Northrop Corp. cannot find 780 classified documents from its stealth bomber program, according to a draft congressional report made public today.
The report said some of the documents may have been destroyed without required "destruction certificates" being prepared.
Out of more than 2.7 million classified documents kept at Northrop's plant in Pico Rivera, Calif., where it is developing the stealth bomber, 1,822 have been reported missing since 1983 and of those, 780 were unaccounted for, the General Accounting Office said in a draft report.
"Investigation reports for some of the 780 items that could not be found or accounted for suggested that the items may have been placed in receptacles with unaccountable confidential material and destroyed without destruction certificates being prepared," said the GAO report, which was requested by Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
The report generally commended the defense contractor for improving the procedures it uses for keeping track of classified documents.
But congressional investigators, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were particularly concerned because a Northrop employee, Thomas Cavanagh, was charged with espionage in December, 1984, for attempting to peddle stealth technology apparently smuggled out of the Pico Rivera plant.
The stealth, or Advanced Technology Bomber, is one of the most closely guarded U.S. defense programs. It uses new designs and materials to hide from enemy radar.
Cavanagh, 42, telephoned Soviet diplomats to offer to sell the technology for $25,000, but his calls were monitored by FBI agents who lured the Northrop employee to a meeting and arrested him. Cavanagh pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.