Amazon Cronyism in the Pentagon Harms National Security

Putting all of the Dept. of Defense's computer data on one cloud environment creates an irresistible target for hackers

by Michael J. Daugherty | Updated 15 Apr 2018 at 11:44 AM

Cronyism is one thing the American people hate. Right now, it may be playing a factor in granting the contract for the Department of Defense (DOD) data management in the cloud to Amazon Web Services (AWS). This example of cronyism may harm our national security.

The United States is living in dangerous times. North Korea has threatened a nuclear attack of the United States and may now be sitting down for talks with President Donald Trump to work out some sort of an agreement.

Syria is in a bloody civil war, and the repeated use of chemical weapons against Syrian rebel territories has the United States on the verge of another Middle Eastern war. Also, there is the trade war with China, which may spill over into other areas of conflict.  This is a time that America has many enemies, and the need to protect DOD data is paramount.

Not to mention the constant cyberattacks that plagued the last presidential election, showing the vulnerabilities of data management.

Russians have been accused of hacking many different political aspects of our democracy.

The company Cambridge Analytica has been accused of a data hijacking scandal that forced Facebook founder and CED Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress. The companies My Fitness Pal had 150 million users' data breached, while Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor had the data of millions of customers hacked. These few examples demonstrate the success of hackers today and why our nation needs to be vigilant in protecting DOD data.

It has been hard enough for President Donald Trump to protect confidential communications; there have been numerous leaks that show a problem with keeping classified communications confidential. Someone leaked that the president was advised not to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his tainted election, for example; that showed the government itself is sometimes internally susceptible to leaks.

Putting all the government national security data on one cloud computing platform seems illogical and dangerous. The DOD data are not merely communications between employees; they are all the data, including classified information, held by the department's computers.

On March 13, 2018, Nextgov.com reported that "for the first time, the Defense Department will begin moving classified data and applications to Amazon Web Services' Secret Region — the same cloud environment developed for the CIA and intelligence community several years ago." Classified data need to be protected from the very hackers who are hammering the private sector and to protect America from hacking threats from foreign powers.

There is a concern that cronyism may be a deciding factor with a massive multibillion-dollar contract about to be awarded for this program. Cronyism is a form of favoritism in which a friend of the federal government is being given preferential treatment in government contracting. There is a deep worry that the Jeff Bezos-led Amazon is the beneficiary of cronyism in acquiring the sole source contract for all DOD cloud computing.

Related: Four Key Points the Media Keep Getting Wrong About Russian Hacking

The idea that this is a sole-source contract is troubling, because there will be no full and open competition for the award.  It also puts all the cloud computing in one source for all these activities. Common sense calls for believing that having the CIA and DOD cloud computing data in the hands on one company is a national security problem.

On Oct. 30, 2017, the Department of Defense started this process to seek "targeted industry input on how to best approach and structure the planned solicitation to acquire a modern enterprise cloud services solution that can support unclassified, secret, and top-secret information in CONUS and OCONUS environments."

Using one supplier exposes data to attack from the same interests that influenced our most recent presidential election.

Although federal law, regulations and common practice disallow sole-source contracts for DOD, this request indicated that officials are looking for just one supplier. Using one supplier exposes data to attack from the same interests that influenced our most recent presidential election.

It is ironic that officials with left-leaning ideological biases appear intent on giving this contract to Amazon Web Services (AWS).  The evidence is mounting. After gathering up the cloud contract from the CIA, it appears the fix may be in to give another giant government contract to Amazon, as Bloomberg reported in March.

REAN Cloud, an Amazon partner company, has the contract to start the migration of data to the cloud; that has indicated to others in the industry that Amazon already has the contract locked down. This is billions of dollars from the government flowing to Amazon for this one contract, which seems to be immune from a truly competitive bidding process. Also, a trip by Secretary of Defense James Mattis to the Amazon headquarters led to an acceleration of the search.

Having a less competitive process impairs the future process for contracts and puts our war fighters at risk. Cronyism should play no factor in the future of our nation's national security when threats from hacking seem to increase on a daily basis.

Michael J. Daugherty is a director at The National Cybersecurity Society and a board member at Netshield Corp. He is the author of "The Devil Inside the Beltway: The Shocking Expose of the U.S. Government's Surveillance and Overreach Into Cybersecurity, Medicine and Small Business."

(photo credit, homepage image: Jeff Bezos, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Len Edgerly)

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