The suspicious behavior noted thus far is sufficient, all by itself, to warrant an investigation by Congress in its capacity as the national-security state's overseer. But the appearance of impropriety hardly ends there. Observers of Washington, D.C., have long lamented the "revolving door" between government and industry. Lately, the NSA has dispensed with the pretense of any door at all.
Consider the flagrantly problematic arrangement that was being used by the agency and its former boss until this week. "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," Reuters reported. "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."
Shortly after the arrangement became public, it was abandoned:
Keith Alexander has ended a deal with a senior U.S. intelligence official allowing the official to work part-time for his firm, an arrangement current and former officials said risked a conflict of interest. Reuters reported on Friday that the U.S. National Security Agency had launched an internal review of the arrangement between NSA Chief Technical Officer Patrick Dowd and IronNet Cybersecurity Inc, which is led by Alexander, his former boss. 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.
The setup could not withstand public scrutiny. It caused many, including current U.S. officials, to cry foul. But Alexander still insists that he did "everything right." This is a man with deeply suspect judgment who has been caught in public lies. What still-unknown arrangements went on at the highly secretive agency during his tenure?
Meanwhile, another high-ranking NSA official, Teresa Shea, is making headlines—not because her husband, James Shea, "works for a major SIGINT contracting firm, DRS Signal Solutions Inc., which appears to do business with the NSA," though that too is of interest, but because BuzzFeed discovered that "there’s a private SIGINT consulting and contracting business based at Shea’s home," and in addition to that business, there's a separate business that ... well, it's a bit unclear:
Yet another company, apparently focused on the office and electronics business, is based at the Shea residence on that well-tended lot. This company is called Oplnet LLC. Teresa Shea, who has been at the NSA since 1984, is the company’s resident agent. The company’s articles of organization, signed by Teresa Shea, show that the firm was established in 1999 primarily “to buy, sell, rent and lease office and electronic equipment and related goods and services.” An attorney who also signed the document, Alan Engel, said he couldn’t comment on client matters.
BuzzFeed News found no evidence that the firm has done business with the federal government, and it is unclear what electronics or office business the firm deals in. The firm is listed as active at the Maryland Department of Assessment and Taxation. One document on file at the Federal Aviation Administration lists Teresa Shea as the “sole member” of the LLC. Records show Oplnet does own a six-seat airplane, as well a condominium property with an assessed value of $275,000 in the resort town of Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Once again, there is no hard evidence of impropriety and plenty of questions raised. The NSA is presented to the American people as an agency on the front lines of preventing terrorism at a time when tracking global threats is overwhelming. Yet officials at the very top of the agency purportedly have enough free time, while holding ostensibly high-pressure national-security jobs, to invest in surveillance companies, develop multiple patents, moonlight for a private consulting firm that serves the financial industry, and operate multiple side-businesses. I haven't seen so many red flags since Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics.