Sergey Nivens -

Microsoft staff allegedly pen open letter urging firm to drop bid for US government cloud deal

Letter calls on software giant to bow out of the race for a controversial, 10-year cloud contract with the US Department of Defense

Microsoft employees are alleged to have written an open letter calling on the software giant to drop out of the running for a highly controversial $10bn cloud contract with the US Department of Defense (DoD).

The letter emerged on the same day (Friday 12 October) as the bid submission deadline for the DoD’s contentious 10-year Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) deal, which Microsoft, IBM and Amazon are all thought to be vying for.

The letter, attributed to “employees of Microsoft”, sees its authors urging Microsoft to reconsider its bid, before calling on their peers at other tech companies to persuade their employers to withdraw too.

“Many Microsoft employees don’t believe that what we build should be used for waging war,” the letter reads. “When we decided to work at Microsoft, we were doing so in the hopes of ‘empowering every person on the planet to achieve more’, not with the intent of ending lives and enhancing lethality.

“For those who say that another company will simply pic up JEDI where Microsoft leaves it, we would ask workers at that company to do the same. A race to the bottom is not an ethical position.

“We ask all employees of tech companies to ask how your work will be used, where it will be applied, and act according to your principles.”

The letter also makes reference to Google’s decision to withdraw from the running for the contract, citing –  in a statement to Bloomberg – concerns over how the inner workings of the contract will square with its stance on the ethical use of artificial intelligence technologies.

“This was only after thousands of Google workers spoke out in the name of ethics and human rights,” the Microsoft letter claims.

“We need to put JEDI in perspective. This is a secretive $10bn project with the ambition of building ‘a more lethal’ military force overseen by the Trump administration. The Google workers who protested these collaborations and forced the company to take action saw this. We do too.”

Computer Weekly contacted Microsoft for a response to the letter, and to ask whether it could authenticate its source, and received the following statement in response.

“Microsoft submitted its bid on the JEDI contract on the [Friday] 12 October deadline. While we don’t have a way to verify the authenticity of this letter, we always encourage employees to share their views with us,” the statement reads.

The DoD contract is known to be geared towards helping the department modernise and unify its legacy IT systems by building a cloud environment overseen by a single provider, and has previously attracted criticism for appearing to unfairly favour the hyperscale cloud giants.

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In fact, Oracle has already protested against the single-supplier nature of the proposed contract, in a filing to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), and is expecting a response to its complaint by 14 November 2018.

IBM, meanwhile, outlined its dissatisfaction with the procurement in a complaint lodged with the GAO on 10 October, and said the tender document reads like it was “written with just one company in mind”.

The company is known to have raised concerns about the single-supplier nature of the procurement, claiming it could put the US military at heightened risk of falling prey to cyber attackers.

“JEDI’s single cloud approach also would give bad actors just one target to focus on should they want to undermine the military’s IT backbone,” said IBM in a blog post outlining its concerns.

“The world’s largest businesses are increasingly moving in a multi-cloud direction because of security, flexibility and resilience; the Pentagon is moving in precisely the opposite direction.”

The IBM blog also claimed that the single-supplier approach could affect the DoD’s long-term ability to innovate.

“JEDI’s primary flaw lies in mandating a single cloud environment for up to 10 years,” said the IBM blog post. “Leading global enterprises want clouds that are flexible, provide access to the best applications from multiple vendors, and can smoothly transition legacy systems.

“JEDI is a complete departure from these best practices. It denies America’s war-fighters access to the best technology available across multiple vendors, complicates the integration of legacy applications and walls off access to future innovations.”

For these reasons, IBM is campaigning to have the contract switched out for one in which multiple cloud providers will be used to provide the DoD’s IT capabilities.

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, it is thought Amazon’s decision to bid for the contract may have been a factor in WikiLeaks’ decision to go public with an internal document, dating back to 2015, that allegedly detailed the locations and codenames of its datacentres throughout the world.

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