Semi-secretive CIA-backed data company to shun IPO, for now

Alex Karp, co-founder of Palantir Technologies
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A semi-secretive, but widely watched data analytics firm partially backed by the CIA has decided against going public, for now.

A source at Palantir Technologies—the big data software company that boasts some of the most important clients in government and business—told CNBC "we have no plans to go public anytime soon."

Among the reasons: The company has no trouble attracting financing, and going public would the force the company to disclose aspects of its business that it might prefer to keep out of the public eye, said Avivah Litan, analyst at Gartner.

Palantir has raised close to a billion dollars, its revenues are estimated to be nearly $500 million, and analysts peg its valuation north of $9 billion. The company's website says "we've doubled in size every year" since being founded in 2004.

Investors include Peter Thiel, Stanley Druckenmiller, and the CIA's In-Q-Tel venture fund. Forbes says Thiel—who made a fortune on Facebook after co-founding Paypal—has close to a 12 percent stake in Palantir, which would be worth close to $1 billion at its current valuation.

The company started when Thiel and a few Stanford engineers worked on software to track down Russian mafia syndicates that were defrauding Paypal. Thiel parlayed that piece of software known as "Igor" into the beginnings of the Palantir business.

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"Palantir's secret sauce is their ability to integrate data quickly, and the company has a very unique corporate culture. They have a lot of very bright young people who work weird hours and are part of an odd, Kool-Aid culture," said Litan.

The company charges its big clients a lot of money and doesn't have a traditional sales force. In one case, a young Palantir employee showed up at a major bank and said "you need to write us a check for a million dollars if you want us to work for you," Litan said.

While a third of its business is with big data and defense contracts with the U.S. government, its business with major banks like Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase is growing. Sources within the company say other clients include the Pentagon, the Justice Department, the NYPD and the LAPD. The company's financial forensic software helped the law firm that recovered eight out of every 13 dollars in the Madoff scandal.

While the company doesn't issue press releases and CEO Alex Karp does very infrequent interviews, the company says its mission is to "offer a suite of software applications for integrating, visualizing and analyzing the world's information."

Palantir recently signed a deal with the the Securities and Exchange Commission for software that is designed to detect insider trading and other financial illegal activity.

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Litan says Palantir's software allows companies to sift through vast amounts of structured and unstructured data. And it's precisely that data-combing that helps the SEC find financial irregularities and big banks sniff out rogue traders.

While little is know about the inner workings of Palantir, the company is awash in cash and has more than 140 high-paying engineering jobs listed on its website for its offices in Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Mclean, Va., New York and around the world. It pays its .

The company is not alone in the the data and security space, an area Litan says is getting "frothy." Competitors like IBM, RSA Data Security and Splunk are copying aspects of the Palantir model and offering similar services at lower prices.

By CNBC's Mark Berniker. Matt Hunter contributed to reporting. Follow them on Twitter @markberniker and @MattMHunter.