Our treasure: The pentagon's global information grid

by Mary Ann McGivern

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This Lenten task I assigned myself, a sober look at where we Americans keep our treasure (Mt. 6: 21), turns out to be suitably penitential. I’m hoping you, dear reader, are willing to keep up.

Today’s Government Accountability Office Pentagon boondoggle is the Global Information Grid, something The New York Times itself puts in unattributed quotes as the “‘mother of all networks,’ intended to interconnect all military elements swiftly and securely.”

The thinking that undergirds this grid began in St. Louis in the 1970s when engineers at the Defense Mapping Agency began to map points on the earth ten feet apart, entering into the computer daily temps, altitude, and coded landmarks like trees, buildings, lakes and cornfields. Of course within about 20 years satellite imaging and the GPS overtook surveyors on the ground.

You would think that GPS plus World Wide Web connections would do the trick. And indeed the GAO and the Times -- as well as the soldiers in the field who use these tools -- find them sufficient for a lot of what’s needed.

But no -- the Pentagon has spent $300 billion on communications hardware and software fraught with bugs. Current cost projection is about $3 trillion.

I’m going to throw in a twofer here: the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet that costs about $1 billion a year -- $10 billion spent so far and designed to be used in perpetuity. It is owned by its contractor and used by just two of the four Armed Services. It’s another redundant, expensive communications system, named as a boondoggle by the GAO.

That our government wastes this money on useless war toys is our cross to bear, in and out of Lenten season. The weapons won’t go away unless we marshal the political will to redirect our treasure to the common good.

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