By Nicholas Varchaver
April 2, 2017

Good Morning.

How’s this for an eye-opening comparison: The Pentagon currently employs 207,000 bureaucrats to acquire and procure weapons and other equipment for the U.S. armed forces. By contrast, one entire branch of the military—the Marines—takes on some of the most challenging and dangerous missions around the world with 163, 375 actively serving.

That juxtaposition gets to the heart of the most penetrating reportorial journey inside the military-industrial complex I’ve ever read: “Donald Trump, Palantir, And The Crazy Battle To Clean Up A Multi-Billion-Dollar Military Procurement Swamp,” by Steven Brill, in Fortune. I know that Alan Murray hailed the article in this space earlier this week, but this one is too important for me not to mention, too. The article describes a multi-year effort by Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley software company whose chairman is Peter Thiel, to try to sell a functioning, reasonably priced battlefield information system to the Army, which has favored a wildly expensive ($6 billion and counting), suboptimal product made by Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and others. Brill takes you deep inside the process and there are many fascinating twists and turns, not least the fact that the incumbent offering played a small but significant role in the massive military information leak, via Wikileaks, by Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning. The article is well-timed as it emphasizes that a number of key generals, including James Mattis and H.R. McMaster, who had the opportunity to use Palantir’s product and loved it, are now in a position to purchase it. And needless to say, Donald Trump has emphasized his desire to drain the swamp and negotiate better deals, and what better company to benefit from that than one whose chairman, Thiel, was a notable Trump supporter? In truth, though, Brill argues strongly that Palantir deserves to win on the merits. And one of the many strengths of this article is that, for all that Brill is willing to laceratingly point out the craziness of the Army’s profligate spending habits, he also devotes considerable space to a sympathetic exploration of the Defense Department’s attempts (some successful) to improve its practices. Anybody who wants to move beyond a slogan (“the military-industrial complex”) and understand its reality should read this article.


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