The Post, Amazon, and the CIA

The company’s lobbyists have been active on the issue of cloud computing, says the Post. The timely story by Holly Yeager and Carol D. Leonnig illustrates why Jeff Bezos would do well to keep Amazon and his newly purchased Washington Post news platform as separate corporate entities.

There’s nothing wrong with Amazon pursuing government contracts.

“Amazon has been fighting for a contract with the CIA that analysts say would cement the company’s bona fides in the federal contracting field,” report Yeager and Leonnig (full disclosure: both friends).

In the past three years, Amazon has quickly expanded its presence in cloud computing with its Amazon Web Services unit, winning clients such as NASA, Samsung, Pfizer and the Public Broadcasting Service. This spring, the CIA chose the company for a $600 million cloud computing contract.

Then (this is Washington after all) the lawyers went to to work.

IBM, which had offered to do the job at a lower price, objected to the agency’s decision, according to a review by the Government Accountability Office. IBM said that the CIA had unfairly changed some of the contract specifications in the middle of the process. The GAO agreed with IBM’s main contention and in June urged the CIA to restart the contracting negotiations with its modified requirements.

“In response to the GAO decision, the CIA has taken corrective action and remains focused on awarding a cloud contract for the intelligence community,” agency spokesman Todd Ebitz said.

Two weeks ago, Amazon sued in Washington, asking a federal court to approve its contract with the CIA.

Imagine if Amazon owned the Post. Could Yeager and Leonnig investigate this contract? And keep reporting on it?

Maybe the front office would have a hands off attitude towards the paper’s coverage but probably not. As CEO Bezos would have a duty to his shareholders to maximize profits from government contracting. The Graham family, with its social connections and ownership of television stations and the Kaplan education company, presented occasional conflicts of interest to reporters in the newsroom, which had to be handled with tact.

Amazon, as owner of the Post, would impose infinitely more conflicts of interest on the content creators, as this handy Web tool tells us.

One problem that Amazon is known to collaborate, under legal orders, with government surveillance agencies. If Post reporters were to work for Amazon, they would be seen, rightly or wrongly, as somehow complicit in that controversial arrangement.

Its not complicated. When government surveillance agencies require Internet companies to collaborate with them, a credible Washington news organization cannot be owned by an Internet company. It would negate the brand.

Note to the new boss: The most credible news organizations in the capital are those with an adversarial, not corporate, relationship with secretive government agencies.


  1. Jay sutherland says:

    Understand your concerns , however Bezos bought the Post not Amazon. Obviously there is the potential for conflict of interest but thought the difference should be noted.

  2. George Simmons says:

    Is it a good thing for people like this to own newspapers. I dont think so.

    They tend to own newspapers for a specific reason, which is usually to pursue their own corporate agendas.

    And if a story arises which conflicts with that agenda, then the truth is suppressed.

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