Political reprisal seen in law­suit against Palan­tir

Soft­ware co­founder backs Trump’s bid

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

A bit­ter strug­gle be­tween an in­no­va­tive Sil­i­con Val­ley soft­ware in­ven­tor and the Army has shifted from the rag­ing bat­tle­fields of Afghanistan to a se­date fed­eral claims court in Wash­ing­ton.

For years, Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies, led by big-bucks Don­ald Trump sup­porter Peter Thiel, has pushed the Army un­suc­cess­fully to buy its in­tel­li­gence data pro­ces­sor.

On June 30, Palan­tir filed a law­suit against the Army. In what some con­ser­va­tives sus­pect to be re­tal­i­a­tion, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion filed a dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suit against the com­pany two months later.

The $15 bil­lion tech­nol­ogy startup has sol­diers on its side. Of­fi­cers from the war zone have writ­ten memos en­dors­ing Palan­tir’s fast anal­y­sis of the en­emy. They sought per­mis­sion to buy more, but Army head­quar­ters at the Pen­tagon of­ten dis­cour­aged the buys or gave out­right re­jec­tions.

The stand­off in­ten­si­fied last year when the Army is­sued a so­lic­i­ta­tion for a new ver­sion of the Dis­trib­uted Com­mon Ground Sys­tem, the $4 bil­lion bat­tle­field in­tel­li­gence net­work that crit­ics say re­mains flawed af­ter a decade of use. The so­lic­i­ta­tion locked out Palan­tir and its Gotham data man­age­ment plat­form, an off-the-shelf add-on.

Palan­tir called in re­in­force­ments in the form of a pow­er­house Wash­ing­ton law firm that filed suit in the U.S. Court of Fed­eral Claims. The lawyers charge that the Army “il­le­gally pre­vented Palan­tir from bid­ding” when reg­u­la­tions re­quired the armed ser­vice to seek al­ready de­vel­oped com­mer­cial prod­ucts. The law­suit asks Judge Mar­ian Blank Horn, ap­pointed to the court 30 years ago by Pres­i­dent Rea­gan, to or­der the Army to open the com­pe­ti­tion for what is called In­cre­ment 2.

The fact that Mr. Thiel, the bil­lion­aire co-founder of PayPal and op­er­a­tor of a huge hedge fund, is now in a bat­tle with the Army adds political in­trigue to a ba­sic govern­ment con­tract dis­pute.

Mr. Thiel is one of the few political con­ser­va­tives among the gi­ants of Sil­i­con Val­ley. So­cial me­dia lead­ers of Face­book and Google, for ex­am­ple, work with and fund the Demo­cratic Party. Mr. Thiel had a prom­i­nent speak­ing spot at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion, pro­claim­ing he was “proud to be gay” to loud ap­plause. He re­cently pledged more than $1 mil­lion to aid the Trump cam­paign.

Last month, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion filed suit against Mr. Thiel’s Palan­tir. The La­bor Depart­ment charges that the 1,500-em­ployee com­pany dis­crim­i­nated against Asians in hir­ing.

Palan­tir re­leased a state­ment that said, in part: “De­spite re­peated ef­forts to high­light the re­sults of our hir­ing prac­tices, the Depart­ment of La­bor re­lies on a nar­row and flawed sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis re­lat­ing to three job de­scrip­tions from 2010 to 2011. We in­tend to vig­or­ously de­fend against these al­le­ga­tions.”

Palan­tir’s le­gal ac­tion has forced a num­ber of Army in­tel­li­gence czars to un­dergo sworn de­po­si­tions by lawyers from the firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. While much of their tes­ti­mony is un­der seal, some sur­pris­ing snip­pets have emerged in fol­low-up le­gal mo­tions ask­ing the judge to rule based on the ex­ist­ing record of evidence. A decision is ex­pected by month’s end.

Some con­sis­tent com­plaints against the Dis­trib­uted Com­mon Ground Sys­tem are that it is too complicated, too slow to re­trieve and dis­pense data, and too prone to crashes.

Palan­tir’s at­tor­neys por­trayed one uniden­ti­fied Army of­fi­cial’s tes­ti­mony as an ac­knowl­edg­ment that the Gotham data man­age­ment plat­form does chores “above and beyond” the com­mon ground sys­tem.

“There were sol­diers, units that had pur­chased Palan­tir with their own dol­lars and were us­ing it to meet some of the spe­cific needs of that unit in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the of­fi­cial said.

Asked if this was be­cause the ex­ist­ing sys­tem did not meet their needs, the wit­ness said, “Some of the needs were the same. Some were ad­di­tional, above and beyond.”

‘No tech­ni­cal rea­son’

De­po­si­tions also show that the Army mis­led law­mak­ers when it cir­cu­lated a white pa­per on Palan­tir. The pa­per said the Army had con­ducted an ex­ten­sive eval­u­a­tion of Palan­tir when, in fact, it had not.

“We did not do any for­mal eval­u­a­tion or de­ter­mi­na­tion of whether or not the tools could live in­side [the com­mon ground sys­tem],” an Army of­fi­cial said.

Con­gres­sional aides say the Army’s mo­ti­va­tion for fight­ing Palan­tir is that it wants to de­velop its own soft­ware and hard­ware with its se­lected con­trac­tors and views the com­pany in Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia, as an in­ter­loper.

Mem­bers of Congress, led by Rep. Dun­can Hunter, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can and a former Ma­rine Corps of­fi­cer, re­peat­edly have urged the Army to buy off-the-shelf plug-ins to avoid the in­creased cost of ground-up de­vel­op­ment. Palan­tir is used by the CIA, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency and spe­cial op­er­a­tions, among other agen­cies.

“This case has the po­ten­tial to dra­mat­i­cally change not just DCGS as a pro­gram, for the bet­ter, but also the way the Army goes about con­tract­ing com­mer­cial so­lu­tions al­ready in the mar­ket­place,” said Joe Kasper, Mr. Hunter’s chief of staff. “From the be­gin­ning, uti­liz­ing Palan­tir has al­ways been a win-win for the Army and the tax­payer. And if it takes a court decision to make the Army see it, then that’s just the way it is.”

The Army says Palan­tir sim­ply does not fit well into the com­mon ground sys­tem’s far-flung ar­chi­tec­ture. It says Palan­tir has short­falls when deal­ing with hu­man in­tel­li­gence, com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­ter­cepts and gen­eral data fu­sion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Don­ald Trump sup­porter Peter Thiel co-founded Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies, which is fac­ing a La­bor Depart­ment law­suit ac­cus­ing it of job dis­crim­i­na­tion.

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