Under pressure emanating from other tech companies to cut ties with the Pentagon, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos isn’t blinking—regardless of what his employees think: Instead, Amazon will play a role in America’s defense because Bezos thinks it’s the right thing to do.
But it’s also a good opportunity to look at the timing and justifications of the bouts of principle of our giant tech companies.
Amazon is favored to win a Pentagon contract worth as much as $10 billion—the same contract that Alphabet’s Google was vying for before it pulled out, citing principles. It’s also the contract that will make whoever wins it one of the biggest federal contractors in the country. The power it implies is immense. After all, it means moving the entirely of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) classified and unclassified data on to the cloud.
Bezos has zero qualms about this.
“We are going to continue to support the DoD, and I think we should,” Bezos said onstage at the Wired 25th Anniversary conference in San Francisco.
“If big tech companies are going to turn their back on U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), this country is going to be in trouble. I know everybody is very conflicted about the current politics and so on. But this is a great country and it does need to be defended.”
Nor does he have qualms about what his employees might think.
“One of the jobs of senior leadership is to make the right decision, even when it’s unpopular,” he said.
The potential $10-billion “JEDI” contract of immediate significance involves transitioning massive amounts of Defense Department (DoD) data into a commercially operated cloud system. Related: U.S. Deficit Defies Economic ‘Boomtime’
Amazon, Google, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft were all in the running for this.
Google said the project wasn’t in line with its principles, so it announced it wouldn’t be bidding last week.
“We are not bidding on the JEDI contract because first, we couldn’t be assured that it would align with our AI Principles,” a Google spokesperson told Bloomberg. “And second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications,” the spokesperson said, adding that Google was still “working to support the U.S. government with our cloud in many ways.”
And earlier this year, it also withdrew from Project Maven—the contract for which involved artificial intelligence that could be used for lethal purposes. Google was under pressure from its employees—more than 4,000 of which signed a petition in protest. Project Maven contractually expires in 2019, and Google will not be renewing.
The Project Maven withdrawal seems to have been decidedly different. The JEDI withdrawal notably suggests a lack of government certifications. More to the point, originally, JEDI was meant to be broken up among multiple vendors for a “multi-cloud” approach. Now it’s going to a single vendor, and Google disagrees.
At the end of the day, it sounds less like principle and more like: “Amazon was going to get this, anyway”.
Indeed, media reports began emerging earlier this summer speculating that JEDI was “rigged” in favor of Amazon because only Amazon could meet the technical stipulations in the 1300-plus-page proposal request. Most notably, bidders must currently generate more than $2 billion a year specifically in commercial cloud revenues.
In the meantime, Microsoft employees are also protesting plans to bid on JEDI, citing a betrayal of the company’s previous pledges, according to an open letter published by Medium.
“We joined Microsoft to create a positive impact on people and society, with the expectation that the technologies we build will not cause harm or human suffering. Tuesday’s blog post serves as a public declaration of Microsoft’s intent to bid on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract?—?a contract that represents a $10 billion project to build cloud services for the Department of Defense. The contract is massive in scope and shrouded in secrecy, which makes it nearly impossible to know what we as workers would be building. At an industry day for JEDI, DoD Chief Management Officer John H. Gibson II explained the program’s impact, saying, ‘We need to be very clear. This program is truly about increasing the lethality of our department’,” employees state in the letter.
Bezos’ private space company Blue Origin recently won government contracts worth about $2 billion to supply rockets for Pentagon satellite launches. Amazon won a contract to supply its next-generation engines for the massive rocket being developed by United Launch Alliance. The Pentagon is working to ensure that all the rockets it buys are built entirely in the U.S., making Blue Origin a potential propulsion supplier for several companies.
Amazon is firmly on the Pentagon’s radar, and Bezos is making huge defense waves in Washington. And no amount of employee criticism is likely to change that. Everyone else can play the ethics card, but at the end of the day, the result is the same: American defense is becoming Amazonian (like everything else).
By Michael Scott for Safehaven.com
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