with cloud computing – other agencies have different specialties, if you will. While agencies can do frequently do work together, each has a very specific mission that many would argue is important to the nation’s well-being.

Posted by Frank Konkel on Mar 26, 2013 at 12:10 PM


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