Exposing SAIC

When investigative reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele were fired from Time magazine in May 2006, the magazine cried poverty.

“They’re very good, but very expensive, and I couldn’t get anyone to take them on their budget,” John Huey, editor in chief at Time said.

Time magazine then turns around and paid $4 million for photographs of Brad Pitt and Angela Jolie’s baby.

“That $4 million would pay for about 10 more years of salary and expenses for Barlett and Steele and their research help,” said Steve Lovelady of the Columbia Journalism Review at the time.

Luckily, Brangolina central ­ Vanity Fair ­ picked up Barlett and Steele ­ and this month they’re back with their expose of SAIC ­ Science Applications International Corporation ­ the mega-giant defense and intelligence contractor that straddles the Potomac.

Buried deep inside Vanity Fair’s 500-page Hollywood issue, surrounded by anorexic male and female models pushing bras, perfume, jewelry, and handbags ­ is this ten-page profile of the permanent government on the Potomac.

And Barlett and Steele open with a nod to Hollywood:

“One of the great staples of the modern Washington movie is the dark and ruthless corporation whose power extends into every cranny around the globe, whose technological expertise is without peer, whose secrets are unfathomable, whose riches defy calculation, and whose network of allies, in and out of government, is held together by webs of money, ambition, and fear. . .

“To be sure, there isn’t really such a corporation: the Omnivore Group, as it might be called. But if there were such a company ­ and, mind you, there isn’t ­ it might look a lot like the largest government contractor you’ve never heard of: a company known simply by the nondescript initials SAIC (for Science Applications International Corporation), initials that are always spoken letter by letter rather than formed into a pronounceable acronym.”

Last year, SAIC raked in almost $8 billion ­ almost all of it from the government.

What about profits?

ExxonMobil profits were 11 percent of revenues.

SAIC came in at 11.9 percent.

Barlett and Steele say that while Halliburton and Bechtel supply the muscle ­ building infrastructure, SAIC sells brainpower.

“No Washington contractor pursues government money with more ingenuity and perseverance than SAIC,” Barlett and Steele write. “No contractor seems to exploit conflicts of interest in Washington with more zeal. And no contractor cloaks its operations in greater secrecy.”

Despite the secrecy, the article manages to document how several of SAIC’s projects have turned out to be colossal failures.

And they document a long list of whistleblower lawsuits and federal criminal investigations of the company.

Their profile of the company’s dynamic founder and chairman, John Robert Beyster, is anything but flattering.

But damning as these allegations are, more disturbing is the sense that billions are being made by SAIC off a false war on terror ­ and that politics as we know it in this country will not change this permanent reality.

“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,” Barlett and Steele write. “In the aftermath of the attacks, the Bush administration launched its Global War on Terror, whose chief consequence has been to channel money by the tens of billions into companies promising they could do something ­ anything ­ to help. SAIC was ready.”

Will electing Hillary Clinton or John Edwards or Barack Obama have any impact at all on “Washington’s $8 Billion Shadow”?

“Political change causes scarcely a ripple,” Barlett and Steele write. “As one former SAIC manager observed in a recent blog posting: ‘My observation is that the impact of national elections on the business climate for SAIC has been minimal. The emphasis on where federal spending occurs usually shifts, but total federal spending never decreases. SAIC has always continued to grow despite changes in the political leadership in Washington.'”

Corporate Crime Reporter is located in Washington, DC. They can be reached through their website.