Amazon Ramps Up Security to Head Off Project Nimbus Protests

Amazon appeared to have significantly heightened security for its New York Amazon Web Services Summit on Wednesday, two weeks after a number of activists disrupted the Washington, DC, AWS Summit in protest against Project Nimbus, Amazon and Google’s $1.2 billion cloud computing contract with the Israeli government. The clampdown in New York quelled several activists’ plans to interrupt the keynote speech from Matt Wood, the vice president for AI products at AWS.

Amazon allowed only approved individuals to attend the keynote speech. The activists, who had registered online to attend, all received emails ahead of the conference informing them that they would not be allowed into the keynote due to having too little space.

In addition, there was a heavy presence of private security guards and personnel from the New York Police Department and New York State Police at the conference. Despite being barred from the keynote, the activists did enter the building, where security confiscated posters and flyers during bag checks, which not all attendees were subjected to.

Amazon has previously said that it respects its “employees’ rights to express themselves without fear of retaliation, intimidation, or harassment,” referring to Project Nimbus protests. However, the heightened security shows that the company is taking steps in an attempt to thwart additional dissent. Google, for its part, fired 50 employees after a high-profile April protest over the company’s cloud-computing contract with the Israeli government.

The activists behind the planned keynote disruption are all organizers with No Tech for Apartheid (NOTA), a coalition of tech workers, organizers with the Muslim grassroots group MPower Change, and members of the anti-Zionist Jewish group Jewish Voices for Peace. (NOTA was created in 2021 shortly after news about Project Nimbus became public.) The group planned the Google sit-in protest and other recent actions targeting Project Nimbus.

Those intending to interrupt Wood’s keynote include Zelda Montes, a former YouTube software engineer, and Hasan Ibraheem, a former Google software engineer. Both were among the 50 Google employees fired in the spring. Jamie Kowalski, a former Amazon software employee who worked at the company for six years, Ferras Hamad, a former Meta employee who was recently fired after raising concerns about anti-Palestinian censorship, and one other tech worker, who did not publicly disclose their name, had also planned to protest.

Five other NOTA activists stood directly outside the AWS Summit, behind sets of barricades, and distributed informational flyers. They held large banners reading “Google and Amazon Workers Say: Drop Nimbus, End the Occupation, No Tech for Apartheid” and “Genocide Powered by AWS” atop an image of a Gazan neighborhood reduced to rubble.

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Photograph: Caroline Haskins

Google has insisted that Project Nimbus “is not directed at highly sensitive, classified, or military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence services.” However, Time has reported that the Israeli Ministry of Defense has its own “landing zone” into Project Nimbus infrastructure, and The Intercept has reported that at least two state-owned Israeli arms companies are required to use Project Nimbus cloud services.

In response to questions from WIRED, Amazon spokesperson Patrick Neighorn did not acknowledge the planned protests or additional security measures. He says that Amazon was “pleased” to have hosted attendees “in the keynote hall, in overflow rooms, or via the livestream.”

Kowalski tells WIRED that it’s important to remember that the Israeli military uses opaque, AI-powered tools such as “Lavender,” which allegedly operates as the the IDF’s AI-powered target-generating program. According to an investigation by +972 Magazine and Local Call, that tech allegedly results in many attacks that kill “civilians and entire families as ‘collateral damage.’” It’s unclear whether Lavender specifically has a connection to Project Nimbus or its infrastructure. Google did not immediately respond to WIRED’s request for comment.

Kowalski says he believes that what is happening in Gaza “is the first AI-powered genocide.”

Montes says that they’re undeterred by the fact that Google and Amazon haven’t publicly indicated that they are reconsidering Project Nimbus. “I hope all these tech companies grow some shame—we’re gonna keep showing up, and we’re gonna keep organizing,” Montes says. “They should be afraid of what we are building, because we are growing that worker power.”