Amazon hiring 'top secret' IT staff as it fights for CIA work

The U.S. isn't doing a good job keeping secrets. Think Edward Snowden. But demand for trustworthy IT professionals is strong, especially if they want to work for Amazon Web Services.

The U.S. isn't doing a good job keeping secrets. Think Edward Snowden. But demand for trustworthy IT professionals is strong, especially if they want to work for Amazon Web Services.

Amazon has more than 100 job ads for people who can get a top secret clearance, which includes a U.S. government administered polygraph examination. It needs software developers, operations managers, and cloud support engineers, among others.

Amazon's hiring effort includes an invite-only recruiting event for systems, support engineers at its Herndon Va., facility on Sept. 24 and 25.

Amazon is challenging established IT vendors for U.S. government intelligence work, illustrated by an escalating fight to build a private cloud for the CIA.

Amazon was initially picked by the U.S. over IBM to build a cloud platform for the spy agency. IBM protested this award and prevailed in an administrative ruling. Amazon filed a 61-page complaint in federal court last month challenging the decision to re-bid this project.

For Amazon, this may be a fight about perception as it is about the bid's technical issues. In its government lawsuit, Amazon said it realized, before most other companies, how cloud computing "could fundamentally alter the path of computing" and this gave it "a multiple-year head start on late adapters."

Amazon describes IBM as "a traditional fixed IT infrastructure provider and late entrant to the cloud computing market."

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT, said he's "a bit uncomfortable with Amazon's positioning" in the lawsuit of cloud services "as something new that a vendor like IBM is somehow incapable of delivering."

Cloud computing "simply describes one approach to data center asset provisioning; one that has been around and been practiced by vendors including IBM for many years," said King. "This doesn't reflect on the relative merits of either company's bid for the CIA project but to consider one or the other as somehow inherently superior seems mistaken to me," he said.

The government was apparently willing to pay a premium for Amazon's cloud implementation. The amount of the bid by the vendors wasn't disclosed, but government evaluation of the bids put the prices at $148 million for Amazon versus $93 million for IBM.

Analysis of this dispute is difficult because the government has redacted parts of the information around it. But Bill Moran, an analyst at Ptak Noel & Associates, describes in a report, some of the problems the vendors faced.

The vendors were required to address hypothetical scenarios. In one instance, it involved the processing of 100 terabytes data. But scenario was ambiguous, and the vendors priced it different ways, making it impossible to compare prices, wrote Moran.

There were other issues with the bid as well, but overall the Ptak Noel report said that the CIA "did a poor job with a poorly worded" request for proposals.

Ptak Noel report goes further and argues that "CIA showed bias in favor of Amazon," but it faulted IBM as well, saying it needed to do a better in writing and presenting their proposal. IBM says it did not pay for the Ptak Noel report.

Ptak Noel also said that the CIA "too casually brush off Amazon's outages" in evaluating the proposals. IBM, citing Amazon's outages, said in a statement that "Amazon's definition of availability doesn't measure up to mission critical needs of the federal government." Amazon didn't comment.

This dispute aside, Amazon is clearly making inroads with the government, including at agencies including the National Institutes of Health, NASA, the State Department, and Agriculture.

Amazon's effort to get government cloud work includes being certified by the U.S. under its Federal Risk and Authorization Program, or FEDRAMP.

"Amazon can be a formidable competitor," said Ray Bjorklund, who heads market research firm BirchGrove Consulting, and points to their decision to file a lawsuit as supporting evidence.

However, Bjorklund said he wondered whether the dispute, as it goes on through the resolution process, will hobble the CIA in its effort to develop its cloud platform.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on

Read more about private cloud in Computerworld's Private Cloud Topic Center.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Government ITAmazon Web Servicesdata securityIBMsecuritynsaprivate clouddata protection

More about Amazon Web ServicesAmazon Web ServicesBillIBM AustraliaNASANSATopic

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Patrick Thibodeau

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts