Army’s internal battle: Fight with GAO over battlefield intelligence system

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The Army’s vaunted battlefield intelligence processor is “difficult to operate” and suffers “workstation system failures,” a confidential government report says.

The Government Accountability Office examined the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), which some soldiers in the war zone have rejected as being too slow and unreliable. The GAO report says users testified that the system actually “impeded the flow of intelligence information.”

But the Army says the system is a great step forward in collecting multiple pieces of intelligence for analysts to retrieve to better understand the enemy — in this case, insurgents in Afghanistan or Islamic terrorists.

The June “official use only” report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, is being released as Congress writes next year’s defense budget. There are moves afoot, primarily by Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, to limit funding and force the Army to consider commercially available products.

One is Palantir, a computer program that specializes in finding links among terrorists, thus helping war fighters locate roadside bombs, the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops. Mr. Hunter charges that the Army has made it difficult for units to obtain Palantir because officials want to protect the 13-year-old common ground system.

The GAO report notes that the Pentagon’s top tester last year gave a failing grade to the common ground system, saying it could not survive a cyberattack and was not operationally effective.

“Problems included operational workflow deficiencies between different classified network enclaves, workstation system failures, the inability to meet system reliability measures, and network vulnerabilities to cyber threats,” the GAO says.

It also said that soldiers find the system hard to use.

“The DCGS-A system requires 80 hours of basic training to learn how to use the system and can be difficult to operate because there are multiple components and data screens to manipulate,” the report says. “Users also voiced concerns that the performance of the DCGS-A multifunction workstation, a key component of the system, was unreliable and that the different versions of DCGS-A in use in the field impeded the flow of intelligence information.”

The Army tells an upbeat story about the system, which Pentagon insiders call “D-Sig.” An Army general and an intelligence analyst appeared on “Fox News Sunday” to rebut charges that the system does not work.

“I’ve used it in the field, I’ve used it in Afghanistan. It’s worked for me,” said the analyst, Sgt. Shiladitho Deb. “I’ve received national-level intelligence all the way down to the battalion level, which we’ve used to roll up high-valued individuals in our area of operation. Getting them off the battlefield has resulted in lives being saved. It’s also helped me paint a big picture for my commanders on what is happening so they can make the appropriate decisions. So for me, it has worked.”

The GAO also examined Palantir and received mostly favorable reviews.

“Joint and military service commanders in Afghanistan began submitting urgent need requests to DoD for better tools to enable their analysts to determine the relationships among a wide variety of disparate intelligence data and to view the data in different graphical formats,” the GAO report says. “Most of the requests identified a specific commercial analytic software system [Palantir] that was used in select joint and coalition operations centers in Afghanistan as the preferred solution. Users reported that the commercial product [Palantir] was easier to operate and saved them time in conducting intelligence tasks.”

The GAO said special operations forces found Palantir to be “a highly effective system for conducting intelligence information analysis and supporting operations.”

Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, deputy for acquisition and systems management, told Fox News that Palantir performs only about 10 percent of the functions of D-Sigs.

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