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CIA Software Developer Goes Open Source, Instead

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For three years, Matthew Burton has been trying to get a simple, useful software tool into the hands of analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency. For three years, haggling over the code’s intellectual property rights has kept the software from going anywhere near Langley. So now, Burton’s releasing it — free to the public, and under an open source license.

Burton, for example, spent years on what should’ve been a straightforward project. Some CIA analysts work with a tool, “Analysis of Competing Hypotheses,” to tease out what evidence supports (or, mostly, disproves) their theories. But the Java-based software is single-user — so there’s no ability to share theories, or add in dissenting views. Burton, working on behalf of a Washington-area consulting firm with deep ties to the CIA, helped build on spec a collaborative version of ACH. He tried it out, using the JonBenet Ramsey murder case as a test. Burton tested 51 clues — the lack of a scream, evidence of bed-wetting — against five possible culprits. “I went in, totally convinced it all pointed to the mom,” Burton says. “Turns out, that wasn’t right at all.”

The program was supposed to work with Analytic Space, an online workspace for spooks.

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