This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.
Have you noticed that Lockheed Martin, the giant weapons corporation, is shadowing you? No? Then you haven't been paying much attention. Let me put it this way: If you have a life, Lockheed Martin is likely a part of it.
True, Lockheed Martin doesn't actually run the U.S. government, but sometimes it seems as if it might as well. After all, it received $36 billion in government contracts in 2008 alone, more than any company in history. It now does work for more than two dozen government agencies from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. It's involved in surveillance and information processing for the CIA, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Pentagon, the Census Bureau, and the Postal Service.
Oh, and Lockheed Martin has even helped train those friendly Transportation Security Administration agents who pat you down at the airport. Naturally, the company produces cluster bombs, designs nuclear weapons, and makes the F-35 Lightning (an overpriced, behind-schedule, underperforming combat aircraft that is slated to be bought by customers in more than a dozen countries) -- and when it comes to weaponry, that's just the start of a long list. In recent times, though, it's moved beyond anything usually associated with a weapons corporation and has been virtually running its own foreign policy, doing everything from hiring interrogators for U.S. overseas prisons (including at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq) to managing a private intelligence network in Pakistan and helping write the Afghan constitution.
A For-Profit Government-in-the-Making
If you want to feel a tad more intimidated, consider Lockheed Martin's sheer size for a moment. After all, the company receives one of every 14 dollars doled out by the Pentagon. In fact, its government contracts, thought about another way, amount to a "Lockheed Martin tax" of $260 per taxpaying household in the United States, and no weapons contractor has more power or money to wield to defend its turf. It spent $12 million on congressional lobbying and campaign contributions in 2009 alone.
Not surprisingly, it's the top contributor to the incoming House Armed Services Committee chairman, Republican Howard P. "Buck" McKeon of California, giving more than $50,000 in the most recent election cycle. It also tops the list of donors to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the powerful chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the self-described "#1 earmarks guy in the U.S. Congress."
Add to all that its 140,000 employees and its claim to have facilities in 46 states, and the scale of its clout starts to become clearer. While the bulk of its influence-peddling activities may be perfectly legal, the company also has quite a track record when it comes to law-breaking: it ranks number one on the "contractor misconduct" database maintained by the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-DC-based watchdog group.
How in the world did Lockheed Martin become more than just a military contractor? Its first significant foray outside the world of weaponry came in the early 1990s when plain old Lockheed (not yet merged with Martin Marietta) bought Datacom Inc., a company specializing in providing services for state and city governments, and turned it into the foundation for a new business unit called Lockheed Information Management Services (IMS). In turn, IMS managed to win contracts in 44 states and several foreign countries for tasks ranging from collecting parking fines and tolls to tracking down "deadbeat dads" and running "welfare to work" job-training programs. The result was a number of high profile failures, but hey, you can't do everything right, can you?
Under pressure from Wall Street to concentrate on its core business -- implements of destruction -- Lockheed Martin sold IMS in 2001. By then, however, it had developed a taste for non-weapons work, especially when it came to data collection and processing. So it turned to the federal government where it promptly racked up deals with the IRS, the Census Bureau, and the U.S. Postal Service, among other agencies.
As a result, Lockheed Martin is now involved in nearly every interaction you have with the government. Paying your taxes? Lockheed Martin is all over it. The company is even creating a system that provides comprehensive data on every contact taxpayers have with the IRS from phone calls to face-to-face meetings.
Want to stand up and be counted by the U.S. Census? Lockheed Martin will take care of it.
The company runs three centers -- in Baltimore, Phoenix, and Jeffersonville, Indiana -- that processed up to 18 tractor-trailers full of mail per day at the height of the 2010 Census count. For $500 million it is developing the Decennial Response Information Service (DRIS), which will collect and analyze information gathered from any source, from phone calls or the Internet to personal visits. According to Preston Waite, associate director of the Census, the DRIS will be a "big catch net, catching all the data that comes in no matter where it comes from."
Need to get a package across the country? Lockheed Martin cameras will scan bar codes and recognize addresses, so your package can be sorted "without human intervention," as the company's web site puts it.
Plan on committing a crime? Think twice. Lockheed Martin is in charge of the FBI's Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), a database of 55 million sets of fingerprints.
The company also produces biometric identification devices that will know who you are by scanning your iris, recognizing your face, or coming up with novel ways of collecting your fingerprints or DNA. As the company likes to say, it's in the business of making everyone's lives (and so personal data) an "open book," which is, of course, of great benefit to us all. "Thanks to biometric technology," the company proclaims, "people don't have to worry about forgetting a password or bringing multiple forms of identification. Things just got a little easier."
Are you a New York City resident concerned about a "suspicious package" finding its way onto the subway platform? Lockheed Martin tried to do something about that, too, thanks to a contract from the city's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to install 3,000 security cameras and motion sensors that would spot such packages, as well as the people carrying them, and notify the authorities. Only problem: the cameras didn't work as advertised and the MTA axed Lockheed Martin and cancelled the $212 million contract.