NSA Official Moonlighting for a Private Security Firm

US National Security Agency is reviewing a decision allowing its official to moonlight for a private cyber security firm. NSA’s Chief Technical Officer, Patrick Dowd enlisted for part time with a company owned by former NSA director Keith Alexander.

The arrangement was reportedly approved by senior managers at NSA allowing Dowd to work for his former boss at IronNet Company for up to 20hrs a week.  Critics have cited a conflict interest and accused Alexander for profiting from his connection with the Agency.

In a statement to Reuters, NSA Spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the matter was still under internal scrutiny by the Agency “This matter is under internal review. While NSA does not comment on specific employees, NSA takes seriously ethics laws and regulations at all levels of the organization,”

Alexander Keith who confirmed the arrangement with Down said the decision to have Dowd moonlight t for IronNet was approved by relevant government agencies, and it had no conflicting interests.

In a statement to Reuters, spokeswoman Vines said that “under ethics rules, senior executive employees, among others, are required to obtain written permission through their supervisors if they wish to pursue outside employment with a prohibited source.”

Since retiring from NSA in March, Alexander Keith has been on the spot light over his business prospects in Cybercrime consulting. Majority of his critics have accused of profiteering off his NSA credentials and his privileged position in accessing government intelligence.

“Alexander was the founding general in charge of US Cyber Command, the first military command charged with defending Defense Department data and attacking those belonging to adversaries.” Both positions provide Alexander with unique and marketable insights into cybersecurity. “Reported the guardian

Alexander has defended the arrangement with Dowd saying it was beneficial to both IronNet and the government. He allegedly dissuaded Dowd from quitting the NSA for a permanent position at IronNet.  He however did not explain how IronNet was to benefit from the arrangement.

“I wanted Patrick to stay at NSA. He wanted to come on board,” Alexander said. “I just felt that his leaving the government was the wrong thing for NSA and our nation.”

The new arrangement did not sit well in Maryland. Some officials at NSA who requested anonymity said it was exceeding rare for US government officials to work concurrently in private sector especially in firms offering the same services as NSA.

Steward Baker, a former NSA general counsel said he had never heard of such an arrangement where NSA officials were consulting for intelligence firms in the private sector. “I agree this is unusual,” Baker said, adding, “It’s complex, but probably manageable.

According to Baker this new arrangement is a complicated hybrid.  Baker said there existed a program that allowed government official to leave for the private sectors and then later return to their positons. However they were required to have a total break from government service during the period in the private sector.

Paul Rothstein, a criminal law and ethics professor at Georgetown University law school labeled the arrangement as “Problematic”. According to him it is very difficult to draw the line between government and business.

“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.”

NSA is not new to criticism over its involvement in the corporate world. In almost a similar incidence William Black Jr an official at NSA left the Agency to join Science Application International Corporation in 1997, before being reappointed as deputy director of NSA in 2001.

While at the helm of SAIC Black won a one billion dollar contract with NSA to develop a data mining Programme known as Trailblazer. Unlike Dowd, Black did not work simultaneously for NSA and SAIC,

In another conflict of interest case, NSA Director of Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) Teresa Shea was reportedly running a Signal Intelligence Business in her backyard. According to Buzzfeed, the firm, Telix Network, was run by her husband James Shea, who is also working for a major SIGNIT consulting firm, DRS Signal Solution which appear to be doing business with NSA.

This new wave to hit NSA comes in the wake of intense criticism of the Spymaster following revelation by former government contractor Edward Snowden of massive spying of users by the Agency. Alexander Keith preside over the Snowden’s Scandal during his final year at the helm of NSA

Alexander and Dowd have filled patents for a forecasting model for detecting network intrusion, a model he allegedly developed while at NSA. Alexander dismissed claims that IronNet techniques were based on the patents. He also revealed the firm was developing as many as 10 patents for new models of cybersecurity.

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NSA Official Moonlighting for a Private Security Firm

by Ali Qamar time to read: 3 min
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