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October 8, 2018

From NSA Whistleblowers to Analytics Entrepreneurs

George Leopold

(Popartic/Shutterstock)

A pair of NSA analysts who blew the whistle on the spy agency’s misuse of their security and privacy controls have come out of retirement to form a startup providing data analytics services based on a proprietary “decision intelligence” framework.

Whistleblowers Bill Binney and Kirk Wiebe announced they are launching Pretty Good Knowledge to provide “strategic advisory and project services” to commercial and government clients. Those services include real-time decision intelligence that scales.

The partners said they have completed prototype projects over the last year involving European government agencies and financial services companies.

Since leaving NSA, Binney and Wiebe have been working with data scientists “on how to conduct data analysis in ways which are more powerful in producing relevant results, while respecting the law and the human right to privacy,” according to the startup, which emerged on Monday (Oct. 8).

The founders tout their framework as providing a real-time “situational awareness” capability intended to allow data analysts to respond to unforeseen market forces. The startup is based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The country pioneered European data privacy efforts with the 2016 Dutch Personal Data Protection Act, which anticipated the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation that took effect earlier this year.

“We know how to achieve market and security intelligence without sacrificing privacy or breaking laws,” Binney said.

In the late 1990s, Binney and Wiebe led a small NSA team that developed a platform for achieving real-time processing of high-value information extracted from the massive amounts of data swept up by NSA networks. Their work was credited with providing a framework for real-time processing of huge data sets while protecting data privacy. In 2015, the data scientists went public with allegations that NSA had removed the data privacy and security controls built into the system.

Binney, a cryptologist, was serving as a technical director at NSA when he developed the framework called ThinThread designed to gather data that could provide intelligence analysts with real-time clues about potential terror threats.

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