Candid Camera

Would you buy a surveillance camera with unreliable power that took two hours to install in a hostile fire zone? It seems the Marine Corps wouldn’t either. 

It has been reported the Marine Corps has honchoed a four-year, failed effort to use hidden cameras to catch bad guys in Iraq doing bad things, such as planting roadside bombs that target America’s boys and girls on the ground. 

In a letter to Defense Secretary (and occasional superhero) Robert M. Gates, Sens. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.) accused a few of the proud of mismanaging the Tactical Conceal Video System, the brainchild of St. Louis-based Sentrus. (Did we mention Bond, Kit Bond, hails from the great state of Missouri? Coincidence?) 

The Marines asked for a concealed camera system in 2004 and awarded Sentrus a contract in 2005. The heat and motion detecting system was in theater by 2006, but end-users called for improvements. The Corps soon canx’d the deal. 

Marine Corps Systems Command (MARCORSYSCOM) the Corps’ equippers claimed the thing just did not work. Currently, most of these million-dollar babies (15 in all) sit, unused. MARCORSYSCOM says batteries burn out quickly and — get this — the system takes two hours to put in place. (We’d guess nullifying effectiveness, if reports are accurate.) 

According to one intel official with whom we spoke, the Corps’ demands for further demos and an open competition were met with hostility by the retired Marine general whom Sentrus had been working the deal. (Funny how that happens.) The clash with this “gray beard” made what would have been a typical contracting issue personal and ugly, according to our guy. 

On the other side of No-Man’s Land, Sentrus maintains the Marines knew what they were getting. Our guess is in 2004-05, companies were lining up to sell a wounded and desperate military any variety of snake oil. 

This near-fiasco begs the questions: Why wouldn’t the Joint IED Defeat office (JIEDDO), with the mission and budget, find and procure a proper system? JIEDDO officials knew the camera was a Marine Corps initiative but could not tell us why they did not handle the program. (The cameras were ordered by the Marine Corps before JIEDDO was in full bloom.) 

On it bright note, it appears the Marines have survived the blame game (for now). Despite congressional involvement and Superhero interest, the Corps will get its demo and open competition.According to a JIEDDO official, “JIEDDO is currently working Base Expeditionary Targeting Surveillance System-Combined and Ground Based Operational Surveillance System. Additionally, JIEDDO funded the Rapid Deployment Integrated Surveillance System for use at combat outposts.”


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