Is NATO forcing Microsoft and NSA backdoors onto the French Ministry of Defense?
Paris, April 17th, 2013. Press release.
On Wednesday, April 17th, 2013, the Canard Enchaîné (a French satirical weekly 1) published new revelations about the "Open Bar" contract currently being negotiated between Microsoft and the French Ministry of Defense. Originally revealed by PCInpact, on February 5th, 2013, these decisions, made in secret and criticized by the rapporteur of the State Public Procurement Commission, seem to have been driven by NATO. April renews its calls for the French Prime Minister to send the Ministry of Defense to rehab. The association is worried about the threats, detailed in the satirical weekly, that such a contract could represent to national security, and about the risks that other ministries might follow suite. Finally, it asks for transparency on this contract's negotiations.
The initial "Open Bar" contract was about the rental of Microsoft Office software and was entered into in 2009, for a period of four years; yet, the Public Procurement Commission's rapporteur had pointed out that the contract presented many exceptions to the principles of public procurement. Since the agreement made the Ministry of Defense unacceptably dependent on Microsoft, April called for the Prime Minister to suspend the contract renegotiations, so that all the facts surrounding the issue might be brought to light and so that we might start afresh on healthy foundations. April has moreover written to the Prime Minister, to the Defense Minister, and to parliamentarians to inform them about these requests.
At the end of February, CIO Online had also shed new light on the file (in French). Though the negative responses to the chosen procedure could only have caused concern, the State's procurement service, joined by CIO Online, evaded the issue by announcing, "the SAE is fully informed on this contract, but the opportunity and the piloting of the renewal are fully the responsibility of the Ministry of Defense." The Ministry, which had also been contacted, put forward tautologous arguments: "the certificate of exclusivity delivered [in 2009] by Microsoft showed that this company is the only one empowered to supply the required services, within the framework of a global and integrated offer. The contract was thus signed according to the procedure of negotiated market without either preliminary publicity or free competition. (...) After having verified that Microsoft's exclusivity conditions were still being met, the Legal department [of the Ministry of Defense] considered that the Ministry had grounds to initiate procurement without publicity or competitive bidding" , all of which led Frédéric Couchet, April 's executive director, to consider that this answer was a "huge con".
More recently, the Web site of the TV show "Le Vinvinteur" published an investigation (in French) about "the rather unhealthy links between the Ministry of Defense and the software giant Microsoft."
NATO and NSA at the wheel?
This week, the Canard Enchainé shines new light on the file and gives new information about the reasons leading the army to "capitulate to Microsoft", without the government services being able to do anything about it. The weekly newspaper quotes Patrick Bazin, the central director of the Department of Interministerial Information Systems and Communication (DISIC, Direction interministérielle des systèmes d'information et de communication), who campaigns for the renewal of this contract because of interoperability obligations between allies, to the extent that "NATO chose Microsoft solutions for its work stations." However, this argument is untruthful: interoperability entails being able to run on all systems, and not only on those within an editor's hegemony.
"Free software is widely recognised for its qualities in terms of interoperability. The fact that it was ruled out on this criterion, for the benefit of a single IT actor, clearly shows that the procedure that oversaw the choice of all things Microsoft at the Ministry of Defense was biased," exclaimed Jeanne Tadeusz, April's public affairs officer.As the Canard also indicates, the choice of Microsoft for all the software of the Ministry of Defense raises serious problems of security and national sovereignty. Ministry experts underscored that "the NSA (the most important American Intelligence service, in charge of telecommunication espionage)" systematically introduces backdoors" into exported software, which would make the French army's computer system "susceptible to NSA intrusion in its entirety."
The Canard Enchainé article ends with "the contract's ultimate joke": by signing the "Open Bar" contract with Microsoft Ireland, instead of with Microsoft France, the Ministry of Defense would be engaging in tax evasion.
The risk of contaminating other ministries
Even worse, this type of contract might not concern the Ministry of Defense alone. According to our information, other ministries might be interested in the Microsoft/ Defense "Open Bar," even though it circumvents principles the Prime Minister laid out in two circulars: the circular on a common strategic framework for the State's information system, one of whose guidelines is aimed at "Open Bar" computing contracts and the circular on the good use of free software in administrations.
"The existence of this type of practice---and in a sovereign ministry as crucial as the Ministry of Defense is---sets a particularly dangerous precedent. That's why the government absolutely must stop these negociations and start over on a better foundation. We hope that the light shed on this scandal will be the opportunity to implement an in-depth overhaul of public policies regarding software choices," concludes Frédéric Couchet, April's executive director.
Pioneer of Free Software in France, April is since 1996 a major player in the democratisation and the spread of Free Software and open standards to the general public, professionals and institutions in the French-speaking world. In the digital era that is ours, it also aims to inform the public on the dangers of an exclusive appropriation of information an knowledge by private interests.
The association has over 5,000 members, using or producing Free Software.
- 1. Le Canard Enchainé is a satirical newspaper published weekly in France. Founded in 1915, it features investigative journalism and leaks from sources inside the French government, the French political world and the French business world, as well as many jokes and humorous cartoons (source: Wikipedia).