The Pentagon doesn’t just stop its military-industrial complex money train for just anybody. On Thursday, the government’s nefarious war department just announced it’s pausing it’s $10 billion surveillance contract with Amazon after President Trump suggested the bid might be “rigged” in the big tech’s corporate favor, according to a new report from Business Insider.
A spokesperson for Defense Secretary Mark Esper revealed that “no decision will be made on the program until he has completed his examination” of Amazon. The program, of course, is the JEDI cloud computing system the government plans use for storing its critical personnel and intelligence data gathered by its officials, which is reportedly using artificial intelligence technology designed to compete with China’s systems.
The contract was supposed to be awarded sometime this month. Amazon remains only one of four parties being suggested for the contract, tied with IMB, Oracle and Microsoft for the position. In reports from The Intercept and Engadget, it was Oracle’s executive vice president, Ken Glueck, who revealed that Amazon secretly negotiated a job offer with a then-Department of Defense official to sweeten the deal’s likelihood, arguing the process was inherently an unfair advantage thanks to conflicts of interest. This is the nature by which Trump is investigating the claim, not the merits of Amazon-government surveillance itself.
Additional experts who spoke with The New York Times argued it’s “extremely rare” for a president to intervene in a contract competition, especially for the sake of personal, political and misconduct claims, which led to Esper’s decision to postpone the award as lobbyists continue to champion for either-or big tech sale. In the report, sources for the White House claim Trump also believes Amazon is conducting a “10-Year DoD Cloud Monopoly” on Pentagon cloud computing.
“Contracts should be awarded fairly based on merit,” said Mandy Smithberger, director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project on Government Oversight, speaking to The Intercept. “The Procurement Integrity Act seeks to ensure that job offers and other financial conflicts of interest don’t influence that process.”
If this is all true, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are obligated to prevent such gross malpractice between government and state as the process continues throughout the weeks. It’s doubtful the current party will adhere to being watchdogs on their president. “This contract has already been delayed a year for investigations and court filings,” two Republicans wrote in an open letter to their colleagues. “Further delays make DOD fall behind and DOD needs this technology now. The cloud makes the military a more lethal, agile and innovative force.”
This force is going to have to wait behind IBM and Oracle who have filed two complaints with the Government Accountability Office since 2018, one of which rejected by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (which resulted in a counter-lawsuit against them). Spokesmen for Amazon have routinely denied requests for comment from the Intercept regarding the contract, which was originally unspoken of until the lawsuits were originally filed, according to journalist Alex Emmons. When matters of surveillance turn into this true winner-take-all system, which operates as a monopoly by design, critics aren’t exactly crazy when there’s already fuckery to determine who has their pathways towards such power.
“Trump wants to scuttle this process and possibly reopen it back up again with extra guardrails,” the White House sources told CNN, citing that he’s just sick of the “complaining” from the companies. Such flawed reason wasn’t lost on all lawmakers, of course. Senator Marco Rubio wrote similar critiques to Trump after the Oracle-linked document was leaked to the press. As Trump signals his interest in revisiting the deal, Democrats should seize on why such a consolidation of power is being considered, because his own party and Amazon will just continue business as usual otherwise.
This unaccountable storage precedent isn’t unfounded. It was Amazon themselves who confirmed in a letter to Congress that Alexa, the omniscient little robot it designed that may be residing in your own home, harvests voice recordings which are stored and held within the company’s servers indefinitely without a right to be forgotten. Surely such technology, within the hands of politicians with a vested interest in these companies, will engage in pernicious behavior they’re accustomed to.
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