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Border surveillance system firm torpedoed

May 14, 2004|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. — The New York Times purposely torpedoed the stock price of a Florida company that wants to sell the U.S. Border Patrol a high-tech border surveillance system featuring unmanned aerial drones, according to a company official.

On the day the New York Times published an article about Spectrum Sciences and Software of Fort Walton Beach, a Florida panhandle city, the bulletin board company's stock price sat around $4, up sharply from $1.75 in January.

Since publication on April 29, the stock has tanked, sinking to $1.70 at the end of trading Thursday.

Steve Cook, Spectrum's vice president of investor relations, said Wednesday the Times' Floyd Norris, author of the story, purposely put a negative spin on Spectrum and failed to highlight some promising areas of growth, such as Spectrum's border surveillance system, dubbed "Safe-Borders."

Spectrum fired off a release May 3 saying the Times article contained factual errors and a number of false and misleading statements and criticized the New York Times for publishing it.

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The Times article was headlined, "Small company is floundering; stock is soaring,"

Norris did not respond to a phone message or an e-mail sent to the Times' business desk.

The U.S. Border Patrol will be flying unmanned drones over the Arizona-Mexico border to monitor high-traffic border-crossing areas. That program, part of a broader effort to seal Arizona's porous smuggler stretches, is set to start in June.

Spectrum wants to be the company the government turns to if the drones work out in Arizona.

Cook said Spectrum has adapted its proprietary software called "Safe Range," a computerized tracking program used on bombing ranges, into a program designed specifically for the border, a program capable of coordinating the activities of unmanned drones and sifting through the date produced.

Unlike the Predator drone, recently purchased by the military from a San Diego contractor, Spectrum's drone is designed to be less expensive and more flexible.

"We think it's a different animal," Cook said. "We capture 2,000 aliens patrolling our range (Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field in Arizona) each year. That's how this thing emerged. We felt it was an underused package so we've adapted it to a border patrol."

With $22 million in the bank, Spectrum can bring the project to fruition on its own, Cook said, but the company is actively trying to score a military contract.

Cook said Spectrum needs only about $4 million to get its unmanned drone program from phase three to phase four.

If it doesn't get the government contract, it will move forward on its own and try to sell the Safe-Borders software to private companies with large land holdings.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at aclaverie@ivpressonline.com or 337-3419.

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