By Brian Grow, Chi-Chu Tschang, Cliff Edwards and Brian Burnsed
October 2, 2008
The American military faces a growing threat of potentially fatal
equipment failure - and even foreign espionage - because of counterfeit
computer components used in warplanes, ships, and communication
networks. Fake microchips flow from unruly bazaars in rural China to
dubious kitchen-table brokers in the U.S. and into complex weapons.
Senior Pentagon officials publicly play down the danger, but government
documents, as well as interviews with insiders, suggest possible
connections between phony parts and breakdowns.
In November 2005, a confidential Pentagon-industry program that tracks
counterfeits issued an alert that "BAE Systems experienced field
failures," meaning military equipment malfunctions, which the large
defense contractor traced to
fake microchips. Chips are the tiny electronic circuits found in
computers and other gear.
The alert from the Government-Industry Data Exchange Program (GIDEP),
reviewed by BusinessWeek (MHP), said two batches of chips "were never
shipped" by their supposed manufacturer, Maxim Integrated Products in
Sunnyvale, Calif. "Maxim considers these parts to be counterfeit," the
alert states. (In response to BusinessWeek's questions, BAE said the
alert had referred erroneously to field failures. The company denied
there were any malfunctions.)
In a separate incident last January, a chip falsely identified as having
been made by Xicor, now a unit of Intersil in Milpitas, Calif., was
discovered in the flight computer of an F-15 fighter jet at Robins Air
Force Base in Warner Robins, Ga. People familiar with the situation say
technicians were repairing the F-15 at the time. Special Agent Terry
Mosher of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations confirms that
the 409th Supply Chain Management Squadron eventually found four
counterfeit Xicor chips.
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