CIA and Google's Joint Investment Raising Eyebrows

Cambridge startup Recorded Future trawls the internet for raw data that it uses in an attempt to predict world events—understandably interesting stuff. But what do both Google and the CIA both see in the company? Wired digs deeper.

Pulling in data from over half a million websites, Twitter feeds, and blog posts, Recorded Future's "spatial and temporal analysis" engine—search that covers both the where and when of an event—claims to reduce newsworthy events like missile launches and terrorist attacks to factors that can be detected before the next occurrence.

The ability to predict what people will be caring about (and searching for) is of obvious interest to a company like Google, whose investment in Recorded Futures is old news. But what has not been so obvious is that In-Q-Tel, the investing arm of the US intelligence community, invested in Recorded Futures along with Google in 2009. The exact sum both that either group has put into the startup isn't known, other than that it is under $10 million, but both have members on Recorded Future's board of directors.

Wired's Noah Shachtman points out that this isn't the first time Google and the intelligence community have done business together. Nor is anyone accusing the two of colluding on some sinister plot, so put the tinfoil hat back in its drawer for now. But the fact of the matter is that, for the first time, Google and the CIA have a strong mutual interest in the same project, and are actively contributing advice and insight to Recorded Futures—a contribution the company's CEO says has been "very helpful."

What you make of this fact depends partially on your opinion of both Google and the CIA, but it certainly lends some credence to those who think the former isn't taking its peaceful, "don't be evil" ethos as seriously as it once claimed. But even some used to aiming a critical eye at the nation's intelligence apparatus suggest a wait and see attitude. Explains Steven Aftergood, Director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, "to me, whether this is troublesome or not depends on the degree of transparency involved." Should we be left in the dark regarding the CIA and Google's relationship vis-à-vis Recorded Future, Aftergood expects the rise of "public skepticism or worse, both here and abroad, and not without reason." [Wired]