Keith Alexander Now Being Vetted By Everybody For Everything After Leaving The Protective Shelter Of The NSA
from the missing-the-old-'No-Such-Accountability'-already dept
Former NSA head Keith Alexander continues to draw the sort of attention he probably hoped he had left behind by resigning his post. His questionable business venture — a private banking security firm seemingly dependent on patents and methods polished during his tenure at the NSA — has drawn pointed questions from legislators and a second glance from the internal ethics apparatus of the intelligence agency.
Alexander apparently thought it would be fine for him to use the talents of the NSA’s current Chief Technology Officer, Patrick Dowd, for his new private venture. You see, Alexander didn’t want the country to lose a bright spy mind, but didn’t really want his own IronNet Security firm to go without Dowd’s talents either. So he compromised. The country could have Dowd full-time as long as he could spend 20 hours a week securing banks with Chief Keith.
Due to the extra level of scrutiny being directed at everything NSA-related, the agency decided to take another look at the this
unholy unethical alliance. It didn’t necessarily not like what it saw, but it wasn’t absolutely enthralled with it either. But there will be no official statement forthcoming. Alexander has called the whole thing off.
On Tuesday, Alexander said: “While we understand we did everything right, I think there’s still enough issues out there that create problems for Dr. Dowd, for NSA, for my company,” that it was best for him to terminate the deal.
“Everything right” is apparently the equivalent of basically every other current and former intelligence official interviewed stating, “we’ve never heard of such a thing,” and “pretty much a conflict of interest,” etc.
In other news, Alexander’s recently disclosed (“disclosed” pronounced “forced out of the NSA’s clutches by journalist Jason Leopold’s lawsuit“) financial statements are gathering a bit more attention as well.
As I noted here, there were some questionable aspects about Alexander’s investments, some of which related to government contractors, but nothing that screamed financial impropriety. The conclusion I reached was that the most surprising aspect was the NSA’s adamant refusal to release these mostly innocuous declarations. There just wasn’t much “there” there, from what I could see.
(The fact that the agency claimed the release of these financial disclosure statements could harm “national interests” was enjoyably ridiculous, but it’s also the standard response when asked to open up about anything. Just because “security” is your middle name doesn’t mean everything in your possession is instrumental to protecting the nation against terrorist activity.)
Shane Harris at Foreign Policy has done some deeper digging into Alexander’s financial statements and excavated some rather strange investment patterns. Harris notes that there’s very little in the way of discernible rationale for Alexander’s purchases and sales. There’s also no indication that any of these trades were very beneficial for Alexander’s bottom line. And there’s some weird dabbling in some markets where being the head of the NSA would possibly provide more insight than is available to other investors.
The financial disclosure documents, which were released to investigative journalist Jason Leopold and published this month by Vice News, reveal nothing explicitly about why Alexander sold the shares when he did. On Jan. 7, 2008, Alexander sold previously purchased shares in the Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, a Canadian firm that mines potash, a mineral typically used in fertilizer. The potash market is largely controlled by companies in Canada, as well as in Belarus and Russia. And China was, and is, one of the biggest consumers of the substance, using it to expand the country’s agricultural sector and produce higher crop yields.
“It’s a market that’s really odd, involving collusion, where companies essentially coordinate on prices and output,” said Craig Pirrong, a finance professor and commodities expert at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business. “Strange things happen in the potash market. It’s a closed market. Whenever you have Russians and Chinese being big players, a lot of stuff goes on in the shadows.”
The same day that Alexander moved his Potash Corp. shares, he also divested himself of his holdings in China-based Aluminum Corp., a state-owned entity that is the second-largest producer of aluminum in the world.
Alexander bought and sold shares in both companies, but never during price peaks or collapses. Instead, his divestments seem to be motivated not by profitability, but by the government’s increasing interest in combating Chinese state-sanctioned hacking.
In the spring of 2008, shortly after Alexander sold his positions, senior U.S. officials began to speak on the record for the first time about the threat of cyber-espionage posed by Russia and especially China. Public attention to the intelligence threat was higher than it had been in recent memory. The optics of the NSA director owning stock in a company that his own agency believed may have been receiving stolen information from the Chinese government would have been embarrassing, to say the least.
Those embarrassing optics have been dulled by the passage of time. Withholding these yearly, mandatory disclosures for “national security” reasons has sheltered Keith Alexander from any embarrassing external questions over the last half-decade of investments.
Government agencies are supposed to be on the lookout for not only conflicts of interest, but the “appearance of impropriety.” Alexander’s investments (and his post-NSA ventures) both sport the outward trappings of impropriety. But everything being questioned now was previously signed off on by NSA officials as being above board. Now, even the NSA is second-guessing itself — not because it’s striving for a higher ethical standard — but because the standard-operating-procedure of “hide everything” no longer works as well as it used to.