A request for specific intelligence software that was later rescinded by the requestor, Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division and Regional Command-South in Afghanistan, received an official explanation Thursday from an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.
Lt. Col. Jerome Pionk, team chief for Weapons, Environment and Technology at Army Public Affairs, referred to the software story that became a national issue due to a heated exchange reported April 30 by www.dodbuzz.com.
According to Brendan McCarry’s article, the exchange between California Congressman Duncan Hunter and Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno occurred during a Capitol Hill hearing April 25. The U.S. lawmaker reportedly accused Army officials of not acting on a commander’s request for commercial software to gather battlefield intelligence. After several exchanges between Hunter and Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Odierno said he objected to the accusations that he doesn’t care about his soldiers.
“First, to clarify, 3rd ID received Palantir capability and pre-deployment training at Fort Stewart as well as access to Palantir in theater upon deployment to Afghanistan,” said Pionk, referencing an intel-gathering software manufactured by Palantir Technologies, a California-based company, and the Distributed Common Ground System used by the Army. “(The) 3rd ID leadership thought then that ‘reach back’ would be a prudent measure if reductions in in-country intelligence units occurred … They wanted to mirror both DCGS-A and Palantir capability (they have) at (their) home station. After 3rd ID learned that manning levels would not be reduced, they correctly determined that reach-back capability would no longer be needed. So they rescinded their (operational needs statement) request.”
Pionk said Palantir capabilities are within DCGS-A, comparing DCGS to an iPhone and Palantir to an application software that simply is added to the phone. He explained that “reach-back capabilities” refers to having DCGS and Palantir in only one place “coded and set up.” Only that location had access to the data. By setting the system up in two locations — Afghanistan and Stewart — the 3rd ID would have the same data but be able to access it from two locations. The unit could reach back to its home station or vice versa and get the same data feeds, he said.
“Since DCGS-A is the Army’s program of record and all the data is available all the time, (for reach-back capability) you need the unit (their equipment) to be set up also at the other location,” Pionk said. “Since the unit wasn’t going to have the need anymore because the facts (about the number of intelligence units not decreasing) changed, they rescinded their request.”
McGarry’s article notes that McHugh described DCGS as a “strategic-level intelligence-gathering and analytical system that draws from 600 sources,” and Palantir’s software as a “link-analysis system that uses far fewer sources.”
McHugh also said the Army entered into a research-and-development agreement with Palantir last year and was working with the company to integrate their software into DCGS.