The Agency is on the Cloud

Sunday, September 8th, 2019

Has Silicon Valley seduced the Pentagon?

A veteran Marine general, Mattis was initially perceived as skeptical of what Silicon Valley was selling. He knew the flesh-and-blood realities of war and believed in giving autonomy to commanders on the ground. In his mind, anything that reinforced Pentagon leaders’ desire to micromanage events halfway across the globe was problematic. Technology, he believed, could make matters worse.

But Schmidt was an effective advocate for the power of big data, which he argued had become as important a strategic resource as oil. And he emphasized that the need for technological improvement was urgent: China was rapidly improving. In June 2017, at a private lunch in a Pentagon conference room, Schmidt told him Google’s lead over China in artificial intelligence technology had shrunk from five years to six months. “Mr. Secretary, they’re at your heels,” Schmidt said, according to three people familiar with the lunch. “You need to take decisive action now.”

Schmidt wanted the department to adopt a Silicon Valley philosophy that emphasized innovation, taking risks and moving fast. Among his recommendations: embrace cloud computing. In the summer of 2017, Mattis decided to investigate firsthand. He departed on a tour that would include visits to Amazon and Google headquarters and a one-on-one with Apple CEO Tim Cook.

At Amazon, despite the tempest about Bezos joining the innovation board, Mattis and the CEO hit it off. The two talked together for about an hour. Mattis gave a pithy sweep of lessons from military history and expressed his view on the perils of overreliance on technology. He noted how the British Navy, once famous for its derring-do, nearly lost the World War I battle of Jutland when ship captains hesitated, waiting for flag signals from their fleet commander.

After the meeting, Bezos and Mattis walked to another conference room, where AWS executives made their case that the company’s cloud products offer better security than traditional data centers, according to three people who attended. As evidence, they noted that the Central Intelligence Agency had embarked on a $600 million, 10-year cloud contract with Amazon in 2013 and, they said, it was working.


  1. Kirk says:

    Mattis’s dealings with Amazon have seriously tarnished his reputation, and rightfully so.

    Bezos is just like the creatures running Alphabet, nee Google: Transnational globalists who believe that they have no need for the rest of us, or the hoary trappings of the nation-state.

    Which might be true, in an ideal world. The reality is, the protections of the nation-state are crucial to the needs and rights of the “little guy”, who are targeted for replacement by the oligarchs.

    What we’re seeing play out on the international stage is very similar to what went on in the former Soviet Union when its institutions collapsed: The oligarchs have staked out their claims, and are in the process of cementing their power over the rest of us.

    The difficulty is, they’ve only really been able to do this in the formerly democratic nations of the West; their opponents in the Chinese hegemony are not amenable to the threats that Google and its kin can pose, and have likely captured them, anyway.

    The way forward is unclear, but I think there’s going to be a lot more Brexit-like affairs in the future, and it isn’t going to be as easy as the oligarchs think, to take power. For one thing, they don’t have anything to offer in return for us surrendering our sovereignty, except cheap Chinese goods and a lower standard of living for the average man.

    It will be interesting to observe. I fully expect that there’s going to be what amounts to all-out war between the corporations and some nation-state at some point, and who knows where that ends? Some of the more dystopic science fiction has us living under corporate states, but I think that the alternative may be just as likely–The majority of us saying “A pox on all their houses–Merchants, princes, priests and scholars…”, and going our own way.

  2. Longarch says:

    Kirk wrote:

    Some of the more dystopic science fiction has us living under corporate states, but I think that the alternative may be just as likely–The majority of us saying “A pox on all their houses–Merchants, princes, priests and scholars…”, and going our own way.

    I would be interested to see the details of how such a scenario would proceed. Generally, when modern people try to go their own way, modern police show up with water cannons and tear gas, as is currently happening in Hong Kong.

    I suppose that modern countries like the USA might have a scenario that resembles William S. Lind’s book Victoria. Lind postulates a strange cultural movement called Retroculture. Sadly, I see no signs of Retroculture in the real world.

  3. Kirk says:


    The question is for how much longer the con game can go on. The elites recruit among a certain subset of the population for their foot soldiers; what happens when they’ve convinced enough of that subset that it’s a fool’s game, and they no longer answer to the call?

    You don’t seriously think they’re going to try to man the barricades with their own flesh and blood, do you?

    I think there are more and more people like me who are asking the question “Who does this serve…?”, and the answer is “Not me, that’s for sure…”. So, why then should I go play at a game of soldiers for them, so that they can waste my life and that of the men I train and lead?

    The elites have lost sight of the fact that in order for them to be defended by the likes of scum like myself, they have to be worth defending. As they are demonstrably not, well… Odds are, they’re going to have to do for themselves, and I don’t see that working out very well, in the end.

    A con game can only go on for so long, and once the victims gain visibility over the nature of the con, well… The game won’t last for much longer.

    Frankly, it’s reaching a point where we were once upon a time in Korea, where a particularly irritating and incompetent staff officer was running our unit into the ground on a mission. The enemy for the exercise showed up, and instead of us resisting them, we merely pointed up the hill to where this staff type had established himself in a tent, and said “Have fun with him, boys…”.

    Which they did, while we went about our mission unbothered by supervision from our “betters”. End of the day, after he’d been released some 48 hours later, we were all commended for how well we’d done the mission. Nobody mentioned that he’d been held captive for the majority of the time it was going on, and the rest of we unwashed primitives had little to say about the matter.

    Come what may, the elites of today are incompetent scum. That will not keep them in power, and their inevitable comeuppance will likely include and imply their utter irrelevancy going forward.

  4. Graham says:

    I’m not sure “the CIA is doing it” should be considered an advertisement for much of anything.

  5. CVLR says:

    In the vein of Kirk, I just want to point out that legitimacy is worth a lot. A lot. It is, I would argue, the single most valuable asset that any government can possess. And between the abominable behavior of the post-9/11 National Security State, the Snowden Revelations, the Russia Hoax, the meltdown of the Alphabet Media, the legitimacy-wrecking-ball-that-is Trump, and others, legitimacy is increasingly thin on the ground.

    I mean, hell, we have anodyne figures like Neil deGrasse Tyson complaining about TSA gropery on Rogan’s podcast. Something queer is happening here.

  6. Lu An Li says:

    “the British Navy, once famous for its derring-do, nearly lost the World War I battle of Jutland when ship captains hesitated, waiting for flag signals from their fleet commander.”

    Signal flags obscured in large measure by fog, smoke, setting sun, etc. Literally the fog of war. Thirty seconds is all that Jellicoe had to make his decision to advance or withdraw. He didn’t know where his own ships were much less where the German ships were. Prudence was needed.

  7. Kirk says:

    It’s just my opinion, and I’m possibly the most casual of enthusiasts for naval history, but I’m pretty sure there were rather more issues to Britain’s failure (if that’s what it was…) at Jutland than just communications problems.

    One of the really annoying things about military history for me is just how much credence the usual run of military historian gives his theories and hobby-horses. Few of them have actually been soldiers; they almost all have this misconception that things are at all even comprehensible, which leads them to seek out and impose logical explanations for things that just sort of… Happened. For reasons that are entirely obscure to even the participants who made them happen.

    Most military history is, I suspect, written from a standpoint of “Let’s find a logical and reasonable explanation for all of this…”, when in fact…? The whole thing is generally down to sheerest chance or misadventure dating back literal decades. You want to ascribe something logical, something sensible to an endeavor that costs men their lives, but when you try to impose that on a set of circumstances that evolve out of myriad chance causes…? Yeah; good luck with all that. I’ve read accounts of things I witnessed and knew the background for, and I’m here to tell you, I was going “Really? That’s the explanation you’re going with…? I don’t see any mention made here of the things that really set things up, like the sheer bloody-mindedness of so-and-so…”.

    Wellington’s quote about the futility of writing a history of a ball being akin to writing the history of a battle ain’t far off. You can look at things, you can try to impose a sense of order to it all, but there are an awful lot of things that just don’t bear that sort of thing very well at all. And, men trying their hardest to kill one another would probably be right at the top of list of things past rational explanations…

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