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US Army Spent $2.7 Billion On Crashing Computer 196

Posted by Soulskill
from the blue-screen-of-literal-death dept.
An anonymous reader writes "According to two former US Army intelligence officers, the multi-billion-dollar DCGS-A military computer system that was designed to help the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan simply doesn't work. DCGS-A is meant to accrue intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and provide real-time battlefield analysis and the current location of high-value targets — but instead, it has hindered the war effort rather than helped. Major General Michael Flynn, the top intelligence officer in Afghanistan, says that DCGS-A's faults have even resulted in a loss of lives (PDF)."
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US Army Spent $2.7 Billion On Crashing Computer

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  • by Un pobre guey (593801) on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:15PM (#36663716) Homepage
    Yet more colossal irresponsibility and corruption at the Pentagon in the War on Terror scam. Their needs on the last page seem modest. It's hard to believe how they could not have been served by a few tens of millions of dollars in off-the-shelf equipment and manpower over a few years.
    • by halivar (535827) <bfelger.gmail@com> on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:35PM (#36663990) Homepage

      The Pentagon does not write its own budget. Our military is civilian led, which means the place to point fingers is at the Senate Defense Appropriations committee: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Senate_Appropriations_Subcommittee_on_Defense [wikipedia.org]

      Note the list of Republicans: all of them are 00's-style big spenders, and perfect complements to their democratic counterparts. There is not a single voice on that committee for fiscal conservatism or budgetary restraint.

      I agree that we need to slash and gut the military budget. We can run a better, cheaper army, but first we have to gut the appropriations committee (and the Senate Armed Forces committee). For my part, I have supported primary challengers to ever Republican on that list (to little effect). I urge democrats to do the same.

      • Exactly. What reason is there to be spending the massive sum we're spending on a force that has dropped both quantitatively and qualitatively from its peak? In 1988, a world-beating US military took $426bn in spending, compared to $685bn today. That budget sustained every branch at a level far stronger than now; the Army especially has been gutted since then. We should be able to do cuts to $550bn, if not lower, while expanding and improving the force.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Taking inflation into account, $426b in 1988 is worth $775b today

        • If nothing else, we've spent the last ten years wearing out a lot off our equipment.

      • by Benfea (1365845) on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:48PM (#36664136)
        Every time a Democrat tries to do something about the corruption and fraud committed by military contractors, they get accused of treason loudly by our "liberal media" and the usual right wing blowhards until they get run out of office. What did you think would be the net result of making military contractors immune to oversight? Was the Magic of the Free Market supposed to fix this on its own?
        • by halivar (535827) <bfelger.gmail@com> on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:58PM (#36664256) Homepage

          Fact: democrats love pork just as much as republicans do. What free market? There is no free market here. A republican walks up to a democrat and says, "Hey, I got this company back home that wants to develop shitty trucks for $1 million a pop", and the democrat responds, "Really? Because I got a company back home that wants to develop ballistic armor made of Saran-Wrap. Let's do lunch." If you don't believe that, you are living in a fantasy world.

          • Fact: Barnie Frank called for a 25% reduction in defense spending in 2008 was thencalled a traitor [pafoa.org] by wackos in the right wing.

            • by halivar (535827)

              Barney Frank isn't on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Defense. He's on the House Committee on Financial Services, which has more to do with the failing banks he helped fritter a few hundred billion on.

        • Did you read his comment, or did you just scan for the word democrat so you could post your pre-compiled attack on the republicans?

    • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:48PM (#36664132) Journal

      It isn't just "war on terror" that is a scam. Almost all high cost "war on ______ " government projects are a scam, including: drugs, poverty, illiteracy, teen pregnancy.

      I chalk it all up to the logic found in most government projects: "Something must be done, this is something, therefore it must be done"

    • by samkass (174571)

      If you read the article, though, it's basically an ad for Palantir, a commercial product that's only become mature in the last couple years (long after most DCGS-A investment was made). Palantir is also a very, very expensive single-sourced product with a high per-seat licensing cost. Faced with the decision of having already spent a couple billion and the engineers tell you for a few million more they can have the system working, versus throwing it all away and buying an unproven commercial product that

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:16PM (#36663730)

    T.E. Lawrence and the Mind of an Insurgent

    "Lawrence distilled six fundamental principles of insurgency that even today have remarkable relevance.

    First, a successful guerrilla movement must have an unassailable base - a base secure not only from direct physical assault, but from attack in other forms as well, including psychological attack.

    Second, the guerrilla must have a technologically sophisticated enemy. The greater this sophistication, the greater this alien force would rely on forms of communications and logistics that must necessarily present vulnerabilities to the irregular.

    Third, the enemy must be sufficiently weak in numbers so as to be unable to occupy the disputed territory in depth with a system of interlocking fortified posts.

    Fourth, the guerrilla must have at least the passive support of the populace, if not its full involvement. By Lawrence's calculation, 'Rebellions can be made by 2 percent active in striking force and 98 percent passively sympathetic.'

    Fifth, the irregular force must have the fundamental qualities of speed, endurance, presence and logistical independence.

    Sixth, the irregular must be sufficiently advanced in weaponry to strike at the enemy's logistics and signals vulnerabilities."

    http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3723/is_200507/ai_n14685818

    --------

    In the words of Scotty, Star Trek III: "The more you overtake the plumbing the easier it is to stop up the drain."

    The complexity of modern armies is their Achilles heel.

    • by couchslug (175151) on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:52PM (#36664174)

      That and the laws of war. There is no way to defeat a popular insurgency without committing so-called "war crimes" directly or by proxy.

      Therefore, only a Hafez Assad or a Stalin can win those sort of wars.

      • by gtall (79522)

        By recent polls, the Taliban are not a popular insurgency. What they be is a Pashtun (and even then with a small base) inspired bunch of Nazies who decides that the Hazaras, Tajiks, Turkmen, Uzbeks, and host of other small ethnic groups should somehow cede Afghanistan to the Pashtun. They used al Qaeda as their shock strormtroopers to kill off a town before they settled it with Allah-fearing Pashtuns. The Pashtuns went along with it while the Taliban were winning and they got the spoils. After the U.S. took

      • That looks like a good thing. If you are right, tose crimes are determined correctly.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by c6gunner (950153)

      Well, a quick overview:

      First, a successful guerrilla movement must have an unassailable base - a base secure not only from direct physical assault, but from attack in other forms as well, including psychological attack.

      None of our enemies currently have this. Pakistan is getting a little restless, so the situation could change in the future, but this has not been an issue so far.

      Second, the guerrilla must have a technologically sophisticated enemy. The greater this sophistication, the greater this alien force would rely on forms of communications and logistics that must necessarily present vulnerabilities to the irregular.

      This is just stupid. Greater sophistication decreases vulnerability.

      Third, the enemy must be sufficiently weak in numbers so as to be unable to occupy the disputed territory in depth with a system of interlocking fortified posts.

      Yes, this is usually the main problem.

      Fourth, the guerrilla must have at least the passive support of the populace, if not its full involvement.

      Again, not really a problem in the most recent conflicts. Iraq had too many factions for any one particular group to have "passive support of the populace", and in Afghanistan the Taliban has very little support, thou

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @04:11PM (#36665112)

        Actually, the problem is that the GP abridged Lawrence: in fuller context, Lawrence explains these points in ways that meet PP's criticism:

        Rebellion must have an unassailable base, something guarded not merely from attack, but from the fear of it: such a base as the Arab revolt had in the Red Sea ports, the desert, or in the minds of men converted to its creed.

        All of our enemies currently have this.

        It must have a sophisticated alien enemy, in the form of a disciplined army of occupation too small to fulfill the doctrine of acreage: too few to adjust number to space, in order to dominate the whole area effectively from fortified posts.

        This combines points (2) and (3) in GP's version. "Sophistication" for Lawrence didn't mean "technologically advanced" in the form of using whiz-bang giant walking mechanical spiders that can be disabled with a stick of chewing gum left on the ground by a rebel or any such nonsensical and romantic/cinematic view of a technocratic oppressor: it meant an army with restricted rules of engagement and predictable patterns of behavior. Another distinction between Lawrence and GP's abridgment is the word "alien": the guerilla ought to be in some way indigenous. The definition of "alien" is open to debate in some of our modern conflicts, as irregular fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq have often been aliens themselves to the population from a tribal or even national perspective, but not necessarily so from a religious perspective. In relative terms, western forces may be said to be more alien than the guerillas. Lawrence might also reuse the ideological interpretation of space from the first point, where he said that the rebel "base" can be the "minds of men," rather than relying on a geographic or ethnic definition of "alienness."

        It must have a friendly population, not actively friendly, but sympathetic to the point of not betraying rebel movements to the enemy. Rebellions can be made by 2% active in a striking force, and 98% passively sympathetic.

        GP's abridgment used the unfortunate word "support," and the parent poster rightly criticized this but with the caveat that the Taliban "have been successful at terrifying significant fractions of the populace into not opposing them." That's exactly what Lawrence means: "sympathetic to the point of not betraying rebel movements to the enemy." The guerilla doesn't need the love of the people: fear is enough, so long as fear is sufficient to keep the people from opposing the rebel. That's why "hearts and minds" campaigns get so much attention: if the locals refuse to tolerate the guerillas (that is, if they see them as "alien"), the insurrection is over.

        The few active rebels must have the qualities of speed and endurance, ubiquity and independence of arteries of supply.

        PP criticized this rightly as not being meaningful, but I'd go a step further and say that much of it applies just as much to the regular force as to the irregular: an occupying or governing army can't afford to be lethargic, weak, or absent. The regular force will naturally have some dependence on supply lines, but over-dependence is fatal: bases need stockpiles that can withstand interrupted lines of support for limited periods of time, but the overall command structure also needs to be able to re-secure those lines of support and to resupply the bases.

        They must have the technical equipment to destroy or paralyze the enemy’s organized communications, for irregular war is fairly Willisen’s definition of strategy, “the study of communication,” in its extreme degree, of attack where the enemy is not.

        This is very different from GP and PP's criticism of GP, but still quite open to debate. As PP points out, irregulars depend (though I would not say solely) on shifting political opinion, and the attacks that get the most media attention

  • Typical... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tekrat (242117) on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:17PM (#36663754) Homepage Journal

    Meantime, the Republicans want to cut *every* social service, but won't cut a single dollar of "defense" spending, which is how the US Army spends more per year ($20 billion) providing Air Conditioning in Afghanistan, than NASA's entire budget.

    We cannot sustain fighting three or more Wars (I've lost count), without new taxes. And since nobody wants more taxes, the wars must end. What happened to Rumsfeld promising that we'd get Iraq's Oil, and it would pay for the war???

    Cripes we're in a bad situation.

    • Re:Typical... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:46PM (#36664108) Homepage

      What happened to Rumsfeld promising that we'd get Iraq's Oil, and it would pay for the war???

      That was horse-shit fantasy from day one ... did you really believe that Iraq was going to pay you for the troubles of overthrowing their government, and that they'd be beholden to you and sell you cheap oil for decades?

      That was one of those purely bullshit things the previous administration was prone to saying (like "Mission Accomplished" [wikipedia.org]) that was so far detached from reality as to be offensive. Oh, sure, they'll give you billions of dollars in oil to offset your costs, and they might throw in a pony as well.

      I find it hard to believe that anybody actually believed that the upshot of overthrowing Iraq would be cheap oil -- unless, of course, the whole invasion really was a pretext to try to grab the oil. Mostly, it's just another example of how Bush et al had their heads up their collective asses.

      • by Graymalkin (13732)

        I find it hard to believe that anybody actually believed that the upshot of overthrowing Iraq would be cheap oil -- unless, of course, the whole invasion really was a pretext to try to grab the oil.

        The oil aspect of the Iraq invasion wasn't so much about us getting the oil as it was everyone else not getting it. Saddam was talking to everyone under the sun about selling oil if only they would help him get the UN sanctions removed. Had the Iraq invasion not happened Iraq would today be a huge oil exporter an

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        I don't know if it was bullshit as much as it was an incredible naivete from the neo-con people. The sheer ineptitude when it came to running Iraq under the Bremer provision administration really points to idealism masking an underlying cluelessness.

    • by halivar (535827)

      Democrats don't want to cut defense spending either. The DoD is the easiest place to get pork-money for your favorite lobbyists back home.

      The corruption of the military industrial complex is a bipartisan problem. To believe your favorite politician doesn't dip into that well is naive.

      • Re:Typical... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Lunix Nutcase (1092239) on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:51PM (#36664166)

        Democrats don't want to cut defense spending either.

        Yes, because the ones that do get called traitors by the same blowhards who whine about how the government isn't fiscally responsible enough.

        • by halivar (535827)

          No, because that ones that do lose out on precious appropriations dollars for friendly lobbyists back home. Then they lose campaign dollars. Then they lose elections. And no one wants to lose an election.

          • Oh no I know what I'm talking about. Just read this [pafoa.org] reaction from right-wingers when Barney Frank proposed a 25% reduction in military spending back in 2008. These were not the only people to say the same thing about him as well.

        • by halivar (535827)

          Excuse my double reply.

          because the ones that do get called traitors

          I forgot to ask you: What "ones who do?" I'm not aware of any such "ones".

          • Barney Frank [huffingtonpost.com] for one. He was also subsequently lambasted from tons of right-wingers do to that. And after proposing so you can find numerous examples such as this [pafoa.org] to see that he was lambasted by right wingers for being a traitor.

            • Just as a note, the second link was reaction from 2008 when he originally proposed the 25% defense spending cuts.

              • by halivar (535827)

                From a guy on a forum. Not exactly a groundswell. Also note that from 2008-2010, congress, a filibuster-proof majority in the senate, and the presidency were all democrats. The time to prove that they aren't beholden to the same crony capitalism as the republicans has come and passed, and put a lie to their empty rhetoric.

          • And for additional names you can read a story here [foxbusiness.com] you can add in House Democrat Chris Van Hollen and he has support from other Democrats in the house as well. So basically you've shown yourself to be quite uninformed and ignorant.

    • What happened to Rumsfeld promising...

      I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks or five months, but it won't last any longer than that.
      -- Donald Rumsfeld (November 2002)

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Because we have essentially a two party system, we really end up with two coalitions. This means you keep your coalition members happy. The republican coalition includes a big pro-military bloc, as well as a "government spends too much" bloc. In order to keep both blocs happy you cut spending somewhere other than military even if these smaller cuts don't actually solve the big problem.

    • by hey! (33014)

      What happened to Rumsfeld promising that we'd get Iraq's Oil...

      So far as I know Rumsfeld never promised the American taxpayer any Iraqi loot. There *was* a lot of administration talk about "low hanging fruit", and indeed that fruit was picked, but not for the benefit of the American taxpayer. A lot of people made a lot of money off of the Iraq war, money that came out of the pockets of the American taxpayer. That part of the post-war reconstruction went off as planned, and no shareholders were harmed in the conduct of the war.

      What Rumsfeld (and others in the administra

    • by Tolkien (664315)

      What happened to Rumsfeld promising that we'd get Iraq's Oil, and it would pay for the war???

      People have tried for hundreds of years (probably far longer, I'm no history buff) and failed. You can't "win" against a population willing to die for their religious beliefs, let alone those that are political (suicide bombers). It seems to me they would sooner wilfully commit self-genocide by eventually exhausting all "supplies" of suicide bombers than they would end their homicidal ways. In theory it's self-defeating, yet it works because it's all about rationing the suicide bombers and making the enemy

  • Unfortunately, it's a sad fact that the US military often does not have the option of choosing the best tool for the job: rather, politicians budget for them ridiculous pet projects (from the politician's own home turf, naturally) that is orders of magnitude more expensive than it has any right to be. The military industrial complex is crony capitalism at its worst: buying solutions in search of a problem, and hobbling military expediency in favor of political back-scratching.

    As an aside, crony capitalism i

  • I'm not apologizing for what is a 3 billion dollar boondoggle, matched only by the Canadian gun registry (which cost half of your computer system).

    However, it is important to not that "off the shelf" aside from toughbooks, is not an option for the military. Clearly they screwed up royally here, but it is reasonable to expect the military's desire to work with proprietary technologies.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      No it is not. Generally what they need can be made from COTS units. Sure you might need to modify that stuff a bit, but that is what a toughbook is a modified laptop. The military does not have computer needs that could not be met by modified COTS units.

    • by HBI (604924)

      Having worked with the system in question, I agree with the analysts quoted: the system is a dud.

      I wish I could say more about this, but I can't.

  • That $2.7 billion is just what it cost to buy a copy of Windows Vista and put Adobe Flash on it.

  • Marketing gimmick (Score:5, Interesting)

    by losttoy (558557) on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:22PM (#36663822)
    RTFA and comments on it. Apparently, the linked article is a pro-Palantir marketing gimmick.
    • Re:Marketing gimmick (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Sepodati (746220) on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @03:09PM (#36664384) Homepage

      The JUONS (PDF) linked in the article is likely pro-Palantir or pro-Something without coming out and saying it, too. They are written with "requirements" that usually only one system can fulfill. It's not necessarily malicious, though. The writer is sure they know which system they need to satisfy their own requirements.

  • It's terrible that people actually died as a result of shoddy programming but I am not surprised. Having programmed professionally for 30 years now, I can honestly say; management should NOT be running engineering because their priorities are only to get the software shipped on time, whatever the cost while typically, software developers want to get software 'right'

    So sad it's come to this

    • by Sepodati (746220)

      The "lives lost" comment is not justified with any examples at all and is likely included for effect. I'm sure, in some roundabout way, that the lack of something in DCGS-A lead to a death. You could blame lack of cigarettes, a computer crash or a flat tire in a similar convoluted way for deaths, too.

    • by royallthefourth (1564389) <royallthefourth@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @03:16PM (#36664454)

      It's terrible that people actually died as a result of shoddy programming but I am not surprised.

      People were going to die either way; this is the military we're talking about. Seems better that an invader should die than someone defending his home, doesn't it?

  • by david.emery (127135) on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:38PM (#36664022)

    It's really easy to produce a system that meets the easy 80% of requirements. It's A LOT harder to complete the job. The 'lives lost' statement is a consequence of 'missed operational opportunities', where the computer is only an enabler. It still takes a human to decide to act on information (in a timely fashion.) I've met very few people who are both trained intel analysts and experienced/competent programmers or system engineers and therefore competent to pass judgement on the implementation of a large complex distributed (and hopefully fault-tolerant) system that must deal with incomplete/inconsistent information and communications problems. (But I've met a lot of military/government people writing requirements who are happy to specify things that are theoretically impossible...)

    This reads like someone trying to do 'procurement via public relations,' something that was particularly blatant during the USAF Tanker recompete.

    And of course the Slashdot postings are full of posturing based on political persuasion and no knowledge of the actual system or its requirements or implementation.

    I'm not defending DCGS-A, I'm just pointing out observations from a career spent doing these kinds of systems in both military and non-military government contexts. I do not have any knowledge of DGCS-A requirements or implementation nor do I speak for anyone besides myself. If caught or captured, my secretary will disavow any knowledge of my actions.

  • by liquidweaver (1988660) on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @02:42PM (#36664056)
    If you RTFA, this appears to be guerilla marketing on part of a certain company that rhymes with schmalantir...
  • Never mind, you can add the cost to the $14Trillion you already owe the rest of the world
    • They're not worried. $9.5 trillion is owed to the US public anyway who will buy up more bonds and treasuries whenever needed so that the interest from the foreign debt can be paid.

  • by hackus (159037)

    Good Heavens...

    https://l3com.taleo.net/careersection/l3_ext_us/jobdetail.ftl?job=208541&src=JB-10095 [taleo.net]

    Windows OS server. Now, given the experience I have running WIndows, there is no way in _HELL_ I would use it in life or death situations.

    I mean the largest application domain for windows is playing GAMES, not business and certainly not for combat operations.

    These people must be complete idiots.

    -Hack

    • by Tolkien (664315)
      Of course they are. The decision makers get bribes and know nothing of technology. It's practically designed to be a wasteful disaster. It wouldn't surprise me if said decision makers also (probably indirectly) get a share in the costs required to maintain the disaster. Because it's a disaster, it being expensive to maintain is implied.
  • by stewbacca (1033764) on Tuesday July 05, 2011 @03:31PM (#36664620)

    I used to work for one of the suppliers (the one most "at fault" according to the article, with the shitty code and shitty UI we provided).

    Here are some things to consider:

    The company's business model was to procure IDIQ contracts...they succeeded for several years by purposefully providing broken bits and pieces, in order to assure that more fixes would be purchased later. It finally caught up to them because you can only pile so much crap on existing crap before the whole thing breaks.

    Palantir is great software, but people in the Army don't like it. They think it's pretty with no functionality. They are wrong. It's awesome. There are two problems with Palantir, in that you have to store your data on THEIR servers, and the owner of the company is not a US Citizen. They have some inroads, like the links suggest, but they'll never be able to get the most sensitive contracts because of the US Persons requirement.

    DCGS-A sucks because it is closed-source garbage that runs only on Microsoft components, and relies heavily on SQL-server. Plus all the people I used to work with are overpaid self-taught jackasses who got the job because they could code in visual basic and they had a clearance.

    In all, I'm glad to see the Army and military in general understand and accept that they are suckers and slaves to politicians and "the free market" mentality of PACs and lobbyists. Too bad this garbage (and even bigger garbage FCS/BCTM that finally got axed last month) wasted so much money in the meantime.

    Screw the free market. Time to put all this money into government R&D and churn out some decent software for the investment. The NSA alone has enough talented programmers to make this happen.

    • They can ask for impossible and contradictory things. Or cooked things. They want things like a secure operating system that can run all their favorite Windows apps. Some SBIRs I've seen are good examples of what I mean. One wanted a working implementation of quantum data compression. A moment's thought was enough to realize that if I could whip up a quantum computer, data compression would be the least of what I could do. Another SBIR wasn't honest. It wanted image recognition, but had so many extra

  • Nowhere in the PDF does it claim the DCGS-A's computer faults have resulted in lives lost. The PDF is a request from MG Flynn for more advanced analytic tools because they don't have all the software they need to sort through the enormous amounts of information and make the connections they need to. That's not a fault of DCGS-A, that just means they want more functionality integrated into DCGS-A. Trying to claim he's saying DCGS-A is resulting in lives lost is like claiming someone said Windows is failin

  • Everyone knows that computers that are supposed to make war decisions don't work... they can't even play Tic-Tac-Toe
  • For that pitiful sum all you're going to get is a lame version of Skynet. Suspected loss of lives? Phfft! Let me know when the human race is 50% gone.
  • I know how the Army writes software, no surprises here.

  • if this system resulted in American Soldiers getting killed seems like a no brainer to put a CEO in jail. Lots of theses systems appear to be money making scams, but if there were actual consequences to their failure I bet these companies screaming to waste US Taxpayer money on them would dry up fast.
  • What is a Knowledge Management SNAFU?

    A Knowledge Management SNAFU is when marketing hype sells a bill-of-goods, and "caveat emptor" is a management decision with piss-poor or no technologist review and practical risk assessment (i.e. FBI...). Technology hype always swipes money, but marketing/brokering is often guiltless, because "caveat emptor".

    Anyway, there ain't no such thing as "Knowledge Management" as defined by any marketing force in any business.

    Where are we in "Knowledge Management" when most hav

In any formula, constants (especially those obtained from handbooks) are to be treated as variables.

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