If you thought that accusations of suspicious relations with Russia were limited to the sphere of national politics, you would be wrong. The rules for playing the new version of McCarthyism are really simple. Whenever you have exhausted substantive arguments against a particular individual organization, policy or position, just play the “Russia Card.” Accuse your target of having a connection to Russia. You can now employ this infernal device in disputes involving business, the arts or sports. No matter how flimsy the association might have been, that it was legal or that it benefitted the American economy and people, play the “Russia Card.” In the current political and news environments, you don’t have to even assert wrongdoing with Russia. The mere suggestion of a connection with the Russian government, business entities or Russian citizens can be as devastating as an accusation of racism or sexual abuse.
Before I go any further making the case against the use of the “Russia Card,” I need to come clean. I have Russian connections – lots of them. My grandparents were Russian. My father was born in Moscow. The family spoke Russian at home, primarily for my grandparents’ benefit. I have a Ph.D. in what was then called Soviet Studies. I have spent much of my forty year professional life studying Soviet and then Russian politics, economics and military activities. My resume includes nearly fifty articles, book chapters and monographs dealing with Soviet/Russian issues. I have played the Russian side in dozens of wargames and tabletop exercises. I have numerous friends and colleagues who are professional students of Russia. I have met Russians, attended conferences with them and even, in my younger years, had a drink with some. I have been to Russia. I collect Matryoshka dolls and lacquered Russian boxes. I read Russian authors and like music by Russian composers. When it comes to playing the “Russia Card,” I am almost the entire deck.
So you will understand why I say that playing the “Russia Card” doesn’t impress me. In fact, I find it particularly suspect when that particularly card is played at the 11th hour of a contract competition.
In this case, the use of the “Russia Card” involves Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the current competition for a contract with the Pentagon to build and oversee a cloud computing system called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI). While the Department of Defense (DoD) has around five hundred cloud contracts, including some large, expensive and long-term arrangements, JEDI will be unique. What the Pentagon has asked for in JEDI is a highly sophisticated and extremely secure, enterprise-wide cloud computing infrastructure that will allow all of DoD to use commercial cloud technologies to access, process, understand, harness and disseminate its data, including highly classified information. This will empower American military leaders to deliver advanced capabilities, enable real-time decision-making and support joint forces operations all the way from the home front to the tactical edge.
Since the Pentagon first proposed JEDI, there has been a lot of pushback from industry and even from some Members of Congress. Critics have questioned DoD’s decision to award JEDI to a single team rather than signing multiple contracts with a number of service providers. They also have complained that some of the capabilities required of companies responding to the request for proposals unduly favors AWS. It is worth mentioning that DoD has offered well-reasoned, even compelling, responses to these criticisms and that the Government Accountability Office recently rejected such complaints.
With all the proposals having been submitted and the decision on a winner of JEDI coming early next year, somebody apparently decided it was time to play the “Russia Card.” On Wednesday, the BBC ran a piece that suggested that the security of JEDI might be compromised if AWS won the contract because the company has connections to Russians. The story is that AWS has had some business relationships with a holding company called C5 that invests in IT and cyber projects. One of C5’s subsidiaries has as a minority investor and a member of its board of directors, a man named Vladimir Kuznetsov. He is alleged to be a lieutenant of a Russian oligarch and friend of Vladimir Putin, Viktor Vekselberg.
It’s like playing that parlor game Six Degrees of Separation. From Putin to Vekselberg to Kuznetsov to a C5 subsidiary to C5 leadership to AWS to JEDI to the Pentagon. But it is only that, a game.
Neither the BBC article nor the one by Newsweek, which basically regurgitates the innuendoes in the BBC story, provide any evidence of wrongdoing by anyone. Neither article makes a connection between C5 or its subsidiary and any government contract work by AWS. In fact, they make no effort to explain how Russia could use the alleged relationships between the various individuals and companies they try to connect to compromise JEDI.
Both the BBC and Newsweek articles fail to inform their readers that for the past five years AWS has been supporting the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) through the Commercial Cloud Services contract. According to the CIA’s Chief Information Officer, John Edwards, “It’s the best decision we’ve ever made. It’s the most innovative thing we’ve ever done. It is having a material impact on both the CIA and the IC.” There have been no reports of security breaches or loss of data from the IC’s new cloud.
Every company that provides both commercial and sensitive or classified government products and services creates firewalls that separate the two. The part of AWS that had a relationship with C5, reported to be AWS Activate, which assists start-ups, is not connected to that portion of AWS which would work on JEDI. Security clearance requirements alone would preclude such an intersection. In addition, DoD will employ a myriad of security measures to protect data once it is in the JEDI cloud.
If you play the “Russia Card,” it should be an ace. This one is just a deuce.
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