The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Army crime investigators are looking into a retired Colorado Springs Army officer's assertions that agencies working on the U.S. missile-defense program engaged in contract fraud and abuse.
The allegations include claims that missile-defense contracts were improperly awarded to a company headed by Jay Garner, who last year served briefly as the top U.S. administrator in Iraq.
The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency confirmed two weeks ago that an investigation is ongoing, after the Independent requested records regarding the original allegations. A spokesman said the agency couldn't release the records because they had been handed over to law-enforcement agents.
"The documents you had requested were included in documents that were provided to the FBI and Army Criminal Investigative Division in conjunction with an investigation underway," wrote the spokesman, Richard Lehner, in an e-mail message.
It is the first time the Pentagon has confirmed that criminal investigators are looking into the claims, which were made almost two years ago by Biff Baker, a former lieutenant colonel at the Army Space Command in Colorado Springs.
It is unclear, however, whether Baker's allegations are the main focus of the investigation.
Millions and millions of dollars
Baker raised concerns about missile-defense contracting practices while working for a civilian contractor, COLSA Corp., in Colorado Springs in March of 2001. Shortly after reporting his concerns to a high-ranking Missile Defense Agency official, Baker was fired from his job. His situation was detailed in an extensive June 13, 2002, Independent cover story, which can be read online at www.csindy.com.
According to Baker, military agencies had awarded missile-defense contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to a California-based contractor, SY Technology, without seeking competitive bids as required by federal law.
SY's president, retired three-star Army Gen. Garner, previously headed the Huntsville, Ala.-based Space and Missile Defense Command, an arm of the Missile Defense Agency. He was also the assistant vice chief of staff for the Army and served on a space-weapons advisory commission chaired by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
In a 2001 court deposition that he gave in connection with a civil lawsuit, Garner acknowledged that his company received contract work from his old military buddies -- though he insisted it wasn't a case of cronyism.
"I get business from my friends, but it's not solicited by me," Garner said at the time. "It's given to us because of the quality of our company."
In a subsequent interview, Garner said the contracts Baker had singled out in his allegations were extensions and add-ons to work that SY had won legitimately through competitive bidding.
SY Technology went on to sue Baker for libel and slander, claiming he had conspired with one of SY's competitors to defame the company. Baker's allegations had drawn attention from high-ranking military officials and caused SY to lose government contracts, the company claimed in the suit.
Baker eventually settled with SY, saying he couldn't afford to defend himself. He has not spoken publicly about the matter since.
Garner, meanwhile, rose to international prominence when, last February, the Pentagon tapped him to head U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Garner took leave from his company, which by then had been renamed SYColeman, to accept his new assignment. However, Garner was replaced after just two months by the current U.S. administrator, Paul Bremer, and went back to SY.
Unaware of the probe
Baker's allegations initially sparked inquiries by the General Accounting Office, which is an investigative arm of Congress, and the Army inspector general. Both dropped the matter after conducting preliminary inquiries.
Meanwhile, the Missile Defense Agency also said it would conduct its own internal investigation. When the Independent recently asked to see records on that investigation, the agency denied the request, stating that releasing the information would "deprive an individual of the right to an impartial adjudication" -- suggesting that a law-enforcement action was pending.
Asked to clarify, agency spokesman Lehner said the records had been handed over to the FBI and the Army Criminal Investigation Division.
FBI and Army officials with direct knowledge of the investigation couldn't be reached by press time.
Garner, meanwhile, said he was unaware of the probe.
"I don't know anything about it," he said when reached by phone. "That's the first I've heard of it."
Baker's allegations have been examined extensively already, and no wrongdoing was found, Garner noted.
"There's nothing there at all," Garner said.
-- Terje Langeland