LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Los Angeles Times wants a court order compelling the Pentagon to release information on bonuses and incentives it paid contractors for delivering a beleaguered $40 billion counter-ballistic missile system.
Los Angeles Times Communications and journalist David Willman sued the government on Thursday. They claim that on July 31 last year, the Defense Department blocked their request for financial information on the "large sums" paid to companies that worked on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System, or GMD.
The companies include Boeing, defense contractor Raytheon, security company Northrop Grumman, and space technology company Orbital Sciences.
According to the newspaper, it asked for financial records from Dec. 31, 2001 to March 1, 2014 under the Freedom of Information Act. But the government asserted that the documents contained sensitive trade secrets or financial information and denied the request.
"Despite numerous failures during testing, and prior disclosures of similar information to news organizations, DOD has withheld from taxpayers - and the Times - information showing the large sums in bonuses that DOD paid to contractors," the 7-page lawsuit states.
Administered by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and executed by the U.S. Army with support from the Air Force, the missile defense system is designed to destroy enemy warheads in space.
But the system has a nearly 50 percent failure rate in intercept tests. The Times calls that record "spotty at best."
"The GMD system is designed to protect Americans against threats from rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran," the lawsuit says. "Although American taxpayers have spent $40 billion during the past decade to develop the GMD system, the missile shield's performance is spotty at best, even in carefully choreographed tests that are more predictable and less challenging than an actual attack would be."
In his coverage of the defense system, Willman reported that the system failed eight of 17 intercept tests. Of four intercept tests between January 2010 and June 2014, the system failed three.
The public has a right to know how much was paid in bonuses and incentives because of the "staggering sums spent" on the system, the newspaper says, adding that it filed suit after the government's three-month statutory deadline to consider its appeal.
"As a result, the Times has exhausted administrative remedies," the newspaper says.
Times wants a judge to order the government to allow Willman to look at the records within 15 days, and list any withheld documents.
The news organization is represented by Karl Olson of Ram, Olson, Cereghino & Kopczynski of San Francisco.
The Department of Defense could not immediately be reached for comment.
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