Oakland's City Wide Surveillance Network Being Built By Contractor With A History Of Fraud And Little Regard For Civil Liberties

from the city-must-want-this-system-built-in-the-worst-way dept

I don't know what version of its CV Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) handed in to the city of Oakland, but it must have been one that glossed over a whole lot of its recent history. "A fool and his money are soon parted," it's often said, but if SAIC's "work" with New York City is any indication, a fool and his money are painfully separated exponentially over the next decade.

In the late 1990s, New York began a program to transition tens of thousands of municipal employees from paper punch cards to digital palm scanners, ostensibly to counter fraud. Dubbed CityTime, the project's initial budget was $68 million. But after SAIC acquired the company that had won the competitive bidding process for the work, CityTime's cost mushroomed to more than $740 million in ten years.
What NYC received in exchange for three-quarters of a billion dollars was a network of well-financed kickback recipients… and not much else. As Mike wrote back in 2011, one of things you don't do to Mayor Mike Bloomberg is screw him over in a business deal.
Apparently, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has had a similar experience with SAIC and the new computer system for NYC it's been building. But, Bloomberg is a businessman by trade, rather than a politician, so when a company charges you $600 million (way over budget from the original $63 million), he knows that you ask for your money back. So that's what he's doing. He's demanding a $600 million refund from SAIC.
Bloomberg demanded $600 million and, backed by the DOJ, managed to recover $500 million of that. This means SAIC walked away with $240 million on a job quoted at $68 million. On the strength of that experience alone, Oakland should have had serious reservations about bringing SAIC on a new project, but it appears to be blissfully unaware of SAIC's past.
It's unclear if Oakland's mayor, city council, or city administrator vetted the company before approving the DAC contract. Nothing in the Oakland Public Safety Committee meeting records, nor the meetings of the full council, indicate that the city looked into SAIC's record before handing over millions in federal grant dollars. In an interview last month, neither of the two city officials in charge of the DAC — Domingo and Ahsan Baig, the city's information technology manager — were aware of SAIC's past record of fraud, cost overruns, and failed projects.

Councilman Dan Kalb said he also wasn't aware of SAIC's record with other cities or its various military and Department of Homeland Security contracts. "The administration made the decision as to which contractor to go with," Kalb said, referring to City Administrator Deanna Santana's office. "Apparently, last year the council gave the administration the authority to work with the port to decide on the contractor." Other members of the council did not respond to a request for comment.
This is already bad -- no one involved appears to have the faintest idea about SAIC's past -- but it gets much worse. SAIC has been contracted to build a surveillance network in Oakland called the Domain Awareness Center (DAC). This expansion of the Port of Oakland's DAC to a citywide entity is being battled by civil liberty advocates and other citizens of Oakland. Putting SAIC on the project adds its rap sheet of white collar crime and human rights abuses to the mix.
In recent years, SAIC has been accused of defrauding municipal governments, bribing foreign officials, and delivering shoddy products. And when the company does deliver the goods at cost and on time, it's often for militarized projects linked to human rights abuses. Among SAIC's recent contracts: 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.
Because of its inability or unwillingness to vet its bidders, Oakland is basically setting itself up to be defrauded and placing its citizens in the hands of a contractor willing to perform nearly any job for the right price. (A price which seems to vastly exceed the quote a majority of the time.)

Here's what SAIC has failed to get off the ground in recent years, despite taking home millions of tax dollars.
- From 2000-2004, SAIC collected $600 million to build a new computer system for the FBI and delivered an end product so disastrous, the FBI immediately scrapped it and began looking for another contractor and a new system. (Not that it mattered. Work began in 2006 and the system finally went 100% live in August of 2012.)
- A several-hundred-million dollar project for Greece (actual amount seemingly unknown due to multiples layers of shady accounting), which (again) suffered from major cost overruns, fraudulent activity and (of course) didn't work as advertised with "only a fraction of the cameras installed actually providing footage."
- Received $46 million to train Egypt's army under the US Army's supervision -- several members of which have gone on to kill "hundreds of protesters" in recent months.
- This:

"SAIC was also responsible for a failed multibillion-dollar intelligence system project for the National Security Agency called Trailblazer that was junked in 2006 and characterized as one of the worst intelligence failures in US history."

Despite this failure, the NSA brought SAIC as a contractor on XKEYSCORE.
In addition to this list of failures, SAIC has also tormented the private sector by birthing patent troll VirnetX, which managed to secure $368.2 million in damages from Apple despite being on track to gross $72,000 for the entirety of 2012.

This is the entity the city of Oakland has chosen to do business with on a surveillance project -- a contractor whose primary contracts are with the military and who sports a horrendous track record on the both the contracting side and the civil liberties side. Maybe the city's hoping it will just get the civil liberties-violating side (one high-ranking city official has suggested the program should be used to "control public demonstrations") and walk away without being gouged too horribly on the contracting front. And if it doesn't it's all just play money tax dollars anyway.

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Filed Under: oakland, surveillance
Companies: saic

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2013 @ 5:55am

    Follow the money

    In this case, if I read the linked article correctly, Oakland is spending a piddly $2 million more on an exiting project, and the money comes from federal war-on-terror slush. So Oakland doesn't do much checking (it's mostly not their money), and the amount is hoped small enough to fly under the radar of the Bay Area media. Typical.

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