A front-runner for becoming the military’s top spy has played a major role in shepherding and defending a battlefield intelligence network that some lawmakers and soldiers say fails too often.
Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence, has gone to bat on Capitol Hill and inside the Pentagon for the Distributed Common Ground System despite complaints that the servers, browser and processors break down in the field.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, is asking Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to review Gen. Legere’s stewardship over the computerized network before appointing the next director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s spying and analysis service.
The Defense Intelligence Agency directorship becomes vacant this year upon the retirement of Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, which was announced last week.
In 2012, Gen. Legere urged the Army’s independent operational tester to retract a favorable report about a commercially available analytical tool, Palantir, that some commanders prefer to the common ground system. She objected to Palantir on the grounds that it would violate policy.
Gen. Legere’s intervention stirred criticism on Capitol Hill. The Army appointed a fellow three-star general at Pentagon headquarters to investigate, and he concluded she did nothing wrong.
During Gen. Legere’s two years as Army intelligence chief, the service has not delivered on a promise to have the ground system working with cloud computing to rapidly store and dispense intelligence to war fighters.
Congress this year cut the system’s budget by 60 percent.
The Senate Committee on Armed Services has criticized the Army for the network’s slow progress and for its reluctance to buy off-the-shelf servers and software, such as Palantir, that can help soldiers immediately.
Mr. Hunter, California Republican, said in a May 1 letter to Mr. Hagel that Gen. Legere, as well as the head of Army intelligence command, “holds principal responsibility for failing to deliver urgent capabilities to the warfighter.”
Among the “failures” he listed were “unwarranted influence over official assessments, serious breaches of federal funding requirements, and misleading statements to Congress.”
“It is now clear that Congress has received false assurances that the Army would provide cloud capability” for the common ground system, Mr. Hunter wrote. “With the lives of soldiers on the line, the Army’s cloud capabilities have proven inadequate or outright dysfunctional.”
A cloud computing architecture would give intelligence analysts at different locations simultaneous access to all sorts of data, be it satellite imagery or reports on Taliban informants.
An Army spokesman referred questions about the Hunter letter to Mr. Hagel’s office. A spokesman said the defense secretary would answer the letter in private and had made no nomination.
An Army officer at the Pentagon said Gen. Legere is well-respected by Army staff.
“I consider her one of our best generals,” the officer said. “She is a gifted leader and one of our best intelligence professionals. I would follow her to the ends of the earth, and I never say that about anyone. I felt she really proved herself as a senior leader in Iraq, doing more for the military intelligence community than any other intel professional I can name in recent memory.”
‘Life or death issues’
Gen. Legere is considered a rising star in Washington intelligence circles and was mentioned as a possible replacement for Army Gen. Keith Alexander as chief of the National Security Agency. That appointment went to Navy Adm. Michael Rogers.
If appointed, Gen. Legere would be the first woman to head the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The agency embraced a greatly expanded spying role after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by sending hundreds of officers into war zones.
The Washington Times has reported on a number of internal memos from commanders in Afghanistan complaining about flaws in the Distributed Common Ground System.
The commanders praised Palantir, a server-software tool that has showed great success in analyzing the enemy and helping disrupt cabals that plant improvised explosive devices, the No. 1 killer of Americans in Afghanistan.
Gen. Legere’s 2012 intervention centered on a confidential assessment issued that April by the Army Test and Evaluation Command, which was directed by Maj. Gen. Genaro J. Dellarocco at that time.
Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff, had ordered the testing command to evaluate Palantir, and its report quoted soldiers praising the software’s analytical power.
The Times first reported that Gen. Dellarocco ordered the report to be scratched after it was publicized within Army intelligence bureaus. The testing command issued a less-favorable report on Palantir in May 2012 that deleted some soldiers’ praise and removed a recommendation that more Palantir commercial servers be sent to Afghanistan.
The original testing command report mirrored statements from commanders in Afghanistan who disliked the common ground system.
An 82nd Airborne Division intelligence officer said in a memo to the Pentagon: “We are trying to solve some very hard problems that pose life or death issues for the soldiers under this command, and [the Distributed Common Ground System] is not making our job easier, while Palantir is giving us an intelligence edge. This is a pretty big red line for many of the units in the field, of which 82nd Airborne Division is certainly the most visible.
“Bottom line from our perspective is that [the Distributed Common Ground System] has continuously over-promised and failed to deliver on capability that will meet the needs of the warfighter,” the officer said.
The Times reported in July 2012 that Gen. Dellarocco retracted the assessment. Gen. Dellarocco retired in July.
The Army appointed Lt. Gen. William Grisoli, who now directs Gen. Odierno’s Pentagon staff, to investigate the retraction of the testing command assessment.
His October 2012 report disclosed that Gen. Legere was at the center of generating a replacement assessment and having the first assessment erased.
In a May 2, 2012, phone call, she told Gen. Dellarocco that the assessment should not recommend that Palantir, an unofficial program, be incorporated into the training curriculum. Based on that call, Gen. Dellarocco decided to withdraw the April report and issue a new one.
“He agreed to relook at all the recommendations,” the investigative report quotes him as saying.
On June 28, 2012, Gen. Legere asked Gen. Dellarocco in an email whether he planned to eradicate the first assessment.
The Grisoli report quotes Gen. Legere as writing: “did you guys ever revoke the ATEC report that encouraged Palantier training in [intelligence school]? I know you published an updated one, but it would have helped if you also published a revocation of the last. Apparently, we have a few members of Congressional staffers now waiving that in front of the CSA now as an Army endorsement of Palantier which his [adviser] is now getting him stirred up about. My guys indicate yours did not revoke, just corrected with a second report, with the explanation that the first report as with all ATEC reports are not to be disseminated outside Army.”
The next day, testing command chiefs ordered the April report destroyed.
Gen. Grisoli found no wrongdoing by Gen. Legere. “It is clear that MG Dellarocco did not feel any undue or improper pressure from LTG Legere to change the 25 April report,” he wrote.
The report quotes Gen. Dellarocco saying that he felt “professionally comfortable speaking with her. At no time did I feel pressured to do anything.”
Gen. Legere told investigators “at no point did I intend to do anything to hinder or influence ATEC’s critical mission to the Army as its independent test and evaluation organization.”
Gen. Grisoli concluded: “I find that the changes made to the 25 April 2012 [forward operational assessment] were not attributable to anyone attempting to improperly advance the Army’s DCGS-A program of record but, rather, to the ATEC leadership’s intent to ensure that the [assessment] properly reflected the strengths and weaknesses of Palantir and that the recommendations in the report were in line with the report’s purpose.”
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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