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US: BAE 'could have' pirated our secret Stealth 3.0 tech sauce

Arms globocorp enters grey zone?

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The Reg asked BAE whether Taranis incorporated any US technology, whether obtained as part of JSF or not: and how it could be that the UK is able to develop Stealth 3.0 so much more quickly and cheaply than America.

A BAE spokesman said "certain elements of the Taranis programme are classified, and therefore we are unable to respond to your specific questions".

Asked about the heavy hints dropped in the IG's report, the spokesman told us that "the JSF programme is one of the most heavily audited in the world," and passed on a statement:

The DoD IG explicitly found no instances of unauthorized access to classified or export control information on the JSF program. We strongly disagree with the IG's suggestion that nonetheless, such information may have been compromised in some unidentified way by unauthorized access at BAE Systems. There is no basis whatsoever for that conclusion.

BAE Systems takes very seriously its obligation to protect classified and export controlled information and has a compliance program that reflects the highest of standards. BAE Systems has a long and proven track record of safeguarding sensitive information entrusted to it.

BAE Systems also strongly disagrees with the suggestion that we did not perform required audits and fully comply with our Special Security Agreement. That suggestion is simply false.

BAE Systems previously has requested a meeting with the IG to resolve what appears to us to be a misunderstanding of the underlying facts.

And you do have to say, reading the IG's report, that nothing was actually found to back up the quite explicit speculation regarding BAE. The only concrete criticism offered in the report - other than censure for the Defense Security Service oversight officials - is that BAE was occasionally a bit high-handed in its dealings with the inspectors. One can see why a security-minded American would view BAE's Lancashire plant with concern, but it lies outside the US Defense Security Service's (and Defense IG's) jurisdiction, and was pretty much beyond the scope of the investigation.

The conclusion to be drawn, perhaps, is that someone in the Defense IG's office is very concerned about BAE, but has no proof of any wrongdoing and no real means of getting any. The Defense IG's office haven't as yet responded to requests for comment.

It seems, then, that BAE's support in Washington may occasionally be a bit patchy - but you can't say the same of London. The company has a lot of very important friends in the British government, and this is a thing which is becoming increasingly hard to understand. The prospect of job losses in Lancashire is no doubt a worrying one for Labour politicians, but we get the job losses anyway. BAE, for instance, has lately sold off its interest in Airbus and with it the wing factories in Wales and Bristol. Sackings can be expected at these plants in the near future, as Airbus struggles to deal with its current problems - many workers have already been shifted onto subcontractor status as a preliminary step. In fact, the UK workforce of BAE has dwindled by 15 per cent since 2003, to just over 30,000 at the last count. The company has cut jobs in the UK for almost its entire history, in fact - firing more than three out of every four Brits it employed in 1990.

But why does the American government put up with BAE, allowing the company to dictate terms to its oversight officials and - perhaps, the IG seems to speculate - slip billion-dollar US tech secrets overseas at will? (The company has seemed to resell US knowhow via its UK factories before this.)

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