Surveillance for Sale
by Pratap Chatterjee    Corp Watch
Entered into the database on Friday, September 02nd, 2005 @ 01:59:25 MST


Untitled Document In the fiscal year that ended Jan. 31, 2002, San Diego-based Science Applications International Corporation generated $6.1 billion in revenue and ranked number 294 on the Fortune 500 list of the largest U.S. companies. Founded in 1969 by physicist J. Robert Beyster, formerly a nuclear scientist with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, it is an employee-owned, decentralized company.

The company made a fortune during the dot com boom by buying Network Solutions, the Web domain name keeper, for $4.5 million in 1996 and selling it for $3.1 billion before the bubble popped.

But SAIC's biggest source of income is surveillance especially for the United States spy agencies: it is reportedly the largest recipient of contracts from the National Security Agency (NSA) and one of the top five contractors to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Some 5,000 employees (or one in eight employees) have security clearances. Beyster himself has one of the highest top-secret clearances of any civilian in the country.

"We are a stealth company," Keith Nightingale, a former Army special ops officer, told a magazine named Business 2.0. "We're everywhere, but almost never seen."

Today two of SAIC's most valuable products are: TeraText and Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) data-mining programs that are used by intelligence agencies to sift the immense volumes of data they now collect by monitoring phone calls, faxes, e-mails, and other types of electronic communications.

TeraText can process two billion documents every four seconds by identifying patterns and connections between names, terms, and ideas. For example, a CIA analyst might type in a request for all documents mentioning the name "Paris" the word "sleeper," and the term "plane" a possible code for a suicide bombing attack, organize the search by language, by time of day, and instantly retrieve all places in which the terms appeared in, say, a single sentence. LSI uses artificial intelligence that allows it to make judgments for abstract relationships among intercepted texts and public documents, and can find even less distinct patterns.

SAIC became home to former United Nations weapons inspector David Kay who went to SAIC as a vice president from 1993 to 2002. Last year he was hired by the CIA to return to Iraq and head the search for weapons of mass destruction.

Critics note that the company has a revolving door with the spy agencies: NSA veteran William B. Black Jr. retired from the intelligence agency in 1997, went to SAIC for three years and returned to the NSA as deputy director in 2000. Two years later, SAIC won the $282 million job of overseeing the latest phase of Trailblazer, the most thorough revamping in the agency's history of its eavesdropping systems.

SAIC has dozens of other government contracts: it trains air marshals for the Federal Aviation Administration, works with Bechtel to run the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada on Western Shoshone traditional lands (despite major protests from the Native Americans), The Army hired the company to destroy old chemical weapons at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the National Cancer Institute uses SAIC to help run its research facility in Frederick, the Transportation Security Administration asked it to dispose of scissors and pocket knives confiscated from air travelers and SAIC's unmanned Vigilante helicopters, equipped with Raytheon's low-cost, precision-kill rockets, are to undergo testing by the Army.

Not all of its surveillance work is for the United States military The company has installed a location-based Global Positioning System tracking service for BellSouth's 14,000 installation and maintenance vehicles and today its latest contract is to run security for the upcoming Athens Olympics from a zeppelin that will hover over the city.