Microsoft CEO defends $479 million contract with Pentagon after employee protest

Microsoft CEO defends $479 million contract with Pentagon after employee protest
© Getty Images

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Monday defended the company's $479 million contract with the Pentagon, responding to a group of more than 100 Microsoft employees who have condemned the deal.

The group of workers in an open letter released last Friday said Microsoft has signed on to provide the military with tools "designed to help people kill." The multimillion dollar Microsoft contract will provide the U.S. Army with up to 100,000 augmented reality headsets. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Nadella on Monday told CNN the company will not "withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies."

"It's really about being a responsible corporate citizen in a democracy," the Microsoft chief said. 

The Microsoft workers in the letter asked Nadella and Microsoft President Brad Smith to cancel the company's plan to equip the U.S. military with HoloLens headsets, which will be used during combat. 

The Department of Defense (DOD) has said HoloLens headsets will be used to "increase lethality." 

"We are very excited with HoloLens," Nadella said. "When we first launched HoloLens, we knew this was a new medium and it had to find its new expression." 

The Pentagon bought the headsets in order to incorporate night vision, communication, targeting and threat recognition capabilities for soldiers during combat and training.

A worker at Microsoft who asked for anonymity for fear of retribution told The Hill that Nadella is not addressing workers' central complaint. 

"Our demand has nothing to do with supporting the military or not, and everything to do with creating tools to harm others," the Microsoft employee said. 

"We are a global coalition of Microsoft workers and we refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression," the letter from employees reads. "We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. military, helping one country's government 'increase lethality' using tools we built." 

"We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used," the workers wrote. 

Microsoft in a statement on Friday night said "we’re committed to providing our technology to the U.S. Department of Defense, which includes the U.S. Army under this contract." 

Microsoft workers have pushed back against the company's bids on U.S. military projects in the past. Last year, a group of Microsoft employees urged the company to retract its bid on a $10 billion project to build cloud services for the DoD and protested the company's work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.