The Army has started a behind-the-scenes campaign to defend its homegrown battlefield intelligence system against critics in the field and in Congress.
The Army is implying that soldiers’ requests for a competing spy tool are “ghost written” by defense contractors, internal documents show.
Rep. Duncan Hunter has accused the Army of making it difficult for soldiers in Afghanistan to buy a software system called Palantir. In internal emails to the Pentagon, deployed soldiers have raved about the off-the-shelf program’s ability to calculate where improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are buried.
Mr. Hunter, California Republican, says the Army is protecting its Distributed Common Ground System, which it developed with the defense industry and wants Congress to continue funding.
Last week, the Army began defending its ground system in memos circulated in the Pentagon and to Capitol Hill.
An Army “talking points” memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, includes a question on Joint Urgent Operation Needs, or JUON, through which commanders can ask for emergency war gear: “Isn’t there a JUONS request from Afghanistan for Palantir?”
“There are multiple requests for capabilities in theater and many are ghost written by commercial vendors,” is the Army’s answer.
A staffer for Mr. Hunter, who has reviewed intelligence officers’ requests for Palantir, said they are based on Palantir’s performance and not on requests from contractors to buy it. Requesters include senior officers.
Asked whether the Army is asserting that Palantir vendors are writing the requests, Pentagon spokesman George Wright told The Times: “The Army staff has been reviewing this matter for some time. In light of the current investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment on internal discussions.”
Another document, prepared by Lynn Schnurr, the Army’s chief intelligence information officer, was written for presentation to the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense. It lauds the common defense system and talks about Palantir’s supposed limits and its increased cost.
A Hunter staffer said Palantir is actually less expensive than the Distributed Common Ground System, and that while special operations and the Marine Corps are expanding their use of the program, the Army is resisting a proven system against IEDs, a major killer of U.S. troops.
Mr. Hunter has asked the House Government Oversight Committee to investigate the Army’s handling of Palantir requests and a test report about the program.
The Army killed an April evaluation of Palantir’s use in Afghanistan. It ordered it destroyed and produced a new report in May that deleted some favorable recommendations and findings on Palantir.
In its defense, the Army has said it signed an agreement in May to study incorporating Palantir into the common defense system.
Among Palantir’s fans is Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John Toolan, whose intelligence officers relied on the program during a deployment this year in southwest Afghanistan.
“Palantir reduced the time required for countless analytical functions and streamlined other, once cumbersome, processes,” he wrote to the Pentagon in February.