Army Defends Intel System After Spat Between Odierno and Hunter

Army Defends Intel System After Spat Between Odierno and Hunter

The U.S. Army defended its battlefield intelligence system as a life-saving tool that soldiers need to share and analyze data with the defense community.

The service this week invited lawmakers, national-security officials and journalists to Fort Belvoir, Va., south of Washington, D.C., for a demonstration of the technology, which included a mix of computer servers, laptops and flat-screen monitors installed in trucks and air-conditioned tents.

The three-day event began May 15, weeks after Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., sparred during a congressional hearing over the effectiveness of the system, called the Distributed Common Ground System-Army, or DCGS-A.


“It supports every one of our soldiers,” Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said during a May 16 press conference with reporters. “It provides the underlying intelligence for every decision that our commanders and soldiers make in the field and it saves lives.”

The Army program, part of a military-wide system, is designed to better capture, analyze and distribute intelligence from the war zone amid an explosion of digital information in the past decade, officials said. The service is shifting from “stovepipe” systems, in which data can’t be easily modified or shared, to an open architecture based on common standards set by the larger intelligence community, they said.

The move will impose “a much deeper level of standards,” said Russell Richardson, senior science adviser for the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command. “It’s down in the data itself — how the data is represented, how the data is tagged, all the way up through how the data is accessed and secured.”

The system draws on more than 600 sources of information, from Global Hawk drones and GPS satellites to ground sensors and biometric scanners, officials said. It uses a mix of commercial and military software applications to link the vast amounts of data, including Google Earth and Analyst Notebook, they said.

Soldiers showed how they could use various applications to plan a raid against a suspected insurgent in part by mapping his residence, viewing a three-dimensional image of the building and surrounding area, and monitoring real-time video from a drone flying overhead.

Rep. Hunter was to view the exhibit on May 17, officials said.

The congressman, a former Marine who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, during an April 25 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee criticized the system and said a commander who requested a commercial product made by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Palantir Technologies Inc. never received it.

Some troops and commanders have praised the Palantir software for being user-friendly and simplifying the task of link analysis, a technique used to evaluate relationships between entities, such as a target’s accomplices or travel patterns.

Palantir isn’t part of the Distributed Common Ground System, though units have used it on a limited basis in Afghanistan and the service is evaluating whether it can be modified or adopted for inclusion.

“It’s essentially a difficult problem because Palantir uses a different data anthology and data structure than we do on the DCGS side and the [intelligence community] side,” said Col. Charles Wells, who manages the Army program. “It’s not a trivial change or a trivial problem that we’re trying to work through. It actually requires some fundamental adjustments to the data structure.”

Soldiers at the demonstration noted that link analysis is but one of many features of the larger intelligence system. They also said Palantir isn’t compatible with and can’t export information to other software programs.

“I decided not to keep using it,” Staff Sgt. Clancey Henderson, 27, an intelligence analyst with the 1st Infantry Division, said after receiving a brief training course on the software last year in Afghanistan. “It was a very duplicative effort.”

The Army plans to hold a competition this fall for new link-analysis software as part of an effort to continually upgrade the system, according to Wells. Officials are working on a pilot project to develop an abridged version for Army Special Forces in Africa and another to begin integrating the system into the intelligence community’s “cloud” of networked servers.

The service in 2007 began developing the program, which is projected to receive $10.2 billion over the next three decades, officials have said. As many as 60 companies have contracts to build the system, from major defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. to Silicon Valley firms such as Google Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

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Let’s see how fast a hacker or one of these contractors corrupts the system and gets our people killed. I’m all for intelligence but military Intel no matter the format is open to scrutiny. Its only as good as the source and in this system it does not appear to be able to have inter military branch capabilities. This has proven disastrous in the past.

That’s absolutely true and there is very little accountability within the DCGS structure.

I wonder if the author realizes the picture is of CPOF — a command / control application, having little to do with intel.

We’ve updated the picture. The original was a placeholder. We were waiting for the Army to release official pictures from the event. –The Author

Chief, I don’t know how much you know of the system, but here in PACOM, the brain is a Joint brain that pulls in and is used by all services. The Marines in Okinawa are now equipped with DCGS-A laptops and servers. So it does have joint interoperability.
Completely agree with you on the source of the data, but that is true for analog as well as any digital system.

I totally agree with your fear but I got to disagree with the whole picture. It’s only a matter of doing the homework properly, and using it properly.

It’s not too hard to imagine different level of security where secure data like those feeded from global hawk be used as much as any other “single-feed” system and rely on third parties like google when it’s reasonably safe to be done; so far so good, the taliban did not showed to have the capability to take control of a drone, though they are not as dumb as some people like to believe.

I am not a cyber security specialist but I’d say that 98% of vulnerabilities on the web exist because programmer does not verify the data from the user; an SQL injection is a very good example, though in the web they also rely on platform that are fundamentally flawed, more or less insecure by design. A relevant issue would be how blindly web browser blindly rely on certificate; when those “trusted” companies either get compromised or “magically” issue a certificate without knowing about it, the attacker enter by the front door. The issue is very complex and all its problematic is beyond my knowledge.

But it’s not a web application as they just need to do homework on a very complex problem, the very definition of fundamental work; they shall be very careful of which software they are using, which tool they are using, how they are going to use it, and what they want to do.

At the end of the day, those system are made by human and they simply can’t be perfect. Their vulnerabilities to cyber attack is not different than a tank being vulnerable to explosives. Both are machines, both are tools. I don’t see any reason on earth for not using both of them on the field.

Yet even with a properly designed system I will share your fear because I am scared that this “intel fetish” will create some casualties before considering using this wonderful tool with moderation, because more intel is cool and could save your life. :)

The Army gave the Marines free laptops with DCGS software on them so the Army could claim that it was a capability used by all services, but the reality is that the Marines do no use DCGS. All of the Marines in Afghanistan and deployed on real world operations are using Palantir. They accepted the DCGS program just to get free hardware.

It doesn’t really matter what software is displayed in the photo; the Army most likely did not demonstrate the software that is actually fielded to the troops in Afghanistan anyway.
This whole dog and pony was set up to avoid having the Congressional Representatives from going into the building where the actual analysts are using the fielded version, and seeing a demonstration that would reveal that DCGS doesn’t actually have the capabilities that the Army claims it does. This whole media circus was smoke and mirrors to distract from the fact that DCGS doesn’t work.

Of course this system is going to be hacked … you posted so much information about it on this forum. Why not just upload all the specs too. Shame on you for disclosing so much information.

That’s just like saying because you talked about the Intel chip in your computer, “this system is going to be hacked” (though any computer system connected to the internet is a moving target).

DCGS-A may become targeted by EW measures later on, but “hacking” in the civilian sense just by cheap powerpoint blurbs? Unlikely.

Simply knowing the vendors in DCGS-A is probably enough to direct cyberattacks to every employee. Start with spear-phishing and see who bites, then hit all their subcontractors and their subcontractors until someone’s network security is weak enough to get through.

I spy some Palantir-paid trolls on this site.…and no, I have no connects to DCGS but follow the intel TPED community closely

Of course a field artillery butter bar with less than 5 years experience knows more than Gen Odierno.

And what does Palantir bring to the table when we have to use the Army in real combat?

This is the oldest sales trick in the book. — F.U.D.

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Palantir and their congressional moles are using it to gain access.

Plain and Simple.

I am not quite sure to whom your message is directed, nor I know Palantir but I’d say that the goal of those system is to extract relevant information from a ridiculously huge amount of data, from taking strategic decision up preventing adverse attack.

I think that for quite some times, we are at a point where it’s unrealistic to analyze all the data collected piece by piece due to its ridiculous volume; those system would simply not exist if there would be no gain from analyzing data from multiple source; I believe that their first goal is to track and find pattern.

I would find the information that all the population moved away during the night right where you’ve planned to go 6 hours later very relevant for the risk assessment. It will help save lifes. It should help you solving a problem with the least effort possible. It should help you to send a recon in the right place at the right time.

I love how if someone makes any sort of promotion or commendation to a COTS solution that makes them a ‘troll’ or employee of that company. The fact that it has taken the Army this long to get their hot air cloud ‘working’ (which it still isn’t) is ridiculous. I remember getting fielded the DCGS-A system in Baghdad in 2006. It was more or less a faster laptop that didn’t talk to any others and now in 2013 it isn’t much better. But don’t worry, ‘Version 3′ or Patch 210, or Upgrade 160 or the next fluff nonsense PowerPoint slide briefing will fix the problems and get things working. COL Wells doesn’t have his facts straight. The deployments to Afghanistan are coming to a close here folks. The entire OEF campaign will have come and gone without any help to the guys on the ground from DCGS-A. Embrace industry, that’s what they are there for. Stop saying you’re going to help the guys downrange unless you’re going to field them a solution that works in a timeframe that will help.

No…this picture is from the actual congressional demo. You are looking at three DCGS laptops. The big screen was placed to allow the observers a better view of what the soldiers were doing.

President Esienhower warned of the Military Industrial complex. Its alive and well! OEF has been an open door for one trick pony applications to get into the fight. A standard Army fielded, Accredited and tested system cannot have SW changed on the fly in the field by local FSRs. Evidently this is something that User want — shame on them and the hacks that build code on the fly. The Army provides soldiers with a rifle; a weapon … a professional soldiers learns to use that weapon. Beware of the guy who owns one gun … he probably knows how to use it. Users want easy. Counter Insurgency isn’t easy … war isn’t easy. Learn your skills … the rigor and disclipine required to meet the vast number of requirements the Army has for Intel Systems is not a simple Commercial Off the Shelf solution.

DCGS-A isn’t a rifle. It’s a slingshot with duct tape holding the band to the frame. So while Counter Insurgency isn’t easy, neither is trying to hit a moving target (who’s carrying an automatic rifle) with a slingshot. I’m not saying COTS is the only way to go, but piecing together an enterprise system with 20 players on the back-end isn’t going to result in a tool that streamlines anything. The hacks building code on the fly are the ones rolling out the latest patch for DCGS-A since the 3 Versions and 50 something patches before didn’t work.

Agree, with the number of players … makes things difficult. My point is use the system the Army is standing behind. Can you imagine employing fires or working CAS over the heads or in the proximity of friendlies with a COTS solutions? Not me. Where is the configuration Management in a COTS solution.

The picture has since been changed. The original was of a CPOF client.

it all has to start somewhere in order to advance to be the best. look at how technology has advanced to a computer and cellphone and camera and video recorder all in one device. all thru trial and error to become the device on your wrist to the glasses. to the most advanced is telepathically transmit as God does.

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