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Head of Defense Digital Service resigns from Pentagon’s Rebel Alliance



Goldstein’s exit comes as the Biden government and Capitol Hill seek ways to maintain a technological edge over foreign competitors, particularly China. DDS, reporting directly to the Secretary of Defense, will be instrumental in developing new technologies and approaches that better protect DoD’s networks and personnel in cyberspace and on the battlefield.

“I quickly realized that my most important role would be serving as the DDS director,” said Goldstein, who previously served as special adviser to the Navy and Joint Special Operations Command.

His successor will inherit a DDS that has pushed Goldstein to skip other parts of a sprawling department with entrenched bureaucracy and at times spark internal clashes.

It wasn’t immediately clear who might be considered to run the unit, which was founded in 2015 to solve the department’s toughest IT problems, on a permanent basis. The main hub in a Pentagon conference room has a sign on the door that reads “Rebel Alliance” (just one of the many “Star Wars” references that have become part of the DDS brand over the years).

Both Goldstein and his predecessor came from civil engineering fields. Goldstein, for example, was Chicago’s first chief data officer and one of the earliest employees at OpenTable, the restaurant reservation office.

A possible successor could be Olson, who is currently working on climate and ongoing security projects. She joined DDS in 2019 as Chief of Staff and was promoted to second place in the unit in early 2020. Olson has focused on adding counterdrone operations to the DDS portfolio and building a digital database for DoD’s collection of pathology samples – the largest in the world.

Under Goldstein, DDS expanded its portfolio beyond software and so-called bug bounty programs such as the “Hack the Pentagon” to include projects ranging from supporting units to combat pandemics to developing a biometric app that army soldiers can use on the battlefield Can distinguish between fellow soldiers and enemies.

DDS played a key role in efforts to protect coronavirus research from hackers. This work also gave the unit the impetus to launch Project Groot (based on a character from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films) to address a longstanding security hole that allowed Department of Defense emails to be sent to outside parties to travel unprotected against snooping on the internet.

The unit also created a Covid-19 symptom tracking app for aircraft carrier crews that was then deployed across multiple branches of service and provided drone tracking technology to track amateur drones buzzing Navy hospital ships dispatching to New York and Los Angeles to help with surges in coronavirus patients.

“We have helped secure and deliver a safe vaccine and software screened infections in the Navy and Air Force,” said Goldstein.

As he expanded DDS operations, Goldstein also had to control friction with other parts of the Pentagon.

The unit’s existence has resulted in persistent discomfort among some civilian leaders and military officials who view DDS as excessive for the work of cyber warriors in the military branches.

His projects have sometimes also led to conflicts within the monolithic department. For Project Groot, Goldstein had to hire DoD’s CIO to cut red tape and make sure the fix was successful. Recent efforts to secure IP addresses around Inauguration Day sparked a devastating fire of online conspiracy theories that have been debated over the timing by supporters and critics of former President Donald Trump.

But his unconventional methods have received non-partisan praise from Capitol Hill lawmakers and some senior military officials.

“Personally, I’m a huge fan of DDS,” Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, a senior Joint Staff member, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee Personnel Subpanel last month. “They approach problems in an unconventional way. They are not intimidated by rank, structure and hierarchy, ”he added. “You don’t look like us. They don’t act like us. “

As a result, he said, “You are working at a much faster rate.”

Crall’s approval caused Subcommittee Chair, Kirsten Gillibrand (DN.Y.), to request more details about DDS – including the salary range offered – to “see if we should replicate it elsewhere in the Pentagon’s digital workforce” or “Expand it or make it bigger than it is today. “

DDS grew significantly under Goldstein’s observation, increasing from about 30 to over 80 people. Women have also been promoted to key leadership positions – deputy boss, military liaison, and leader of the data science, engineering, and design guilds – and minorities now make up around 30 percent of the team, according to DDS.

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