Under Amazon’s CIA Cloud: The Washington Post

Jeff Bezos. Photo by Steve Jurvetson (CC)

Jeff Bezos. Photo by Steve Jurvetson (CC)

News media should illuminate conflicts of interest, not embody them. But the owner of the Washington Post is now doing big business with the Central Intelligence Agency, while readers of the newspaper’s CIA coverage are left in the dark.

The Post’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon — which recently landed a $600 million contract with the CIA. But the Post’s articles about the CIA are not disclosing that the newspaper’s sole owner is the main owner of CIA business partner Amazon.

Even for a multi-billionaire like Bezos, a $600 million contract is a big deal. That’s more than twice as much as Bezos paid to buy the Post four months ago.

And there’s likely to be plenty more where that CIA largesse came from. Amazon’s offer wasn’t the low bid, but it won the CIA contract anyway by offering advanced high-tech “cloud” infrastructure.

Bezos personally and publicly touts Amazon Web Services, and it’s evident that Amazon will be seeking more CIA contracts. Last month, Amazon issued a statement saying, “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA.”

As Amazon’s majority owner and the Post’s only owner, Bezos stands to gain a lot more if his newspaper does less ruffling and more soothing of CIA feathers.

Amazon has a bad history of currying favor with the U.S. government’s “national security” establishment. The media watch group FAIR pointed out what happened after WikiLeaks published State Department cables: “WikiLeaks was booted from Amazon’s webhosting service AWS. So at the height of public interest in what WikiLeaks was publishing, readers were unable to access the WikiLeaks website.”

How’s that for a commitment to the public’s right to know?

Days ago, my colleagues at RootsAction.org launched a petition that says: “The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon — and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.” More than 15,000 people have signed the petition so far this week, with many posting comments that underscore widespread belief in journalistic principles.

While the Post functions as a powerhouse media outlet in the Nation’s Capital, it’s also a national and global entity — read every day by millions of people who never hold its newsprint edition in their hands. Hundreds of daily papers reprint the Post’s news articles and opinion pieces, while online readership spans the world.

Propaganda largely depends on patterns of omission and repetition. If, in its coverage of the CIA, the Washington Post were willing to fully disclose the financial ties that bind its owner to the CIA, such candor would shed some light on how top-down power actually works in our society.

“The Post is unquestionably the political paper of record in the United States, and how it covers governance sets the agenda for the balance of the news media,” journalism scholar Robert W. McChesney points out. “Citizens need to know about this conflict of interest in the columns of the Post itself.”

In a statement just released by the Institute for Public Accuracy, McChesney added: “If some official enemy of the United States had a comparable situation — say the owner of the dominant newspaper in Caracas was getting $600 million in secretive contracts from the Maduro government — the Post itself would lead the howling chorus impaling that newspaper and that government for making a mockery of a free press. It is time for the Post to take a dose of its own medicine.”

From the Institute, we also contacted other media and intelligence analysts to ask for assessments; their comments are unlikely to ever appear in the Washington Post.

“What emerges now is what, in intelligence parlance, is called an ‘agent of influence’ owning the Post – with a huge financial interest in playing nice with the CIA,” said former CIA official Ray McGovern. “In other words, two main players nourishing the national security state in undisguised collaboration.”

A former reporter for the Washington Post and many other news organizations, John Hanrahan, said: “It’s all so basic. Readers of the Washington Post, which reports frequently on the CIA, are entitled to know — and to be reminded on a regular basis in stories and editorials in the newspaper and online — that the Post‘s new owner Jeff Bezos stands to benefit substantially from Amazon’s $600 million contract with the CIA. Even with such disclosure, the public should not feel assured they are getting tough-minded reporting on the CIA. One thing is certain: Post reporters and editors are aware that Bezos, as majority owner of Amazon, has a financial stake in maintaining good relations with the CIA — and this sends a clear message to even the hardest-nosed journalist that making the CIA look bad might not be a good career move.”

The rich and powerful blow hard against the flame of truly independent journalism. If we want the lantern carried high, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.

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Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.

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  • Juan

    Shit. I’ll need to start boycotting Amazon. I get all my kindle downloads from them. Guess I need to find some other way to get them that does not involve Amazon. Or maybe I’ll have to go back to paper books.
    Ideas?

    • American Cannibal

      Go to your neighborhood bookstore, if you still have one. Or buy from B&N.

    • Craig Bickford

      Their warehouses are sweatshops in case you need any more hate to fuel your anti-Amazon rage. I mean they are not like a classic sweat shop, but on the spectrum of subjective specification on what makes a sweatshop I suppose they rate. Apparently they employ ambulance crews that sit outside their warehouses in the summer time in case anyone gets heat stroke because that is cheaper than installing the obviously expensive AC it would take to cool the ware house off. NPR ran and investigative story about this a while back. As a concerned consumer I wrote an e-mail to Amazon to ask the about this, and of course I got no reply what so ever, not even some bot email thanking me for the feed back, so that’s funny I guess. Hack other e-reader files or convert e-pubs into Mobi files if you want to fuck them. I still can’t get programs like Calibre to work in that fashion without all kinds of text layout errors, but maybe someone has figured out how to do it.

      I may or may not know of certain people who might be faking damaged shipment complaints and returns to an online retail company just to chip away at their bottom line via bull shit shipping expenditures. I know it doesn’t really amount to much, but it costs them in the long run, especially when certain parties make it known to them anonymously that it is indeed happening and they have no way to stop it from happening, with the exception of them actually changing their policies on running sweatshops in the US.

  • Juan
  • Harry Teasley

    So, I went to the WaPo, and searched on “cia amazon”. The first two results were

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/it-news-in-brief/2013/11/01/654ba260-4171-11e3-a751-f032898f2dbc_story.html

    and

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/amazon-web-services-wins-court-case-over-cia-cloud-contract/2013/10/11/ee55f050-2b7e-11e3-8ade-a1f23cda135e_story.html

    both of which have the info you say they don’t disclose. The majority of links on the first page of results were about this story, including one with the headline, “Bezos on Amazon’s pursuit of CIA contracts, In which The Switch ambushes their new boss.” as the results teaser. So, I think this article may be overblown.

    The same search on CNN found no stories on the topic at all (some Amazon river stories… the top result was the inane “real alpha house” story about where some senators live… cnn’s existence is an insult.

    The first link at NYT.com had an article on the story. But I’d say WaPo is not looking like they have something to hide in this.

  • Juan

    I don’t care if the WaPo has something to hide or not. For me, it’s the CIA connection that I find is beyond repugnant. I never want to buy anything from them again.

    • Harry Teasley

      I’m sure Amazon will feel it keenly. But that Amazon would willingly deal with a government department is immaterial to the allegation that the Washington Post’s ability to report on that is hampered by its ownership.

      • Juan

        Yeah, I know. Take that, Amazon. My not buying from them is not going to do anything to change what they do. I just would rather not do business with them knowing their involvement with the CIA. Besides that, they they also exploit their workers. So I’ll pay more someplace else.
        Whether or not their ability to report on their own dealings is hampered, it still looks like a major conflict if interest, to me.

  • Guest

    Their warehouses are sweatshops in case you need any more hate to fuel your anti-Amazon rages. I mean they are not like a classic sweat shop, but on the spectrum of subjective specification on what makes a sweatshop I suppose they rate. Apparently they employee ambulance crews that sit outside their warehouses in the summer time in case anyone gets heat stroke because that is cheaper than installing the obviously expensive AC it would take to cool the ware house off. NPR ran and investigative story about this a while back. As a concerned consumer I wrote to Amazon to ask the about this, and of course I got no reply what so ever, not even some bot email thanking me for the feed back, so that’s funny I guess. Hack other e-reader files or convert e-pubs into Mobi files if you want to fuck them. I still can’t get programs like Calibre to work in that fashion without all kinds of text layout errors, but maybe someone has figured out how to do it.

    I may or may not know of certain people who might be faking damaged shipment complaints and returns to an online retail company just to chip away at their bottom line via bull shit shipping expenditures. I know it doesn’t really amount to much, but it costs them in the long run, especially when certain parties make it known to them anonymously that it is indeed happening and they have no way to stop it from happening, with the exception of them actually changing their policies on running sweatshops in the US. ;)

  • Guest

    Their warehouses are sweatshops in case you need any more hate to fuel your anti-Amazon rage. I mean they are not like a classic sweat shop, but on the spectrum of subjective specification on what makes a sweatshop I suppose they rate. Apparently they employ ambulance crews that sit outside their warehouses in the summer time in case anyone gets heat stroke because that is cheaper than installing the obviously expensive AC it would take to cool the ware house off. NPR ran and investigative story about this a while back. As a concerned consumer I wrote an e-mail to Amazon to ask the about this, and of course I got no reply what so ever, not even some bot email thanking me for the feed back, so that’s funny I guess. Hack other e-reader files or convert e-pubs into Mobi files if you want to fuck them. I still can’t get programs like Calibre to work in that fashion without all kinds of text layout errors, but maybe someone has figured out how to do it.

    I may or may not know of certain people who might be faking damaged shipment complaints and returns to an online retail company just to chip away at their bottom line via bull shit shipping expenditures. I know it doesn’t really amount to much, but it costs them in the long run, especially when certain parties make it known to them anonymously that it is indeed happening and they have no way to stop it from happening, with the exception of them actually changing their policies on running sweatshops in the US. ;)