Fears mount over Russian influence in Pentagon cloud data contract

Microsoft and Oracle have criticised the Pentagon’s cloud contract but reports now indicate Russia has a hand in more private US business

The Pentagon

AWS is leading the bid for the Pentagon's multi-billion dollar JEDI (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure) contract to store sensitive military data such as nuclear launch codes in a commercial cloud. AWS also has a partnership with C5 Group, a  company bearing connections to a sanctioned Russian oligarch, according to the BBC.

C5 Group is linked with Viktor Vekselberg, a Kremlin associate who has recently been sanctioned by the US for having close ties with the Kremlin.

Vekselberg "poses a risk to the US", said Michael Carpenter, former Pentagon official: "Any oligarch in Russia, when called upon by the Kremlin, to do their bidding will do so, and that is the condition that they keep their wealth."

Vekselberg's former right-hand man Vladimir Kuznetsov is a major shareholder in a C5 subsidiary, C5 Razor Bdico but apparently became one through his own volition, using his own money without instruction from Vekselberg.

Veksleberg was sanctioned by the US and soon after he was stopped before boarding a flight in New York on suspicion of his involvement in Russia's interference in the 2016 Presidential election. His electronic devices were seized but denied any wrongdoing.

It emerged earlier this year that Columbus Nova, a company affiliated with Renova Group had paid 500,000 to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's lawyer at the time. Renova Group is Russian conglomerate which until April 2018, had Vladimir Kuznetsov on its board.

The fears of Veksleberg's connection to a leading bidder stem from the fact that he could have influence over a company which could hold as much as 80% of all US military sensitive data including nuclear launch codes and military personnel locations, some reports suggest. It's logical to fear what Russia could do with access to military data, especially considering how successful it was in the election tampering.

Disclosure of bidding companies is prohibited so the Pentagon has declined to comment, while both AWS and C5 Group have said the pair are not involved in the bidding process at all, contrary to the BBC reports.

The JEDI contract was devised to help the US compete with China and Russia, US Major General David Krumm who helped draft the contract said it would help the US win wars.

Speaking at the contract's launch, he said: "The information has to be available to an army platoon that a friendly unit is just around the block and will not open fire.

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"It's got to be available to a platoon of Marines who are about to breach a door that an IED has been found."

There are fears that if the Pentagon's IT systems are not updated soon they will lose a future war. As of now, the data which is due to be moved into the cloud is stored on smaller servers in different departments around the Pentagon, having the data in one place would, in theory, make data sharing much more efficient.

Other criticisms of the contract come from a more commercial standpoint, with Oracle earlier in the year voicing its concerns about how Amazon has an unfair advantage in securing the contract and that the deal was tailor-made for it.

Microsoft also joined Oracle in the Department of Defence's complaints pile, claiming that limiting the contract to one vendor means the Pentagon would miss out on emerging technology from other cloud companies.

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