Pentagon Forcing Workers to Use BlackBerry — Again

Army personnel “have been told that between now and whenever this ‘fixmo’ is online, their Droids and iThings are simply to become useless.”

A picture taken on October 12, 2011 in the French western city of Rennes shows (FromL) a Samsung phone, a Blackberry phone and an Iphone 4.
National Journal
Aliya Sternstein, NextGov
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Aliya Sternstein, NextGov
Dec. 3, 2013, 5:42 a.m.

Some mil­it­ary mem­bers who were work­ing off Apple and An­droid-based smart­phones and tab­lets now must re­turn to us­ing older mod­el Black­Berrys be­cause of a se­cur­ity ser­vice switchover, ac­cord­ing to an email ob­tained by Nex­t­gov and con­firmed by Pentagon of­fi­cials.

The De­fense De­part­ment is build­ing a new mo­bile device man­age­ment sys­tem to mon­it­or gov­ern­ment-is­sued con­sumer smart­phones on mil­it­ary net­works, but it’s not yet ready for prime time.

Em­ploy­ees with­in at least one Army or­gan­iz­a­tion were forced to dis­con­nect iPhones, iPads and An­droid devices from their ex­ist­ing se­cur­ity ser­vice, Good Mo­bile Mes­saging, be­cause the Pentagon is de­ploy­ing a new de­part­mentwide sys­tem by Fixmo, states an email that ap­peared in an Army list­serve.

Army per­son­nel “have been told that between now and whenev­er this ‘fixmo’ is on­line, their Droids and iTh­ings are simply to be­come use­less,” the email said. The De­fense In­form­a­tion Sys­tems Agency is in the midst of trans­ition­ing smart­phone users in each mil­it­ary com­pon­ent to the full $16 mil­lion sys­tem.

“The vic­tim, er or­gan­iz­a­tion un­der mi­gra­tion offered their [Good] li­censes and serv­ers and ex­pert­ise to DISA, but were told no, don’t want it,” the email con­tin­ues. “Ex­pect­a­tion is that Droid and iTh­ing users will be device­less un­til March 2014 at earli­est, and they can either do without or go back to a BB 9930,” an older mod­el Black­Berry smart­phone, “So…..once again, we are go­ing to save money through con­sol­id­a­tion no mat­ter how much it costs.”

After a pro­posed buy­out of Black­Berry col­lapsed last month, Pentagon of­fi­cials em­phas­ized ef­forts to wean ser­vice mem­bers off re­li­ance on the com­pany’s devices. But of­fi­cials on Monday night ac­know­ledged Black­Berry will re­tain its po­s­i­tion in the de­part­ment’s mo­bile com­put­ing ar­sen­al for now.

“DISA will sup­port Black­Berry devices with the ex­ist­ing [Black­berry En­ter­prise Serv­er]. Dur­ing the trans­ition peri­od, DISA is not pro­vi­sion­ing new iOS/An­droid users on the ex­ist­ing serv­er,” Pentagon spokes­man Dami­en Pick­art said in an email. “We are delay­ing pro­vi­sion­ing of those devices un­til the [mo­bile device man­age­ment] en­vir­on­ment is ready in Jan 2014. We will pro­vi­sion new devices as rap­idly as pos­sible start­ing in Janu­ary 2014.”

The aim is to hook up 100,000 mil­it­ary per­son­nel and their gov­ern­ment-fur­nished Apple, Sam­sung, Black­Berry and oth­er con­sumer devices to the se­cur­ity ser­vice by Septem­ber 2014.

Some de­fense con­tract ana­lysts say the more pop­u­lar com­mer­cial devices may not meet bat­tle­field se­cur­ity stand­ards.

Ray Bjorklund, a long­time pro­cure­ment spe­cial­ist who now serves as pres­id­ent of Birch­Grove Con­sult­ing, spec­u­lated that “there may be a more fun­da­ment­al is­sue of device suit­ab­il­ity among the ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers and OS ver­sions.”

Ac­cord­ing to DISA ap­prov­al doc­u­ments, only Black­Berry phones and Play­book tab­lets have an “au­thor­ity to op­er­ate,” or ATO, on De­fense net­works — not An­droid, Apple or any oth­er device lines.

Bjorklund re­turned to the ques­tion raised by the list­serv email, about the short-term sac­ri­fices De­fense is mak­ing to po­ten­tially con­trol long-term costs.

“At what cost con­sol­id­a­tion? I am quite cer­tain the DoD has com­pleted some semb­lance of a busi­ness case for this pro­gram. However, I know it’s of­ten dif­fi­cult to ra­tion­al­ize busi­ness cases in the mil­it­ary based on some fu­ture ho­ri­zon,” he said. The ra­tionale of “spend money now to save money later” is a “stretch ra­tionale in daily gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tions. I hope the dis­rup­tion is worth it.”

More from Nex­t­Gov, our sis­ter site:

Bit­coin Users Lose $40 Mil­lion in Ap­par­ent Nar­cot­ics Bazaar Heist 

Health­Care.gov Per­forms Well After Mak­ing White House’s Re­pair Dead­line 

Navy De­ploys First High-Tech Sur­veil­lance Air­craft to Ok­inawa

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