Top Pentagon research arm Darpa gave a well-connected firm millions of dollars to build bomb-detectors — despite deep internal reservations about the technology involved. After years of work and millions spent, the company’s sensor was less effective than “a coin flip” in spotting homemade explosives, in the words of one military insider.
By itself, the washout wouldn’t be terribly remarkable. Darpa’s charter is to try out risky technologies, many of which don’t pan out. It’s that dedication to high-risk, high-reward projects that leads to breakthroughs like GPS and the internet. But these contracts were given to RedX Defense, a company partially owned by outgoing Darpa director Regina Dugan and led by Dugan’s family. Agency bosses were repeatedly told that investing in RedX was a waste of time — and moved ahead with the contracts anyway. The bottom line, says a second source familiar with RedX’s work: “The technology just didn’t work.”
Sure, the boss recused herself from dealings with her own company. But then who deals with it? The Deputy Director. Who, you know, reports to the Director. How many Deputy Directors are going to rule that the boss’ company is screwed up?
And while I think it’s a pretty good idea to spend R&D money on a lot of technology, the fact is, nothing DARPA has come up with has been nearly as effective at detecting bombs as a well trained dog. How’s that for high tech?