I broke the JEDI DoD Oracle story in March posted it on my Forbes column and Forbes censored it by taking it down
This is the commentary that was taken down in my Forbes column which then caused termination of my publishing rights.
Modern Star Wars: JEDI, the Dark Side and the Fight for the Future of the Military
Misinformation campaigns aren’t just limited to interfering with political elections. Now, it looks like someone’s meddling with the future of the military in the DOD’s biggest cloud contract ever.
In Star Wars, a JEDI was part of an ancient order of protectors that harnessed the power of the Force and battled against the dark side. In Washington, D.C. JEDI is not a group of Star Wars heroes destined to battle the dark side, but an acronym for the Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative, a $10 billion cloud contract that will help the Department of Defense (DOD) create an enterprise cloud capability. JEDI will help modernize the military’s technologies — including the use of artificial intelligence to better combat threats — and better support our troops who are deployed, all while significantly reducing costs.
Sounds like a great idea: technology for good that can help the U.S. keep pace with other nation states. Right? But as the DOD leads the charge towards a more modern, and effective future, powerful forces within the tech industry are pushing back in a fight, not for the ongoing prosperity of democracy, but rather, old antiquated processes and big profit in mind. Ah, U.S. capitalism at work.
The Government Technology Shift to Cloud
Federal government IT has long been a business dominated by a handful of established technology players, who are entrenched in most departments and agencies and well versed on the nuances of government contracting. Over the years, these companies skillfully ensured that the government’s annual multi-billion dollar IT budget stayed in their pockets and recent merger and acquisition activity further narrowed the playing field.
The story started to change in 2013 when the CIA selected Amazon Web Services (AWS) to build a commercial cloud to store and process the world’s most sensitive data. This was a major event within the Intelligence Community and federal IT arena. By all accounts, the C2S project, which was hotly contested by IBM at the time, has been wildly successful. I’ve previously covered how this win was both symbolic and disruptive. By choosing AWS, the CIA signaled a trend we are seeing more and more from the government — turning to the cloud for help on their most sensitive missions and workloads. But the victory also sent shock waves through the industry as it represented new competition to the incumbent, beltway bandits who were used to getting a meaningful piece of the pie.
According to Bloomberg Government, federal spending on cloud computing services rose to $4.1B, with the DOD alone increasing their spend by nearly 30 percent in 2018. JEDI is poised to supercharge this seismic shift from on-premises data centers to the cloud. And because of this shift, an epic misinformation campaign (even for tech industry standards) has emerged and threatens to derail a project the DOD has called ‘foundational.’
The Misinformation Dossier
I’ve been watching the JEDI contract for almost a year, unpacking the issues, the players and the impact on the technology industry and contractors. During this time, an unusual pattern and set of activities emerged.
What looked like a normal, heavyweight battle for a lucrative contract took a strange turn late last year as multiple outlets began reporting on the creation of a salacious dossier. As Bloomberg reported, a misinformation campaign was actively underway, centered around a conspiratorial dossier targeting AWS, defense officials and alleging misconduct around JEDI.
Defense One published a story raising the red flag on the pattern of misinformation and naming the private investigative firm behind the dossier, RosettiStarr.
“It’s an unusually hardball form of backroom maneuvering in the world of lucrative but rigidly controlled defense contracting. The firm that prepared the dossier, RosettiStarr, shopped it to various Washington reporters earlier this year,” said Defense One.
But RosettiStarr is not acting alone. They were clearly being funded by someone with a lot at stake. That brings me to the 10 billion dollar question: who is really behind this misinformation campaign?
According to a senior Capitol Hill staffer who asked to remain anonymous, “the circumstantial evidence and the antagonistic tactics point to Oracle.”
I reached out to Oracle on Feb 8th, 2019 for comment and they have not responded to my request.
I think that the truth will emerge soon, but as of today, I can’t get anyone to go on the record saying it is Oracle. But after speaking to more than a dozen people close to the situation, it became clear that based on past behavior and current motivations, all signs point to Oracle. And a quick look at their track record shows they have been called out for similar dirty tactics in past tech battles.
Back in the early 2000s, The Wall Street Journal reported that Oracle waged an elaborate secret battle against Microsoft amidst its landmark antitrust case. The operation was highlighted by the hiring of a private investigative firm that used controversial tactics, including offering payments to janitors in exchange for trash, in an effort to obtain documents that were embarrassing to Microsoft. The Register, never one to mince words, dubbed the affair ‘Trash Gate.’ The Journal also reported that Oracle hired Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates, a D.C. PR agency, to distribute anti-Microsoft information.
In 2010, Reuters reported that Oracle hired private investigators to track down then HP CEO Leo Apotheker as part of an ongoing legal battle. In 2012, Oracle admitted to using blogger Florian Mueller as a ‘paid consultant’ during their infringement case against Google over the use of Java APIs. As The Verge reported, Mueller was regularly quoted in a variety of outlets but almost never as a “paid Oracle Consultant.” In 2016, Oracle acknowledged being a funding contributor to the Google Transparency Project, a Washington, D.C. group laser-focused on Google’s lobbying efforts. According to Ars Technica, at least 17 articles cited research by the “nonprofit watchdog group.”
Fast forward to today, and the high-stakes nature of the contract and the funding of the misinformation dossier targeting AWS has created one of the more interesting stories in the technology business that we’ve seen in a long time. But reputable tech journalists are taking exception with the widespread interest around a government cloud contract. TechCrunch enterprise reporter Ron Miller commented on Twitter that the project is overhyped, and, “As for Oracle, if it were honest, it knows it never had the chops for this.” GeekWire cloud and enterprise editor, Tom Krazit, cited, “Oracle and other tech companies that don’t have a chance of fulfilling the Pentagon’s cloud infrastructure requirements have been pushing the government to award the contract to multiple vendors in hopes of winning business in other aspects of cloud computing”. Dion Hinchcliffe, VP and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research said on Twitter, “if you can’t win on merit, you can still win on the basis of superior litigation/public protest.”
What It Means
As beltway bandits continue to wage their dirty battle to discredit the DoD and AWS, I think the bigger question here is, who wins in all this? If the contract ends up getting derailed, it’s probably Oracle, who has repeatedly filed pre-award protests. One might also cast other legacy tech companies looking to protect their IT turf, into that same lot. Unfortunately, that’s at the expense of the DOD and the future of the military ability to secure our nation. After all, the DOD’s contract is facing increasing delays, with members of Congress expressing frustration at the ‘pace of development’ during a hearing last week. And, the DOD approach to JEDI, which has been thoroughly explained, is being criticized not because that approach won’t work (the CIA has already proven that the commercial cloud is more secure), but rather because legacy tech vendors want their piece of the pie.
The U.S. military has long prided itself on being a meritocracy, where those who serve are judged only on what they have to offer to help defend our country. In situations like this, perhaps the tech community should take a page out of the DOD’s book and let the merits of their technology do the talking, versus trying to undermine an effort that we as Americans should all have a vested interest in — supporting our troops and the future of our military’s ability to secure our nation.
Disclosure: Oracle, AWS, IBM, and most of the cloud vendors are sponsors/clients of SiliconANGLE Media, Inc.
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