Defense contractor accused of faking anti-missile tests

Ex-TRW engineer says company ignored failure of interceptor system

March 07, 2000|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A former senior engineer at TRW, a top military contractor, has accused the company of faking tests and evaluations of a key component for the proposed $27 billion anti-missile system and then firing her when she protested.

The engineer, Nira Schwartz, was on the company's anti-missile team in 1995 and 1996 helping design computer programs meant to enable interceptors to distinguish between incoming warheads and decoys. In test after test, the interceptors failed, she has alleged, but her superiors insisted that the weapon performed adequately, refused her appeals to tell industrial partners and federal patrons of its shortcomings, and then fired her.

Schwartz, 53, has made her allegations in interviews and in recently unsealed documents filed with a federal district court in Los Angeles, where she sued TRW almost four years ago. She seeks to recover for the government more than a half-billion dollars, some fraction of which a judge could award her as compensation.

In interviews and court filings, TRW has vigorously denied Schwartz's allegations. Noting the pending litigation, it has refused to address many details of her accusations.

Right or wrong, the investigations surrounding her claims are shedding light on a contentious and secretive program. The Clinton administration has said it will decide this summer whether to proceed with a modest anti-missile system meant to defend against warheads from rogue states, at an estimated cost of $27 billion. Russia and other countries have warned that such a decision could undermine a treaty limiting anti-missile defenses that has served as a pillar of arms control.

In 1998 the Pentagon rejected the TRW interceptor as the leading anti-missile candidate in favor of a rival design by Raytheon. However, it is still a backup and could win the lead role because the Raytheon design has stumbled in recent flights.

Schwartz's allegations have split the Defense Department. Some top officials defend TRW as innocent, and the Justice Department has declined to join her lawsuit. But a three-year inquiry by the Pentagon's Defense Criminal Investigative Service, which ended in August with no action, noted in its final report what it called "numerous technical discrepancies" that "appear to warrant further review."

Moreover, former TRW employees back Schwartz. In an affidavit filed in connection with her suit, Roy Danchick, a retired senior engineer at TRW, said he had firsthand knowledge of TRW's "impermissibly manipulating" a study of the anti-missile technology and "censoring the test data" so it appeared more successful than it was.

Schwartz's allegations center on TRW's certifying to the government that interceptors using its computer programs would succeed more than 95 percent of the time in picking out enemy warheads, even if they were hidden in a confusing blur of decoys in space. Schwartz said in court documents that the interceptors could do so only 5 percent to 15 percent of the time.

Her charges are coming to light now because many secret court filings have been unsealed at her request and she is seeking public support for her case.

Schwartz said in an interview that in time she had concluded that all discrimination technologies were too feeble to work.

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