Pentagon Prepares for End of BlackBerry Era

A Blackberry cell phone is seen at Fixx wireless on November 4, 2013 in Miami, Florida.
National Journal
Aliya Sternstein, Nextgov
Aliya Sternstein, NextGov
Nov. 12, 2013, 4:28 a.m.

The De­fense De­part­ment, own­er of 470,000 Black­Berrys, is dis­tan­cing it­self from the strug­gling vendor while mov­ing ahead with con­struc­tion of a de­part­mentwide app store and a sys­tem for se­cur­ing all mo­bile devices, in­clud­ing the latest iPhones, iPads, and Sam­sung smart­phones and tab­lets.

Just two months ago, when Black­Berry an­nounced the com­pany would rad­ic­ally cur­tail com­mer­cial sales, Pentagon of­fi­cials said their busi­ness part­ner­ship re­mained un­af­fected. At the time, De­fense’s tech­no­logy sup­port agency was ready­ing net­works with soft­ware to handle tens of thou­sands of Black­Berry Z10 and Q10 smart­phones.

Last week, Black­Berry called off a tent­at­ive buy­out and fired Chief Ex­ec­ut­ive Of­ficer Thor­sten Heins, height­en­ing un­cer­tainty about the fu­ture of the com­pany, which has seen its mar­ket share plum­met in re­cent years as con­sumers em­braced more user-friendly devices that run on op­er­at­ing sys­tems built by Apple and Google.

For now, De­fense’s mo­bile se­cur­ity strategy primar­ily de­pends on Black­Berry. The Pentagon has gran­ted only Black­Berry 10 phones and Play­book tab­lets an “au­thor­ity to op­er­ate,” or ATO — not An­droid, Apple or any oth­er device lines. Con­sumer smart­phones and tab­lets must have an ATO to hook up to De­fense net­works.

But there is a con­tin­gency plan at the Pentagon, should Black­Berry phones go the way of Betamax VCRs.

A 2012 strategy to trans­ition per­son­nel from PCs to smart­phones and tab­lets did not fa­vor any one device maker, De­fense of­fi­cials noted on Thursday. “This multi-vendor, device-ag­nost­ic ap­proach min­im­izes the im­pact of [a] single vendor to our cur­rent op­er­a­tions,” Pentagon spokes­man Lt. Col. Dami­en Pick­art said.

Im­ple­ment­a­tion of the strategy cen­ters on a “mo­bile device man­age­ment” sys­tem to track hand­helds that touch mil­it­ary net­works so that they do not com­prom­ise mil­it­ary in­form­a­tion or cor­rupt De­fense sys­tems.

“DoD’s mo­bil­ity strategy and com­mer­cial mo­bile device im­ple­ment­a­tion plan in­cludes re­li­ance on mul­tiple vendors to sup­port its mo­bile com­mu­nic­a­tions needs,” Pick­art said.

The mo­bile se­cur­ity man­age­ment sys­tem is in the early stages of de­vel­op­ment. It will un­der­go a lim­ited pi­lot, or reach “ini­tial op­er­at­ing ca­pa­city,” by Dec. 31, Pick­art said.

The Pentagon an­ti­cip­ates con­nect­ing 300,000 ap­proved gov­ern­ment-is­sued con­sumer devices by 2016.

More from Nex­t­Gov, our sis­ter site:

White House’s $14 Bil­lion Cy­ber Spend­ing Claim Is Squishy

How In­teri­or Trumps NASA in Twit­ter En­gage­ment

CMS Man­ager Who Ap­proved Health­Care.gov Launch Nev­er Re­ceived Key Se­cur­ity Memos

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