On March 7, 2018, Defense Digital Secretary Director, Chris Lynch gave a talk at the Cloud Industry Day in Arlington, Virginia, announcing and outlining a Department of Defense (DOD) program known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI). Lynch’s talk was one of many, all of which revolved around a DOD-directed cloud migration entailing a ten year contract for platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) instantiations, both classified and unclassified. The project was spurned on by DOD’s retrograde infrastructure and lack of cloud presence which paled in comparison to commercial innovators, as well as the fact that Amazon was the world’s single largest provider of PaaS and IaaS services (which made them a natural go-to). Cloud computing tools had become increasingly normative. The DOD, one of the largest employers in the world, could no longer compete. Thus, significant change was necessary.
Shortly thereafter, in October, Google – who had previously been attached to the bid – saw a upswing of internal protest against the action and swiftly backed out of the arrangement stating that their ‘corporate values’ were in conflict with the DOD deal. This marked the second government contract the company had backed out of; in June, Google had also removed itself from a second bid with the Air Force’s AI initiative, titled ‘Project Maven.’ Again, the Maven-disentanglement was driven by internal protest, with thousands of Google employees reportedly signing a document declaring that, “Google should not be in the business of war.”
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos shared no such apprehensions and went public with AWS’ direction in relation to the deal, emphatically declaring that he absolutely would not be backing out and that America was a great country which needed to be defended. He further went on to speculate that the country would be imperiled if the major tech companies turned their back on national defense.
As Amazon and the DOD continued hammering out the details of the cloud migration plan a intimate survey of 5,400 individuals was conducted by the Washington Post1 via support from the James L. Knight Foundation and the Baker Center For Leadership & Governance, conducted from June through July of 2018 and released in October. Of those polled 3000 were ‘nationally representative’, 800 were ‘african americans’, 800 further were ‘latinx2 americans’ and 800 were ‘asian americans.’ The results were, to many, surprising. Confidence in institutions was cratering amongst the polis and satisfaction with ‘democracy’ (despite the US being a constitutional republic and not a democracy) was also low. Upon being asked how satisfied they were with how democracy was working in the US, only 10% responded ‘very satisfied’, whilst 30% were ‘somewhat satisfied’, 25% were neutral, 21% ‘somewhat dissatisfied’ and 15% ‘very dissatisfied.’ There was very little variation between region and education; however, there was considerable difference of opinion between gender and race and especially, party affiliation. A meager 39% of Independents and 44% of Democrats were very or somewhat satisfied with democracy in the US whereas 76% of Republics were very or somewhat satisfied. Additionally, 35% of democrats polled believed that members of the opposing party were a ‘very serious threat’ to the United States and its people. 32% of republicans polled responded that the opposing party were a ‘very serious threat’ to the US and its people. Perhaps most interestingly, the study found that institutional confidence was highly driven by party affiliation. Google (which recently abandoned operations in Kreuzberg following heated demonstrations from locals), the US Military and Amazon were found to generally inspire high degrees of confidence from those polled whereas governmental institutions (congress, political parties) and Facebook were found to inspire low confidence.
Among republicans, the military inspired more confidence than any other institution (whether governmental or non), with the press inspiring the least. Among democrats Amazon inspired more confidence than any other company or governmental institution, with the executive branch (unsurprisingly) inspiring least confidence.
The results of the study were then predictably swept up by partisans of both parties and bandied as weapons to bludgeon their opposition. One Twitter user responded to the survey by declaring: “Democrats place more trust in a major corporation (Amazon) than in any other institution. Amazing encapsulation of the shift from the party of labor to the party of technocracy.” Another user responded to the findings by stating: “Incredibly sad. The FBI, Amazon, really??? Another reason not to trust the Democrats.” A list of similar comments could go on for some time, those above merely here interjected to illustrate a general public tenor which saw those opposed to the democrats expressing incredulity and outrage over the party’s affinity towards Amazon (and “big tech” more generally) and those opposed to the republicans expressing anger over their continued support for banks and the POTUS. However, what such commentators are missing is the uneven diagrammatic overlap of positive affinities between Republican and Democrat support as both heavily support Amazon. The Democrats support the tech giant directly where as the Republicans support them through their support of the military, of which the DOD is a part, the DOD in turn heavily relies on Amazon and hence, support of, at least the DOD, is itself, at this juncture, implicit support for AWS, which continues to unfurl itself across the world like a gigantic octopus. Whatever change they bring about it is unlikely that all of it will be negative; one thing, however, is clear, that the corporation and the state are becoming increasingly interwoven and as a consequence, increasingly indistinguishable. It is here worthy mentioning that this was largely accidental, Bezos didn’t set out in 1995 to completely restructure the US militaries technological infrastructure, he only got to his position through massive user consumption and promotion of his goods and services. A voluntary shift through the cloud from one sovereignty to another without disturbing the totality. A perforation of American sovereignty through a inability to successfully manage data-flows, the importance of which, can scarcely be overstated given that all states maintain their power, principally, through oversight, through being able to account for every pertinent perturbation (preferably before it occurs) when any other entity is able to better aggregate, manage and utilize dataflows that entity (without severe intercession) will nearly invariably assume a position commensurate or above the state. Displacing its conceptual efficacy without displacing its members or other appendages which will only be spurned on by the erosion of confidence in governmental institutions documented by the WaPo poll and recent Pew Research3 polls4 which are symptomatic of a continuing series of grand-scale narrative shifts and conceptual displacements (the new tale of various globalism running into competition with older narratives of nationhood; the tribal member vs the citizen vs the global citizen vs the ubiquitous non-citizen user).
Sovereign platforms congeal, regardless. Regardless of left or right or their imploding center. A political trichotomy for which there is little hope for extended future survival. Upwing is the future. Whether that will be for good or ill and who for will depend, chiefly, upon the constitution of those platforms which successfully integrate the US government and who, through new forms of sacral inscription (new cultural flows, modulated by multiplication of new data flows and attempts to controls them), garner the vestments of the priest (the ‘game changer’ the ‘tech guru’ the ‘self-made man’ etc) and subsume the contemporary clerisy. Where once the state was a great and self-contained machine, now it is the confluence of outputs of extra-national and intra-national forces. Neither, chiefly, user nor provider, but rather, mediating receptor.
1The Washington Post, just like Amazon, is owned by Jeff Bezos.
2A rebranding of ‘latino.’
3The Pew Research Center is a fact-finding and polling organization which describes itself as a ‘fact tank.’ Pew is led by President Michael Dimcock. They do not take policy positions.
4See: (2017) Political Typology Reveals Deep Fissures On The Left & Right. Pew Research Center.