Why Would the Pentagon Give Amazon SJWs the Keys to the Kingdom?

Our men and women in uniform need all the tools we can give them.  It is the expected exchange from us to those who are willing to give that last full measure of devotion to preserve our nation.

But being in favor of military spending doesn't mean being in favor of wasteful military spending.  When the Pentagon engages in bad behavior, such as the infamous $400 hammers of the 1980s, it's actually cheating people in uniform.

It's refreshing whenever Congress learns from the past and tries to control a potentially wasteful long-term military contract.

The agreement in question intends to move all of the Pentagon's data – everything from weapon systems information to subcontractor phone numbers – to the cloud.  Right now, all that information is stored on hard drives.  The idea to use cloud computing makes perfect sense.  The plan itself does not.

The Defense Department wants to give a sole-source single cloud provider a long-term contract worth up to $10 billion.  "We are looking for an industry partner who will learn with us and help us find the best ways to bring foundational commercial capabilities to our warfighters," the Pentagon's chief information officer says.

Note the singular – "an industry partner," not "industry partners."  That potential partner appears to be Amazon Web Services (AWS).  It's so clear, in fact, that when details of the agreement came out this year, a potential rival bidder told Vanity Fair's May Jeong: "Everybody immediately knew that it was for Amazon."  The "request for proposals" (RFP) includes provisions tailored for Amazon.

There is potentially far more at stake than the usual waste of taxpayer dollars.

Why not consider using multiple providers, as many private companies do – and, parenthetically, as the law generally requires?  Possibly because somebody in the chain of command wants to reward Amazon – assuredly because Amazon will reward him, because that is how crony capitalism's perpetual cycle of professional back-scratching works.

Lawmakers are recognizing the problem.  Members of the House and Senate recently sent important language to the Defense Department explaining that it won't get any funding for cloud computing until it explains its appropriations process.  They're demanding transparency and a detailed description of how the decision-makers in the Pentagon choose their cloud provider.  Sensibly, they also want "an assessment of potential threats and security vulnerabilities of the proposed cloud computing strategy, and plans to mitigate such risks."

Those risks are both internal and external.

There's an ominous internal threat rising from within Amazon's cadre of rank-and-file employees.  This past June, employees hinted at a brewing revolt at the World's Richest Company, complaining to company founder Jeff Bezos that they don't want Amazon to fulfill a government contract for facial recognition products because they disagree with the Trump administration's immigration policies.  "In the face of this immoral U.S. policy, and the U.S.'s increasingly inhumane treatment of refugees and immigrants beyond this specific policy, we are deeply concerned that Amazon is implicated, providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE and DHS," their letter said.

Stronger statements exist hinting at a nascent Fifth Column within the core of Amazon.  "We learn from history, and we understand how IBM's systems were employed in the 1940s to help Hitler," Amazon's employees wrote.  "IBM did not take responsibility then, and by the time their role was understood, it was too late.  We will not let that happen again.  The time to act is now."  Instructive to the DOD is the ominous demand from Amazon's hands and heart (as opposed to the "head," Bezos) that Amazon remove Palantir from Amazon Web Services.  Palantir is Peter Thiel's big data firm that utilizes Amazon's cloud services to fulfill multi-billion-dollar contracts with ICE and Law Enforcement.  "Our company should not be in the surveillance business," the letter reads.  "We should not be in the policing business; we should not be in the business of supporting those who monitor and oppress marginalized populations."  Substitute "military" for "policing" and "whose mission is to" for "who monitor and" in that sentence, and the potential for disaster a single-source cloud contract presents becomes obvious and terrifying.

What happens if the employees at a single cloud provider with a demonstrated philosophical bent toward disdain of the law and hatred for law enforcement take the law into their own hands and act subversively when they don't approve of the military's plans for national defense?  It would be better not to have to ask that question.

The military has a genuine opportunity to help the country while helping itself.  By splitting up this DOD cloud contract, it could drive innovation and experimentation in the cloud computing space.  As David Berteau, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, told The Washington Times, "[t]his contract could be big enough, actually, that vendors could shape what they propose to meet the [Defense Department's] needs."

None of that will happen unless Congress makes it happen.  The country is fortunate that lawmakers are taking steps to improve the DoD's cloud plan.  Let's see whether the Pentagon is willing to respond.

Let's also pray that the fate of our military men and women is not in the hands of a crony capitalist's employees, who may have signaled their willingness to sabotage our national security based upon their personal beliefs.

Our men and women in uniform need all the tools we can give them.  It is the expected exchange from us to those who are willing to give that last full measure of devotion to preserve our nation.

But being in favor of military spending doesn't mean being in favor of wasteful military spending.  When the Pentagon engages in bad behavior, such as the infamous $400 hammers of the 1980s, it's actually cheating people in uniform.

It's refreshing whenever Congress learns from the past and tries to control a potentially wasteful long-term military contract.

The agreement in question intends to move all of the Pentagon's data – everything from weapon systems information to subcontractor phone numbers – to the cloud.  Right now, all that information is stored on hard drives.  The idea to use cloud computing makes perfect sense.  The plan itself does not.

The Defense Department wants to give a sole-source single cloud provider a long-term contract worth up to $10 billion.  "We are looking for an industry partner who will learn with us and help us find the best ways to bring foundational commercial capabilities to our warfighters," the Pentagon's chief information officer says.

Note the singular – "an industry partner," not "industry partners."  That potential partner appears to be Amazon Web Services (AWS).  It's so clear, in fact, that when details of the agreement came out this year, a potential rival bidder told Vanity Fair's May Jeong: "Everybody immediately knew that it was for Amazon."  The "request for proposals" (RFP) includes provisions tailored for Amazon.

There is potentially far more at stake than the usual waste of taxpayer dollars.

Why not consider using multiple providers, as many private companies do – and, parenthetically, as the law generally requires?  Possibly because somebody in the chain of command wants to reward Amazon – assuredly because Amazon will reward him, because that is how crony capitalism's perpetual cycle of professional back-scratching works.

Lawmakers are recognizing the problem.  Members of the House and Senate recently sent important language to the Defense Department explaining that it won't get any funding for cloud computing until it explains its appropriations process.  They're demanding transparency and a detailed description of how the decision-makers in the Pentagon choose their cloud provider.  Sensibly, they also want "an assessment of potential threats and security vulnerabilities of the proposed cloud computing strategy, and plans to mitigate such risks."

Those risks are both internal and external.

There's an ominous internal threat rising from within Amazon's cadre of rank-and-file employees.  This past June, employees hinted at a brewing revolt at the World's Richest Company, complaining to company founder Jeff Bezos that they don't want Amazon to fulfill a government contract for facial recognition products because they disagree with the Trump administration's immigration policies.  "In the face of this immoral U.S. policy, and the U.S.'s increasingly inhumane treatment of refugees and immigrants beyond this specific policy, we are deeply concerned that Amazon is implicated, providing infrastructure and services that enable ICE and DHS," their letter said.

Stronger statements exist hinting at a nascent Fifth Column within the core of Amazon.  "We learn from history, and we understand how IBM's systems were employed in the 1940s to help Hitler," Amazon's employees wrote.  "IBM did not take responsibility then, and by the time their role was understood, it was too late.  We will not let that happen again.  The time to act is now."  Instructive to the DOD is the ominous demand from Amazon's hands and heart (as opposed to the "head," Bezos) that Amazon remove Palantir from Amazon Web Services.  Palantir is Peter Thiel's big data firm that utilizes Amazon's cloud services to fulfill multi-billion-dollar contracts with ICE and Law Enforcement.  "Our company should not be in the surveillance business," the letter reads.  "We should not be in the policing business; we should not be in the business of supporting those who monitor and oppress marginalized populations."  Substitute "military" for "policing" and "whose mission is to" for "who monitor and" in that sentence, and the potential for disaster a single-source cloud contract presents becomes obvious and terrifying.

What happens if the employees at a single cloud provider with a demonstrated philosophical bent toward disdain of the law and hatred for law enforcement take the law into their own hands and act subversively when they don't approve of the military's plans for national defense?  It would be better not to have to ask that question.

The military has a genuine opportunity to help the country while helping itself.  By splitting up this DOD cloud contract, it could drive innovation and experimentation in the cloud computing space.  As David Berteau, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, told The Washington Times, "[t]his contract could be big enough, actually, that vendors could shape what they propose to meet the [Defense Department's] needs."

None of that will happen unless Congress makes it happen.  The country is fortunate that lawmakers are taking steps to improve the DoD's cloud plan.  Let's see whether the Pentagon is willing to respond.

Let's also pray that the fate of our military men and women is not in the hands of a crony capitalist's employees, who may have signaled their willingness to sabotage our national security based upon their personal beliefs.