The Department of Defense is considering giving a sole source multi-billion-dollar contract to Amazon to handle all the cloud computing of the Pentagon that is likely to last for ten years. If this is allowed to be granted, it is likely that national security information would be compromised by aggregating all the cloud computing for the Department of Defense with one single company.
There are a few problems here, but the biggest is that a sole source contract may damage national security. With such an important contract, it seems to make sense to use a number of contractors to makes sure that all of the communications of the Department of Defense are secure. Another problem is that it seems as if cronyism has crept into the decision-making process.
First to the national defense concerns. This may be a situation where the “reckless” granting of a contract to one favored company could severely compromise national security, or, at a minimum, put a target on the cloud computing of the Department of Defense to foreign hackers. The Hill reported on March 11, 2018 that Matt Stoller, an economist at the Open Markets Institute argued that giving Amazon this contract “is a really serious national security story.” Stoller argued that “a single-source provider for Pentagon cloud services is obviously reckless. The Pentagon should clearly have multiple cloud providers so that if something happens to one of them there is resiliency and redundancy.” Resiliency and redundancy is something that would be secured if more than one provider was granted this massive government contract.
I am not an expert on cloud computing but have read quite a bit about hacking, having been hacked myself during the presidential campaign. One of the biggest stories of the past few years is the hacking of government computers by Russian agents. CBS News reported on April 8, 2018 “the U.S. intelligence community has concluded there is no doubt the Russians meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, leaking stolen e-mails and inflaming tensions on social media.” There is some dispute over the level of interference and whether the hacking moved even one vote, yet it seems likely that Russians tried to hack and launch a widespread cyberattack.
CBS’s Bill Whitaker interviewed a former official of the Illinois State Board of Elections, Steve Sandvoss who said he “vividly remembers the call from his IT director on July 12th, 2016 just weeks after the Democratic National Committee announced that Russian hackers had infiltrated its computer network.” It was then that a “staffer noticed the server for the voter registration database, with the personal information of 7.5 million Illinois voters, had slowed way down. The IT team discovered a malicious attack — a barrage of digital hits.” It makes no sense that the Department of Defense would grant a sole source contract that might put national security information in the cross hairs of foreign hackers.
The whole point of the special counsel investigation by Robert Mueller is to investigate Russian interference in our last presidential election. Cyber-attacks and hacking are part of that investigation. In keeping with the idea that we now know the lengths foreign powers will go to interfere in our elections, why do we not understand that this same activity is probably happening with regard to our national security. And we don’t merely need to worry about Russian hackers, we need to worry about Syrian, North Korean, Chinese and Iranian hackers who have a strong interest in knowing the details of the United States national security infrastructure.
On the issue of cronyism, it appears that the fix is in already to grant Amazon a sole source contract. Amazon is a company that has become adept at getting government contracts and they did well under the Obama Administration. According to a Bloomberg report from March 7, 2018, that “Amazon already has a cloud contract with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency dating back to 2013 that’s valued at $600 million.” According to the report Amazon has “the fastest-growing lobbying arm among tech companies and has spoken to the Pentagon about cloud or procurement since at least 2016, according to federal lobbying disclosures.” Spending big on lobbying is fine, yet if that lobbying leads to a company getting a contract that harms, rather than helps, national security then it is a problem.
The fix seems to be in because REAN Cloud, LLC, and Amazon partner, has already locked down a $65 million contract, to migrate Pentagon data to the cloud. In addition to using an army of lobbyists to secure contracts, Amazon has embedded friendly former staff and left leaning computer programmers and IT specialists who are holdovers from the Obama Administration. Two Obama era created computer programming entities, the U.S. Digital Service and 18F, are loaded with former employees that lead right back to Amazon and Google.
Cronyism should not play a role and increasing national security should be the primary goal when awarding this critically important contract.
Christian Josi is Founder & Managing Partner of C. Josi & Company a global communications resource firm. Previously, he served as Executive Director of the American Conservative Union, COO of Tea Party Patriots and is a veteran of dozens of local, state and national campaigns.