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.

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


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  1. 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.

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