Tempers flare over Army computer system at House hearing

The Army’s chief of staff and a Marine veteran congressman clashed publicly Thursday in a long-simmering dispute over the service’s battlefield intelligence processor.

Gen. Raymond Odierno exploded in anger when he interpreted a question from Rep. Duncan Hunter as an insult.

“I’m tired of somebody telling me I don’t care about our soldiers!” Gen. Odierno shouted out during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

As each man tried to talk over the other, Mr. Hunter, California Republican, told the burly four-star general: “You have a very powerful personality. But that doesn’t refute the facts you have gaps in the capability.”

The boiling over occurred after months of Mr. Hunter, armed with internal Army memos, accusing the service of denying troops in Afghanistan a commercial computer processor called Palantir. Soldiers have lauded the system for its ability to do “link analysis” — that is, identify the enemy by their associations.

The congressman says the Army is making it difficult for commanders to acquire Palantir in order to protect its homegrown product — the Distributed Common Ground System, whose newest version was deemed “operationally ineffective” by the Pentagon’s top tester. It was still sent to Afghanistan.

On Thursday, Mr. Hunter, who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine officer, wanted to know why the Army had recently denied a request for Palantir from the 3rd Infantry Division.

“I’ve got some information that 3rd ID, contrary to what I’ve been told by the Army, still doesn’t have the commercial, off-the-shelf product,” he said. “In fact, I have it right in front of me that the [Army] directed a hold on the 3rd ID operational needs statement.”

He said 3rd Infantry Division personnel in the States want Palantir to aid units in Afghanistan. He noted that several private technology giants such as Google and Apple have created a “cloud” for computer network data storage while the Army’s common ground system has not.

He said the Army, at a cost of billions of dollars, is trying to recreate systems that already exist in the private sector and are used by the CIA, FBI and special operations.

He urged Gen. Odierno “to get in the warfighters’ hands what they need.”

With that, Mr. Hunter got up to leave. Army Secretary John McHugh then said he wanted to answer, if the congressman would stick around.

“We can talk all we want to, it’s not going anywhere,” Mr. Hunter said.

“I object to this,” erupted Gen. Odierno, who commanded all allied troops in Iraq. “I’m tired of somebody telling me I don’t care about our soldiers! That we don’t respond. Everybody on my staff cares about it, and they do all they can to help. So if you want to bring up an anecdotal incident, let’s sit down and talk about it and we’ll give it a response. We’ve been going back and forth on this for months, and I’m tired of the anecdotal …”

At that point, Mr. Hunter tried to interrupt.

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