In 2013, the CIA and Amazon, Inc. made a deal — Amazon would build a special cloud system for the U.S. intelligence community, and the CIA would pay Amazon a whopping $600 million. After a long journey fraught with legal battles and money troubles, the CIA will finally start using the new cloud system this summer.
The purpose of the cloud system is to allow the CIA’s 17 intelligence agencies to share data. By using this cloud, the CIA hopes to avoid security breaches and keep better track of intelligence data so the U.S. doesn’t experience another 9/11, according to The Atlantic.
“The goal was, ‘Can we act like a large enterprise in the corporate world and buy the thing that we don’t have, can we catch up to the commercial cycle? Anybody can build a data center, but could we purchase something more? We decided we needed to buy innovation,” an unnamed, former intelligence official told The Atlantic.
After competing with IBM in 2013 for the privilege of building the CIA’s cloud, Amazon won, and then faced a legal suit with IBM. After the courts ruled in Amazon’s favor, Amazon started building the database. The plan for the database is for it to be a growing system — Amazon will continue to upgrade and improve the cloud, while the intelligence community will use and pay only for the specific services they need. To protect the cloud from foreign intelligence and the public, the system will operate behind the CIA’s firewall.
CIA Chief Information Officer Douglas Wolfe thinks the cloud system is going to transform the way the CIA does intelligence work.
“We see this as a tremendous opportunity to sharpen our focus and to be very efficient,” Wolfe said at the annual Amazon Web Services symposium in June, according to The Atlantic. “We hope to get speed and scale out of the cloud, and a tremendous amount of efficiency in terms of folks traditionally using IT now using it in a cost-recovery way.”
According to The Financial Times, AWS provides cloud computing for public agencies and private businesses, but the CIA’s use of the system is validating AWS as a trustworthy agent for setting up a cloud.
“The mission we have is important,” Wolfe said, according to The Atlantic. “The pace and complexity is really not [diminishing], in fact, it may be increasing. We feel it is very important to deliver the best IT and best products and services we can to our customers in the IC.”