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21 Oct, 2014 17:29

Congress investigating deal between NSA official and ex-director’s company

Congress investigating deal between NSA official and ex-director’s company

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are now questioning the relationship between the National Security Agency’s chief technical officer and a private company being run by the former head of the American electronic spy department.

On the heels of reports concerning the NSA’s current CTO, Patrick Dowd, and a business launched earlier this year by the agency’s recently-retired director, Gen. Keith Alexander, Congress is now reportedly considering an investigation of its own.

Reuters was the first to report last week that IronNet, a cybersecurity company started by Alexander after he left the public sector in March, employs the NSA’s Dowd concurrently while he works for the federal government as one of the top officials at the spy agency. According to last Friday’s report, Dowd’s NSA supervisors have approved him to work up to 20 hours a week at Alexander’s company.

That arrangement, described on Friday by Reuters as “unusual,” according to former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker, was reportedly being investigated internally by the agency when the newswire reached out last week for comment. As of this Monday, though, Reuters now reports that a United States Senate panel and a Florida Democrat from the House of Representatives are raising their own concerns.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the NSA for a copy of the “internal review” into the manner that the agency acknowledged it opened, Reuters reported this week, and Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Florida) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee also said he would "request an investigation" of the arrangement between Dowd and IronNet.

Grayson told Reuters that Alexander is "promiscuous in his unscrupulousness," and called the deal with Dowd was "an obvious violation of the standards of ethical conduct for employees of the Executive Branch."

Previously, Grayson published an open letter in June to raise questions about Alexander’s post-NSA employment when it was revealed that he reportedly asked a major Wall Street trade group for $1 million a month in consultation fees soon after resigning from the agency in the midst of the scandal surrounding national security documents leaked last year by former contractor Edward Snowden.

“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 asked at the time in a letter to the trade group, the Security Industries and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA). “Without the classified information that he acquired in his former position, he literally would have nothing to offer to you.”

According to the Huffington Post, Grayson said "send me all information related to your negotiations with Mr. Alexander, so that Congress can verify whether or not he is selling military and cybersecurity secrets to the financial services industry for personal gain."

When Reuters first reported on the arrangement between Dowd and IronNet last week, NSA spokesperson Vanee Vance said “While NSA does not comment on specific employees, NSA takes seriously ethics laws and regulations at all levels of the organization.”

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,” she told The Hill.

"I wanted Pat to stay at NSA. He wanted to come on board," Alexander told Reuters last week of how the arrangement originated. "I just felt that his leaving the government was the wrong thing for NSA and our nation."

Alexander and Dowd jointly filed patents together based off of ideas that originated during their time at NSA, Reuters reported, but the ex-spy boss said IronNet’s work is unrelated.