By Mike Mount
A congressional oversight committee is looking into accusations that the Army manipulated information to favor an inferior roadside bomb detection system over one considered superior by U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
In a letter sent Wednesday to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, asked for documents showing that an Army report that favored a system that increases detection of roadside bombs in Afghanistan was altered to seem less effective,
The inquiry surrounds a new privately developed software system called Palantir, which according to U.S troops and commanders who have used it, is more effective in helping troops in Afghanistan track and predict the location of deadly roadside bombs than the existing Army system known as the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS).
"The Army has spent over $2.3 billion in procurement and research and development to fund the DCGS. Reports indicate, however, that DCGS is 'unable to perform simple analytical tasks,'" Issa said in the letter to Panetta.
Earlier this year, after ordering the system pushed out to units in Afghanistan that had been urgently asking for it, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno requested the Army's operational test command to report on Palantir by surveying troops who have used it.
Documents obtained by Security Clearance show that the initial report came back with overwhelmingly positive feedback on Palantir and recommended that more computer servers be put into Afghanistan so more units could use the system.
But despite the findings, the commander of the test command, Col. Joseph M. Martin, reportedly ordered the report destroyed and another report generated that removed favorable references to Palantir as well as the recommendation to add additional servers.
U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, who first brought the issue to light, asked that the House committee investigate the findings his office had uncovered.
"There's a serious problem with the acquisition process if the Army is manipulating information needed to make sound judgments on counter IED resources and then denying urgent requests from combat units despite the availability of better technology," Hunter said in an e-mailed statement to Security Clearance.
The letter to Panetta said that a senior Army official, Lynn Schnurr claimed the report was changed to correct inaccuracies and to clarify language in the report, not to change the viewpoint on Palantir.
But the Issa letter questions the benefit the changes would have for those looking for an unbiased report.
"These actions could be construed as limiting positive feedback on Palantir system, in an effort to justify the continued use of a more expensive and less effective program," Rep. Issa said in the letter.
The oversight committee also is asking for information that shows multiple requests by Army units in Afghanistan that requested the system but were denied by Army civilians in the Pentagon who claimed the system did not work well with the DCGS system when integrating the information from Palantir.
"There is an ongoing investigation being conducted to determine the facts in the matter and providing any sort of commentary on an ongoing investigation - or letters between members of Congress and this department - is both improper and not in keeping with longstanding DoD and service-specific policies," said Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale.
The Pentagon has until August 15 to provide requested documents and brief the committee, according to the Issa letter.