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M.T.A. takes a risk with its security pact

(The following article by Sewell Chan was posted on the New York Times website on August 26.)

NEW YORK -- In awarding a $212 million contract to the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has adopted a bold, but unproven, approach to transit security, experts in the field say.

It calls for a sophisticated surveillance system of video cameras, motion sensors and computers developed by an unusual coalition working with Lockheed, the country's largest military contractor.

Lockheed has had a controversial record in New York City. It was linked to an extortion scandal at the Parking Violations Bureau in 1986. Another contract, to collect parking fines, was canceled in 1993 after a negative city investigation, and in 1994, the company agreed not to bid on city contracts for four years.

Nonetheless, the transportation authority, an independent state entity, has given work to Lockheed several times, including a $17 million deal in 1994 to handle E-ZPass billing and a $95 million data-processing contract in 1997, the latter over Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's objections.

The business unit at the center of much of the controversy, Lockheed Martin IMS, was sold to another company in 2001 for $825 million. And Lockheed officials said this week that they preferred to focus on their growing work in domestic security.

"The most cutting-edge part of this is the integration of all the parts to make a whole," said Judy F. Marks of Lockheed Martin Transportation and Security Solutions, which is handling the M.T.A. contract.

Lockheed beat out two other companies to win the three-year contract, which represents more than a third of the authority's $591 million counterterrorism budget.

No transit agency in the country is as large and busy as New York City's, and the authority's emphasis on a web of electronic surveillance is being closely watched. "This is a unique approach that the M.T.A. has developed," said Greg Hull, a security expert at the American Public Transportation Association. "There has not been any similar large-scale initiative to integrate security systems that we are aware of."

Others caution that federal, state and local agencies have spent counterterrorism money unwisely. "The M.T.A. had better be careful about what they're buying, because a lot of technologies that have been sold in the name of homeland security have been proven to be utterly ineffective," said Peter D. H. Stockton, an investigator at the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog.

The success of the effort may rely on Lockheed's partners, which have a range of expertise.

Two of the more intriguing are Lenel Systems International, of Rochester, and the Intergraph Corporation, of Huntsville, Ala. Lenel sells software that tries to link every aspect of a good security system, from video cameras to identification-card readers. Its clients include New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Rail Road.

Intergraph sells computer systems that can capture multiple forms of information - including written reports and photographs - and transform them into sophisticated, three-dimensional images. It works with NASA and the Los Alamos and Oak Ridge National Laboratories and is developing computer-aided emergency dispatch systems for Westchester and Suffolk Counties.

Lockheed is also working with two companies that have extensive experience with the authority. The first, the Cubic Corporation of San Diego, led the installation of the MetroCard system. The second, Slattery Skanska of Whitestone, Queens, is a heavy-construction company that has bored train tunnels under the East River and rehabilitated many subway stations.

Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a policy organization, said the authority had adopted a strategy similar to the Pentagon's. "The single most important feature of military transformation has been a reliance on wireless networking as a way of integrating military forces," he said.

Friday, August 26, 2005

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