Subject:      Spysat (Vortex??) mischarging suit blocked
From: (Allen Thomson)
Date:         1996/02/29
Message-Id:   <>

   You never can tell what you'll read when you open the 
paper in the morning... 

   Lockheed Martin Lawsuit Delayed by Pentagon, CIA
   by John Mintz
   Washington Post, 28 February 1996
      A lawsuit alleging that Lockheed Martin Corp. overcharged the 
   government by up to $500 million has been put on hold because 
   the Pentagon and [CIA] assert that release in court of key 
   documents would "cause exceptionally grave damage to the 
   national security." 
      The pending lawsuit, filed by two former Lockheed Martin 
   employees in federal court in San Jose, will be delayed while 
   the judge considers whether to grant a request by CIA Director 
   John Deutch and Deputy Defense Secretary John White that 24 key 
   documents be withheld from the plaintiffs... 
      ... CIA and Pentagon officials said the declaration was their 
   only option because the documents contain specific data on the 
   nation's most secret spy satellite programs -- code names, 
   budgets, technical specifications, software packages, 
   subcontractors and vulnerabilities.            
      "Adversaries of the U.S. having access to such information 
   could use it to negate or degrade our systems or to build 
   competing systems," Deutch said in a statement filed in court 
   Friday. Release of the papers allows "correlation of previously 
   unlinked bits of information much like a jigsaw puzzle," he 
      The suit was filed in 1988 by two employees of Lockheed 
   Corp.'s  secret space facility in Sunnyvale, Calif., alleging 
   that many employees routinely were "non-productive." They also 
   contended that the firm improperly billed the government for 
   time spent by employees who were waiting for security and who 
   were engaged in "makework."  The company denies the allegations. 

   This story (which is the first I've heard of the suit, 
despite the fact it was filed eight years ago) has many 
fascinating aspects and implications.  As Dr. Deutch says, it 
allows "correlation of previously unlinked bits of information 
much like a jigsaw puzzle,"  which is what makes analysis such 

   First, it looks as if there may be sufficient information 
available to identify which satellite program is involved.  On 
first reading the Post article, I thought that the company 
(LMSC) and timing (1988) pointed to 'Improved Crystal,' but 
further research proved that wrong.  Using Dialog's Knowledge 
Index (plug: a most excellent and inexpensive tool), I searched 
the San Jose Mercury News and LA Times full-text databases for 
earlier stories on the case, and was rewarded with the following 

   Goofing of on Government Time? Suit Says Millions were Wasted 
   by Idle Lockheed Workers
   San Jose Mercury News - Thursday, July 7, 1988, p. 1A
   By Pete Carey
     The lawsuit is one of the first false claims suits involving a 
   highly secret ''black'' satellite intelligence and surveillance 
   project for the National Security Agency, a code-breaking and 
   surveillance branch of the Defense Department. 
     From 1981 to 1984, [the plaintiffs] worked at Lockheed on the 
   project, identified in the lawsuit only as 'P285.' 
     [Plantiff A] began working on the National Security Agency 
   project in 1977, when Ford Aerospace Corp. in Palo Alto had the 

And in a separate but related case, 

   NSA Accused of Forbidden Phone Taps
   San Jose Mercury News, Saturday, July 2, 1988, p. 1A
   By Pete Carey
     Sources familiar with the case said [plaintiff A in the 
   Lockheed case] alleged that the [unauthorized monitoring of US 
   citizens] involved overseas telephone calls originating in the 
   United States and picked up at a military base in England run in 
   cooperation with the British government. [Plaintiff A] worked 
   at the base for several years. 
     From 1974 to 1984, she worked on projects for the NSA, the CIA 
   and the Air Force while employed by two major Silicon Valley 
   defense intelligence contractors, Lockheed Missiles & Space Co. 
   Inc. of Sunnyvale and Ford Aerospace of Palo Alto.  Ford helped 
   manage the base in England. 

   The customer for the project (NSA), the timeline (mid-'70s to 
mid-'80s), the facts that a satellite is involved and that it's 
still considered sensitive (and therefore probably still 
operational) appear to fit the Chalet/Vortex geosynchronous 
SIGINT satellites as described in Jeffrey Richelson's "The U.S. 
Intelligence Community, 3rd edition" (ISBN 0-8133-2376-2).  The 
plaintiff's work at the UK base, which I'd suppose to be Menwith 
Hill, shows that she had a SIGINT background with the associated 
clearances and would have been likely to be assigned to a 
SIGINT-related project at Ford Aerospace and to follow it to 
LMSC.  It would be interesting to see whether the launch of the 
'P285' payload were ever announced publicly -- if it went up on 
a launcher and trajectory indicating a GEO final destination, 
the Vortex hypothesis would be strengthened. 

   Next, we see again the claim made by the DCI last week 
before the Senate intelligence committee (SSCI) that disclosure 
of information about spy satellites would enable enemies to take 
actions which would frustrate the spysats' missions -- the term 
"deny or deceive" (D&D) was used on the Hill, "negate or 
degrade" in the court filing.  These are strong words and, if 
one takes them at face value, imply that the government really 
thinks that there is something about the system designs that is 
extraordinarily vulnerable to enemy action.  Further, the 
enemy's ability to take such action would appear to depend on 
his discovery of some secret information.  On one hand, it is a 
matter of puzzlement that such fragile systems were built in the 
first place.  On the other, one would have thought that the Ames 
case and other similar embarrassments would have taught the 
government that relying on long-term secrecy for the success of 
programs isn't a particularly good idea. 

   As for the assertion that "adversaries of the U.S. having 
access to such information could use it... to build competing 
systems," I know of no country other than the US which has been 
claimed to have any interest in geosynchronous SIGINT satellites 
(assuming that it really is Vortex that's involved).  Even the 
USSR, AFAIK, never developed such a system, though they had (and 
the Russians still have) a variety of LEO SIGINT satellites. 

   Finally, if we look at the information which the DCI says 
would potentiate enemy D&D if revealed, we find a peculiar 
mixture of the defensible and the implausible: "code names, 
budgets, technical specifications, software packages, 
subcontractors and vulnerabilities" in the court filing, the 
overall NRO budget in the SSCI testimony. 

    Certain technical specifications, vulnerabilities and 
system-specific software are, by and large, the kind of things 
that it's reasonable to classify (although the above point about 
the unwisdom of relying on long-term secrecy applies).  On the 
other hand, it isn't very clear at all how the opposition would 
use knowledge of program ("code") names, budgets and 
subcontractors to bring about the grave damage claimed.  And the 
notion that gross budget figures would give substantial aid and 
comfort to the wicked is, to say the least of it, bizarre. 

   Overall, it appears as if the government has not really come 
to grips with the real requirements for and limitations of 
classification, but has gone with a "classify everything and 
don't ask questions" approach when it comes to spysat programs.  
If extreme classification had no downside, this might be 
acceptable -- but the recent NRO scandals show that ugly things 
grow in the dark, not the least of which is self-deception.