Last year, I wrote a piece for eWEEK about a so-called MySpace for spies.
"A-Space" (A is for analyst) is a social network for U.S. spies and covert operatives across 16 intelligence agencies to share information with each other. The effort is spearheaded by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or DNI, a post created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to coordinate foreign and domestic security and promote collaboration among those 16 intelligence groups.
At the time, the security agency's spokesperson wouldn't discuss what kind of gear it uses to support the technology. But an article in the San Francisco Chronicle this weekend has uncovered the truth, or some of it. The government uses GSAs, or Google Search Appliances, to help it search for documents in its computer systems, which are no doubt large and messy.
Indeed, spy agencies are using Google equipment to fuel its Intellipedia, a Wikipedia-like network to let agents share intelligence, a departure from the past, siloed information storage. Spies and analysts can post what they learn, only to have colleagues read it and comment. Oh, wouldn't it be fun to plug into that Matrix for a day?
It seems Google's gear will help analysts stay plugged into the government's Matrix. I have no quibble with the article's position that the contract is one in a line of such deals Google has necessarily made to boost its rather small footprint in the enterprise.
And yet, there is some delicious symmetry in the fact that the search vendor who regularly sparks privacy concerns is supporting government agencies who also spark privacy concerns.
Google makes some folks uneasy because of the data it collects about everyone. The search engine (not the people behind it) intuit our preferences from the searches we do, which makes lots of people uncomfortable.
A couple years ago, we learned that the government uses sophisticated computers to monitor our digital exchanges to listen for suspicious activity (i.e. "persons of interest", etc.). The company does it to make more money; the feds do it to make our country safer.
Google provides its search appliances to help the government agents better find the data they are collecting about people, presumably both domestic and foreign. In a kind of one-hand-washes-the-other scenario, the government so far has let Google collect what it wants to, though how long that will last is anyone's guess.
I won't begin to suggest that Google and the government have some sort of twisted arrangement where they share information about people to help each other.
I doubt that the national intelligence agents give Google tips on how to find out more about people, or how people behave. I rebuke the notion that Google tunes its search appliances to help the agents more easily find information on people.
All of these things imply some insidious collusion between the government, charged with the daunting task of protecting millions of Americans, and Google, the numero uno search engine that has $16 billion per year in paid search sales to protect.
No, such talk is for grassy knoll-loving conspiracy theorists, the likes of which you will not find in this blog. ;)