Army leaders defend flawed intelligence system - KAUZ-TV: Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

Army leaders defend flawed intelligence system

Posted: Updated:
(AP Photo/John Milburn, File). FILE - This March 18, 2013 file photo shows Gen. (AP Photo/John Milburn, File). FILE - This March 18, 2013 file photo shows Gen.
  • NationalMore>>

  • Supreme Court allows Arizona execution to proceed

    Supreme Court allows Arizona execution to proceed

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 10:03 PM EDT2014-07-23 02:03:06 GMT
    Attorneys for the state of Arizona have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow an execution planned for Wednesday to proceed, saying Joseph Rudolph Wood can't establish he has a First Amendment right to the...
    The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed an Arizona execution to go forward amid a closely watched First Amendment fight over the secrecy surrounding lethal injection drugs in the country.
  • Crews make gains on massive Washington wildfire

    Crews make gains on massive Washington wildfire

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 9:11 PM EDT2014-07-23 01:11:14 GMT
    Firefighters and local authorities are heartened by weather forecasts that call for continued cooler temperatures and higher humidity as they battle a destructive wildfire that has charred hundreds of square miles...
    Firefighters were making progress Tuesday in their efforts to get the largest wildfire in Washington state's history under control, with wetter weather bringing some relief but also raising concerns about flash flooding.
  • New arrest linked to gun used after Boston attacks

    New arrest linked to gun used after Boston attacks

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 9:31 PM EDT2014-07-23 01:31:19 GMT
    A man believed to have provided the gun used by Boston Marathon bombing suspects to kill a college police officer has been arrested on drug and weapon charges.
    A friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is believed to have provided the handgun used to kill a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer during the manhunt, people with knowledge of the...
AP Intelligence Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Gen. John Campbell, the army's vice chief of staff and nominee to lead U.S. forces in Afghanistan, cited his son's experiences as a soldier there to answer a senator's tough questions last year about a troubled intelligence technology system.

But after an inquiry from The Associated Press, the Army acknowledged this week that Campbell misspoke. He also omitted key facts as he sought to defend a $4 billion system that critics say has not worked as promised. Campbell will likely face more questions about the intelligence network at his confirmation hearing on Thursday. Gathering and making sense of intelligence in Afghanistan will remain a priority even as U.S. troops draw down.

Army leaders, including Campbell and his boss, Army chief of staff Gen. Ray Odierno, have circled their wagons around the Distributed Common Ground System, known as DCGS-A (pronounced DEE-cigs-ay), a network of crash-prone software, sensors and databases that was supposed to allow troops to process and integrate intelligence from a variety of sources, from electronic intercepts to overhead imagery to spy reports.

A series of independent government reports have pointed to significant weaknesses in DCGS-A.

When Rep. Duncan Hunter, a member of House Armed Services Committee, visited troops in eastern Afghanistan last year, "DSGS was shut down in the corner, piled with books and papers," he said.

The Army has continued to pour money into the system despite its record of blown deadlines and unmet promises. Even more troubling to critics is how the army has made it difficult for commanders to use an off-the-shelf commercial product that soldiers say is more workable and user-friendly than DCGS-A, even though the commercial system has been embraced by the Marines, special operations forces, the CIA and other government agencies.

"DCGS folks promised a solution three years ago, and they have yet to deliver," said Col. Peter Newell, who retired last year after heading the Army's Rapid Equipping force.

Army officials acknowledge problems with DCGS-A. In a statement, spokesman Matthew Bourke said the Army is working to improve the system in its next generation, which is being put out for bids next year.

DCGS-A was first developed a decade ago, but the spotlight on its shortcomings grew brighter in 2010, when Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then the top military intelligence officer in Afghanistan, said in a memo that "intelligence analysts in theater currently do not have the tools required to fully analyze the tremendous amounts of information currently available."

Flynn made an urgent request for a "theater-wide, Web-based analytical platform" that sounded a lot like a product offered by a Silicon Valley startup called Palantir, which grew out of antifraud technology developed by PayPal and was valued in December at $9 billion.

Yet over the last four years, records show, Army leaders have made it difficult for some commanders to purchase Palantir.

Army units that have managed to obtain Palantir report that it has saved lives in Afghanistan by helping to map insurgent activity and bomb networks in ways the Army system could not. It is also far cheaper: A 2013 Government Acountability Office report estimated that the Pentagon had spent about $35 million in recent years to equip the Marines and some army units with Palantir, compared to $4 billion for DCGS-A.

Palantir can merge disparate data sets - cellphone calls, fingerprint and DNA records, photos, bomb incident reports - and array them on a map in seconds. DCGS-A's work stations employ a mapping program that is much more difficult to master, in a system that does not allow seamless data fusion. When soldiers update a file in Palantir, that file becomes visible to every Army Palantir user, which often is not the case across the DCGS-A network.

Last April, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., confronted Campbell with DCGS-A's litany of troubles, including that the Army's testing lab in 2012 found the system "not operationally effective, not operationally suitable and not survivable."

Campbell said Palantir does only a small portion of what DCGS-A is supposed to do, though he acknowledged that it is easier to work with. The Army's system, he said, "saves lives" and has access to more intelligence than Palantir's software does.

He added, "My son is a soldier in the 82nd. He's a specialist. He deployed to Afghanistan." Cambell said his son was in "one of the units that asked for DCGS - or his brigade did, not himself."

Emails obtained by the AP show, however, that the younger Campbell's unit - the 82nd Airborne Division's First Brigade Combat Team - found the Army system inadequate and requested Palantir after six men died in two roadside bombs in April and May of 2012.

On May 12, 2012, Col. Mark Stock, the brigade commander, signed an "urgent needs" request for Palantir, citing "major capability gaps in the division's existing intelligence software architecture."

The political climate was not good. Two weeks later, in an email responding to a different unit's request for Palantir, Newell wrote, "While I don't disagree with your need, I cannot buy Palantir anymore without involving the senior leadership of the Army, and they are very resistant."

In an interview, Newell said Army leaders did not prevent him from equipping units with Palantir, but they made it difficult. "I still don't know what the big threat of Palantir was. It was baffling to me to see the lengths they were willing to go."

In a statement, the Army said Campbell "misspoke," and meant to say that his son's unit had requested Palantir, not DCGS-A.

The unit did not get Palantir before it departed in September. The Army blamed logistical hurdles. Newell said the request came too late.

In January, Campbell's son's brigade - though he was no longer in it by then - deployed on a training exercise at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and again experienced difficulties with the Army's intelligence system.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • InternationalMore>>

  • US: Russia 'created the conditions' for shoot-down

    US: Russia 'created the conditions' for shoot-down

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 8:41 PM EDT2014-07-23 00:41:12 GMT
    The Obama administration said Tuesday it would present data from the U.S. intelligence community laying out what's known about the Malaysia Airlines plane that was shot down in Ukraine.
    Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that Russia was responsible for "creating the conditions" that led to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but they offered no evidence of direct Russian...
  • UN chief believes Gaza fighting will end soon

    UN chief believes Gaza fighting will end soon

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 8:03 PM EDT2014-07-23 00:03:27 GMT
    The Palestinian U.N. envoy says a draft U.N. resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip will be formally circulated to the Security Council.
    The U.N. secretary-general said Tuesday it is his "hope and belief" that his emergency mission to the Middle East will lead to an end to the fighting between Hamas and Israel "in the very near future."
  • Airlines ban flights to Israel after rocket strike

    Airlines ban flights to Israel after rocket strike

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 7:42 PM EDT2014-07-22 23:42:54 GMT
    Israel bombed five mosques, a sports stadium and the home of the late Hamas military chief across the Gaza Strip early Tuesday, a Gaza police official said, as the U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state...
    A Hamas rocket exploded Tuesday near Israel's main airport, prompting a ban on flights from the U.S. and many from Europe and Canada as aviation authorities responded to the shock of seeing a civilian jetliner shot...