TRW faked anti-missle defense tests, says computer programmer/engineer who sued firm after her firing in 1996 : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

TRW faked anti-missle defense tests, Says computer programmer/engineer who sued firm after her firing in 1996


A former senior engineer at TRW, a top military contractor, has charged the company with 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 has made her charges in interviews and in newly unsealed documents filed with a federal district court in Los Angeles, where nearly four years ago she sued TRW. 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 charges. But citing the pending litigation, it has refused to address many details of her accusations.

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 since the Raytheon design has stumbled in recent flights.

Schwartz's charges have split the Defense Department. Some top officials defend TRW as innocent, and the Justice Department has so far 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, cited in its final report ``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 actually 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. In fact, Schwartz said in court documents, the interceptors could do so only 5 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, 53, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Israel, has a doctorate in engineering from Tel Aviv University and holds 18 U.S. patents, including ones involving computerized image analysis and pattern recognition.

TRW hired her to help develop computerized algorithms that are meant to enable an interceptor to differentiate between real and fake warheads by matching memories of threatening images against a rush of incoming sensor data.

Schwartz said in an interview that in time she had concluded that all the current discrimination technologies were too feeble to work and that at some level the Pentagon and its contractors were in collusion.

``It's not a defense of the United States,'' she said, her eyes flashing. ``It's a conspiracy to allow them to milk the government. They are creating for themselves a job for life.''

According to court records, Schwartz was hired as a senior engineer by TRW on Sept. 5, 1995, joining the company's space group in Redondo Beach, Calif. TRW was allied with Rockwell (later bought by Boeing amid defense consolidations) in a competition to build a ``kill vehicle,'' which would zoom into space atop rockets and smash enemy warheads to pieces by force of impact.

The work for which Schwartz was hired, enabling the kill vehicle to spot enemy targets, represented the soul of the machine.

Among her jobs was to help assess a kill-vehicle program called the Kalman Feature Extractor. From incoming sensor data, the extractor was to find critical characteristics of scanned objects, teasing out familiar ``signatures'' that could separate decoys from warheads.

TRW executives believed the extractor offered a competitive edge over the rival industrial team (then Hughes, later bought by Raytheon), and they told the government it was a potential breakthrough.

Familiar with the extractor from previous research, including that for her patents of 1983 and 1989, Schwartz proceeded to test it against nearly 200 types of enemy decoys and warheads in computer simulations, using secret intelligence data.

``The moment I analyzed the signatures,'' she said in an interview, ``I saw there was a problem.'' Most of the time, she said, the kill vehicle's extractor program failed to distinguish between warheads and decoys.

The results were roughly the same, Schwartz said, with the math tool failing about 90 percent of the time, when she tested TRW's less sophisticated method for separating wheat from chaff, known as the baseline algorithm.

When she pressed her superiors to tell industrial partners and the military of the shortcomings, especially of the extractor, the purported star of the show, they refused, according to court documents. Days later, in late February 1996, she was fired.

``If you will not notify the U.S. government,'' she warned TRW in a letter after the firing, ``then I will.''

Robert D. Hughes, her former boss, expressed no regrets. In company documents, he told colleagues that Schwartz had been completely off target, quick with her diatribes yet misreading her own tests and TRW's process of product development. The extractor was not finished but evolving, he said.

``Stating that there is a `defect' that we should immediately report to the customer makes no sense,'' Hughes told his boss in a March 1, 1996, letter. ``We continually improve and verify system performance.''

Schwartz contacted federal investigators and on April 29, 1996, filed in federal district court in Los Angeles a lawsuit under the false claims act that sought to recover damages for the government. The suit was kept under seal.

-- Carl Jenkins (, March 07, 2000

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