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eTreppid contract typical for military, experts say

Why would the military spend millions for software and technology that didn’t work?

Experts say it’s not unusual for the military to award companies multimillion contracts for products “to test.”

Winslow Wheeler, an expert on national security issues who worked at the Government Accounting Office for nine years, said the government will invest money in a product in order to confirm its capabilities. For example, he mentioned premium-dollar equipment such as the F-22 fighter jet. “You need a thing that is representative of a production item to test, and we don’t get that for free,” he said.

Although he had no direct knowledge of the eTreppid contract, he said it sounded like a “typical pork item.”

The contracts for eTreppid were part of the Pentagon’s sprawling and complex budget. For fiscal year 2009, former President George W. Bush requested $515.4 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Defense, a $35.9 billion increase from the previous year’s budget.

Other companies have contracts with the government to develop target recognition products.

In 2004, the Air Force awarded a $1.4 million contract to Atlantic Coast Technologies Inc. to do research and development of target recognition using acoustic signals.

In 2007, Agusta Systems Inc. announced it won a contract with the Navy, valued up to $10 million. The company was to create a system in which unmanned vehicles collected data, technology that could also lead to target recognition.

Wheeler said there’s little oversight into military appropriations for the unclassified portion of the Pentagon’s budget. Oversight is even harder in the “black budget,” or classified potions of the budget.

Though the contract was in the unclassified part of the budget, secrecy surrounding eTreppid’s work for the government would be enforced at the highest levels. John Negroponte, former Director of National Intelligence, asked that parts of the legal battle between software developer Dennis Montgomery and eTreppid financier Warren Trepp be kept secret to protect national security.

In response, U.S. District Judge Philip Pro granted a protective order. The 2007 order said that certain information about the civil lawsuit fell under the “state secrets privilege.” Disclosing information “could be expected to cause serious, and in some cases exceptionally grave, damage to the national security of the United States,” his order said.

The state secrets privilege allows the government to intervene in civil suits to prevent secret government information from becoming public.

“Almost nobody has a clue to what you’re doing,” said Wheeler, author of “The Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security.”

He said the government has unsuccessfully sought target recognition capability for at least 30 years. He added that it’s not uncommon for military contractors to manipulate demonstrations of all types of military products and software.

“I’m not saying everybody does it all the time. But it is typical contract behavior.”

Contact reporter David Kihara at dkihara @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.

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