AWS lawsuit alleges 'improper pressure' from Trump on JEDI

President Donald Trump personally steered a $10-billion cloud computing contract away from frontrunner Amazon Web Services out of personal and political animus against Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, according to the details of a lawsuit released publicly Dec. 9.

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President Donald Trump personally steered a $10-billion cloud computing contract away from frontrunner Amazon Web Services out of personal and political animus against Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, according to the details of a lawsuit released publicly Dec. 9.

The complaint in the AWS lawsuit over the award of the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract to Microsoft spells out -- with some key redactions -- how and why AWS thinks Trump influenced the Department of Defense to ignore technical advantages offered in AWS' bid and change certain key requirements late in the game to "artificially level the playing field between AWS and its competitors, including Microsoft."

AWS wants the Court of Federal Claims to invalidate the  award to Microsoft, stop DOD and Microsoft from starting work on the project and require DOD to reevaluate the submitted proposals or solicit new ones.

"DOD's substantial and pervasive errors are hard to understand and impossible to assess separate and apart from the President's repeatedly expressed determination to, in the words of the President himself, 'screw Amazon,'" the filing states. "Under escalating and overt pressure from President Trump, DOD departed from the rules of procurement and complied -- consciously or subconsciously --with its Commander in Chief's expressed desire to reject AWS's superior bid," according to AWS.

One key detail that emerges is an "eleventh hour" change at DOD to require the JEDI vendor to build "new, dedicated classified infrastructure for DOD" -- a move that thwarted AWS plans to tap its existing classified infrastructure to deliver JEDI. That adjusted requirement, according to the complaint, "resulted in an additional increase to AWS's total evaluated price."

The complaint also claims that while a decision to award JEDI to Microsoft was made Oct. 17, it was only after this -- on Oct. 22 -- that Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he was recusing himself from source selection review because of a connection between his adult son and IBM, one of the early bidders for the JEDI contract.

AWS also uses the lawsuit as an opportunity to critique the security architecture of Microsoft's cloud offering -- specifically its links to Microsoft's Windows Server operating system and the way in which administrators can access customer data. Administrator access, the filing notes, increases risk of insider threats. "This attack vector … is particularly dangerous to our national security, and it was the source of multiple prominent security breaches, including the Manning and Snowden data breaches."

While frequent redactions make the technical aspects of the complaint difficult to follow, essentially AWS accuses DOD of conducting evaluations of security, access controls, performance at the tactical edge, portability, price and other factors in bad faith, with an eye to tipping the scales in Microsoft's favor.

According to the complaint, the appointment and subsequent confirmation of Esper as Defense secretary in the summer of 2019 "marked an important turning point in DOD's analyses of the evaluation factors." The complaint states that Esper and other senior officials -- including DOD CIO Dana Deasy -- working on JEDI were "uniquely susceptible" to pressure from Trump and that the structure of the Washington Headquarters Services Acquisition Directorate made political influence on the award more likely to be felt up and down the decision chain.

"No amount of compartmentalization, segregation, or anonymization could have isolated the decision-makers from the clear and unmistakable conflict of interest that stemmed from the very highest levels of power in DOD and that were made known to all," the complaint states.

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