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NSA SOURCE CODE LEAK: Information slurp tools to appear online

Now you can run your own intelligence agency

The NSA has decided to let the public have a peek at what it's been up to, for a change, by promising to release some of its data analysis tools under an open-source license.

On Tuesday, intelligence-gobbling agency said it hopes to make the code to NiFi – a project previously known internally as Niagarafiles – available as an Apache Incubator Project under an Apache License.

Described as a tool for automating data flows across multiple networks, even where data formats and protocols differ, NiFi is based on the concept of flow-based programming.

The idea behind open sourcing it, the NSA says, is for private industry to benefit from the US government's research and vice versa.

"Posting the code to open source forums allows the private sector and others to examine the agency's research up close, and potentially benefit from it through additional enhancements and applications," the agency said in a press release. "At the same time, the government can gain from related research advances."

It's also a convenient public relations move for the NSA. The agency has been battered by criticisms of late, after documents leaked by Edward Snowden over the past year revealed it constantly spies on just about everyone, even when it has questionable legal footing.

This actually isn't the first time the NSA has released some of its code. Back in 2011, it launched another Apache project for Accumulo, a NoSQL database based on Google's BigTable.

In the case of NiFi, though, the project's lead developer, Joseph Witt, said the NSA took great pains to develop the tool in a way that would eventually allow the agency to release its source code.

"From its inception, NiFi was developed with an open source philosophy in mind and with the hopes of eventually being truly open sourced," Witt explained in his proposal to the Apache Software Foundation – which will host the code in a Git repo when it's eventually released.

"The initial committers to NiFi have limited experience with true open source software development. However, despite the project origins being from closed source development we have modeled our behavior and community development on The Apache Way to the greatest extent possible."

The NSA said NiFi is just the first of a series of in-house projects that it plans to release under its Technology Transfer Program.

"The federally mandated program brokers collaboration agreements that protect intellectual property, advance time-sensitive mission requirements, promote the sharing of expertise, and drive economic growth," the agency explained. ®


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