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House panel to probe Army’s IED software report

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced Wednesday it has opened an investigation into why the Army destroyed a test report that favored an off-the-shelf software program that troops say has helped them find deadly explosives in Afghanistan.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, the committee also said it will examine why the Army made it difficult for commanders to buy the software, called Palantir, and why it favors a homegrown intelligence processor, the Distributed Common Ground System.

The Washington Times first reported about Army commanders’ difficulties in acquiring the Palantir system.

In April, as troops clamored for Palantir, the Army killed their requests and ordered a field assessment on the software by the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) to be destroyed. It replaced the report in May with one not as favorable toward Palantir and not as critical of the Common Ground System.

“It is unclear what benefit such an amended report would provide to stakeholders seeking a raw and unbiased assessment,” Republican Reps. Darrell E. Issa of California, committee chairman, and Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chairman of the national security subcommittee, said in their letter to Mr. Panetta.

“As such, these actions could be construed as limiting positive feedback on Palantir’s system, in an effort to justify the continued use of a more expensive and less effective program,” the two congressmen told the defense secretary.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, pushed for the investigation. He has been at the forefront of urging the military to do a better job of finding buried improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a major killer of troops in Afghanistan.

“What we know is that a favorable evaluation of Palantir was intentionally altered,” Mr. Hunter told The Times. “Understanding who authorized the changes and why will tell us a lot and reveal some important truths about the acquisition process.

“And if ground commanders are asking for Palantir, which we know they are, but the Army is telling them no for the wrong reasons, then that’s a problem,” he added.

The committee letter is replete with quotes from internal Army e-mails showing commanders in Afghanistan trying to get permission to buy Palantir and Army officials in the Pentagon arguing back that they did not need it.

An email from an 82nd Airborne intelligence officer to the Pentagon said: “Solving very hard analytical problems takes several days when using existing tools against these data sources. In our experience in using the Palantir platform against the same problems, we were able to reduce this time to a few hours. This shortfall translates into operational opportunities missed and unnecessary risk to the force.”

The committee letter asks for documents and emails pertaining to assessments of and requests for Palantir since February 2012.

In recent weeks, Army spokesmen at the Pentagon have declined to comment in detail, saying an Army general officer has been tasked to do an in-house investigation.

Internal Army communications obtained by The Times indicate the Army will contend that Palantir contractors in Afghanistan are manipulating officers to send requests for their software.

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