Originally published August 5 2014
Amazon.com now running the CIA data cloud
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) The U.S. intelligence community is about to get a major technological boost, but Americans might be surprised to find out who is supplying it and why.
According to Defense One, this summer a $600 million computing cloud developed by major Internet retailer Amazon's Web Services division for the Central Intelligence Agency over the past 12 or so months will begin providing information between all 17 agencies that comprise the intelligence community (IC).
And, say officials, if the technology pans out as planned, "it will usher in a new era of cooperation and coordination, allowing agencies to share information and services much more easily and avoid the kind of intelligence gaps that preceded the" 9/11 attacks, Defense One reported.
The development represents the first time when all agencies that fall within the IC will be able to call up a variety of on-demand computing, data and analytical services from the CIA and the National Security Agency, only paying for what they actually use.
'It took a lot of wrangling'
Officials say the vision was initially conceived in the IC Information Technology Enterprise Plan that was heralded by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, as well as IC Chief Information Officer Al Tarasiuk some three years ago. Experts say cloud computing is one of the primary components of a strategy to help the community discover, access and share critical information in an era where its flow of seems limitless.
The intelligence community is normally risk-averse, Defense One reported, so the decision to use a commercial cloud provider is a major departure from how the IC normally conducts business:
In 2011, while private companies were consolidating data centers in favor of the cloud and some civilian agencies began flirting with cloud variants like email as a service, a sometimes contentious debate among the intelligence community's leadership took place.
One former IC official who has knowledge of the Amazon deal told the magazine, Government Executive, "It took a lot of wrangling, but it was easy to see the vision if you laid it all out."
One of the crucial questions needing answered involved whether the IC, which is led by the CIA, would try to do cloud computing from within or buy the technology off the shelf, so to speak, Defense One reported.
As is always the case, money was a primary factor, said one intelligence official, but not the primary one. Indeed, the government has been spending more money on information technology within the IC than at any prior time.
Long-sought public-private IC partnership?
In fact, IT spending had reached $8 billion in 2013, according to budget documents that were leaked by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. It is feasible, say experts, that the CIA and other IC agencies may have spent billions more dollars erecting their own cloud infrastructure without raising much attention in Congress, but the decision to buy a single commercial solution really came down to a pair of factors.
"What we were really looking at was time to mission and innovation," the former intelligence official told Defense One. "The goal was, 'Can we act like a large enterprise in the corporate world and buy the thing that we don't have, can we catch up to the commercial cycle? Anybody can build a data center, but could we purchase something more?
"We decided we needed to buy innovation."
While the cloud was built by a private company, it will nonetheless operate behind IC firewalls officials said.
The idea of using private technology companies to build IT infrastructure with government intelligence agencies has been circulating around IC circles for years, especially since cyber attacks and hacking started becoming more sophisticated in the early 2000s.
Richard A. Clarke, a former IC official in multiple presidential administrations, advocated for this kind of public-private partnership for the intelligence community in his 2010 book, Cyber War.
But the partnership, which now appears to have finally happened, will no doubt raise some eyebrows among users of Amazon's retail services, in light of recent revelations that some U.S. telecom companies have been cooperating with the NSA in divulging personal electronic communications of American citizens.
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