"If you work for Amazon, I've got some bad news for you," a masked protester said through a bullhorn the morning of February 11 at the Amazon.com plaza in South Lake Union. "You work for the CIA now to help incinerate families in Yemen." The response from the herds of morning commuters funneling their way into the plaza ranged from mild curiosity to indulgent chortling ("You gotta love Seattle") to angry snarls. After the demonstrators briefly detained the South Lake Union streetcar by blocking an intersection with a banner that read "CIAmazon," one commuter shouted, "You're so fucking stupid!"
Though they didn't mention it by name, the demonstrators seemed to be referring to a major story published the day before by investigative journalists Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill—the first exposé in a new digital journal called the Intercept—about the CIA's use of NSA "metadata," instead of positive confirmation by human intelligence, to order fatal drone strikes overseas. Military sources and human-rights groups both say the computer-driven strikes have led to many civilian deaths. (Different sources have different estimates of non-combatant fatalities ranging from dozens to hundreds. A UN agency, for example, estimates that in 2013, 45 civilians were killed by drones in Afghanistan alone.) What's the connection with Amazon? During a December interview with 60 Minutes, CEO Jeff Bezos mentioned that the company was moving in a new direction by building a "private cloud" for the CIA's computing needs. So, the demonstrators said to the Tuesday-morning crowd, if you work for Amazon, you're connected to computer-driven drone fatalities.
The day before, masked demonstrators on Capitol Hill had blocked a private shuttle run by Microsoft—bound for its Redmond headquarters—and distributed flyers about development and rising rents. None of the commuters at either protest seemed moved to quit their jobs, but both demonstrations got media attention and gave workers—and the city at large—something to discuss around the water cooler.
Amazon.com has not responded to requests for comment.