By BRETT DAVIS
and MIKE SALINERO
Times Staff Writers
WASHINGTON - Army officials are diverting money meant for an anti-satellite weapons system to other uses and are intimidating employees who blow the whistle on them, according to a New Hampshire senator.
Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., is the most vocal supporter of the Army's Kinetic Energy Anti-Satellite (KE-ASAT) weapon, which essentially would destroy enemy satellites by smashing them with a fly swatter-like flat arm.
The program, which now has a low priority with both the Department of Defense and the White House, is managed by the Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville.
Smith contends SMDC doesn't really care about it.
''After years of foot-dragging by Army leadership, the situation in the last year has turned ugly,'' Smith wrote in a Sept. 7 letter to Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. ''Army leadership has gutted the KE-ASAT program office and launched a number of frivolous legal actions against former members and contractors to intimidate them in an attempt to pre-empt my ability to conduct constitutional oversight of this program.''
Space and Missile Defense Command spokesman Bill Congo said Smith is seeking a meeting with Army Secretary Louis Caldera, and SMDC officials won't comment before that meeting.
Congo wouldn't address the allegations of whistle-blower harassment on the program. He did say the Army is reviewing the program.
''As part of the KE-ASAT program, we conducted some internal reviews," he said. "Those internal reviews generated additional reviews by other agencies,'' which he said included the Army Audit Agency.
''Those are in an ongoing process, and we don't get into discussions of ongoing investigations,'' Congo said.
The KE-ASAT program has had ups and downs for years, going from a high of $93 million in funding in 1991 to a few years with no budget at all, according to Smith's office.
The program employs about 50 people, including contractors, in Huntsville, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville. That number has been shrinking each year. One government employee now works on the program, down from nine during the 1999 fiscal year.
President Clinton tried to line-item veto the program in 1998, but the veto was overturned.
KE-ASAT is not on the Pentagon's front burner, either. A Defense Science Board study conducted earlier this year concluded KE-ASAT should have a lower priority than other space-control efforts, according to defense industry trade reports.
John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists said KE-ASAT has encountered difficulty because there's no clear target for it. ''The normal short list of states formerly known as rogue aren't going to launch military satellites anytime soon,'' Pike said.
A country like India might have satellites that could provide imagery to a country hostile to the United States during a military conflict, Pike said, but it might not be a good idea to swat it down. ''Shooting at a neutral satellite would be a good way to get them in the war on the other side,'' Pike said.
Pike also said the National Missile Defense program would have a stronger capability to knock down satellites than even KE-ASAT.
Smith wants the Pentagon to spend all of the Army's $3 million it has this year for space-control programs on KE-ASAT.
Smith said his work to protect KE-ASAT is a labor of love. ''Not one penny on this program is spent in my state,'' he wrote.
Smith is a Vietnam veteran who has one of the Senate's most conservative voting records. He's a staunch opponent of abortion and is an animal rights activist - he locked horns with NASA over the agency's plans to send Russian monkeys into orbit in 1996.
He also followed a narrow re-election in 1996 with a brief run at the presidency.
Smith maintains that Lt. Gen. John Costello, the SMDC commander, tried to mislead him about plans to redirect money from KE-ASAT and refocus the program. He cites a February meeting in which Costello assured him the KE-ASAT program would continue working toward flight tests when a letter had already been sent to Boeing, a program contractor, about restructuring the program away from flight tests.
''In February, I confronted Gen. Costello . . . with these issues, and he lied to me,'' Smith wrote to Warner.
The Times was shown a copy of a January e-mail about a meeting between Steve Tiwari, the former KE-ASAT program manager in Huntsville, and Lt. Col. Mike Cantor of SMDC which indicated the program would be restructured.
''Mike made it very clear he believed KE-ASAT would never fly,'' the e-mail says.
Smith has asked the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to look into the spending practices of the program.
''I've been very concerned about mismanagement and misappropriation of KE-ASAT funds and believe there has been retaliation against employees involved in KE-ASAT because they were attempting to prevent the mismanagement and improper use of funds,'' Smith said.
One of the people supposedly targeted for retaliation was Tiwari. Tiwari's lawyer, Howell Roger Riggs, said it is well known within SMDC that Tiwari was fired because he leaked information that money for KE-ASAT was being spent elsewhere.
"They picked him and figured they could run over him because he's a minority,'' Riggs said. ''They made a serious miscalculation.''
Tiwari has filed complaints with the Army for violations of both civil rights and whistle-blower protection laws.
This is how Tiwari and Riggs describe the events that led to his removal as program manager:
Costello attempted to have money budgeted for KE-ASAT spent on other programs in spring 1999 and asked Tiwari to sign off on the redirections. Tiwari refused.
In October 1999, Tiwari briefed the secretary of defense comptroller on the redirection of KE-ASAT money to other programs. The comptroller's office shared that information with the staff of the House Appropriations Committee, and a high-ranking committee staff member took the matter up with the Army Legislative Affairs Office.
Not long after that, the SMDC's Costello called his deputy, Jess Granone, about the matter. Granone then went to Tiwari's supervisor and said he wanted the supervisor to ''fix'' Tiwari for leaking information on the stalled project.
After that conversation, Sen. Smith, Rep. Cramer and Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, wrote letters to Costello, all saying the money appropriated for KE-ASAT needed to be spent on that program.
On Nov. 29, 1999, Granone removed Tiwari without discussing it with Tiwari's supervisor. Tiwari was downgraded in a performance appraisal after the conversation between Costello and Granone and was given what Riggs called an ''essentially meaningless job.''
The Army sent Smith a second letter in March. It rescinded the first letter to Boeing and said the program wasn't being restructured.
Smith was not convinced: ''Despite the retraction, I believe that SMDC intends to restructure the program and that hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars expended on KE-ASAT will be wasted in the pursuit of other technologies and an ill-defined technology testbed,'' he wrote in his letter to the General Accounting Office asking that agency to investigate KE-ASAT spending.
Costello plans to retire next month, but Smith said he was putting a hold on the nomination of Costello's successor, Maj. Gen. Joseph Cosumano. He has also asked the Armed Services Committee to delay approving Costello's retirement and asked the Army to delay approving Granone for the Senior Executive Service until the GAO investigation is over.