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Does the Focus on Snowden Undermine Surveillance Reform Discussions?

By Frank Konkel // March 5, 2015

Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is in Moscow, is seen on a giant screen during a live video conference for an interview with Amnesty International.
Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is in Moscow, is seen on a giant screen during a live video conference for an interview with Amnesty International. // Charles Platiau/AP

Judging from the past few days’ misleading headlines involving former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and subsequent blowharding by talking heads galore, you’d think the most famous whistleblower in history had changed his mind about returning to the U.S. like a repentant son ready to “come home.”

Well, that wasn’t exactly news.

The hoopla stemmed from a recent comment by Snowden’s Russian attorney, Anatoly Kucherena, who said: “I won’t keep it a secret that [Snowden] wants to return back home. And we’re doing everything possible now to solve this issue. There is a group of U.S. lawyers. There is also a group of German lawyers, and I’m dealing with it on the Russian side.”

Obviously, that wasn’t a secret at all as Snowden, who revealed himself almost 20 months ago and was quickly charged with espionage, has unfailingly stated he’d like to come home if he could be guaranteed a fair trial. .

Yet, some media outlets ran with this story as it were breaking news. The problem is that exaggerated headlines and narratives do nothing but overshadow the gravitas and importance of the Snowden leaks. Snowden provided the meat ...

Why Big Data Gets a Bad Rap in Government

By Frank Konkel // March 3, 2015

faithie/Shutterstock.com

Big data is the reason your financial institution calls you after an odd credit card purchase.

It’s also the reason Facebook always seems to know what ads to pop up while you’re working hard checking out who commented on your supercute throwback Thursday picture.

Emerging technologies like big data are polarizing. Ten years ago, few organizations outside of the National Security Agency undertook true efforts in big data. Of course, the potential to abuse technologies that allow for the collection, amalgamation and analysis of otherwise unlinkable data sets is precisely the fear a growing number of people have.

But hold the phone. The opportunities for exploitation may make sexier headlines, but big data is doing a whole lot of good behind the scenes. It’s not all fire and brimstone, surveillance and mass-spying.

“I get really passionate about everyone not talking about the good big data does versus the bad everyone wants to talk about,” said Nick Curcuru, senior business leader at MasterCard.

“Big data creates so much better opportunities for us to create better customer experiences, to cure diseases.”

Curcuru was one of several big data experts who spoke Feb. 25 at the Cloudera Federal Forum in ...

When Congress and Cloud Collided

By Frank Konkel // March 2, 2015

Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.
Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn. // J. Scott Applewhite/AP

At a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week on the Defense Department’s IT investments, Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., mused whether “cloud” didn’t really stand for “Chinese Love Our Updated Data.”

Give Cooper and his staffers some credit: If you scroll to about the 1-hour, 35-minute mark in the video of the hearing, you can hear the creative acronym. (A Google search suggests Cooper may have coined the phrase himself).

A few people laughed, but the Pentagon’s acting chief information officer, Terry Halvorsen, certainly didn’t.

Nor did Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell, the U.S. Army’s CIO; William Bender, the U.S. Air Force’s CIO and chief of information dominance; Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kevin Nally; or Dr. John Zangardi of the U.S. Navy.

That’s because it was a stupid throwaway line that, if anything, undermined the otherwise intelligent questions Cooper came up with.

Pentagon personnel and other top tech brass across government have been working hard to make use of emerging technologies like cloud computing to save money, improve efficiencies and enhance military operations over the last several years. Any detailed reading of their efforts highlights rigorous security as so obviously paramount ...

Industry’s Take on FITARA? ‘A Good Step Forward’

By Frank Konkel // February 27, 2015

For agency CIOs, great power comes with great responsibility.
For agency CIOs, great power comes with great responsibility. // Featureflash/Shutterstock.com

The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, approved by Congress in December, gives agency chief information officers unprecedented budgetary authority over IT investments.

It’s a big deal because CIOs across government have had varying levels of authority to nix underperforming tech projects or to direct spending toward innovative technologies.

While the CIO at the Department of Veterans Affairs previously had these powers for almost a decade, others have had them for far less. NASA’s lack of centralized IT budget authority prompted a scathing inspector’s general report in 2013 that showed the CIO only had control over 10 percent of the space agency’s $1.5 billion IT budget.

Imagine trying to pay your bills, manage expenses and balance your checkbook with access to only 10 percent of your income. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Now, like Spider-Man gifted with radioactive spider-infused superpowers, agency CIOs have new powers and new responsibilities, and the smart ones aren’t waiting to prepare. The early discussion among feds is that FITARA is a game changer if implemented properly – that is, if new CIOs use their powers for good.

Top industry IT execs feel much the same way, but they’re ...

CIA’s New Big Data Hub Will be Hosted in the Cloud

By Frank Konkel // February 26, 2015

agsandrew/Shutterstock.com

The CIA is preparing to take the next step in its quest to shake up the status quo of siloed agencies within the intelligence community.

CIA Chief Information Officer Doug Wolfe confirmed Wednesday the intelligence agency will start using Cloudera’s Enterprise Data Hub platform by April, a move he expects “to extend the innovation and push the envelope on a whole range of different solutions” for all 17 IC agencies.

The enterprise data hub, also known as a “data lake,” would presumably provide standardized data sets compiled by intelligence analysts across various agencies to decision-makers among many other features found in the company’s widely used open source big data platform.

This hub, however, will be hosted on Amazon Web Services’ C2S cloud built for the IC, inaccessible to the public.

Cloudera’s data hub is one of many uses the CIA has been tasked with since it launched the cloud last summer, including a software marketplace that could revolutionize how IC agencies procure software.

Wolfe, speaking Feb. 25 at the Cloudera Federal Forum in Tysons Corner, Virginia, said the enterprise data hub should up and running on Amazon’s cloud in a month or so. The event was ...