Amazon to Create $600M Private Network for CIA

Dennis Faas's picture

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has agreed to pay Amazon $600 million over the next ten years. However, the CIA isn't purchasing books or DVDs -- instead, it's buying access to Amazon's massive, private data system.

The deal is with Amazon's Web Services department, which already offers cloud computing to individuals and businesses. Cloud computing doesn't simply mean offering online storage, but also online data processing.

The Amazon cloud service works on a pay-as-you-go basis. This makes it ideal for organizations that need data processed intermittently rather than all the time.

Cloud Computing Could Save Government Cash

It seems that set-up is appealing to the CIA which, like many government departments and agencies, is under heavy pressure to reduce costs.

Using an external service avoids two financial risks: wasting money on computer equipment that isn't used to full capacity, and being left without enough computing power to carry out a particular task.

Although neither the CIA nor Amazon has publicly confirmed the deal, tech website FCW says several sources insist it is happening. The CIA's technology chief has previously mentioned the Amazon pricing model in public speeches. (Source:

Exactly what the CIA "cloud" at Amazon will involve isn't yet clear, but it looks as if the goal is to produce a single network accessible across the agency. At the moment some parts of the agency use online services, but they aren't well-connected.

The new deal could make it much easier for different parts of the agency to share information on cases and suspects, solving an oft-cited problem with the way the CIA handles data. Eventually it could mean sharing more details with other law enforcement agencies. (Source:

Security Still A Significant Issue

The big question is how the Amazon set-up will deal with security. Although Amazon will physically build and operate the network, that network may be surrounded by CIA firewalls, blocking access to anyone from outside the agency.

If the deal goes ahead and is a success, it could mean other government agencies are more likely to outsource computing services and data processing to commercial companies.

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