United States’ lawmakers question Amazon’s connections on Pentagon contract

Because the Defense Department prepares to solicit bids for cloud-computing work that might yield billions of {dollars} for Amazon, members of Congress are elevating new questions in regards to the firm’s efforts to win a $10 billion contract in the course of the Trump administration.

Beforehand unreleased emails present that Pentagon officers in 2017 and 2018 lavished reward on a number of of the tech executives whose corporations expressed curiosity within the unique contract, particularly Amazon, whereas considerations in regards to the firm’s entry seem to have been glossed over, in keeping with the emails, different paperwork and interviews.

Two Republican lawmakers who’ve pushed to rein within the dominance of Amazon and different tech corporations in client markets are seizing on the emails as proof that Amazon unfairly used its affect in competing for taxpayer-funded contracts.

Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah referred to as for Amazon to testify beneath oath about “whether or not it tried to improperly affect the most important federal contract in historical past,” the $10 billion mission referred to as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, that will transfer the Pentagon’s pc networks into the cloud. Amazon didn’t reply to requests for remark.

No matter clout Amazon had within the Trump-era Pentagon had restricted impact. And the corporate additionally had a really high-level antagonist: President Donald Trump, who whereas in workplace frequently assailed Amazon’s CEO on the time, Jeff Bezos, the proprietor of The Washington Post. Amazon finally misplaced the JEDI contract, which was awarded to Microsoft in 2019, igniting questions on whether or not Trump’s hostility to Amazon performed a task within the consequence.

However, in a victory for Amazon, the contract was canceled by the Pentagon this month amid a contentious authorized battle over the award amongst Amazon, Microsoft and different tech corporations. The Protection Division instantly introduced that it was beginning a revised cloud program that might yield contracts for Amazon, Microsoft and presumably different corporations, setting off what is predicted to be an intense lobbying struggle.

The newly launched emails and interviews with individuals acquainted present a glimpse into the evolving relationship between the Protection Division and the large know-how corporations at a time when the Pentagon is more and more shifting its focus from planes, tanks and different {hardware} to software program and initiatives involving synthetic intelligence and machine studying.

They present how within the months main as much as the JEDI struggle, high Pentagon officers and Silicon Valley executives engaged in an admiring courtship that led to high-level entry for a number of the corporations that will later categorical curiosity within the contract. The tech executives used the entry to induce Jim Mattis, Trump’s first protection secretary, to undertake cloud-based know-how and, in no less than one case, to advertise their very own firm’s know-how.

Throughout a visit to the West Coast in the summertime of 2017 to fulfill with executives from Apple, Amazon and Google, Mattis grew uncomfortable when he was subjected to an indication of Amazon’s cloud-computing merchandise on the firm’s Seattle headquarters throughout what he anticipated could be a extra basic dialogue of cloud know-how, in keeping with paperwork and a former senior Pentagon official who’s conversant in the assembly.

The previous official mentioned the demonstration was attended by Bezos, with whom Mattis had simply met one on one, and numerous his lieutenants, and was led by an govt in command of promoting merchandise from Amazon Internet Companies, or AWS, to governments.

Briefing supplies ready for Mattis earlier than the assembly said that “it won’t be a gross sales pitch,” with “not” underlined for emphasis.

However instantly after the assembly, an aide to Mattis wrote in an e-mail to a different Pentagon official that the session “appeared to morph into an AWS gross sales pitch.” Mattis “was good and gracious however I didn’t get a very good vibe out of it,” the aide wrote, including that the one-on-one session previous the demonstration with Bezos “appeared to go very effectively” and that the Amazon founder and the protection secretary “did appear to click on on a private degree.”

The competitors for the JEDI contract rapidly grew to become slowed down in bitter squabbling. IBM protested the request for proposal, suggesting it favored Amazon, whereas Oracle alleged that Pentagon officers had conflicts of curiosity associated to Amazon. When the contract went to Microsoft as an alternative, Amazon sued to dam it, arguing the Trump administration had interfered within the contracting course of due to Trump’s enmity towards Bezos.

An investigation by the Protection Division’s inspector basic dismissed essentially the most severe allegations about Amazon and Pentagon officers improperly tilting the contracting course of to the corporate.

In a report final yr, the inspector basic concluded that the end result of the JEDI contract was not affected by both Trump’s assaults on Amazon or the connections between the corporate and the Protection Division.

However the report omitted the expressions of concern in regards to the “gross sales pitch” demonstration for Mattis at Amazon headquarters, in addition to language from an e-mail trade by which a Pentagon official informed two shut advisers to Mattis that the protection secretary’s chief of workers “defers” to them about whether or not to just accept a request from Amazon for a gathering on the Pentagon between Bezos and Mattis.

One of many shut advisers, Sally Donnelly, responded that Bezos “is the genius of our age, so why not.” Donnelly had labored within the Protection Division in the course of the Obama administration earlier than beginning a consulting agency in 2012 the place her purchasers included Amazon. That assembly doesn’t seem to have taken place, and Donnelly later testified to the inspector basic that she was being “flippant” and that Mattis’ chief of workers — not Donnelly — determined which conferences to take.

However lower than two days after her e-mail calling Bezos a genius, Donnelly adopted up with an inventory of seven causes Mattis ought to meet with him. It included that Amazon had employed “many” former U.S. authorities intelligence specialists, that its cloud safety “was so convincing” to the CIA “that the company two years in the past took the stunning step of migrating the majority of its safe work to Amazon,” and that Bezos’ possession of The Washington Submit gave him “affect past the enterprise world.”

The inspector basic’s workplace didn’t reply questions in regards to the omissions of particular traces from the emails, or whether or not these omissions left an incomplete image of the interactions between the Pentagon and Amazon.

“Our JEDI Cloud Procurement report speaks for itself — we stand by our findings and conclusions,” Dwrena Ok. Allen, a spokeswoman for the inspector basic, mentioned in an announcement.

Michael N. Levy, a lawyer for Donnelly, mentioned in an announcement that she “all the time adhered to all moral and authorized obligations and acted in the perfect curiosity of the nationwide safety of america.”

Her efforts to dealer conferences for Mattis and different tech executives had been “a part of the Division of Protection’s important efforts to remodel within the digital age,” Levy mentioned.

The emails — which date from 2017 and 2018 — had been launched by the Protection Division’s inspector basic in response to a Freedom of Data Act lawsuit introduced by a former inspector basic. The occasions described in them predate the formal Pentagon request for bids on the JEDI contract.

The emails present Mattis’ aides additionally lavishing reward on the CEOs of different corporations.

Donnelly referred to as Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, “one of many sector’s ‘thought leaders’ and one of many nation’s most outstanding Indian Individuals,” and indicated it was vital for Mattis to fulfill with Nadella to display impartiality.

One other aide, whose identify is redacted within the emails, wrote that Milo Medin, a Google govt with whom Mattis met throughout his 2017 journey to the West Coast, was “nice.”

Mattis’ assembly with Tim Cook dinner of Apple was “additionally strong,” the aide wrote, noting that the 2 males “appeared to click on personally, Cook dinner mentioned he’s keen to assist nevertheless he can (and appeared to imply it).” The aide concluded that “one optimistic word of the journey is that everybody” on the numerous corporations “appeared to convey a honest ‘patriotic’ tune. I believe which may have shocked the Boss a bit.”

A month after the journey, the Pentagon issued a memo titled “Accelerating Enterprise Cloud Adoption.”

Buck, who labored on a bipartisan package deal of payments that handed the Judiciary Committee final month meant to weaken the dominance of Large Tech, joined with Lee in sending a letter to Bezos in Could suggesting that Amazon tried “to monopolize a number of markets referring to authorities and/or business cloud computing companies by improperly influencing the Joint Enterprise Protection Infrastructure procurement course of.”

They referred to as on the Justice Department to analyze whether or not Amazon “could have violated federal battle of curiosity and antitrust legal guidelines.” They usually accused the Protection Division’s inspector basic of glossing over improprieties associated to Amazon’s bid for the JEDI contract.



TaraSubramaniam is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. TaraSubramaniam joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: tarasubramaniam@interreviewed.com.

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