In June 2019, Susan Gordon stood on a stage on the Washington Conference Heart. Behind her loomed three large letters, “AWS,” the abbreviation for Amazon Internet Companies, the cloud computing division of the enormous Web retailer. After three a long time on the Central Intelligence Company, Gordon had risen to one of many high jobs within the cloak-and-dagger world: principal deputy director of nationwide intelligence. From that perch she publicly extolled the virtues of Amazon Internet Companies and the cloud providers the tech large offers the CIA.
She informed the group that the intelligence neighborhood’s 2013 determination to signal a multi-year, $600 million contract with AWS for cloud computing “will stand as a type of that brought about the best leap ahead. … The funding we made so a few years in the past so as to have the ability to attempt to harness the ability of the cloud with a accomplice who wished to study and develop with us has left us not solely prepared for as we speak however positioned for tomorrow.”
The settlement was additionally a “actual game-changer,” mentioned André Pienaar, founder and CEO of a tech agency referred to as C5 Capital, whose enterprise contains reselling AWS providers. “When the CIA mentioned they had been going undertake the AWS cloud platform,” Pienaar mentioned at one other AWS occasion. “Individuals mentioned if the U.S. intelligence neighborhood has the arrogance to really feel safe on the AWS cloud, why can’t we?”
Gordon left authorities in August 2019, two months after her AWS summit speak. In November 2019 she turned senior advisor to a consultancy with shut Amazon connections and in April joined the board of protection contractor with intensive AWS enterprise.
Gordon is one among scores of former authorities officers who’ve landed profitable work in Huge Tech.
The synergy between Washington and Silicon Valley might be seen as the newest manifestation of the Beltway’s revolving door. However the dimension and scope of Huge Tech—and the growing dependence of presidency on its merchandise and expertise—counsel one thing extra: the rise of a Digital-Intelligence Advanced. Just like the Army-Industrial Advanced that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned towards in 1961, it represents a symbiotic relationship by which the strains between one and the opposite are blurred.
Gordon’s historical past illustrates this improvement. Her endorsement of Amazon was necessary to the corporate: AWS touted the success of the CIA deal as a major purpose it believed the Pentagon ought to award the corporate a 10-year, $10 billion contract for cloud computing for the Joint Enterprise Protection Infrastructure, or JEDI. That bid has been mired in litigation as competing tech firms have accused the federal government of insider dealing, political interference, and different improprieties in contemplating and awarding the contract.
The online providers aspect of Amazon is believed to be probably the most worthwhile a part of the mammoth firm. Illustrating the pleasure of place AWS enjoys inside Amazon, Jeff Bezos not too long ago introduced he’s stepping except for his function as CEO, making room for Andy Jassy, who has been answerable for the AWS subsidiary. It’s additionally a major purpose Amazon selected the D.C. suburbs for the corporate’s new HQ2: “The D.C. tech sector is among the quickest rising on the earth,” Teresa Carlson, AWS vp for Worldwide Public Sector and Industries, informed Washington Life journal final yr. That development is “largely pushed by large U.S. authorities initiatives,” she added.
As Amazon has constructed that authorities enterprise, AWS has had no larger cheerleader than Gordon, who has made repeated displays praising Amazon. In 2018, she appeared at a authorities/business confab referred to as “FedTalks.” She shared the stage with AWS Vice President for Engineering Invoice Vass, who interviewed her concerning the work they’d executed collectively.
“Are you able to speak slightly bit concerning the partnership that you simply’ve had with the cloud supplier on this case?” Vass requested, after which added, “It’s been very tight.”
“All through my profession, which is lengthy, all the nice advances we’ve made have been in partnership with business,” Gordon replied. “We’ve had a accomplice who’s as dedicated to our wants as we had been.”
Vass mentioned that the work with authorities had made AWS extra enticing to personal sector firms shopping for cloud providers: “I’ve discovered it very satisfying to additionally take enter from the intelligence businesses and put that into our industrial merchandise. So, our industrial merchandise–”
“We’re demanding,” Gordon interjected with amusing.
“Sure, you might be demanding, and that’s a superb factor as a result of it causes us to lift the bar constantly and I believe that has enabled us to place these options into our industrial merchandise,” Vass mentioned. “And a variety of the safety necessities that you simply’ve had simply exist on our industrial merchandise that our industrial prospects can now leverage.”
“Proper,” mentioned Gordon.
“Proper,” agreed Vass. “So, they form of had that very same stage of safety that you’ve got, which is fairly thrilling for all of our prospects.
“Yeah,” Gordon enthused, “so, for those who imagine within the engine of a terrific society, you’ve simply described it.”
‘I Can’t Wait to See What We Do’
Gordon additionally appeared in a “buyer highlight” on Oct. 7, 2015, at a gathering referred to as the AWS re:Invent convention, the place she supplied Amazon with a testimonial: “With the assistance of companions like AWS, I can’t wait to see what we do.”
A former high federal ethics official says that if he had been requested to okay Gordon’s participation in AWS occasions, he would have required that she explicitly inform the viewers she was not endorsing Amazon. The previous official informed RCI that government department staff need to watch out to not run afoul of laws that prohibit “the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise.”
RealClearInvestigations tried to contact Gordon a number of occasions for remark; she didn’t reply. RCI additionally requested the Workplace of the Director of Nationwide Intelligence whether or not Gordon’s speech had been authorized by authorities attorneys. “ODNI has a course of in place to make sure that all engagements … are appropriately reviewed and vetted, together with by ODNI ethics officers,” an ODNI spokesperson mentioned. ODNI didn’t make out there any supplies documenting such evaluation or vetting.
For years, AWS has been making the identical argument for its cloud providers that Gordon repeatedly provided: that the intelligence neighborhood’s selection of the product confirmed the way in which ahead for adoption by the private and non-private sector alike. However Gordon was hardly the one particular person related to authorities with sturdy ties to Amazon.
Sally Donnelly is a former Time journal reporter who left journalism and who would grow to be director of the Washington workplace of U.S. Central Command. She left the Division of Protection in 2012 and shaped a consulting observe referred to as SBD Advisors. One among her first purchasers was C5 Capital, the tech agency based and run by André Pienaar. Quickly, SBD added Amazon Internet Companies to its roster of shoppers. Donnelly’s SBD suggested AWS on how one can promote its providers to the Pentagon.
Donnelly helped information Secretary of Protection nominee James Mattis by means of his Senate affirmation listening to in 2017, and was provided a place as senior adviser to Mattis. To simply accept, she needed to promote her enterprise. Additionally becoming a member of Mattis, as his deputy chief of workers, was Tony DeMartino, who had labored on the Amazon account at Donnelly’s consultancy.
Donnelly discovered a prepared purchaser for her consultancy in Pienaar’s C5 Capital, which already owned 20% of SBD. Donnelly was paid $1.56 million for her remaining 80% stake. Donnelly acquired the funds in $390,000 chunks, the bulk throughout her time on the Pentagon.
Whereas Donnelly and DeMartino had been working for Protection Secretary Mattis, the Pentagon was contemplating and evaluating the businesses competing for all or a part of the $10 billion JEDI contract. Among the many opponents was AWS. Two of the opposite firms vying for JEDI enterprise, Oracle and IBM, every complained to the Authorities Accountability Workplace that they’d been lower out of a good likelihood on the contract. That might result in an investigation by the DoD’s inspector normal, the main points of which had been printed final April. “The complaints we acquired alleged, amongst different points, that Secretary Mattis and Ms. Donnelly supplied preferential therapy to Amazon,” the IG mentioned.
One of many occasions Amazon’s cloud computing opponents complained about was a March 31, 2017, non-public dinner Mattis attended in London. Hosted by retired British normal Graeme Lamb at 5 Hertford Road (a non-public membership repeatedly described as “secretive”), the dinner had fewer than a dozen friends. Amongst them had been Donnelly, Amazon Internet Companies V.P. Carlson, and C5 Capital’s Pienaar.
Interviewed by the inspector normal concerning the dinner, Mattis described Pienaar as a “pal.” As for Carlson, he mentioned he had by no means met her earlier than the London gathering and was “not sure why Teresa Carlson was included,” however provided that “Sally [Donnelly] knew Teresa.” Donnelly informed the IG that she had no “perception” into why Carlson was on the dinner.
However the notion that Carlson was an unknown thriller visitor shouldn’t be supported by sworn testimony given to the DoD Inspector Basic, transcripts of which have been acquired by RealClearInvestigations. Six weeks earlier than the London dinner, DeMartino had emailed Carlson, writing, “We clearly would really like all our buddies round us going ahead.” Requested by the Inspector Basic what he had meant, DeMartino defined the Secretary had “an inventory of the folks to fill jobs within the Division of Protection.” The White Home had its personal checklist, and “there was a negotiation” happening. “So,” DeMartino answered the I.G., “that be aware to Teresa was that she was on Secretary Mattis’ checklist for a possible job.” RCI reached out to Mattis, asking why Carlson was on his checklist for a “senior place” on the DoD if he didn’t know her and had by no means met her. Mattis didn’t reply.
The dinner’s host, Lamb, is a accomplice at C5 Capital. The dinner opened the door to Amazon with Mattis. Los Angeles Air Pressure Base House and Missile A couple of weeks later, somebody from Amazon referred to as Mattis’ workers and informed them that on the dinner in London, the secretary of protection had “expressed curiosity in assembly with [Jeff] Bezos.”
There was a query among the many navy bureaucrats whether or not Mattis ought to meet with Amazon’s founder. So Donnelly ready an inside memo itemizing causes for going forward with the proposed get-together. Amongst them: “Bezos owns the Washington Put up.” Donnelly touted his accomplishments: “Amazon is among the most profitable start-ups within the historical past of the U.S. financial system,” she wrote. “Amazon has revolutionized supply and client service.” After which there was the product: “The Amazon cloud is the muse of all Amazon’s companies and permits unprecedented pace.” She additionally made the argument high intelligence official Sue Gordon repeated at Amazon gross sales conventions—that the CIA makes use of Amazon’s cloud.
Mattis met with numerous tech executives, together with Bezos, on a West Coast journey. However he additionally met privately once more with Bezos, over dinner in Washington the night of Jan. 17, 2018. The one others on the dinner had been Carlson and Donnelly.
The inspector normal concluded in April 2020 that, even with their connections to Amazon, neither Donnelly nor DeMartino had acted unethically. The IG appeared extra persuaded that illegitimate affect, if there had been any, had come from a Bezos-hating President Trump, who reportedly informed Mattis to “screw Amazon.”
By the point the IG report got here out, Mattis was not secretary of protection. And Sally Donnelly and Tony DeMartino had already left the Pentagon to begin up a brand new consulting agency, Pallas Advisors. Teresa Carlson subsequently married André Pienaar.
The JEDI contract was finally awarded to Microsoft. Amazon is asking a federal court docket to overturn the Pentagon’s determination. An AWS spokesperson informed RealClearInvestigations that the DoD is making an attempt “to keep away from a significant and clear evaluation of the JEDI contract award.”
In August 2019, Sue Gordon resigned as principal deputy director of nationwide intelligence. Her non-public sector profession has flourished. Final April, she joined the board of protection contractor CACI. In line with its web site, “CACI is an Amazon Internet Companies (AWS) Premier Consulting Associate, Public Sector Associate, and Licensed Reseller.” The corporate brags of its “wholesome revenue-generating consulting enterprise on AWS.”
It’s debatable that, given the far attain of AWS in Washington, it might be laborious for Gordon to seek out post-government employment with out there being some reference to Amazon or AWS. That mentioned, Gordon shouldn’t be completely within the AWS orbit. She consults with Microsoft. Nonetheless, probably the most fascinating non-public firm Gordon has gone to work for is one based by “consultants” with longstanding AWS connections. Gordon is now a senior adviser for the corporate Sally Donnelly and Tony DeMartino shaped after they left the Pentagon: Pallas Advisors.
If it seems there’s a steadily revolving door between tech firms and nationwide safety employees and officers, it might be as a result of Gordon is in favor of precisely that. In an interview with Wired journal when she was nonetheless in workplace, Gordon advocated what Wired described as “extra of a revolving door.” Gordon was characterised as envisioning “a brand new paradigm for sharing gifted employees between the federal government and the non-public sector.” In line with Wired, she claimed that techies ought to begin in authorities the place they’ll study what the issues and challenges are. They need to transfer over to the non-public sector the place they may have extra freedom to innovate. “After which when they’re able to decelerate and go away the rat race,” Wired quotes her as saying, “they’ll return to authorities.”
Gordon calls this “cross-pollination” and “talent-sharing.”
Critics of tech business energy and affect level out that Huge Tech is now among the many greatest employers of lobbyists, hiring primarily those that previously labored for presidency. In 2010 Amazon fielded eight lobbyists. Final yr the corporate flooded the zone with 118, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
This will or will not be good for presidency, which may’t afford to fall behind on the newest applied sciences. However it’s clearly good for presidency employees who go away for the non-public sector, particularly those that had been vocal “companions” and advocates of tech.
This text was written by Eric Felte for RealClearInvestigations.