Profits During Wartime

SA false-claims attorney Glenn Grossenbacher. Photo by Mark Greenberg.
When Glenn Grossenbacher talks about the workings of San Diego-based defense contractor SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation), the word he always comes back to is “insidious.”

Grossenbacher, a San Antonio attorney who has handled two of the biggest false-claims cases in U.S. history `“High Currency,” August 2-8, 2006`, speaks from experience. He represented SAIC whistleblower Michael Woodlee in a case that dealt with the company knowingly overcharging the defense department on a $24-million cleanup of contaminated waste at the former Kelly Air Force Base. Because SAIC officials conceded that they were guilty of gouging the government, the case raised serious questions about the 9,000 government contracts held by SAIC.

But the Justice Department chose not to expand their probe beyond San Antonio, and in 2005 SAIC agreed to a relatively light $2.5-million settlement in the Woodlee case.

An understanding of SAIC’s political connections and the covert way it wields that influence can be found in a fascinating, painstakingly reported piece by Donald Barlett and James B. Steele in the March issue of Vanity Fair (“Washington’s $8 Billion Shadow”). Barlett and Steele reveal a conflict-of-interest web in which SAIC is awarded government contracts for intelligence, computer surveillance, and other under-the-radar activities, and maintains a steady flow of traffic to and from government agencies that award lucrative contracts.           

Grossenbacher sees two possible explanations for the federal government’s reluctance to widen their investigation of SAIC in the Kelly cleanup case. “The government is just strapped for resources,” he says. “The pharmaceutical cases that are going on are just eating up their resources. We’ve got a claim now against a heart surgeon where we’re alleging that he was doing unnecessary surgeries on people for money. We’ve got pretty good evidence and they’re not going to intervene, because they don’t have any horses at the Department of Justice in Washington to put on it.

“The second reason, though, is you have people like the former SAIC guy who was well-placed within the Air Force, where he could quash or limit the investigation. The defense counsel for SAIC, they’re contacting the Pentagon directly, and saying, ‘Hey, let’s get together and have lunch.’ And they set it up so these guys all have a financial interest, so if `SAIC` continues to get contracts, their stock goes up.”

SAIC’s ability to play wartime politics with the Bush administration is particularly relevant because the administration is currently being questioned about the possible political motivations behind the recent firing of eight federal prosecutors. Critics argue that the dismissals — including the replacement of Little Rock-based prosecutor H.E. Cummins with former Karl Rove aide J. Timothy Griffin — were part of a concerted effort to protect fellow Republicans and silence political opponents. Grossenbacher has worked with one of the dismissed attorneys, California-based Carol Lam, and says her firing was indefensible.

“I may not have agreed with her on a lot of things, but I did have respect for her, because she’s a hard-nosed, smart, aggressive, resourceful attorney,” he says. “`Attorney General` Alberto Gonzales is doing this kind of dance that says it all relates because of their performance. That’s total bullshit. They were all investigating the Bush administration.”


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