It’s called the Technology Transfer Program (TTP), under which the NSA declassifies some of its technologies that it developed for previous operations, patents them, and, if they’re swayed by an American company’s business plan and nondisclosure agreements, rents them out.
The TTP itself isn’t classified, though 2014 is the first year they’ve published a formal catalog.
Many of the listed technologies in the NSA’s TTP catalog are methods to either help transcribe recorded communications or sort through massive troves of transcriptions, calling to mind the NSA’s ability to absorb huge quantities of people’s communications without their knowledge. Other technologies include voice identification, proxy detection, and data relationship/visualization tools.
NSA spokesperson Vanee Vines declined to share specifics on why those available technologies were developed, or how they were used within the agency. “Our lawful mission is centered on foreign intelligence and information assurance in defense of the nation,” she said.
Some technologies seem far simpler, almost to the point of being silly. Several are concerned with ensuring security with everyday objects, like tiny blocks to block access to a computer’s USB port, a “reusable tamper evident bag closure,” and “tamper protection for locking manhole covers.”
NSA officials declined to say how much money the Technology Transfer program brings in. They did, however, state that individuals at the agency receive substantial bonuses if their programs are licensed.
“Per NSA Policy, inventors at NSA receive 25 percent of the royalties or other payments,” NSA spokesperson Vanee Vines told the Daily Dot. She adds that the remainder, per U.S. law, goes toward “activities that increase the potential for transfer of the technology” within the agency. In other words, the rest of the money stays in-house.
The Daily Dot relayed one NSA employee’s claim to Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a world-renowned computer security and cryptography, that the TTP was a means of injecting federally-funded research back into the U.S. economy.
“Bullshit,” he responded. “The NSA’s not stimulating the economy. They just said that and it sounds good. They just made that up.”