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Who better to test privacy software than the world's spies?
SafeWeb suggests that the CIA also might use its technology to allow its far-flung agents and informants to communicate home, without the countries they are spying on ever knowing.
What's puzzling is why a tiny, year-old start-up would want to link up with an agency that is the nemesis of privacy buffs everywhere.
"I'm sure we'll take a hit from the 5% of our most paranoid customers," says Mr. Hsu, SafeWeb's 34-year-old co-founder and a theoretical physicist by training. But the CIA connection, he says, is deliberately distant. SafeWeb will provide the agency with customized software, but the CIA will have no access to the company's Web computers or to the workings of its core software, he insists.