Former National Security Agency (NSA) Director Keith Alexander has held investments in a corporation that identifies itself as a "world leader in cloud solutions." And in a "data gathering and research" firm. And in a company that develops software that improves the quality of images captured by surveillance cameras. And in a radio frequency business that, among other things, manufactures amplifiers for air traffic control, radar, and surveillance.
The NSA once said that if revealed, this information [pdf below] would threaten national security.
The agency refused VICE News' July request for copies of Alexander's financial disclosure reports, which he is required to fill out annually under a federal law known as the Ethics and Government Act. The law also states that government agencies are required to release the files upon request.
But attorney Shadey Brown, who is the NSA's ethics officer, said in a July 23 letter that the NSA has routinely denied requests for copies of its officials' financial disclosure reports under the National Security Agency Act of 1959. That law authorizes the NSA to withhold virtually everything about the inner workings of the agency, including data about the names, titles, and salaries of people the agency employs.
Moreover, Brown cited a provision in the Ethics and Government Act that suggested President Barack Obama issued Alexander a waiver that authorized the withholding of his financial reports if disclosure would "compromise the national interest of the United States."
In a lawsuit against the NSA, attorney Jeffrey Light argued that the agency had misinterpreted the laws it cited to justify the ongoing secrecy. Earlier this week, before the case hit a courtroom, a government attorney turned over 59 pages of financial disclosure reports Alexander filed between 2009 and 2014. Brown said in a letter dated October 2 that the NSA was releasing the material "in the interest of transparency."
Alexander's interest in spying was not limited to his tenure as NSA director. He also invested in firms that are on the cutting edge of surveillance technology.
In addition, a government attorney said the NSA would no longer deny access to financial disclosure forms from officials who are required to file the reports — the first time the agency has changed its policies regarding the National Security Agency Act. VICE News subsequently requested the financial disclosure forms of new NSA Director Michael Rogers and another official at the agency. Deputy General Counsel Ariane Cerlenko responded via email saying, "Both of these requests will be processed expeditiously and we expect to get back to you shortly."
Although Alexander was head of the NSA from 2005 through March of this year, Brown said the Ethics and Government Act only requires financial disclosure reports to be released for a period of six years before receipt; therefore, he would not provide reports Alexander filled out prior to 2008.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said the National Security Agency Act, like the CIA Act, is a "giant black hole for information."
"Withholding under the Act does not need to be justified on specific national security grounds — it is enough that the information pertains to agency organization, salaries, etc.," Aftergood said. "And the withholding is often done on a reflexive basis, without any serious thought process. What's interesting here, and maybe a tad encouraging, is that NSA changed its mind. What's discouraging, though, is that a lawsuit was necessary."
Alexander resigned as NSA director following a tumultuous year that saw former agency contractor Edward Snowden leak highly classified documents about top-secret NSA surveillance. Alexander then launched private consulting firm IronNet Cybersecurity Inc., reportedly offering to help banks and other firms protect their computer networks from hackers for up to $1 million a month (he later reduced that figure to $600,000 a month).
Representative Alan Grayson accused Alexander of profiting off the sale of classified information.
"Disclosing or misusing classified information for profit is, as Mr. Alexander well knows, a felony," Grayson wrote last June to three banking groups that hired Alexander as a cyber-consultant. "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. Without the classified information that he acquired in his former position, he literally would have nothing to offer to you."
Alexander's private consulting work and allegations made by Grayson are what prompted VICE News to seek Alexander's financial reports to determine whether he had a stake in any firms with whom he entered into consulting arrangements.
The reports show that Alexander's supervisors — Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers — signed off on Alexander's financial interests, affirming that his investments were "unrelated to his prospective duties and no conflicts appear to exist."
That said, Alexander's interest in surveillance was not limited to his tenure as NSA director. He also invested in firms that are on the cutting edge of surveillance technology.
For example, Alexander invested as much as $15,000 in: Pericom Semiconductor, a company that has designed technology for the closed-circuit television and video surveillance markets; RF Micro Devices designs, which manufactures high-performance radio frequency technology that is also used for surveillance; and as much as $50,000 in Synchronoss Technologies, a cloud storage firm that provides a cloud platform to mobile phone carriers (the NSA has been accused of hacking into cloud storage providers).
Alexander also held shares in Datascension, Inc., a data gathering and research company. The Securities and Exchange Commission suspended trading in Datascension last August "due to a lack of current and accurate information" about the company. (Datascension was linked to telemarketing calls that apparently prompted one person in a complaint forum to remark the company is "trying to gain personal information.")
An NSA spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment, and spokespeople for the technology firms did not respond to VICE News' questions about whether Alexander has offered his consulting services or whether they were awarded contracts with the NSA. Many of the firms have been awarded contracts by the Department of Defense and other government agencies.
UPDATE — October 14, 2014: Stacie Hiras, a spokeswoman for Synchronoss, told VICE News via email that the company "has not had a relationship in the past or currently with the NSA or with Keith Alexander."
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