NSA’s Chief Technical Officer Cleared to Moonlight for Private Firm Founded by Former NSA Director Keith Alexander
To say that Patrick Dowd has competing loyalties is putting it mildly. The chief technical officer for the National Security Agency (NSA) has taken a second job working for his old boss at a company engaged in the same kind of work as the spy agency.
Former NSA Director Keith Alexander founded IronNet Cybersecurity upon his departure from the NSA in March. Now he appears to want the best of both worlds, charging banks up to $1 million a month to guard them from hacking threats while using expertise developed on the taxpayers’ dime to do it.
Dowd did get permission from his NSA supervisors to work up to 20 hours a week for IronNet, according to Reuters. But it’s rare that a high government official is permitted to double-dip and work for a company whose work is so closely tied to his official duties.
Paul Rothstein, a criminal law and ethics professor at Georgetown University law school, told Reuters the arrangement “seems problematic.”
“If it isn’t structured very carefully, this runs the risk of conflict of interest and disclosure of national secrets,” Rothstein said. “It is a situation that in the interests of good government should be avoided unless there’s some very strong reason to do it.”
Alexander and Dowd have filed for patents for technology they developed while at NSA, but Alexander claims those innovations are not the basis for IronNet’s technology.
The NSA says it’s now doing an internal review of Dowd’s arrangement. Alexander said the deal “is awkward,” but allows the public to continue to benefit from Dowd’s expertise. “I just felt that his leaving the government was the wrong thing for NSA and our nation.”
But the deal’s also working out for Alexander, who was accused in June by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Florida) of using information gained at the NSA for personal gain. “Disclosing or misusing classified information for profit is, as Mr. Alexander well knows, a felony. I question how Mr. Alexander can provide any of the services he is offering unless he discloses or misuses classified information, including extremely sensitive sources and methods,” Grayson wrote the Security Industries and Financial Markets Association. “Without the classified information that he acquired in his former position, he literally would have nothing to offer to you.”
Apparently, Patrick Dowd isn’t the only NSA official involved in profiting from the agency for which he serves. Teresa Shea is the director of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) at the NSA, and thus in charge of collecting information about the telephone calls and Internet communications of all Americans…among others.
According to Aram Roston at BuzzFeed, Shea and her husband, James, operate two businesses that appear to do business with the NSA. Telic Networks, based in the Sheas’ home, provides “hardware and software solutions for difficult SIGINT and ELINT [electronic intelligence] problems.” James Shea is also vice-president of DRS Signal Solutions, which manufactures “high performance radios, signal processors, and wideband recorders for signals intelligence, cyber, and commercial test and measurement applications.” Another company registered at the Sheas’ home address is Oplnet LLC., which was established “to buy, sell, rent and lease office and electronic equipment and related goods and services.”
The NSA has refused to release Teresa Shea’s financial disclosure statement.
-Steve Straehley, David Wallechinsky
To Learn More:
Exclusive: NSA Reviewing Deal Between Official, Ex-Spy Agency Head (by Warren Strobel and Mark Hosenball, Reuters)
Senior NSA Official Moonlighting For Private Cybersecurity Firm (by Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian)
Key NSA Official Has Another Business At Her Home (by Aram Roston, BuzzFeed)
Wife: NSA Official. Husband: Exec At Firm Seeming To Do Or Seek Business With NSA (by Aram Roston, BuzzFeed)
Alan Grayson Accuses Former NSA Chief of Disclosing Classified Information ‘For Profit’ (by Shadee Ashtari, Huffington Post)
Does the NSA Spy on Congress? Sounds like Yes (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
NSA Director Alexander Admits He Lied about Phone Surveillance Stopping 54 Terror Plots (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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