Keith Alexander Continues To 'Play To The Edges' Of Propriety; NSA Now Checking Out His Partnership With Agency CTO

from the 'private-sector'-doesn't-mean-'no-rules' dept

The long-delayed release of former NSA head Keith Alexander's financial documents failed to generate much in terms of conflicted interests. There was some investment in companies with government contracts, but nothing stood out as a direct connection between Alexander's investments and his previous day job. All things considered, a rather underwhelming set of disclosures, so, of course, it made perfect sense that they had to be forced out of the NSA's hands with a lawsuit, what with their supposed national security implications and all.

No conflicts of interest within the Alexander financial disclosures, as both James Clapper and Michael Vickers attested with their signatures. The agency's official statements reflect this finding. But now the NSA may have to take another look at the recently-exited Alexander, whose entrance into the private sector has been less than graceful.

First, there were questions raised about Alexander's patents and use of "inside information" (read: "national secrets"). Now, there are unanswered questions about Alexander's use of actual insiders -- namely, NSA CTO Patrick Dowd.

The U.S. National Security Agency has launched an internal review of a senior official’s part-time work for a private venture started by former NSA director Keith Alexander that raises questions over the blurring of lines between government and business.

Under the arrangement, which was confirmed by Alexander and current intelligence officials, NSA's Chief Technical Officer, Patrick Dowd, is allowed to work up to 20 hours a week at IronNet Cybersecurity Inc, the private firm led by Alexander, a retired Army general and his former boss.
Dowd's moonlighting gig was originally OK'd by the agency, which found it to be perfectly fine when the signatures were first applied. Now, the agency is having second thoughts. Or, perhaps, first thoughts, judging from what was actually known about this arrangement when the official OKs were first handed out.
The arrangement was approved by top NSA managers, current and former officials said. It does not appear to break any laws and it could not be determined whether Dowd has actually begun working for Alexander, who retired from the NSA in March.
Keith Alexander has attempted to justify this unusual arrangement by saying that this was the best way for he and Dowd to have their cake and eat it, too.
Dowd, he said, wanted to join IronNet, and the deal was devised as a way to keep Dowd's technological expertise at least partly within the U.S. government, rather than losing him permanently to the private sector.

"I wanted Pat to stay at NSA. He wanted to come on board," Alexander said.

He acknowledged that the hybrid arrangement "is awkward," but added, "I just felt that his leaving the government was the wrong thing for NSA and our nation."
So, instead of choosing either option, Alexander chose both -- something officials find highly irregular.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials, some of whom requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters, said they could not recall a previous instance in which a high-ranking U.S. intelligence official was allowed to concurrently work for a private-sector firm.
The list of officials finding this situation unusual even includes Stewart Baker.
Stewart Baker, a former NSA general counsel, said that he had never heard of an arrangement under which an NSA executive is allowed to work part time for a private company presumed to be involved in some of the same type of business as the NSA.
But in typical Bakeresque fashion, even something he'd never heard of occurring previously is probably still an acceptable thing to do.
"I agree this is unusual," Baker said, adding, "It’s complex, but probably manageable."
Of course, with "complex" meaning "immediately sets off ethical/conflict of interest alarms" and "manageable" meaning "never underestimate the ability of government officials to justify their own malfeasance."

That the NSA would even bother to double-check this arrangement is a positive sign. It indicates the agency is well aware that its every action is still under close scrutiny and that it will be heavily criticized should it appear to care less deeply about national security and national secrets than its ongoing defense of its own existence would indicate. You can't lock everyone out of FOIA requests, budget discussions, legislation attempts, lawsuits, etc. by loudly yelling "national security" any time someone asks for further details -- not when you're allowing a high-ranking official to take half-days at work in order to put in some more time with his buddy in the cybersecurity business.

Filed Under: keith alexander, moonlighting, nsa, patrick dowd, surveillance
Companies: ironnet cybersecurity


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 6:02am

    Who is being betrayed here, the NSA, or IronNet customers?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 6:17am

      Re:

      The US public, by an actual terrorist.

      Alexander's action have been primarily tied into a fearful agency, and that agency's actions are directly contributing to a climate of fear and terror.

      So the definition applies.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jon Renaut (profile), 20 Oct 2014 @ 6:21am

    This is insane

    As I was graduating college, I was planning to go into defense contracting after hearing stories of riches heaped on older classmates by Raytheon and Lockheed. My girlfriend at the time was going to work at the NSA. After her first orientation, she freaked out that I could no longer take her out to dinner or anything because it would be a conflict of interest.

    We were entry-level new college grads who in no way could influence any sort of contract award or anything like that, and she was told this wasn't appropriate. To think that the former head of the agency employing the current CTO would be "manageable" shows, once again, that the NSA is completely divorced from reality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 8:46am

      Re: This is insane

      NSA is a state within the military complex which is a state within the federal state. Thankfully, the real concerns keep on piling up on the previous boss and his boss with Alexander and Holder looking to hold very problematic ethical standards or lack thereof (That is kind of what enforcement of laws are based on). With those out of the picture, the replacements sounds like straighter arrows on that front even though the revival of the war on encryption is worrying. Hopefully the change in management style will make the mid-levels more interested in communication openly about concerning developments in the bottom and actually dare and feel they can propose improvements without fearing for their job.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 6:40am

    Under the arrangement, which was confirmed by Alexander and current intelligence officials, NSA's Chief Technical Officer, Patrick Dowd, is allowed to work up to 20 hours a week at IronNet Cybersecurity Inc, the private firm led by Alexander, a retired Army general and his former boss.

    So Alexander and Dowd have breached National Security and managed to keep a mole inside the NSA officially , lets be honest here , He's doing it for the money , What else would he do for financial gain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 20 Oct 2014 @ 10:30am

      Re:

      > So Alexander and Dowd have breached National Security and managed to keep a mole inside the NSA officially ...

      That's sort of what I was thinking too. Don't people go to jail for insider trading?

      The other thing I was wondering is, why isn't this a self-correcting problem? IronNet's competitors ought to be slavering at the chance to sue the pants off everyone involved. Pro bono and civil rights lawyers should be all over this.

      However, this's the NSA, the former head of the NSA, and the current CTO of the NSA. In Alexander's position, he should be two winks and a nod away from damning dirt on anybody, so who'd want to go against this? J. Edgar Hoover was a piker in comparison. I can just imagine the discussion that took place when he first imagined doing this.

      Sir, you can't think you'll get away with this! It's blatant!

      Who's going to try to stop me?

      Er, good point. Can I have a job there too?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 6:46am

    Who watches the watchers? Kangaroos.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 6:55am

    What's manageable

    By "probably manageable", he is certainly referring only to the backlash from the public and media. Whether the relationship is manageable does not enter the thought process.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    the threat to peace is the USA, 20 Oct 2014 @ 7:13am

    hi nixon

    puts up his two hands with peace signs

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 20 Oct 2014 @ 7:19am

    At last some accountability!

    It must have been irksome for the NSA to collect all that perfect blackmail material without being able to collect on it in an accountable manner.

    Now Keith Alexander sells "cyber attack insurance" at up to a million per month, and they broke down the revolving door for Patrick Dowd in order to make a bigger office in "two companies".

    What a wonderful arrangement for everyone involved. With a separate outsourced money collection company, the racket can begin. Eventually, the NSA has its own independent money sources and will no longer require taxpayer money. As the requirement for taxpayer money is faded out, so can be the lip service to the constitution, making for a much larger variety of extortion deals being possible than the ones which are being put into place right now.

    That's a nice network you have there. It would be a real shame if something bad happened to it. And I happen to know just how much that would be worth to someone who does not like you very much.

    Let the rubles roll!

    It is a pity that Nixon did not live to see what the country has become and how today's crooks have been forking off the tongues of liars.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 7:48am

    the govt's problem is keeping everything under the table.  once you admit that the public has a right to know anything, that's the green light for more curiosity.  so they fight any release of information as if it were the coca-cola recipe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 1:28pm

      Re:

      Basically that is true. Governments are a pandoras box of human errors, sliding moral standards and unadulterated corruption. As soon as precedence is in the public knowing certain parts of governing, the door is open and the dirty secrets will come out. That is a scary prospect no matter the Mens Rea of the public employee.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 8:10am

    raises questions over the blurring of lines between government and business
    "Compelling" the telcos (for the record, who asked to be compelled) to collect information they don't need and turn it over to a government that cannot legally request it is OK and maintains a strong line between government and business, but cross-employing a CTO blurs the lines because there is a possibility that he will misuse his position.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    beech, 20 Oct 2014 @ 8:15am

    rationale

    The reason the NSA is looking into this probably isn't because they think Dowd is doing anything wrong, but now that Alexander is out of the government he is most probably a pedophile terrorist and needs a LOT of enhanced scrutiny.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 8:38am

    Lets apply the same yardstick: http://abcnews.go.com/Business/us-software-developer-busted-employer-outsourcing-job-china/story?id= 18230346

    Guy had the skills, but just wanted more. he wanted his cake and wanted to eat it too. So, he outsourced.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 9:18am

    selling of Government secrets?

    Dowd, he said, wanted to join IronNet, and the deal was devised as a way to keep Dowd's technological expertise at least partly within the U.S. government, rather than losing him permanently to the private sector.

    "I wanted Pat to stay at NSA. He wanted to come on board," Alexander said.


    That statement right there tells you that Alexander needs someone at the NSA that can feed him information so that he can keep IronNet useful.

    Even if they can have the work Dowd does completely separate from what he does at the NSA, he will still have access to information that Alexander needs to remain relevant.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Rikuo (profile), 20 Oct 2014 @ 11:49am

    I want to question why this CTO has 20 spare hours in his work week. Wouldn't his real job already be taking up most of his week?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DDearborn, 20 Oct 2014 @ 1:03pm

    NSA gets to define its own conflict of interest

    Hmmm

    So the NSA itself gets decide if it is violating NSA conflicts of interest. The fact that the men making the "determination" if they are not already benefiting from the lack of conflicts seen in the obviously conflicted, corrupt, treasonous and dangerous breach of National security have put themselves in a perfect position to not be conflicted when they leave the NSA. Good grief, the NSA now looks exactly like the totally corrupt, totally compromised, totally ineffective and inept Treasury and SEC.(except of course for the Banks and Wall Street) Both have revolving doors the size of the East Coast.

    But not to worry the foxes have declared the hen house safe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 22 Oct 2014 @ 12:21pm

      Re: NSA gets to define its own conflict of interest

      Where do you even see a "revolving door the size of the East Coast" if he works both jobs at once?

      They don't even bother masking corruption, selling of state secrets and conflict of interest with a revolving door any more.

      The Mafia is more discrete than the government organized crime syndicates.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 3:41pm

    Patrick Dowd, wants aboard the get rich quick selling American secrets train too. It good to know America's Chief Technical Officer is only working part-time at his job in the NSA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonycoward, 20 Oct 2014 @ 7:24pm

    This is the very definition of corruption: NSA official and private company officer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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