It has been said that no company in the U.S. is better at sniffing out government defense and security contracts than Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), which employs 38,000 people and had revenues of $11.2 billion last year.
Although SAIC specializes in gigantic projects—it inked a $1.8 billion deal with NASA last week to provide scientific, health, engineering, operational and technical support services at Johnson Space Center—it also works on smaller endeavors.
Last month, the company signed a $2 million contract with the Oakland City Council to build its Domain Awareness Center, a controversial data collection program, fueled by federal homeland security funds, that was originally targeted at the city’s port but is expanding to take in the entire city. The center will gather surveillance data streams from schools, the Coliseum, law enforcement agencies, license plate readers, digital license plates, private security cameras, red-light cameras, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the state Department of Transportation and others.
An ACLU attorney called it classic “mission creep” and civil libertarians have made note of the city’s avowed purpose of using it as a tool for general crime fighting, rather than its original anti-terrorism mission. The East Bay Express says Renee Domingo, Oakland's director of Emergency Services, has expressed an interest in using it to control political demonstrations. Lee Tien at the Electronic Frontier Foundation said of the center, “There's no indication they've considered any privacy or civil liberties issue.”
That might not be of much concern to SAIC, whose recent contracts include, according to the newspaper, “training the Egyptian military, operating drones used to kill foreign citizens, building and operating portions of the NSA's internet spying system used on Americans, and more.” The company did billions of dollars of work in Iraq during both wars, has worked on nuclear plant cleanups and is a major player in the “war on terror.”
SAIC, which was founded in San Diego in 1969 but has operated out of Reston, Virginia, since 2007, has a history of troubled projects that have landed it in court. A lengthy 2007 Vanity Fair article said “several of SAIC’s biggest projects have turned out to be colossal failures, failures that have occurred very much in public.”
Last June, SAIC paid $11.75 million to settle allegations filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico that it charged the federal government inflated prices to train anti-terrorism first responders between 2002 and 2012. As usual, the settlement did not involve an admission of guilt.
SAIC paid $500.4 million in May 2012 to settle claims that it defrauded New York City over a payroll project that ran amok. A $60 million project ballooned to $690 million in what was called by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, a “fraudsters’ field day that lasted more than seven years.”
The East Bay Express said that its discussions with Oakland city officials didn’t turn up anyone who had vetted SAIC or was aware of its history.
Local systems like the one in Oakland can tap into surveillance systems already in place and accommodate new ones in the future. They can also facilitate larger federal data gathering enterprises, like those receiving greater attention after the revelations by former government contractor Edward Snowden.
It’s a growth industry that SAIC is poised to play a major role in.