The man on the other line didn’t seem happy. “We are a secretive and shadowy organization that has been in existence for over 60 years,” he said.
The man’s name is Col. Edward Topps. He’s the leader of a mysterious Air Force agency known as “Big Safari.” Last month, he called me out of the blue, after I’d written a story about a top-secret spy plane mission. Topps’ unit had paid Sierra Nevada Corporation—a major private defense firm—tens of millions of dollars to gather intel on Mexico’s most notorious drug cartels.
There had been no bidding process for the contract, which is a red flag, given the Pentagon’s history of how it spends taxpayer money. So I decided to take a closer look.
“They are huge,” a source tells me about Topps’ agency. “It’s the good old boy Air Force thing. They’ve got so many ‘black’ projects it’s not even funny.”
Known for its spy work, Big Safari is the agency that helped the United States perfect its killer drones. It works with a number of major defense firms, and some 10 percent of its business has gone to Sierra Nevada. Over the past seven years, Topps’ unit has steered $3.5 billion worth of contracts to the Reno-based company without allowing others to compete for the deals, according to a federal contracting database. As one source puts it, Big Safari and Sierra Nevada “are so close they share rubbers.”