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If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this story on San Diego-based contractor SAIC in the March issue of Vanity Fair.

Reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele dig into a couple of SAIC’s high-profile contracts that have been busts, including a billion-dollar National Security Agency program designed to translate the NSA’s intercepts and a $124 million FBI information-sharing contract.

What everyone agrees on is this: No Washington contractor pursues government money with more ingenuity and perseverance than SAIC. No contractor seems to exploit conflicts of interest in Washington with more zeal. And no contractor cloaks its operations in greater secrecy. SAIC almost never touts its activities in public, preferring to stay well below the radar. An SAIC executive once gave a press interview and referred to the enterprise as a “stealth company,” a characterization that is accurate and that has stuck. “Nobody knows who they are,” says Glenn Grossenbacher, a Texas lawyer who has battled SAIC in court on a whistle-blowing case. “Everybody knows Northrop Grumman and G.E., but if you went out on the street and asked who the top 10 [defense] contractors are, I can guarantee you that SAIC would not be one of them.” …

SAIC has displayed an uncanny ability to thrive in every conceivable political climate. It is the invisible hand behind a huge portion of the national-security state — the one sector of the government whose funds are limitless and whose continued growth is assured every time a politician utters the word “terrorism.”

The same Vanity Fair story carries an offbeat tone that tries to link SAIC with the inception of the Iraq War. And it attempts to draw an odd connection between the company and Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The story says:

There isn’t a politically correct way to put it, but this is what needs to be said: 9/11 was a personal tragedy for thousands of families and a national tragedy for all of America, but it was very, very good for SAIC.

On the Iraq War, the story says:

Over the next four years, (former U.N. weapons inspector and former SAIC employee David) Kay and others associated with SAIC hammered away at the threat posed by Iraq. Wayne Downing, a retired general and a close associate of Ahmad Chalabi, proselytized hard for an invasion of Iraq, stating that the Iraqis “are ready to take the war … overseas. They would use whatever means they have to attack us.” In many of his appearances on network and cable television leading up to the war, Downing was identified simply as a “military analyst.” It would have been just as accurate to note that he was a member of SAIC’s board of directors and a company stockholder.

Draw your own conclusions.

I was on KPBS’s Full Focus talking about it Friday. Check out the broadcast here.

ROB DAVIS

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