JEDI Contract: Tech Giants Compete To Host Nuclear Secrets In Cloud Storage
The JEDI contract: one massive award for a trove of ultra-secure cloud storage and, possibly, a decades-long future partnership with the Pentagon. This is a huge deal and you probably haven’t even heard about it.
The Pentagon’s increasing partnership with Silicon Valley doesn’t get much attention — but it’s happening at an alarming rate.
Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft — all the “too big to fail” tech companies — have remarkable artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud storage abilities. The Department of Defense (DoD) needs these technologies and, well, they can’t develop their own — so they gotta come from somewhere.
But the process isn’t going smoothly.
Yes, the companies face stiff competition from each other bidding for contracts. But they also face resentment from traditional private military contractors. Basically, the Pentagon found a hotter, smarter, and younger girlfriend and left their wives in the cold.
Not to mention, these tech companies employ thousands — if not millions — of people between them. These workers aren’t exactly thrilled about the DoD using their work to wage war and store secrets.
Competition for the JEDI Contract
At the time of writing this, the battle reaches a breaking point. Anytime now (but possibly not until September), the Pentagon will announce the winner of the JEDI contract.
The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract is a single award worth $10 billion over the course of 10 years. Only one lucky tech company will walk away with the job.
The JEDI contract is part of the Pentagon’s growing search for technology. The winner of the contract will be responsible for creating ultra-secret bespoke cloud storage software specifically for the DoD with multiple clearance levels including “secret” and “top-secret+.”
The Pentagon wants to start using the cloud storage within 30 days of awarding the JEDI contract. They then want access to “secret” storage within six months and “top-secret+” within nine.
What will the Pentagon store in their new fancy cloud storage? Literally everything.
For one thing, they just really need some kind of secure cloud storage that works on a global level. Believe it or not, they don’t have anything like that yet. “Top secret” and above classifications would indeed hold extremely sensitive information like nuclear weapon design and nuclear secrets.
“Everything we’ve got might be part of this system, therefore you need to be potentially cleared for everything. And ‘everything’ includes information on weapons systems, operations, intelligence and nuclear weapons,” Steven Aftergood, head of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said.
The contract is up for renewal every few years after the initial contract. Not to mention, whoever wins will have a foot in the door for any other potential AI or cloud contracts.
So, as you can see, this is a big deal.
Who’s Competing and Who Will Win?
Many analysts (myself somewhat included), believe that Amazon is a shoe-in.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) already has a decent relationship developing custom cloud storage for the DoD. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, however, because employees at the Pentagon have accidentally leaked tons of classified information this way. These leaks appear unintentional: the employees just left classified files sitting in public drop boxes. This ultimately led to AWS creating custom cloud storage specifically for the Pentagon.
Microsoft might also have a foot in the door. The veteran tech company recently signed a deal with 17 intelligence agencies to expand their cloud software through a program called Azure Government which they called an “awakening.” This includes spy powerhouses like the CIA, FBI, NSA, and every other scary three-letter acronym.
Other potential candidates include Google, Oracle, Dell, and Hewlett Packard Enterprises. IBM and Microsoft have both spoken publicly (and harassed Uncle Sam via lobbyists) about the contract so we know they’re competing.
Like the whiny babies tech companies are, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, and others harnessed their lobbying power in an attempt to force the DoD into breaking up JEDI into multiple contracts so everyone can get a piece of the pie. It didn’t work: the DoD remains dead set on awarding the agreement to one solitary company.
Now, they’re doubling down with additional efforts.
Tech Companies Face Heat from Traditional Private Military Contractors
Signing a $10 billion contract with the Pentagon is somewhat of uncharted territory for Silicon Valley companies like Google and Amazon — and traditional private contractors aren’t happy about it.
Many people may not realize that the military awards contracts to private companies for all kinds of work all the time. According to the government spending data research firm Deltek, the DoD handed out $2.3 billion in cloud computing contracts in the last fiscal year. Deltek expects that number to increase by 20% every year until 2022 when it peaks at $6 billion. And that’s just for cloud computing — the federal government gives millions away to private contractors every month.
Many people also may not realize that Microsoft and IBM aren’t new to the military contract game. In fact, they’re angry with Amazon and Google for stepping on their turf. That’s why they formed a massive lobbying group in an attempt to break up the JEDI contract into multiple awards.
Other traditional private contractors include the ambiguously named war companies like General Dynamics and Leidos.
Blowback from Workers
According to contracting documents obtained by NextGov, whoever wins the JEDI contract will need to obtain “Q” and “L” security clearance from the Department of Energy. These security levels grant access to nuclear codes and information.
Where does Silicon Valley end and Washington begin?
Well, that’s exactly why workers aren’t thrilled about this and they aren’t putting up with it either.
The Tech Workers Coalition spearheaded a petition in April demanding companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM turn down all offers from the Pentagon.
“We believe that tech companies should not be in the business of war and that we as tech workers must adopt binding ethical standards for the use of AI that will let us build the world we believe in. Google should break its contract with the Department of Defense (DoD). … DoD contracts between Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon break user trust and signal a dangerous alliance. Tech companies that have vast quantities of sensitive data from users across the globe shouldn’t build offensive technology for one country’s military,” the petition reads.
The companies have yet to respond or even acknowledge the worker blowback.
This isn’t the first instance of Silicon Valley’s rank-and-file workers standing up to the Pentagon projects.
The DoD recently announced teaming up with Google for a program known as “Project Maven.” This particular program focuses on developing AI for drones such as facial recognition to select airstrike targets and monitor video.
Google signed onto the project behind rank and file workers’ backs and refused to provide any transparency about it. In response, workers signed a petition and provided Google heads with a list of demands: back out of Project Maven or we quit. After the 30-day deadline, Google did nothing so 3,000 workers resigned in protest.
Well, it worked. Google dropped Project Maven and an ex-DoD official admitted that yeah, it would have probably been used to kill people.
How Will This Play Out?
At the end of the day, the Pentagon is just upset that all this drama gets in the way of their goals. They just want cloud storage capable of holding massive amounts of data with access from anywhere in the world all the time. Oh, and it also needs to be secure enough to store nuclear weapons information.
Is that so much to ask for?!
The JEDI contract won’t likely be the last race of its kind. The DoD’s appetite for AI isn’t slowing down. Expect to see a lot more heated battles between Silicon Valley and the Old Guard over the next few decades.
When you consider that they’re storing extremely sensitive data, this could get very messy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see corporate-sponsored hacks from competing tech companies in an attempt to make others look bad.
Keep an eye out for the official JEDI contract announcement anytime from now until September. And a lot of crying (lawsuits) from the losers afterward.