WASHINGTON — As the Department of Defense prepares to solicit bids for cloud computing work that could bring in billions of dollars for Amazon, members of Congress are raising new questions about the company’s efforts to win contracts worth billions of dollars. $10 billion under the Trump administration.
Previously unreleased emails show that Pentagon officials in 2017 and 2018 commended several technology executives whose companies expressed interest in the initial contract, particularly Amazon in particular, while concerns about the company’s access rights appear to have been covered up, according to emails, other documents and interviews.
Two Republican lawmakers who have promoted the dominance of Amazon and other tech companies in the consumer market are seizing emails as evidence that Amazon used its influence. unfairly compete for taxpayer-funded contracts.
Representative Ken Buck of Colorado and Senator Mike Lee of Utah called on Amazon to testify under oath about “whether it attempted to improperly influence the largest federal contract in history.” or not,” a $10 billion project called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, will move the Pentagon’s computer networks into the cloud. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
Whatever Amazon has in the Trump-era Pentagon has limited effect. And the company also had a high-profile rival: President Donald J. Trump, who frequently attacked Amazon’s chief executive at the time, Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post. Amazon ultimately lost the JEDI contract, awarded to Microsoft in 2019, raising questions about whether Mr. Trump’s hostility to Amazon played any role in the outcome.
In victory for Amazon, however, the contract was canceled by the Pentagon this month amid a controversial legal battle over the award between Amazon, Microsoft and other tech companies. The Department of Defense immediately announced that it was starting a revised cloud program that could bring in contracts for Amazon, Microsoft and possibly other companies, setting out what is expected to be a intense lobbying battle.
Newly released emails and interviews with familiar people provide a glimpse into the burgeoning relationship between the Department of Defense and major tech companies at a time when the Pentagon is increasingly transitioning. focus from aircraft, tanks and other hardware to software and initiatives related to artificial intelligence and machine learning.
They show that in the months leading up to the JEDI war, top Pentagon officials and Silicon Valley executives engaged in an admiring courtship that led to high-level access to a Several companies later expressed interest in the contract. Technology executives have used access to urge Jim Mattis, Trump’s first secretary of defense, to adopt cloud-based technology and, in at least one case, to promote the technology. their own company.
During a trip to the West Coast in the summer of 2017 to meet with executives from Apple, Amazon and Google, Mattis was annoyed when faced with a demonstration of his cloud computing products. Amazon at the company’s Seattle headquarters in the time he expected. will be a more general discussion of cloud technology, according to the documents and a former senior Pentagon official who was familiar with the meeting.
The former official said the rally was attended by Mr. Bezos, whom Mattis had just met in person, and several of his aides, and was led by an executive in charge of selling products from Amazon. Web Services, or AWS, for governments.
Brief documents prepared for Mattis before the meeting said that “it will not be a sales pitch,” with “no” underlined for emphasis.
But shortly after the meeting, an aide to Mattis wrote in an email to another Pentagon official that the session “seems to turn into an AWS pitch.” Mattis “was very nice and polite but I didn’t feel it,” the aide wrote, adding that the one-on-one session before the rally with Mr. Bezos “seemed to go very well” and that the founder Amazon founder and Secretary of Defense “seems to have emphasized the individual level.”
The competition for the JEDI contract quickly became mired in bitter controversy. IBM objected to the proposal request, arguing that it supported Amazon, while Oracle alleges that Pentagon officials had a conflict of interest related to Amazon. Instead, when the contract passed into Microsoft’s hands, Amazon sued to block it, alleging that the Trump administration had interfered with the contracting process because of Mr. Trump’s animosity towards Mr. Bezos.
An investigation by the Department of Defense’s inspector general has dismissed the most serious allegations that Amazon and Pentagon officials improperly tilted the company’s contracting process.
In a report last year, the inspector general concluded that the outcome of the JEDI contract was not influenced by Trump’s attacks on Amazon or the company’s contacts with the Department of Defense.
But the report omitted expressions of concern about the “sales” rally for Mattis at Amazon headquarters, as well as language from an email exchange in which a Pentagon official told two advisers. close to Mattis that the employee’s Secretary of Defense “slandered” them about whether to accept a request from Amazon for a meeting at the Pentagon between Mr. Bezos and Mr. Mattis.
One of his close advisers, Sally Donnelly, replied that Mr. Bezos “is the genius of our time, so why not.” Donnelly worked in the Department of Defense during the Obama administration before starting a consulting firm in 2012 where her clients include Amazon. That meeting apparently didn’t take place, and Ms. Donnelly later testified to the inspector general that she was “dumb” and that Mattis’ chief of staff – not Ms. Donnelly – decided which meeting to meet. will take place.
But less than two days after sending an email calling Mr. Bezos a genius, Ms. Donnelly came up with a list of seven reasons Mr Mattis should meet. It includes that Amazon has hired “many” former US government intelligence experts, that its cloud security is so “convincing” that the CIA “two years ago, the agency took a remarkable step”. surprisingly moved most of his security work to Amazon,” and that Bezos’ ownership of The Washington Post has given him “influence beyond the business world.”
The inspector general’s office did not respond to questions about the omission of specific lines in the email, or whether such omissions leave an incomplete picture of interactions between the Pentagon and Amazon.
“Our JEDI Cloud Procurement report speaks for itself – we stand by our findings and conclusions,” said Dwrena K. Allen, a spokeswoman for the inspector general. in a statement.
Michael N. Levy, Ms. Donnelly’s attorney, said in a statement that she “always abides by all ethical and legal obligations and acts in the best interest of the national security of the United States.”
Levy said her effort to broker meetings for Mattis and other technology executives is “part of a critical Department of Defense effort to transform in the digital age.” .
The emails – dating from 2017 and 2018 – were released by the Department of Defense inspector general in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by a former inspector general. The events described therein preceded the Pentagon’s formal request to tender in the JEDI contract.
The emails show that Mattis’ aides also commended executives from other companies.
Ms. Donnelly called Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive officer, “one of the industry’s ‘thought leaders’ and one of the most prominent Indian-Americans in the country,” and said it was important Mr. Mattis had to meet Mr. Nadella to prove his impartiality.
Another aide, whose name is etched in the emails, wrote that Milo Medin, a Google executive Mattis met on a trip to the West Coast in 2017, was “awesome.”
Mattis’ meeting with Apple’s Tim Cook “was also very solid,” the aide wrote, noting that the two men “seemed to be personally agitated, with Cook saying he was eager to help any whenever possible (and seems to mean it).” The aide concluded that “one positive of the trip was that everyone” at the different companies “seemed to convey a sincere “patriotic” tone. I think that might surprise you a little bit.”
A month after the trip, the Pentagon issued a memo titled “Accelerating enterprise cloud adoption.”
Mr. Buck, who worked on a bipartisan package of bills through the Judiciary Committee last month aimed at weakening Big Tech’s dominance, joined Mr. Lee in sending a letter to Mr. Bezos in May proposing suggested that Amazon attempt to “monopolize one or more markets related to government and/or commercial cloud computing services by improperly influencing the Defense Infrastructure procurement process.” General enterprise. “
They called on the Justice Department to investigate whether Amazon “may have violated federal conflict of interest and antitrust laws.” And they accused the Department of Defense’s inspector general of covering up disparities regarding Amazon’s bid for the JEDI contract.