|How Amazon and Silicon Valley Seduced the Pentagon|
Tech moguls like Jeff Bezos and Eric Schmidt have gotten unprecedented access to the Pentagon. And one whistleblower who raised flags has paid the price.
by James Bandler, Anjali Tsui and Doris Burke
Aug. 22, 5 a.m.
From left: Eric Schmidt, the former chairman of Google’s parent company, James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, and Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. (Nate Kitch, special to ProPublica)
ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.
This article was co-published with Fortune.
On Aug. 8, 2017, Roma Laster, a Pentagon employee responsible for policing conflicts of interest, emailed an urgent warning to the chief of staff of then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Several department employees had arranged for Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, to be sworn into an influential Pentagon advisory board despite the fact that, in the year since he’d been nominated, Bezos had never completed a required background check to obtain a security clearance.
Mattis was about to fly to the West Coast, where he would personally swear Bezos in at Amazon’s headquarters before moving on to meetings with executives from Google and Apple. Soon phone calls and emails began bouncing around the Pentagon. Security clearances are no trivial matter to defense officials; they exist to ensure that people with access to sensitive information aren’t, say, vulnerable to blackmail and don’t have conflicts of interest. Laster also contended that it was a “noteworthy exception” for Mattis to perform the ceremony. Secretaries of defense, she wrote, don’t hold swearing-in events.
Laster’s alarms triggered fear among Pentagon brass that Mattis would be seen as doing a special favor for Bezos, which could put him in hot water with President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly proclaimed his antipathy to Bezos, mainly because of his ownership of The Washington Post. The swearing-in was canceled only hours before it was scheduled to occur. (This episode, never previously reported, is based on interviews with six people familiar with the matter. An Amazon spokesperson said the company was told that Bezos did not need a security clearance and that the company provided all requested information.)
Despite the cancellation, Bezos met with Mattis that day. They talked about leadership and military history, then moved on to Amazon’s sales pitch on why the Defense Department should make a radical shift in its computing. Amazon wanted the department to abandon its hodgepodge of 2,215 data centers, located in various Pentagon facilities and run using different systems by an array of different companies, and let Amazon replace that with cloud service: computing power provided over the internet, all of it running on Amazon’s servers.
That vision is now well on its way to becoming a reality. The Pentagon is preparing to award a $10 billion, 10-year contract to move its information technology systems to the cloud. Amazon’s cloud unit, Amazon Web Services, or AWS, is the biggest provider of cloud services in the country and also the company’s profit engine: It accounted for 58.7% of Amazon’s operating income last year. AWS has been the favorite to emerge with the Pentagon contract.
Known as JEDI, for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, the project has been the subject of accusations of favoritism. Two spurned bidders have launched unsuccessful bid protests and one of them, Oracle, filed and lost a lawsuit. Meanwhile, there’s an ongoing investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general.
The DOD defends JEDI. The agency’s decision-makers have “always placed the interests of the warfighter first and have acted without bias, prejudice, or self-interest,” DOD spokesperson Elissa Smith said in a statement. “The same cannot be said of all parties to the debate over JEDI.”
What’s happened at the Pentagon extends past the JEDI contract. It’s a story of how some of America’s biggest tech companies used a little-known advisory board, some aggressive advocacy by a few billionaires and some unofficial lobbying to open a backdoor into the Pentagon. And so, no matter who wins the JEDI contract, one winner is already clear: Silicon Valley. The question is no longer whether a technology giant will emerge with the $10 billion prize, but rather which technology giant (or giants) will.
There are certainly benefits. The Pentagon’s technological infrastructure does indeed need to be modernized. But there may also be costs. Silicon Valley has pushed for the Pentagon to adopt its technology and its move-fast-and-break-things ethos. The result, according to interviews with more than three dozen current and former DOD officials and tech executives, has been internal clashes and a tortured process that has combined the hype of tech with the ethical morass of the Washington industry-government revolving door.
Laster did her best to enforce the rules. She would challenge the Pentagon’s cozy relationship not only with Bezos, but with Google’s Eric Schmidt, the chairman of the defense board that Bezos sought to join. The ultimate resolution? Laster was shunted aside. She was removed from the innovation board in November 2017 (but remains at the Defense Department). “Roma was removed because she insisted on them following the rules,” said a former DOD official knowledgeable about her situation.
Laster filed a grievance, which was denied. “I’ve been betrayed by an organization I joined when I was 17 years old,” said Laster, who is 54. “This is an organization built on loyalty, dedication and patriotism. Unfortunately, it is kind of one-way.”
Other criticism, from Amazon’s rivals and the press, has centered on the actions of several DOD workers who had previously worked directly or indirectly for Amazon and have since returned to the private sector. The most important of those employees, Sally Donnelly — a former outside strategist for Amazon who had become one of Mattis’ top aides — helped give Amazon officials access to Mattis in intimate settings, an opportunity that most defense contractors don’t enjoy. Donnelly organized a private dinner, never reported before, for Mattis, Bezos, herself and Amazon’s top government-sales executive at a Washington restaurant, DBGB, on Jan. 17, 2018. The dinner occurred just as the DOD was finalizing draft bid specifications for JEDI. (Asked about the dinner and several others like it, the DOD’s Smith said: “One of the department’s priorities is to reform the way DOD does business. As part of this reform, leaders are expected to engage with industry — in a full and open manner within legal boundaries — to find ways to reform our business practices and build a more lethal force.” A spokesperson for AWS said the dinner “had nothing to do with the JEDI procurement, and those implying otherwise either are misinformed or disappointed competitors trying to distract with innuendo vs competing fairly with their technical capabilities.”)
Such meetings aren’t illegal, but they undermine public trust in defense contracting, said Charles Tiefer, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and one of the nation’s leading experts on government-contracting law. “This is a particularly serious example of the revolving door among Pentagon officials and defense contractors, which has been problematic in recent years and is getting worse under the Trump administration,” he said.
In July, Trump expressed concerns about the process and whether it was skewed in Amazon’s favor. Early this month, his new defense secretary, Mark Esper, announced a fresh review, which will delay the selection of a winner. The judge in the JEDI-related case ruled in favor of the government but nonetheless summed up the process as containing conflict-of-interest allegations that were “certainly sufficient to raise eyebrows” and a “constant gravitational pull on agency employees by technology behemoths.”
The board that Bezos almost joined — called the Defense Innovation Board — was launched in 2016 by Ashton Carter, the last defense secretary in the Obama administration. Carter worried that the Pentagon’s information technology was falling behind. He recruited a collection of tech luminaries, including Schmidt, then the executive chairman of Google’s parent company, and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, by appealing to their patriotism and enticing them with the proposition that the DOD needed the insight and culture of Silicon Valley. Of course, the Pentagon also has an annual infotech budget of $38 billion, and what tech CEO could resist offering products and services to solve the department’s problems?
Schmidt, the chairman of the innovation board, embraced the mission. In the spring and summer of 2016, he embarked, with fellow board members, on a series of visits to Pentagon operations around the world. Schmidt visited a submarine base in San Diego, an aircraft carrier off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and Creech Air Force Base, located deep in the Nevada desert near Area 51.
Inside the drone operations center at Creech, according to three people familiar with the trip, Schmidt observed video as a truck in a contested zone somewhere was surveilled by a Predator drone and annihilated. It was a mesmerizing display of the U.S. military’s lethal reach.
Yet as Schmidt and his colleagues studied the control panels and displays, they felt like they were witnessing technology frozen in the 1970s. He began asking questions about the challenges of controlling drones thousands of miles away. One operator complained that he had to use his joystick to toggle quickly between systems and screens, turning off one feed to use another. He had to do all of this while simultaneously flying the drone and trying to keep his attention on a target that was frequently in motion.
A little later, on the operations floor, Schmidt watched as dozens of people monitored video feeds from drones around the globe. One of the visitors noted that computers using recognition software and machine learning could much more efficiently and accurately perform the majority of these tasks.
A little more than a year after Schmidt’s visit, Google won a $17 million subcontract in a project called Maven to help the military use image recognition software to identify drone targets — exactly the kind of function that Schmidt witnessed at Creech. (Schmidt declined to be interviewed. A person close to the innovation board said he was unaware of his company’s involvement in Maven. Google, which has funded ProPublica projects on voting and video journalism in recent years, declined to comment on the record.)
Schmidt’s influence, already strong under Carter, only grew when Mattis arrived as defense secretary. Schmidt’s travel privileges at the DOD, which required painstaking approval from the agency’s chief of staff for each stop of every trip, were suddenly unfettered after Schmidt requested carte blanche, according to three sources knowledgeable about the matter. Mattis granted him and the board permission to travel anywhere they wanted and to talk to anyone at the DOD on all but the most secret programs.
Such access is unheard-of for executives or directors of companies that sell to the government, say three current and former DOD officials, both to prevent opportunities for bribery or improper influence and to ensure that one company does not get advantages over others. “Mattis changed the rules of engagement and the muscularity of the innovation board went from zero to 60,” said a person who has served on Pentagon advisory boards. “There’s a lot of opportunity for mischief.”
In a written statement, the DOD denied that Mattis extended Schmidt’s privileges, characterizing them as “no more and no less” than when Carter was defense secretary. As for Mattis, his former press secretary, Dana White, speaking on his behalf, said: “In order to do their job, all members of the Defense Innovation Board had full access to the department and its entities. Secretary Mattis insisted on it. He fully leveraged their unique experience to ensure DOD adapted and gained maximum advantage over the rising threats of near-peer competitors.”
Over the next months, Schmidt and two other board members with Google ties would continue flying all over the country, visiting Pentagon installations and meeting with DOD officials, sessions that no other company could attend. It’s hard to reconstruct what occurred in many of those meetings, since they were private. On one occasion, Schmidt quizzed a briefer about which cloud service provider was being used for a data project, according to a memo that Laster prepared after the briefing. When the briefer told him that Amazon handled the business, Schmidt asked if they’d considered other cloud providers. Laster’s memo flagged Schmidt’s inquiry as a “point of concern,” given that he was the chairman of a major cloud provider.
The DOD became unusually deferential to Schmidt. He preferred to travel on his personal jet, and he would ferry fellow board members with him. But that created a problem for his handlers: DOD employees are not permitted to ride on private planes. Still, the staff at the board didn’t want to inconvenience Schmidt by making him wait for his department support team to arrive on commercial flights. So, according to a source knowledgeable about the board’s spending, on at least one occasion the department requisitioned military aircraft at a cost of $25,000 an hour to transport its employees to meet Schmidt on his tour. (The DOD’s spokesperson said employees did this because “there were no commercial flights available.”)
The fact that such unusual access was granted to a board member who was a DOD vendor raised alarm, according to current and former Pentagon employees. As she had in the Bezos episode, Laster took action. She was a former Marine who’d been a military police officer in the U.S. force in Somalia in the 1990s. Her official title was designated federal officer for the Defense Innovation Board. Laster’s job was to make sure that members’ conduct was ethical and in accordance with laws, regulations and rules. Blunt and direct, she was hardly a pushover. But Laster had never encountered tech billionaires before, much less ones empowered by the head of her agency.
The trouble started after Laster sought a clarification of how to carry out Mattis’ sweeping travel directive. She was concerned that it could expose the department to accusations of giving vendors an unfair edge. Three members of the board worked directly or indirectly for Google and two for United Technologies, a major defense contractor.
Schmidt responded by threatening to go over her head to Mattis, according to her grievance. She was told to stand down and never again speak to Schmidt. According to the grievance, her boss told her, “Mr. Schmidt was a billionaire and would never accept pushback, warnings or limits.”
The Schmidt episode captured the tension that had emerged inside the department. To one Silicon Valley supporter, it was a “textbook example of the bureaucracy trying to slow down progress and change using rules, rules, rules.” To Michael Bayer, the former chairman of another Pentagon advisory board, where he had worked with Laster, she was a person of “extraordinary character” who was working hard to make sure the board “did the right thing.”
It would be hard to find a purer embodiment of the proverbial revolving door — or a stealth influencer — than Sally Donnelly. For the past dozen years she has shuttled between the DOD and consulting firms, including at least once with Amazon as a client, that seek to influence the department. During her most recent government stint, Donnelly, 59, came to be viewed as the “fairy godmother” of the Big Tech advocates in the department, as one Pentagon official put it to ProPublica.
Donnelly is known as a superb crafter of narratives, a person who can present ideas in persuasive ways. She honed those skills in her first career, as a reporter at Time magazine, where, among other things, she covered the Pentagon and wrote glowingly of Mattis. Donnelly spent 20 years at the newsweekly before moving to the DOD for the first time in 2007. She worked for the then-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, then later for Mattis, including while he oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the head of Central Command.
In 2012, Donnelly departed and opened her own consulting firm, SBD Advisors. “Our team offers guidance and stealth strategies,” its website boasted, according to a 2014 article in Politico, “ensuring that clients benefit from the results of our campaigns while outwardly they are under-the-radar.” SBD’s clients included Amazon, Uber, Bloomberg, Palantir and others.
Donnelly was a master at quietly cultivating a network, one that straddled the permeable line between government and industry. Carter rented an office at the firm before he became Obama’s defense secretary, and a Politico story listed him as a SBD adviser. (During Carter’s tenure as secretary, Donnelly worked as a DOD consultant.) SBD’s other high-profile generals and defense-connected figures included Mullen, former director of national intelligence Dennis Blair and Michael Flynn, the former Defense Intelligence Agency chief and national security adviser who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
By 2015, Donnelly’s business had announced a new focus. SBD now specialized in “bridging the gap between Silicon Valley and Washington, DC,” its website declared, by “facilitating engagements between the technology and defense sectors.” The next year her firm started advising Amazon Web Services on how to land DOD contracts.
In January 2017, Donnelly rejoined the department after successfully shepherding Mattis through the Senate confirmation process. Her title, senior adviser, understated her influence. She emerged as one of the most powerful people in the leadership of the Pentagon, according to numerous DOD staffers. She guided Mattis on politics (which was relatively new terrain for him), relations with the White House and dealing with the press.
Donnelly also helped the defense secretary connect with outside companies. She helped arrange not only the January 2018 dinner between Bezos and Mattis, but also a previously reported private dinner with Mattis and Teresa Carlson, the head of the AWS division that sells services to governments, in March 2017 in London. (A host of that gathering told The Wall Street Journal that cloud computing was not discussed and that the purpose of the dinner was to talk about a charity involving wounded veterans.) The same year, at Donnelly’s behest, AWS’ Carlson met with several of Mattis’ top aides. People familiar with the matter say they discussed a possible job for Carlson at the Pentagon. No offer was made. (A source close to Carlson said such a job “would not have been of interest.”)
A lawyer for Donnelly, Michael Levy, said she “always adhered to all ethical and legal obligations and acted in the best interest of the national security of the United States.” He added that she played no role in the JEDI contract. “To suggest otherwise … reflects an absence of even the most rudimentary understanding of the government contracting process.”
A veteran Marine general, Mattis was initially perceived as skeptical of what Silicon Valley was selling. He knew the flesh-and-blood realities of war and believed in giving autonomy to commanders on the ground. In his mind, anything that reinforced Pentagon leaders’ desire to micromanage events halfway across the globe was problematic. Technology, he believed, could make matters worse.
But Schmidt was an effective advocate for the power of big data, which he argued had become as important a strategic resource as oil. And he emphasized that the need for technological improvement was urgent: China was rapidly improving. In June 2017, at a private lunch in a Pentagon conference room, Schmidt told him Google’s lead over China in artificial intelligence technology had shrunk from five years to six months. “Mr. Secretary, they’re at your heels,” Schmidt said, according to three people familiar with the lunch. “You need to take decisive action now.”
Schmidt wanted the department to adopt a Silicon Valley philosophy that emphasized innovation, taking risks and moving fast. Among his recommendations: embrace cloud computing. In the summer of 2017, Mattis decided to investigate firsthand. He departed on a tour that would include visits to Amazon and Google headquarters and a one-on-one with Apple CEO Tim Cook.
At Amazon, despite the tempest about Bezos joining the innovation board, Mattis and the CEO hit it off. The two talked together for about an hour. Mattis gave a pithy sweep of lessons from military history and expressed his view on the perils of overreliance on technology. He noted how the British Navy, once famous for its derring-do, nearly lost the World War I battle of Jutland when ship captains hesitated, waiting for flag signals from their fleet commander.
After the meeting, Bezos and Mattis walked to another conference room, where AWS executives made their case that the company’s cloud products offer better security than traditional data centers, according to three people who attended. As evidence, they noted that the Central Intelligence Agency had embarked on a $600 million, 10-year cloud contract with Amazon in 2013 and, they said, it was working.
To ensure that Mattis could visualize the impact Amazon’s technology could have on an actual battlefield, staffers placed on the conference room table a “Snowball Edge,” a suitcase-sized device with lots of storage that allowed soldiers in remote environments to quickly process information.
One of Mattis’ last meetings on the trip seemed to tip him into the camp of the cloud advocates. He met with venture capitalists, including Marc Andreessen, an influential Silicon Valley figure who first made his name as the creator of the Netscape browser a quarter-century ago. Andreessen was a booster of Amazon. “You need to get to the cloud,” he told Mattis. “You’d be stupid not to.”
Something seemed to click inside Mattis. He told his staff to begin preparing a memo laying out how the DOD would shift its computing to the cloud.
The Pentagon’s cloud initiative ultimately ended up being led by Chris Lynch, the head of Defense Digital Service. DDS was no ordinary unit; it was a corps of software engineers hired from Google, Amazon and other tech companies to “challenge the status quo, burdensome policies and established bureaucracies in an effort to streamline DOD’s ability to introduce modern software development, tools and practices,” according to a department spokesperson. And Lynch himself was no ordinary government employee. As a teenager, he had been arrested and expelled from his Ohio high school after he and some friends called in a bomb threat as a joke. But he grew up, earned his high school degree, worked at Microsoft and then ran a series of startups. At 43, he wore hoodies to an office dominated by starched white shirts and still considered himself an insurgent, a point he conveyed by posting a sign reading “The Rebel Alliance” outside the entrance to his group’s office; the name also reflected his obsession with Star Wars. (His team came up with the acronym JEDI for the cloud project.)
Lynch had a vision of how the Pentagon’s cloud initiative should work: a single DOD-wide cloud run by one provider that would allow the agency to shutter all but the most secret of its data centers. Having one cloud would be ultra-efficient, he said. It would allow programmers to deliver instant software fixes to the entire department, rather than multiple divisions needing to wait weeks for an outside contractor to come by in person.
Lynch also believed the department lacked the expertise to manage multiple vendors, each with its own idiosyncrasies. Better to give the entire agency one provider. And as he saw it, only three cloud companies in the U.S. were capable of that mission: Amazon, Microsoft and Google.
Some in the Pentagon believed that Lynch’s plan presented its own risk. They thought that putting all of the agency’s data in one company’s system made it more vulnerable, not less, than having it stored with multiple vendors. They also worried such an approach would stifle competition and create a huge monopoly.
But Lynch had an advantage in the fight: Donnelly. She obtained full access to the Pentagon front office for Lynch and secured a “letter of marque” for him, a written statement of support from Mattis that put the weight of the agency’s chief behind him.
Amazon often seemed to have allies close at hand. For example, the deputy defense secretary sometimes used his chief of staff, Tony DeMartino, as a point man to the key committee on JEDI. DeMartino had been managing director of Donnelly’s consulting firm, where he’d had Amazon as a client. He was warned to be “vigilant and consult” with ethics lawyers before involving himself in matters related to Amazon. But even after the warning, DeMartino repeatedly participated in the cloud-related matters, according to emails submitted by Oracle in its lawsuit against the government, as well as emails obtained by ProPublica and interviews with current and former Pentagon officials. For example, one November 2017 email reviewed by ProPublica, which was copied to Donnelly, shows DeMartino suggested a “huddle” with the new head of the Pentagon’s cloud executive steering group to discuss the man’s responsibilities. Later, after DeMartino was no longer serving the deputy secretary, he asked to remain “linked into” the cloud initiative. A contracting officer who examined DeMartino’s role concluded that his actions hadn’t affected the JEDI process since DeMartino’s role was “ministerial and perfunctory.” (A person in DeMartino’s camp insists that his only activity on JEDI was blocking a “stupid acronym” — C3PO — from being inserted in a larger memo.)
A second former Amazon employee would spark more controversy. Deap Ubhi, a former AWS employee who worked for Lynch, was tasked with gathering marketing information to make the case for a single cloud inside the DOD. Around the same time that he started working on JEDI, Ubhi began talking with AWS about rejoining the company. As his work on JEDI deepened, so did his job negotiations. Six days after he received a formal offer from Amazon, Ubhi recused himself from JEDI, fabricating a story that Amazon had expressed an interest in buying a startup company he owned. A contracting officer who investigated found enough evidence that Ubhi’s conduct violated conflict of interest rules to refer the matter to the inspector general, but concluded that his conduct did not corrupt the process. (Ubhi, who now works in AWS’ commercial division, declined comment through a company spokesperson.)
Ubhi worsened the impression by making ill-advised public statements while still employed by the DOD. In a tweet, he described himself as “once an Amazonian, always an Amazonian.”
By the time the draft JEDI bid was formally unveiled in March 2018, rumors had begun surfacing in trade publications that the specifications had been written with Amazon in mind. For example, the bid required that the JEDI contract could not account for more than half of the provider’s cloud data load. And it required that the provider have at least three physical data centers, each separated by more than 150 miles. Only a tiny handful of companies could fulfill those mandates.
Many tech companies were furious. Indeed, the only major cloud computing company that defended JEDI was Amazon. The harshest reaction came from IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, which would form the nucleus of a coalition that would work to stop JEDI. “This one-size-fits-all idea is, I think, limited to JEDI and promoted by Amazon, because it fits Amazon’s needs,” said Ken Glueck, Oracle’s top Washington executive.
The DOD’s spokesperson said, “The requirements were not designed around any one provider.” An Amazon spokesperson said that “from day one, we’ve competed for JEDI on the breadth and depth of our services, and their corresponding security and operational performance.”
Oracle responded by using its own access. As first reported by Bloomberg, Oracle arranged for its co-CEO, Safra Catz, to attend a private dinner in April 2018 with Trump and Peter Thiel, a founder of defense firm Palantir and a Trump ally. Catz told Trump she thought the JEDI specifications had been written so that only Amazon could win, according to a person familiar with the conversation and Bloomberg.
Only four companies submitted bids for JEDI. Google had already withdrawn from the bidding, citing its belief that the project should be split among multiple providers. The decision came after its own employees protested the company’s participation in Maven, expressing opposition to the idea that their technology would be used to help kill people. Two bidders — IBM and Oracle — were eliminated after they failed to meet the bid requirements. That has left only Amazon and Microsoft still standing in the JEDI competition.
Both IBM and Oracle filed protests. IBM’s protest was dismissed and Oracle’s was denied by the Government Accountability Office. Oracle sued the government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, asserting JEDI had been tainted by conflicts of interest. The judge in the case ruled against Oracle. He agreed with the contracting officer that Oracle lost the bid on the merits and that any “errors and omissions” were “not significant and did not give AWS a competitive advantage.”
Oracle did not give up. The company hired former members of the Trump administration and made its case to allies on key congressional committees. Largely as a result, the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee blocked the DOD from spending money on JEDI until it demonstrated it was using multiple cloud vendors.
Then, in July, Trump himself got involved, saying he was considering intervening in JEDI. Soon after, the new secretary of defense, Mark Esper (a former chief lobbyist for Raytheon), requested another review.
Much of the information that has surfaced in the press about JEDI is the product of investigations performed by Oracle and its lawyers. Meanwhile, PowerPoint presentations and investigative reports containing allegations of all sorts of byzantine chicanery by Amazon began circulating last year. By the spring of 2019, multiple corporate interests had deployed private teams to investigate their rivals and DOD officials.
The Pentagon’s inspector general continues to investigate, according to a spokesperson, including “whether current or former DOD officials committed misconduct relating to the JEDI acquisition, such as whether any had any conflicts of interest related to their involvement in the acquisition process.”
The claims and investigations have left JEDI shrouded in uncertainty. The project might not survive in its current form, according to people knowledgeable about the DOD, but there’s little doubt that the agency will move its computing to the cloud in one form or another.
As for Donnelly, she left government again last year. A going-away party was thrown for her at the Pentagon. Jared Kushner and former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn attended. Today, Cohn is the chairman of the advisory board of a new firm that Donnelly has opened, Pallas Advisors, which she founded along with Tony DeMartino, the former DOD political appointee and ex-strategy consultant for SBD.
Pallas describes itself as a “strategic advisory firm” that provides “insight into how governments think and operate.” According to a person familiar with the matter, one of Pallas’ staffers, Robert Daigle — who had previously worked on the JEDI project at the DOD — turned up in early August in the offices of at least one U.S. senator. Daigle was accompanied by Chris Lynch, who has left the DOD and founded a company, Rebellion Defense, that is seeking defense contracts relating to artificial intelligence. (Rebellion’s board members include Eric Schmidt.)
Lynch and Daigle were pushing a familiar agenda from a new vantage point: They wanted to explain why a single-cloud makes sense for the Defense Department. And if their own companies got some new opportunities as a result, it went without saying, that would be just fine with them.
Claire Perlman contributed to this story.