Halikias: How the Pentagon’s $5 billion Amazon cloud deal undermines our cybersecurity

Dennis Bartko, the director of U.S. Cyber Command’s Capabilities Development Group, addresses attendees at the command’s first-ever industry day held at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s Arthur Lundahl Conference Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., Oct. 27, 2017. Leaders from across Cybercom briefed nearly 400 members of private industry about the command’s acquisition priorities. (Courtesy photo)

Nearly a year into Donald J. Trump’s presidency, Obama-era appointees still occupy top Pentagon and State Department positions.

Dozens of these Obama holdovers, bent on undermining the work of the Trump administration, put forward suggestions that could have disastrous results.

Their most recent proposal – the idea to offer Amazon an exclusive $5 billion contract to act as the Department of Defense’s single cloud solution provider – would yoke the Pentagon to the tech giant–a decision that would decrease American competitiveness and could compromise our national cybersecurity.

The Pentagon’s Cloud Executive Steering Group published a Request for Information, asking for industry advice on how to best acquire a modern enterprise cloud services solution that can support unclassified, secret and top secret information.

The RFI reveals the DoD plans to acquire a single cloud service provider for all cloud computing infrastructure and platform services.

That’s a terrible idea.

Firstly, using one sole cloud services provider would decrease our rate of technological adaptation and innovation. With no challengers, Amazon would have little incentive to create novelty systems or even to improve marginally upon existing infrastructure.

In other words, the Department of Defense would lose any ability to negotiate with Amazon after granting it an exclusive $5 billion contract – a deal that would almost certainly be the most lucrative IT procurement in the history of the world. Naturally, this single-provider approach would put the United States at a technological disadvantage.

By contrast, with a traditional, multiple-reward indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity approach, the Pentagon would be able to attract more creative and diverse solutions from the commercial market. In this way, the Department of Defense’s multiple cloud service providers would be able to compete with one another to create more effective cybersecurity and data systems.

The CESG’s proposal should further worry Americans, as China has purchased Amazon’s cloud assets for $300 million. Earlier this year, Amazon capitulated to the Chinese government’s demand that customers comply with state censorship policies. The tech company has thus demonstrated that it is willing to compromise its standards in order to maintain a business relationship with the communist regime.

It is well known that the Chinese government is willing to hack American cybersecurity systems. In recent years, the U.S. government and private U.S. companies have identified dozens of instances of Chinese cyber espionage. By tying ourselves to a single cloud service provider with a record of submitting to the Chinese government, we would only make it easier for China to hack into the Department of Defense’s cyber systems.

In response to the Pentagon’s RFI, the Coalition for Government Procurement, a non-profit association of commercial contractors, put out a statement advising the DoD to consider multiple cloud solution providers “in the interest of our national security and to incentivize cloud innovation moving forward.”

If the idea is so bad, then where does it come from?

It should be no surprise that Obama acolytes would make such an inadvisable proposal. Many of these holdovers have personal business ties to the very tech areas on which they advise the Department of Defense – relationships that often constitute conflicts of interest.

This deal would the CESG’s proposal compromise the efficiency of our cybersecurity, hamstringing the Pentagon, but it would also put $5 billion dollars in the hands of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos – a vocal Hillary Clinton supporter. That is to say, the sole beneficiary of this contract has political motivation to undercut the United States government.

When assessing governmental proposals – even those that come from an executive branch department – defenders of national security must remain vigilant.

Amalia Halikias is a writer who covers issues of U.S. politics, cultural conservatism, law and technology.

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