The Pentagon's Cloud Deal

It has always made sense to have American military bases and weapon systems spread across the country and around the world.  If you put all your troops on one post, or all your nukes in one silo, an enemy can cripple you with a single surgical strike.  Historical events like Pearl Harbor taught us valuable lessons like this.  By having lots of people in lots of places with lots of things, you'll retain the ability to fight back against any attack.

So why deposit all the Defense Department's information with a single cloud provider?  Well, military bigwigs want to do just that.

Let's take a step back.  For many of us, cloud computing has become second nature.  We save work documents to Microsoft's cloud.  We handle email via Google's cloud.  We upload thousands of photos and songs to Apple's cloud.  Even our computers at work are more likely to save to a cloud than to a central physical server.  These systems all sync automatically, and we access what we want, when we want, instantly.  Even on our phones.

It seems that the same government that is still using aged computers and floppy disks, with some agencies reportedly using software from 1958, has our military running a bit behind.

For the Pentagon, getting "on the cloud" is a project that has turned into a contest.  By the Pentagon's odd rules, there can be only one winner.  In a recent report, demanded by lawmakers after it became clear that the military was stonewalling on its cloud plans, military officials wrote that holding information "across a multitude of clouds" would restrict "the ability to access and analyze critical data."  The military wants one company to handle all the information from millions of devices.

Ironically, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contracted with Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2013 for a single-source contract that was worth approximately $600 million.  The Washington Post reported on May 20, 2018 that "Microsoft has secured a potentially lucrative agreement that makes the full suite of the tech giant's cloud-computing platform available to 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, executives said recently, moving agencies' computer systems onto Office 365 applications and adding certain cloud-based applications not previously available to them."  An executive of Microsoft told the Post, "It's kind of an awakening as far as the intelligence community is concerned that you can't be a one-cloud community."  The Pentagon hasn't gotten the memo.

To make a bad idea worse, it seems that the sole-source winner of this contest may already have been determined.

"Amazon Web Services is seen as the clear front-runner given its scale and experience with federal agencies (it won a $600 million contract with the CIA in 2013)," wrote Wells Fargo analyst Eric Luebchow in a recent report.  Also, it's well known that Amazon head Jeff Bezos is close to defense secretary James Mattis.  Washingtonian magazine notes that Bezos is an informal adviser to the defense chief and hosted him in Seattle last year.

But giving the entire cloud business to one company would be like parking all the nation's F-16s at a single airfield; everything could be wiped out in a single attack.  As a group known as the Information Technology Alliance for Public Sector puts it, having just one cloud provider "dilutes the benefits of best practices, strongly increasing the likelihood of vendor and technology lock-in, and negatively impacting innovation, costs, and security."  The intelligence community recognized that threat.

To be fair, that group exists to prevent Amazon from getting a monopoly in this area.  But preventing monopolies is supposed to be a goal of the U.S. government.  Going back to the late 1800s, Congress recognized that monopolies tend to drive up prices and reduce the quality of service in an industry, so it legislated against them.

This deal would allow Amazon Web Services to dominate the defense cloud for a decade.  After that, Amazon may leverage its dominance to clear the field of any future competition.  History tells us that this is likely.  It simply makes no sense to repeat mistakes in creating a monopoly in military technology.

Finally, there's the question of China.  Amazon does business in that country and has sold computing equipment used for its cloud services to a Chinese company.  "Chinese law forbids non-Chinese companies from owning or operating certain technology for the provision of cloud services," AWS told the Wall Street Journal last year. So the Chinese government may have keys to the back door of the Amazon cloud.  One more reason we shouldn't pack all our military's information into that one cloud.  We all know how the communists love to "borrow" other people's technologies.

The United States has the best military but also the most military secrets.  It's important to keep those to ourselves, on secure computer systems.  That can include the cloud.  But it shouldn't include one single cloud provider.  The risk of hacking or catastrophic loss is just too great.

Chris Salcedo is a nationally recognized radio talk show host heard on WBAP in Dallas, Texas and KSEV in Houston, Texas.  He is the author of the book Liberty Rises and the executive director of The Conservative Hispanic Society.

It has always made sense to have American military bases and weapon systems spread across the country and around the world.  If you put all your troops on one post, or all your nukes in one silo, an enemy can cripple you with a single surgical strike.  Historical events like Pearl Harbor taught us valuable lessons like this.  By having lots of people in lots of places with lots of things, you'll retain the ability to fight back against any attack.

So why deposit all the Defense Department's information with a single cloud provider?  Well, military bigwigs want to do just that.

Let's take a step back.  For many of us, cloud computing has become second nature.  We save work documents to Microsoft's cloud.  We handle email via Google's cloud.  We upload thousands of photos and songs to Apple's cloud.  Even our computers at work are more likely to save to a cloud than to a central physical server.  These systems all sync automatically, and we access what we want, when we want, instantly.  Even on our phones.

It seems that the same government that is still using aged computers and floppy disks, with some agencies reportedly using software from 1958, has our military running a bit behind.

For the Pentagon, getting "on the cloud" is a project that has turned into a contest.  By the Pentagon's odd rules, there can be only one winner.  In a recent report, demanded by lawmakers after it became clear that the military was stonewalling on its cloud plans, military officials wrote that holding information "across a multitude of clouds" would restrict "the ability to access and analyze critical data."  The military wants one company to handle all the information from millions of devices.

Ironically, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contracted with Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2013 for a single-source contract that was worth approximately $600 million.  The Washington Post reported on May 20, 2018 that "Microsoft has secured a potentially lucrative agreement that makes the full suite of the tech giant's cloud-computing platform available to 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, executives said recently, moving agencies' computer systems onto Office 365 applications and adding certain cloud-based applications not previously available to them."  An executive of Microsoft told the Post, "It's kind of an awakening as far as the intelligence community is concerned that you can't be a one-cloud community."  The Pentagon hasn't gotten the memo.

To make a bad idea worse, it seems that the sole-source winner of this contest may already have been determined.

"Amazon Web Services is seen as the clear front-runner given its scale and experience with federal agencies (it won a $600 million contract with the CIA in 2013)," wrote Wells Fargo analyst Eric Luebchow in a recent report.  Also, it's well known that Amazon head Jeff Bezos is close to defense secretary James Mattis.  Washingtonian magazine notes that Bezos is an informal adviser to the defense chief and hosted him in Seattle last year.

But giving the entire cloud business to one company would be like parking all the nation's F-16s at a single airfield; everything could be wiped out in a single attack.  As a group known as the Information Technology Alliance for Public Sector puts it, having just one cloud provider "dilutes the benefits of best practices, strongly increasing the likelihood of vendor and technology lock-in, and negatively impacting innovation, costs, and security."  The intelligence community recognized that threat.

To be fair, that group exists to prevent Amazon from getting a monopoly in this area.  But preventing monopolies is supposed to be a goal of the U.S. government.  Going back to the late 1800s, Congress recognized that monopolies tend to drive up prices and reduce the quality of service in an industry, so it legislated against them.

This deal would allow Amazon Web Services to dominate the defense cloud for a decade.  After that, Amazon may leverage its dominance to clear the field of any future competition.  History tells us that this is likely.  It simply makes no sense to repeat mistakes in creating a monopoly in military technology.

Finally, there's the question of China.  Amazon does business in that country and has sold computing equipment used for its cloud services to a Chinese company.  "Chinese law forbids non-Chinese companies from owning or operating certain technology for the provision of cloud services," AWS told the Wall Street Journal last year. So the Chinese government may have keys to the back door of the Amazon cloud.  One more reason we shouldn't pack all our military's information into that one cloud.  We all know how the communists love to "borrow" other people's technologies.

The United States has the best military but also the most military secrets.  It's important to keep those to ourselves, on secure computer systems.  That can include the cloud.  But it shouldn't include one single cloud provider.  The risk of hacking or catastrophic loss is just too great.

Chris Salcedo is a nationally recognized radio talk show host heard on WBAP in Dallas, Texas and KSEV in Houston, Texas.  He is the author of the book Liberty Rises and the executive director of The Conservative Hispanic Society.