An August 16 email from the Army’s acting assistant secretary for acquisition, Heidi Shyu, demanded “immediate corrective action” after she discovered that the 3rd Infantry Division had attempted to obtain controversial intelligence software for stateside training prior to its deployment to Afghanistan.
Shyu’s email, obtained by Defense News, comes after her staff discovered two memos written by the 3rd ID in May calling for the delivery of the Palantir intelligence software while admitting that the unit didn’t have the money to pay for it. The revolutionary software is designed to coordinate vast amounts of information stored in various government databases to help deployed units track and pinpoint insurgent leaders, IED strikes, and IED-planting networks.
The issue that alarmed Shyu was that the unit said it couldn’t pay for the system, and the company offered its technology on a cost-free basis, as opposed to normal contracting methods. Shyu wrote that “these circumstances warrant immediate corrective action by the Army to ensure that we comply with fundamental rules relating to how the government obtains goods and services from industry.”
The memos, addressed to the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office and the Technical Support Working Group; and to intelligence contractor Praescient Analytics and Palantir, asked for a “temporary training/reach-back server” from Palantir before the 3rd ID’s deployment to Afghanistan to assume command of Regional Command-South. The unit deployed in August.
The 3rd ID’s memo said that the unit’s budget “will not support the purchase of Palantir. Operational Needs Statement (ONS) was considered, but standard length of timeline for ONS cannot be tolerated. This requirement needs to be filled immediately.” The memos obtained by Defense News show that the 3rd ID considered the 82nd Airborne’s use of Palantir in Afghanistan in 2012 critical in helping to fill “major capability gaps” in the division’s existing intelligence software, and that Palantir is “the only platform capable of filling their advanced analytic requirements.” Because the unit planned on using the software on its upcoming deployment, the memo states that “3rd ID needs a rapid fielding of this system to quickly fill critical capability/training gap prior to our pending deployment.”
Asked about the issue, an Army spokesman emailed that the 3rd ID “is working to execute proper contracts for these goods and services as required by law; 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.”
Congressman Duncan Hunter, who has been out in front on the issue of getting combat units the Palantir software, said in an emailed statement that the 3rd ID “opened back channels to acquire Palantir and they got it in preparation for their Afghanistan deployment. Emails show Army officials learning of their acquisition for the first time on August 16 and now the Army is directing its attention to 3rd ID, rather than focusing on the real problem. It seems they are just stalling. What the Army needs to start worrying about are the urgent requests from ground combat units for alternate counter IED technology.”
This is the latest salvo in an ongoing controversy over the Palantir software that erupted in July, when Hunter’s office went public with its discovery that a highly positive April 2012 study of the Palantir software by the Army Operational Test Command was redacted on the orders of Col. Joseph Martin, the command’s director. The report said that while the Army-preferred intelligence system, the Distributed Common Ground System, “is overcomplicated,” the Army should “install more Palantir servers in Afghanistan.” Martin ordered all of the copies of the report destroyed, replaced with a new report that excluded the positive comments about Palantir.
In an Aug. 23 letter to Army Secretary John McHugh, Hunter claimed that “there have been deliberate efforts on the part of mid-level bureaucrats to deny units this resource despite repeated urgent requests from commanders.” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has already launched an investigation into why requests for the Palantir software were either denied or ignored. His investigation is supposed to conclude some time this month.
Secretary McHugh has also pledged to investigate. In a Sept. 17 letter to Hunter, he wrote that he has directed his staff to conduct a review of “unit requests for the capabilities provided by Palantir” and to examine “the process by which such requests are addressed, as well as the manner in which capabilities are acquired and fielded.” The letter was written a month after McHugh had been made aware of 3rd ID’s actions but before those actions had been made public.