Opinion

The Washington Swamp Now Has Its Own Kraken

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Posted: Aug 21, 2018 12:01 AM
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The Washington Swamp Now Has Its Own Kraken

In ancient mythology, the “Kraken” was a giant sea monster that would mean instant doom for any ship that came in its wake, smashing it to pieces with one fatal blow, and dragging the remains down into the Deep. Does the Washington swamp now have its own Kraken in Silicon Valley high tech behemoth Jeff Bezos, threatening to take down the Washington Defense Establishment with his greedy tentacles of entangling corruption, ultimately delivering it to the clutches of the Chinese?

The Modern Tale starts in the Cloud. Cloud computing enables anyone in an organization worldwide to access the organization’s documents and data online. That enables the organization’s employees to collaborate and communicate online, from anywhere in the world. America’s Defense Department is now developing a mega-contract for cloud computing for America’s global national defenses, covering both classified and unclassified documents and data. But just one IT contractor for the entire Pentagon would become the world’s most lucrative target for hackers from across the planet. 

Former Marine Commandant James “Mad Dog” Mattis is the perfect Defense Secretary for President Trump. Leading the Pentagon, Mattis alone is a major deterrent to America’s enemies worldwide. On July 26, his Defense Department issued a Request for Proposals to contract for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure initiative (JEDI), which is the Cloud computing contract for the Pentagon. That one contract would cover services to 3.4 million users, operating from 4 million devices, utilizing 1,700 data centers. The contract would be for $10 billion paid over 10 years. Whoever gets it would be one of the largest contractors for the entire federal government.

Amazon originally started out many years ago selling books online. But owner Jeff Bezos aggressively led it to now selling everything online, making Bezos one of the richest men in world history. Bezos’s corporate empire includes Amazon Web Services (AWS), a leading pioneer of cloud computing services.

Amazon is notorious for its major lobbying presence with tentacles all over Washington. One of those tentacles is SBD Advisors, founded by Washington insider Sally Donnelly, representing the tech community for defense contracting, including client Amazon Web Services. Donnelly was hired to advise Mattis regarding his Senate confirmation, then as a top advisor to Secretary of Defense Mattis with influence over his schedule and meetings.

Two days before she started work for Mattis at Defense, she sold her interest in SBD Advisors, which continued to work for Amazon after she left. She received an initial payment of 390,000, plus another $1.17 million while she was working for Mattis, from a buyer unrelated to Amazon. 

But Donnelly’s financial disclosure forms did not reveal she was receiving those payments while working for Mattis. Nor did she recuse herself from working on JEDI contracting. It is a criminal ethics violation to take any official action for personal benefit while federally employed. Former SBD Managing Director Anthony DeMartino also became Deputy Chief of Staff to Mattis and Chief of Staff to Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, with no recusal from JEDI.   

While Donnelly was handling scheduling and meetings for Mattis, he flew to Amazon headquarters in Seattle to meet with Bezos personally. On his return to Washington, Mattis initiated the contracting process for JEDI.

Donnelly left her employment with Mattis two days after Defense issued the public Request for Proposal for JEDI. That RFP included very detailed specifications that many tech operators believe only Amazon could meet. The Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF) quoted Information Technology Alliance for the Public Sector: DOD’s specifications for the JEDI contract “will effectively prevent all but one vendor from bidding on this contract,” reflecting widely shared sentiment among the tech community. May Jeong noted in Vanity Fair, “Oracle filed an official protest with [GAO] arguing that JEDI violates federal procurement laws.”   

Jeong also states “cybersecurity experts warn that allowing a single company to manage the Pentagon’s data will make it vulnerable to cyberattacks.” National Security authorities express the same concern. The Senate Armed Services Committee specified in its 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that DOD must follow regulations requiring multiple vendors for contracts like JEDI. House Appropriations further insisted that “DOD be more transparent in its justification for its winner-take-all approach,” as quoted in the DCNF investigation.

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Jeong cites the opposing view: “Amazon and others say it makes sense not to spread the data around. ‘If you don’t have good experience and a workforce that understands cloud, it’s going to be really hard to try to absorb multiple clouds and create multiple architectures.’”

Two weeks after Donnelly left Defense, SBD Advisors was again bought out by a “private equity firm with direct ties to Amazon,” as Jeong put it. That takes care of Donelly and DeMartino financially very well. But exactly what role they played in structuring JEDI contracting is subject to Congressional and Administrative investigations.

Even worse, Amazon Web Services is already compromised by the Chinese government, arising from a previous AWS contract with Beijing Sinnet Technology. China requires foreign companies doing business in China to transfer its technology to its local Chinese partners. Consequently, to comply with Chinese law, AWS sold its cloud computing technology to Sinnett, the Wall Street Journal reported last year.

Mattis is a central asset to Trump’s national security team. Bezos’s corruption should not be allowed to rise from the swamp and hamper him. In the 2010 movie “Clash of the Titans”, Zeus proclaims “Release the Kraken,” when he is preparing to punish one of the lesser gods he rules. Perhaps Bezos, Donnelly and her SBD Advisors should prepare for one of their own Kraken punishments.