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US defense consultants benefit foreign contractors. Investigators ignore evidence of sensitive data going overseas

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The evidence was never made part of the GTE case. Whether that was because of prosecutorial apathy on the part of the Justice Department, or because the evidence was not strong enough to make a case, is a matter of quiet dispute among Pentagon and Justice investigators.

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The international aspect may become more important as foreign companies increase their now-tiny share of the US defense contract business.

``Foreign firms need an intermediary even more than American firms, since they almost never have a guy in the company who used to work for the [US] government,'' says a defense consultant. ``So they get the hired gun.''

This consultant recalls a recent contract by the Defense Mapping Agency to update its computer systems. A leading Korean electronics manufacturer wanted to supply, through a subcontract with an American contractor, the desktop computers to the Mapping Agency.

To have their computers meet the agency's specifications, the Korean company needed access to ``highly sensitive data'' involving defense software, the consultant says. So the company hired him as an intermediary.

``There were many instances where I felt uneasy because we were pushing the edge of what I thought the Mapping Agency would tell me if they knew I was working for a Korean firm,'' he says.

Other consultants, such as Samuel Ginder, say that sharing information across borders is a necessary part of the procurement process. ``If a foreign company wants to bid on submarine technology, they should know the performance specs,'' he says. ``Those are legitimate concerns, and they ought not to be classified'' or withheld, he says.

Catching Congress's eye

If probe investigators are not focusing on consultants' ties to foreign clients, Congress is. The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs is looking into possible ``conflicts of interest'' among several large consultants that have business abroad, according to committee aides.

The committee is looking into BDM International, a company that has contracts with the Egyptian Air Force and Ministry of Defense, the Royal Saudi Air Force, and Japan, and advised a European company on a contract bid.

At the same time, BDM board members, officers, and consultants to BDM's board hold or have held recent positions on the Defense Science Board, the Naval Research Advisory Committee, and the Army Science Board - groups involved in the research of future weapon systems.

``They can't help but know what the next generation of missile is, and that has got to be of great interest to their foreign clients,'' says a Senate aide.

BDM would not comment directly. The company's lawyer, Robert Bennett, noted that ``a defense contractor cannot provide any information to a foreign company or country without getting the green light from the appropriate agency.''

Still, members of Congress worry there are not enough safeguards to prevent or at least monitor the flow of US defense information abroad. That may change, however: Recently Sen. David Pryor (D) of Arkansas introduced an amendment to the defense appropriations bill requiring all consultants to register who their clients are, both domestic and foreign.