NSA Official Handing Off Contracts To Government Contractor Spouse?

from the the-fix-is-ALWAYS-in dept

Aram Roston at Buzzfeed has seemingly uncovered a very cozy link between an NSA official and a government contracting firm.

The NSA official, Teresa H. Shea, is director of the Signals Intelligence Directorate, which means she oversees electronic eavesdropping for intelligence purposes. She’s held that crucial position since 2010. SIGINT, as it is called, is the bread and butter of NSA espionage operations, and it includes intercepting and decoding phone calls, whether cellular or landline; radio communications; and internet traffic. Shea’s directorate was involved in the controversial domestic surveillance program, much of which was revealed by Edward Snowden.

As for Shea’s husband, James, he is currently a vice president at DRS Signal Solutions, part of DRS Technologies, a major American defense contracting company owned by the Italian defense giant Finmeccanica. On his LinkedIn page, he boasts of his “core focus” in “SIGINT systems,” and cites his employer, DRS, for its work in “signals intelligence, cyber, and commercial test and measurement applications.”

Shea’s husband is also a resident agent for Telic Networks (Roston calls the company’s website “rudimentary,” which is a compliment) — another SIGINT-focused business located in the Sheas’ hometown of Ellicott City, Maryland. James Shea declined to comment on this story, somewhat inadvertently.

Telic Networks has a telephone number listed on its website, and on Monday, James Shea answered the phone. “Jim Shea!” he said. But after he was told what the call was about, he said, “I’m in the middle of a meeting right now. I’ll try giving you a call later.” He didn’t answer subsequent calls.

Teresa Shea and her agency have declined to comment beyond some emailed boilerplate about the agency’s “robust financial disclosure program” and the NSA’s (unproven) track record of heading off conflicts of interest before they become a problem.

Meanwhile, James Shea’s DRS Signal Solutions is hiring for a SIGINT-related contract located in Fort Meade, Maryland. The NSA’s “robust financial disclosure program” is internal only, so there’s no way to tell how this was awarded or the total cost of the contract.

This may seem like a small issue, but there are larger ramifications. The NSA is charged with protecting a nation against threats, but any sort of favoritism that intrudes on bidding processes undermines the quality of the contractor appointed. Handing a contract out to an official’s husband doesn’t ensure the agency is getting the best company for the job. And if this is commonplace enough, certain bidders will just stop submitting estimates.

Even if what appears to be happening is actually happening, it’s only part of much larger incestuous relationship between the government and its contractors. Pure nepotism may be rare, but there’s lots of similarly shady tactics being deployed that never trigger ethics probes or recusals.

First off, there’s the vested interest in keeping the whole scheme — national security — running. This depends on legislators, administration representatives and official spokespeople constantly maintaining a climate of fear. Government agencies — the NSA included — put a lot of effort into staying viable year after year with little discernible dropoff in budget. Being truly essential flies under the government radar. Appearing to be completely essential seems to be more important.

Even as research appears that suggests Snowden’s leaks didn’t have much impact on terrorist behavior, the ODNI’s (James Clapper’s) office is complaining that ~$53 billion a year isn’t enough money to keep the counterterroism apparatus afloat.

The nation’s capitol is surrounded by government contractors, most of them setting up shop in Maryland and Virginia. It makes sense to move closer to the money and those who control it. From there, money flows to contractors and some the money flows back — financial contributions to legislators — offered in hope of receiving advantageous legislation or budget increases for the agencies they work with. Not only does the money flow back and forth, but so does the personnel. Legislators exit to become board members, lobbyists or figureheads of heavily government-invested companies… and vice versa.

Nothing illegal. Nothing immoral. Nothing but the same gamesmanship and cliqueishness that make the government a closed circuit where money races circles around itself ensuring the longevity of those who manage to make their way inside.

The Sheas’ potential ethics conflict is only a marriage certificate away from complete legitimacy. Government agencies will run open bidding and still hand off the project to an inside favorite. Or they’ll find loopholes to avoid opening bids at all. There’s no way to tell how common this is in the NSA or other agencies covered by the classified “Black Budget,” but the cloak of secrecy does a whole lot more than just protect means and methods. It also prevents the American public from uncovering conflicts of interest or questionable bidding processes.

Scott Amey, the general counsel of the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, objected to such blanket secrecy: “We don’t know how many contracts DRS has, whether they have contracts, what they are for. We’re kind of in the dark, and that’s not how we want our government to operate.”

But yet it does, and it appears to be unlikely to change at any point in the near future. Everyone on the “inside” would like to keep it that way. It keeps companies from having to explain their domestic surveillance offerings and it keeps the ODNI from having to explain why the current secret budget just isn’t enough to keep America safe.

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Companies: drs signal solutions, telic

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Comments on “NSA Official Handing Off Contracts To Government Contractor Spouse?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

While there is always a possibility that federal procurement rules are being paid short shrift as the author here appears to have decided is the case, I have worked with enough “black” programs to know that such a possibility is extremely remote. To make accusations stick requires far more than just a few disparate facts.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

To make accusations stick requires far more than just a few disparate facts.

Facts which are impossible to get, given the information tends to be classified, as noted in the last quote in the article.

Scott Amey, the general counsel of the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, objected to such blanket secrecy: “We don’t know how many contracts DRS has, whether they have contracts, what they are for. We’re kind of in the dark, and that’s not how we want our government to operate.”

You say it’s very unlikely, but given the secret nature of the whole thing, the natural response would seem to be: ‘According to what verifiable facts?’

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Perhaps if you were more familiar with public contract law statutes, regulations, policies and practices you might be a bit more inclined to see things in ways other than the “glass is half full”. I have worked on numerous highly classified federal programs, and in each instance the same concern and deference was observed as was the case with unclassified, white world programs. This is not to say that everything here is A-Ok, but only that the classified nature of a procurement does not automatically make it suspicious. Far too many people are involved in the procurement process for classified programs for wrongdoing to be easily hid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You do understand, don’t you, that there is an entire organization devoted to the task of monitoring compliance with the strictures of federal procurement law, and that this organization monitors “white”, “black”, and “every shade in between” programs?

Having “been there, done that” over the course of countless federal programs, my experience informs me I can hold a relatively high degree of confidence that what the author is bemoaning here is not the problem he is trying his best to make it out to be.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“You do understand, don’t you”

Yes, I understand fully. Perhaps you don’t understand is that the lack of credibility and trust with the government extends to oversight organizations as well. That there is an entire organization to perform oversight doesn’t mean that we can all just relax, since it’s impossible to have any verifiable confidence that the oversight is being done properly due to the secrecy involved.

teka (profile) says:

Even if there is no actual wrongdoing (possible, sure) the Appearance of wrongdoing combined with no ways to challenge or verify it is almost as corrosive.

“Just trust us, we wouldn’t lie and always follow the rules we made up” coming from a organization built of secrets and lies and secrets and even more lies does not inspire trust in anyone ever.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There is an entire federal procurement branch devoted solely to auditing anything and everything associated with federal procurements, including what is going on within the agency procuring the goods and services. Conflicts of interest, appearance and otherwise, are high on the list of “must investigate” items, and this holds true no matter the classification level, if any, of the program.

Lest there be any residuum of doubt that being on the “up and up” is the highest priority, one need only struggle through reading the incredibly long and detailed Federal Acquisition Regulation and the Department of Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement to come to the realization that federal procurements are not treated casually in the least. Quite the opposite.

This is not to say that the systems are perfect, for every now and then true wrongdoing is discovered by the auditors. These instances are clearly in the minority (down in the noise), and the ramifications of breaking the rules are quite serious. It is not unusual to hear of people losing their careers and being sent to the “big house”, as well as companies, among other things, being debarred from doing business in the future with the feds.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

For the avoidance of doubt, those within the private sector who do not play by the rules are likewise subject to significant legal sanctions, which can include anything from fines to federally-paid “room and board”. Obviously, the careers of such persons immediately become non-careers, and any future employment prospects are significantly diminished.

Importantly, this holds true even in cases where the procuring group happens to be a foreign entity. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has taken down many otherwise reputable business persons under circumstances that may strike some here as unfair. Just because an act is performed in a foreign jurisdiction and is completely legal in that jurisdiction does not mean that the act is legal here, and this has gotten many persons in trouble over the years…sometimes innocently.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Some contracts with which I have worked included the “black hat” groups, the very ones discussed here. In each of those instances the auditors were alive and well, snooping, so to speak, on both the procuring agency and the private sector contractor.

Importantly, just because it is difficult to game the system as the author of the article seems to believe is not the case, it does not mean that these contracts are well defined, absolutely necessary, and carried out with precision and professionalism. Contracts span the gamut from “Wow…that is fantastic! (think of many DARPA contracts)” to “WTF…what idiot is responsible for this fiasco?” Making sure a procurement is done by the rules does not equate to a contract performed properly and beneficially.

GEMont says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

That was an excellent anecdotal recitation of “Why we should trust those in power.”, worthy of any politician or paid apologist.

However, it would be far more effective, in my opinion at least, if you could offer some recent examples of “How well the System Works”.

You know what I mean; names, dates, that sort of thing, that can be easily verified for authenticity.

GEMont (profile) says:

Raise the budget, right on cue.

Who could have seen that coming!

And conveniently, along comes ISIS, the Hollywood Terror Organization, to help insure that the now huge Anti-terrorism Industry, (otherwise known as Corporate Friends of the Government), gets their yearly budget of a measly $53 billion, raised to a more robust $100-150 billion a year.

Then again, considering the cost of yachts, bimbos and cocaine, maybe they will need 200 billion a year.

I am sure that it will not take too many more gruesome U-Tube videos to get the cowering American tax payer behind the new budgets.

More spook money and less freedom equals more safety right.

As for homegrown PR, all the NSA needs to do now is to make a cartoon showing the Anti-Terrorism Budget as a big Captain America type shield, being held up by a smiling but sternly handsome and well-ripped, Hollywood American Spy-Guy with the NSA logo boldly printed on his super-spy-guy suit, and portray Terrorists as missiles being fired out of a cannon labelled ISIS, and bouncing harmlessly off of the shield…. and then stick it up on U-Tube.

Yeah, that would work….

Maybe put the face of Mister Shea on the Spy Guy…..

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Raise the budget, right on cue.

The NSA has indeed chosen the logo of a comic book mega villain, and it does indeed see itself as unstoppable and omniscient, yet, it is still perceived by the public as merely a mismanaged and rather incompetent agency, trying to do a difficult job in the face of extreme duress.

Even though it has been shown to lie in response to any questions about its activities and to steal secrets and research data from foreign companies and to attack US citizens with the intent of ruination of character, it is still perceived as an agency attempting to protect the US from terrorists.

Even after the whole world witnesses NSA leaders lying to the US public and even to congress itself, those leaders continue to deny they lied and spin even bigger lies to try and regain public trust, rather than simply regaining public trust by telling the truth – and still they are trusted by the general population.

Look around you. This arena is not the only one in which a cadre of apparently anti-US “soldiers” are waging war on the US public and the American Way of Life. Your education system is under attack. Your banks are working on new ways of scamming the public again as they did successfully only a few years ago. Your labor system is under attack as groups like ALEC and the Koch Brothers rewrite your laws in the background then pay politicians to install the rewrites under the guise of helping the children or fighting crime.

Your president is a Democrat who has fulfilled every single one of George Bush’s Republican Dreams and whose advisors are all fascist members of the very corporate institutions that secretly threaten the future of the USA, and indeed the world itself.

In truth, the American Way of Life is under attack on every front, but of course, your information media is owned by the very people waging this secret war against you and keeps you perfectly dis-informed as to the state of the war and the connections between the players.

I give the NSA exactly the amount of credit due to any squad of elite soldiers, who excels in their specific field of undercover destabilization and conquest.

“If you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” Sun Tzu – The Art of War

If you do not know that an enemy is waging war upon you; using your own legal and political system to destabilize and destroy your social and economic infrastructure, you are guaranteed to lose EVERY single battle and die at the hands of an enemy you trusted as a friend.


GEMont (profile) says:

Until Cheney, I didn't really believe in Evil...

I think Donkey Dick is sort of an archetype that the members of the Most Transparent Administration In American History aspire to become, or at least hope to emulate.

In fact, I suspect that all of the pollution and poisons in our air, water and food may have caused a genetic dysfunction in the human brain where the ancient lizard brain at the center of the mammalian dual brain, gains complete control of the functions of the mammal brain.

This would produce a person with all the qualities of a reptile – a complete lack of compassion, total self-orientation, a cold-blooded, ruthless and opportunistic approach to self preservation, unable to feel remorse or regret, or view other life forms as anything but food or enemy – something between a reptile and a Klingon.

And Dick Cheney represents the culmination of this mutation.

In my opinion only of course. 🙂

Projectheureka LLC (user link) says:

Private Corporte Abuse of NSA/FBI Surveillance For IP Thefts More Than For Fighting Terrorrism!

NSA /FBI’s unwarranted bulk Surveillance are abuse to enrich Individual Agents and secretly involved U.S ultra right-wing ALEC loyal U.S. private Corporations.

My since early 2004/ 2008 early on discriminated, defrauded German-American and Atheist-run online small business in hideously neoconservative conspiring neoconservative cronies run Corporate Bible-belt Ohio is able to prove this said validly without single doubt ( I recorded some of this neoconservative deeply genocidally racist criminal big private ALEC-loyal business assholes secretly years ago during various business meetings already to undeniably secure my IP rights against the ever-conspiringneoconservative Caucasian elite US American Corporate ALEC-loyal GOP Barons Munchausen!) , at least for the State of Ohio since early 2008!ultra right-wing Intellectual Properties grabbing elements within Cincinnati FBI, corrupted elements with the local Cincinnati Police forces and U.S right-wing racist Corporations like Paypal/ Ebay, Chrysler, Google, Cincinnati Bell, P&G, Duke, SCORE ( SBA), U.S. Immigration Services and even the U.S. IRS ALL conspired hideously secrecy to defraud and commit illegal Global economic Market manipulations because they are fraudulently closeted genocidal racist Climate change denying and Mufti-culture rejecting religious-fanatic Corporate Nazis merely.

AGAIN: @UN , I can prove that said with securely obtained video and Voice recordings of some BIG local Ohio U.S. Corporate leaders in ANY Court on this planet!
Those corrupt ultra right-wing white supremacist big business NSA/FBI assholes are only self-serving themselves on the Innovations/ inventions/ research of foreigners and immigrants they illegally bulk surveillance!
And these criminal racist religious-fanatic ALEC Corporate assholes believe they can keep their organized crime a secret, until my Intellectual Property rights and time runs out, simply because they believe I do not have the financial power of the Intellect to DEFEAT them all fully legally publicly first, then in Courts!

It’s time top challenge and take out these individually Self-serving U.S American Neoconservative Corporate Nazi dumbfucks Judicially on aGLOBALlevel!


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