Postd on 16-6-13
Palantir And Privatised Spying
By Stephen Benavides, 14 June 2013, Truthout.org Image: Digital eye via
In a US House Armed Services Committee hearing at the end of April,
California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, a former Marine, leveled
serious charges against high-level Army officers. He accused them of
blocking the use of Palantir technology, the company the military has hired
to watch the US public's every online move for signs of potential terrorist
But the House had concerns of its own: In a letter dated August 1, 2012, the
House Committee asked why the $2.3 billion had been spent on research and
development of the DCGS-A, a global surveillance and intelligence super
platform, that despite the mind-boggling sum, failed to work as planned.
Reports submitted to House Armed Services Committee outlining serious issues
with the global surveillance and intelligence super platform indicated that
DCGS-A is "unable to perform simple analytical tasks." More specifically,
military intelligence analysts from the Army and Air Force have both
expressed that DCGS-A does not "provide intuitive capabilities to see the
relationships between a wide variety of disparate data sets of information."
The ongoing fight over the use of Palantir software bubbled over into
Congress when the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter
to then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta requesting documentation of the
forward operations assessment for the Palantir system. Before any technology
is deployed by the military, that technology must be vetted in the form of
an assessment based on a trial resembling real world situations. Instead of
receiving the powerful software system with open arms, Army brass refused to
fully implement technology that the FBI and CIA already use to monitor
digital communications of US citizens, including surveillance of social
media platforms as Facebook and Twitter.
Given that the CIA provided the start-up to get Palantir going, there is an
interest in having all branches of government implement the same, or similar
technology. In the age where terrorists lurk around every corner, and
international occupations churn out generation after generation of
anti-imperialist youth, consolidating the surveillance and intelligence
systems employed would seem to make sense. Now that this private company,
Palantir, has become a very successful money-making venture, there appears
to be an internal security war going on inside the US government over what
system to deploy in international theaters. This is not in the name of the
public good, but rather an effort by the US Army to hold its own as other
federal agencies like the CIA, FBI, NSA, and DIA increase in power and
influence post 9-11.
Palantir Technologies Inc. was a CIA start-up aimed at streamlining the
gathering and analysis of massive amounts of data generated from both
offline and online human interaction.
Before the FBI and CIA effectively handed over the bulk of their online
intelligence gathering and surveillance to software developed by Palantir,
there was a focused effort to do something similar in-house nearly 20 years
prior. After combat operations ended in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991, the
Department of Defense determined that dominance of information technology
and intelligence operations would give the US a powerful and strategic
advantage over its enemies.
In order to do that, the DoD would have to integrate the nation's Signal
Intelligence (SIGINT), Common Imagery (CIGSS), and Imagery Intelligence
(IMINT) ground and surface systems into one super system, otherwise known as
the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS AN/GSQ-272). Specifically, DCGS
was tasked with the surveillance and reconnaissance of targeted individuals
or organizations, as well as the gathering and processing of data, and
dissemination of information in an effort to "facilitate Seeing and Knowing
on the battlefield."
Since the Internet had yet to be born, intelligence was gathered and
disseminated by the predecessors of the U-2 Dragonlady, RQ-4 Global Hawk,
MQ-9 Reaper, MQ-1 Predator, and MC-12 Liberty, all different types of manned
aircraft "weapons systems," not to mention human intelligence gathered
clandestinely in the field. Over the years, DCGS has been deployed in every
major foreign conflict, occupation, or intelligence-gathering mission in
which the military has been involved.
All of this changed drastically following the attacks on September 11, 2001.
Huge amounts of funding poured into creating a slew of new federal agencies.
According to a two-year-long investigative piece titled "Top Secret America"
completed by the Washington Post, "some 1,271 government organizations and
1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism,
homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the
In a July 2010 memo, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence Michael Flynn
requested advanced analytical capabilities for US forces stationed in
Afghanistan. Flynn stated that "intelligence analysts in theater do not have
the tools required to fully analyze the tremendous amounts of information
currently available in theater." He went on to say that this intelligence
shortfall prohibited commanders from having a full understanding of the
operational environment, and that without advanced capabilities, operations
would not be as successful as they could be - translating into higher loss
of life during combat. In the memo, he goes into specific detail on the type
of system needed, and how current tools do not provide "intuitive
capabilities to see the relationships between wide varieties of disparate
sets of information." This echoes Palantir Technologies' demonstration given
to potential clients regarding a fictional terrorist by the name of Mike
Fikiri, nearly word for word.
Between July 2010 and September 2012, the 3rd Infantry Division stationed in
Afghanistan began fusing its current intelligence system with those provided
by none other than Palantir Technologies. Some of those new capabilities
include using mobile apps and other handheld devices to support combat
personnel and commanders in the field by integrating with the Blue Force
Tracking (BFT). That's a GPS-enabled system allowing military commanders to
know where both friendly and hostile forces are located. More importantly,
the software was implemented to locate and destroy roadside bombs and IEDs.
In order to pull this off, servers were provided and installed at no cost by
Palantir at Fort Stewart, Georgia, offices, where the 3rd Infantry Division
is based. The problem with all of this is that it violated CFR 48
- Federal Acquisitions Regulations, and US Army HQ as a whole was totally
unaware and had not signed off on any of it. Because it had been installed
under the radar, Army headquarters promptly ordered all of the servers to be
shut down and had them removed by the end of September 2012. Army brass even
went so far as to have Kim Denver, Army deputy assistant secretary for
procurement, issue a cease-and-desist order against Palantir disallowing it
from "approaching units and providing goods and services for free."
The memo goes on to describe numerous requests from commanders in
Afghanistan for a more robust system, and states that there may have been a
possible manipulation of Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) assessment
reports on the Palantir system. According to the Army's website, ATEC is
"the premier test and evaluation organization within DoD and the Army's
trusted agent for ensuring that our Warfighters have the right capabilities
for success across the entire spectrum of operations."
Source documents provided to the House Committee on April 25, 2012, did not
match a second version of the report that was created, due to the fact that
several survey responses were withheld by Colonel Joseph Martin, commanding
officer of the Army Operational Test Command. Colonel Martin apparently gave
orders to replace the April 25, 2012, report with the May 25, 2012, version
in an obvious attempt to stop the burgeoning tech giant.
The memo to Defense Secretary Panetta, issued by the Oversight and
Government Reform Committee Chairman, Republican Darrell E. Issa, states
"these actions could be construed as limiting positive feedback on use of a
more expensive and less effective program.
In August 2011, a military exercise simulating what would happen if North
Korea attacked the US resulted in a catastrophic failure of the $2.3 billion
DCGS system software, which was developed by Northrop Grumman.
During that exercise, the volume of information the system was designed to
analyze instead resulted in ten of the 96 hours allotted to the exercise
being spent rebooting or outright locked up. If being unable to complete
basic functions wasn't enough to infuriate top ranking military officials, a
2.5-minute nomination time frame for bombing targets, expected to take mere
seconds, set the stage for private contractors to get a piece of the action.
Palantir seems to be winning the years-long war of attrition, and has
secured a cooperative research agreement with the Army, signed in May 2012,
as well as having its software purchased for use in Afghanistan shortly
thereafter(even after it was at first given away for free, illegally).
Taking into account that this little-known tech start-up had an estimated
worth of $3 billion as of 2011, not even 6 years after being founded by the
CIA, and that it has the influence and know-how to get the majority of the
American intelligence community signed on as clients, you have to ask
yourself where this is all heading. Having a single private corporation with
access to top secret classified information on everything from military
troop movements, terrorist watch lists, to everyday movements and
communications of common individuals, at what point does it stop? Or is this
just the beginning?