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SAIC = spooky

Filed under: News


On Friday afternoon, the offices here at AV were quiet—lot of folks out of town, lots of folks getting ready for Easter. So when the phone rang around 1:15, I answered. A woman named Charlotte E. Smith said she was calling from SAIC and looking for advertising rates in the Buffalo area for a proposal she had been asked to write up that afternoon. How much does it cost to advertise in AV? she asked.

You’re calling from where? I said. I made her repeat “SAIC” twice to be sure I’d heard correctly.

SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) is one of the largest and spookiest defense contractors in the US, employing 44,000 people and bringing in $8 billion in revenues in 2006, according to a 2007 article in Vanity Fair by Donald Barlett and James Steele. The company holds at least 9,000 federal contracts. SAIC, according to Barlett and Steele, “sells human beings who have a particular expertise—expertise about weapons, about homeland security, about surveillance, about computer systems, about ‘information dominance’ and ‘information warfare.’ If the C.I.A. needs an outside expert to quietly check whether its employees are using their computers for personal business, it calls on SAIC. If the Immigration and Naturalization Service needs new record-keeping software, it calls on SAIC.”

What could SAIC—this behemoth with its thumbprint on war planning for Iraq, database mining, all sorts of spooky stuff—be advertising in Western New York? In Artvoice, for God’s sake?

In fact, SAIC has been quietly present for some time in this region, or at least in Niagara County, where the company has been a contractor in projects like this one—the removal of radioactive material from Lewiston Road. (Similar contamination is scattered throughout the county; an upcoming repaving project for Buffalo Road faces similar issues.) SAIC also was involved in a 2001 radiation survey at the Lewiston-Porter Schools. The Lew-Port Schools sit on a former section of the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works (read more, more, more) and adjacent to the Niagara Falls Storage Site, where the Army Corps and the Department of Energy manage an underground containment center holding thousands of tons of radioactive waste, just one legacy of the region’s role in the Manhattan Project.

(Here’s a US Army Corps of Engineers precis that says contamination at Lew-Port Schools is no big deal, though a University at Buffalo report said the schools should be immediately closed because of the danger posed by the adjacent properties.)

Here at AV, Lou Ricciuti and I have been writing about this stuff, off and on, for seven years. (And causing some discomfort in officialdom for doing so right from the start—see this letter from the Army Corps to former Representative John LaFalce about our very first article, way back in 2001.) Lou has been researching the issue for 10 years. Neither of us is predisposed, shall we say, to think highly of the various contractors who have taken part in hiding or minimizing the region’s industrial history and its toxic legacy, through quiet cleanups, deceptive studies and misdirection. And SAIC gives us the creeps, both generally (as a tool of intelligence and military agencies) and specifically (for its work in Niagara County).

Why would SAIC want to advertise in Artvoice? Hell if we know, and SAIC’s Charlotte E. Smith hasn’t yet replied to our inquiries. Maybe they don’t want to advertise with us at all. But there will be more to this story soon, we hope.

  • I have to ask — just what, exactly, do you find spooky about SAIC?

    This is a major U.S. company, which serves as a government contractor across a wide variety of fields. Including, as you note, military and intelligence work and environmental cleanup.

    Now, I’m no fan of corporate America. But they aren’t accused of doing anything wrong, are they? While I’m also no fan of our current foreign policy, working in support of the nation’s military and intelligence activities isn’t automatically bad, is it? And you don’t accuse SAIC of any wrongdoing in its anti-radiation work, either, right?

  • geoff kelly

    The Vanity Fair article referenced some of the company’s failures and possible frauds. Long, but worth the full read. The company has a long history of being caught out for overcharging government, underperforming contracts, and winning new contracts again anyway, which can be corroborated outside the VF piece.

    In any case, what’s spooky about them is the kind of work they do—database mining, email monitoring, etc.

    As for their work in Niagara County, I guess I have to play coy: We’re not accusing them specifically in this post of wrongdoing or negligence, but we may be accusing them (and others) soon enough. Sorry, I know that’s not convincing. But stay tuned.

  • Jack Sprategue

    Hmmm…Post Number 2 came in at just over three hours.
    Who says that “datamining” is a bad thing. Hmmmmm?
    Curioso is all. I wonder if they read the VF article?
    Can’t wait for the more.

  • Jack Sprategue

    Hmmm…Post Number 1 (that’s Numero Uno) came in at just over three hours from being made online. Now who says that “data mining” is a bad thing. Hmmmmm?
    Curioso is all. I wonder if they (Numero Uno) read the VF article?
    Can’t wait for the more. Sorry for the repost.

  • Dave

    All of the government/defense contracting companies do this “spooky” stuff you mention. As information technology companies they ALL deal with the government in relation to data mining, databases, email monitoring, network security, and just about ANYTHING else IT/computer/software related that you can think of. Its not spooky or evil, and SAIC is not unique doing it. Also, information technology is just one small part of what these companies do for the government. I dont know why you find SAIC to be spooky. If you feel that way, then you need to apply that spooky feeling to all other government/defense contracting companies…lockheed and boeing and general dynamics and raytheon and joe’s defense company.

  • I don’t think the writer above was the first to use the term “spooky.”
    That may have been the two Pulitzer Prize winning authors mentioned in the Vanity Fair article and Leonard Lopate from WNYC Public Radio and his guests – Take a listen and then ask yourself this question: What are they doing here in WNY??

    Read the VF article.

  • Carl Rover (NO relation)

    From the way I hear this radio program, they’re bigger than Halliburton.
    There here in and around town and we’ve never heard of them. Now that IS SPOOKY!

  • P

    It never ceases to amaze me how people can see faces in clouds and SAIC involved in every sinister plot from global warming to the war in Iraq.

    SAIC is involved in many aspect of government because they hire the right people to bid and operate specific government contracts. No mystery to it. Typically, the government contracts out a lot of work for two reasons: 1) they do not normally pay their technicians enough to stick around for a 20-year career; 2) in the long run, the govt might pay a little more for a service in the short term, but in the long term, it is not worried about paying medical, funds matching on a 401K, retirement pay, etc.

    Again, no mystery.

  • Q

    It never ceases to amaze either way…
    7. EXACTLY.
    This is EXACTLY WHY they ARE Spooky. “Faces in the clouds”?? Laughs..
    Funny. But telling.
    Government by contract? Now that really sucks. Except for the stockholders and allowing .gov spend more on pet/pork projects from the budget. No public oversight? Sweet–not. Less pay and no benefits. Wonderful. Now that’s real good for the US economy and stability ain’t it. No medical.
    Yep, no mystery there. Which contractor do you work for?
    J: You’re right about one thing–“No mystery to it.” LOL!

  • DJ

    SAIC Responds to Article in Vanity Fair Magazine
    10 Feb 2007

    The March issue of Vanity Fair magazine contains an article that grossly misrepresents SAIC through the use of innuendo and blatant falsehood. The article pieces together isolated allegations and lawsuits – – many of which are decades old.

    While presented as a piece of investigative journalism, the authors demonstrated a clear bias and predetermined outcome while “researching” their story. When the authors initially contacted us, they indicated in advance that the story they were working on would be unflattering. Acting in good faith, we provided written responses to the list of questions they submitted. These responses are available on ISSAIC, along with our transmittal letter to the editor of Vanity Fair in which we asked for objective treatment and a balanced story (see related information below).

    The article extends far beyond the topics covered in the list of questions submitted to SAIC. It appears that the authors were not interested in our input because they also ignored the bulk of the information that we submitted in our written responses. At the outset, the editors of Vanity Fair appear to have found every negative press article and litigation matter involving SAIC during its 38 year existence. In their search for the negative, the authors of the article contacted anyone who might have something negative to say about SAIC and went on to quote terminated employees, litigants and contingent fee lawyers as if their word was the final authority. No attempt was made to place these matters into context or to achieve a balanced perspective. Further, the article ignores substantial publicly available information supportive of the company. The result is an article lacking in credibility.

    The article also ignores the tremendous accomplishments that SAIC and its employees have achieved for our customers during our 38 years on tens of thousands of contracts. Instead, the article provides a distorted view of a handful of contracts of the over 100,000 SAIC has successfully completed. A more balanced description of the specific contracts discussed in the article is contained in our written responses and available on ISSAIC.

    Although the article is filled with inaccurate and misleading information that portrays SAIC in a false light as an unethical company, set forth below are a couple of examples that illustrate the faulty logic and lengths the authors were willing to go to malign SAIC in the article.

    The article preposterously suggests (i.e., “some might argue”) that SAIC was involved in instigating the Iraq war. It’s absurd to suggest that, by anticipating the rise of global terror networks and assisting the United States in defending itself against such threats, SAIC is somehow responsible for instigating the Iraq war. The run-up to the war is one of the most examined and investigated periods in American history; any such suggestion concerning SAIC is absurd and totally lacking in factual foundation.

    The article’s accusations concerning the so-called revolving door and SAIC’s hiring of former government workers also lacks credibility. The Vanity Fair article dwells at length on the number of former government officials and employees who have joined SAIC over the years. SAIC – like virtually every other government contractor – often hires former government employees. And with good reason: far from the illicit connections or improper influence with their old colleagues implied in the article, what such workers actually bring to the table is a deep understanding of their former agencies – the agency’s mission, its objectives and how the private sector might best help accomplish them. The real issue should not be how many former government employees choose to go to work for SAIC, but whether they comply with the law’s restrictions on their activities after leaving the government. SAIC goes to substantial effort and expense to make sure that its managers and employees obey the letter and spirit of the law in this highly regulated area. Additional information on this issue and our efforts to comply with these restrictions is available on ISSAIC (see related information below).

    The article goes on to imply that SAIC’s employee ownership system was really a mechanism to improperly influence government officials to award SAIC contracts because these government officials some day in the future may want to leave the government and join SAIC. The article uses a quote from an employment lawyer who sued the Company almost 20 years ago as the “authority” for this absurd proposition. The article goes on to imply that employees who left the Company to work for the government “had considerable incentive to keep SAIC’s continuing good fortunes in mind” on the assumption that they continued to own their SAIC stock and would benefit financially from helping SAIC’s business interests as a government employee. The article ignores the fact that until SAIC recently went public it had a right of repurchase upon termination of affiliation and repurchased the stock of employees who left the Company. Although a cursory investigation of the facts would have shown the absurdity and falsity of this allegation, the Vanity Fair article baselessly accuses the Company and these government employees of what amounts to criminal conduct.

    For over 38 years, SAIC employees have done exemplary work for the nation in such activities as supporting the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, MD, in cancer and AIDS research, operating the national tsunami warning system, supporting the national DNA data base for catching criminals, advancing the state of robotics, measuring the stealth of Navy submarines and helping warfighters transform the way they fight. Today we are a company of 44,000 dedicated employees working on more than 9,000 contracts. We are proud of our commitment to ethical performance, and we’re proud of our employees and the level of knowledge and expertise they bring to their work.

    We will be working with our line organizations, our customers, Capitol Hill and the news media to insure they have an accurate picture of SAIC.

  • Randolph Mitchum

    So proud in fact, it can be wondered why the above post went unsigned.

  • DJ

    The title implies the above was SAIC’s corporate response

  • Randolph Mitchum

    So as you indicate: It was a corporate response.