In anti-IED software case, Army’s buying rules trump troops’ safety

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As the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division wages war in southern Afghanistan, some of its soldiers back home at Fort Stewart, Ga., have found themselves in the middle of a different kind of battle.

Before deploying in August, the division trained with a sophisticated data-processing software known as Palantir, which troops have praised as a great way to find roadside bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Palantir’s computer servers at Fort Stewart helped process battlefield data, such as enemy names and places, that the division provides from Afghanistan’s Regional Command-South.

Last month, the Army ordered the servers to be shut down and returned to the provider, Palantir Technologies of Palo Alto, Calif. The Army contends that the division skirted regulations by accepting the servers free of charge.

But a House staffer who investigated the matter told The Washington Times that the 3rd Infantry and Palantir Technologies followed the law, and said there was no need to shut down the servers.

** FILE ** Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill on April 7, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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** FILE ** Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, speaks during a news ... more >

The Times has reported about other units that have met resistance from Army headquarters in requesting and deploying with the Palantir system, which uses link analysis to help predict where enemy combatants have placed roadside bombs — the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

‘Fight the fight’

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and a former Marine Corps officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said flatly that Army officials are trying to protect funding for the Army’s sponsored computer processor, the Distributed Common Ground System.

Mr. Hunter said he is astounded that the Army would go so far as to order the shutoff of Palantir servers used in the war effort.

“The Army’s got their priorities wrong,” he said. “The bureaucracy is caught in a web of their own making, and in the end the war fighter is not getting what they need. The fact that they’re going to literally stop the Palantir servers means the Army is literally degrading the war fighter’s ability to fight the fight.”

He said Marine Corps units have used Palantir simultaneously at their home bases and on deployment abroad. “They had the guys in the rear doing it [in] real time,” he said.

Army spokesman Matthew Bourke said the service is simply following regulations.

“Upon discovery that a unit had received equipment and training services from Palantir Technologies on a cost-free basis, which was in violation of federal acquisition regulations and the law, the Army immediately undertook specific corrective measures,” Mr. Bourke said.

“The unit in question is working to execute proper contracts for these goods and services as required by law,” he said. “Army commands have been advised of the need to reinforce training of personnel regarding the acceptance of goods and services without a contract.

“And greater acquisition oversight has been implemented to ensure that requests for similar capabilities follow required procedures.”

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