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Pentagon Disconnects iPhone, Android Security Service, Forcing a Return to BlackBerry for Some

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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.”

(Image via coronado/Shutterstock.com)

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