The Mystery of the Suspended L-3 Contract

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The Air Force suspended a highly lucrative contract with L-3 Communucations because it believes that the company used its access to extremely sensitive and classified information to help its international business interests, according to two Pentagon sources briefed on the investigation.

L-3, which flies drones for the government, performs cyber security taskings and supplies interpreters to the intelligence analysis branches of the Special Operations Command and to the National Security Agency, was required to disclose the abrupt cessation of its contract activities because it is a public company.

The actions involve its Special Support Programs Division, whose anodyne name belies its sensitive mission.

Acting on a tip from a rival contractor, a counter-intelligence team from the U.S. Special Operations Command began to monitor communications among L-3 employees and discovered that supervisors in the division had stored classified government documents that would allow it to gain a competitive advantage. It is not clear which contractor got suspicious. In the past, L-3 has sparred with DynCorp over the quality of its bids.

According to one source, the Air Force is also investigating whether L-3 employees without appropriate security clearances were brought in to work on sensitive projects, and might expand the probe to the entire L-3 company. Its 67,000  employees perform a variety of intelligence collection and interpretation functions for the government. L-3's Titan Group supplied the Defense Department with interrogations under its now-established "Copper Green" special access program. The only two interrogators ever to be convicted of crimes related to that work came from the Titan subsidiary before it was acquired by L-3.

Other L-3 units continue to get government contracts. On June 4, the Army gave L-3's Fuzing and Ordinance Division $63 million. In March, an L-3 unit won a major Army Intelligence contract for intelligence collection and counter-intelligence n Iraq, and another $24 million contract for unspecified activities with the Special Operations Command.  Also this week, it was disclosed that a former employee of L-3's Titan unit is suing the company for its working condition in Iraq.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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