08:16 GMT25 February 2020
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    The Department of Defense is looking to keep secret records of bonuses and incentives it paid contractors for delivering a $40 billion counter-ballistic missile system whose performance has been called "spotty at best."

    In January, the Los Angeles Times asked a federal judge to order the Pentagon to release the information on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system.

    The Pentagon responded on Friday by claiming the records are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, and asked the judge to dismiss the case.

    In court documents obtained by Courthouse News, the Pentagon called the Times’ request "defective," and said the newspaper had not "exhausted their administrative remedies."

    "Defendant denies that plaintiff has withheld any 'records' sought by the FOIA request," the April 17 response states. "Further, defendant avers that by letter of March 31, 2015, defendants provided a response, which more than fully satisfied defendant's obligations to respond to the defective FOIA request at issue."

    While the government may believe it is being asked to disclose sensitive trade secrets, the exemption it cited does not apply to information created by a government agency, according to one legal expert.

    Peter Scheer, an attorney and journalist who is a director of the First Amendment Coalition, said the Pentagon cited an exemption that applies to information created by a "private third party."

    "It strikes me that the government's position here is very weak," Scheer said in an interview with Courthouse News.

    The suit by the Times argues that the GMD’s performance does not justify the $40 billion taxpayers paid to develop it.

    "The GMD system is designed to protect Americans against threats from rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran,” the suit states. “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."

    Aviation giant Boeing, defense contractor Raytheon, security company Northrop Grumman, and space technology company Orbital Sciences delivered the system to the government, according to the Times.

    The Times asked for financial records from December 31, 2001 to March 1, 2014 under the Freedom of Information Act.

    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.

    In its coverage of the defense system, the Times reported that the system failed eight of 17 interception tests. Of four interception tests between January 2010 and June 2014, the system failed three.

    Tags:
    Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK), Freedom of Information Act, Orbital Sciences Corporation, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, The Boeing Co, Department of Defense, Pentagon, Iran, United States
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