You can now add “spymaster” to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s various titles. On Friday June 14, a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report elaborated on previous reports that Amazon had won a $600 million contract to build a “private cloud” for the CIA. (The GAO report was generated when IBM, which had been competing for the contract, protested that it had lost unfairly.)
More than half a billion dollars will buy you a lot of cloud computing, and now, Top Secret / Sensitive Compartmented Information” clearance, or are willing to go through the elaborate screening process required to get it. TS/SCI is the highest security clearance offered by the US government, and getting it requires having your background thoroughly vetted.
One thing that’s mysterious, and possibly telling, about Amazon’s job announcement for a “Systems Engineer—Government Cleared” is that the location of this job—Herndon, Virginia—may or may not coincide with the location of the CIA’s own cloud computing centers. CIA headquarters is in Langley, but Herndon, about 15 miles to the west, is also thought to be home to a CIA building. Amazon’s original contract with the CIA required Amazon to physically place the servers required inside CIA facilities, according to the GAO. (Amazon has a data center of its own in Ashburn, another 8 miles or so further northwest of Herndon.)
Amazon’s existing private cloud for the US government, called GovCloud, appears to have its servers on the West Coast, which already handles less sensitive matters like streaming video to the public from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. While Amazon’s systems engineers can and often do work from any of the company’s offices, accessing servers remotely, if Amazon is hiring specifically in Herndon, Virginia, it suggests that it’s building systems—either yet to be announced, or within the CIA’s own data centers—right there.