The 'Secret Region' Where Amazon and the CIA Meet


When President Donald Trump set his Twitter sights on the titanic online seller Amazon -- reportedly only a taste of what the president is planning for its owner Jeff Bezos -- he was also targeting one of the U.S. intelligence community's closest partners in modern information security.

The worlds of online retail and shadowy spy work converge in what is quite appropriately called the "Secret Region," a cloud service provided by Amazon specifically to be used for classified information, according to an Amazon announcement from November. 

"AWS now provides the U.S. Intelligence Community a commercial cloud capability across all classification levels: Unclassified, Sensitive, Secret and Top Secret," Amazon web services official Teresa Carlson said. "The U.S. Intelligence Community can now execute their missions with a common set of tools, a constant flow of the latest technology and the flexibility to rapidly scale with the mission." 

At the time, Carlson said a more highly classified version of the system, called the Top Secret Region, had already been running for three years and dubbed it a "resounding success."

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CIA Chief Information Officer John Edwards agreed, offering effusive praise for the cloud at Amazon's AWS Public Sector Summit in June 2017. He said that when the CIA first "put an entire Amazon cloud region on our space, in our premises" they knew "it was risky."

"Neither side knew how it was going to turn out. Couldn't predict the risk. But I have to tell you, it's been amazing," he said. "It's the best decision we've ever made... Things that used to take months now take minutes. Complex searches on complex data sets, it used to take hours, now takes seconds. Again, real impact to mission."

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As for the security of the system, Edwards said, "I'm never going to say that anything you do in the cyber world is totally invincible but this is pretty close."

"We took this battle-tested, hardened cloud that's on the outside that's connected to the internet, dropped it behind our guards, gates and guns and we're not connected to the internet -- so already I think we're a cut above from a security standpoint," he said, adding that the CIA further worked with Amazon to "enhance" the security further.

"I would argue and say this is probably the most secure thing that there is out there," he said.

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