Ex-NSA chief under scrutiny over speculated secrets leak

Ex-NSA chief under scrutiny over speculated secrets leak

Summary: Irony aside, a lawmaker has pointedly reminded former NSA chief Keith Alexander that selling classified information is a felony.

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Former head of the NSA General Keith Alexander is under scrutiny following revelations that in negotiations with the financial industry, his security company has asked for consultancy fees ranging from $1 million to $600,000.

Last year, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked confidential documents to the media which detailed the US government's surveillance activities, ranging from wiretapping to mass data collection. This not only damaged the general public's trust in the government, but caused an international relations storm. President Obama promised reforms, but the damage was done — and the NSA has been in the hot seat ever since.

Alexander weathered most of the storm, but eventually retired in March from both the NSA and US Cyber Command to set up a cybersecurity firm, IronNet Cybersecurity Inc.

US officials have previously claimed that cybercrime is the "top threat" facing the United States — overtaking terrorism as a priority — but this doesn't take away the fact that cyberdefense is now a very lucrative business as companies and organizations scrabble to protect themselves from frequent and often devastating cyber campaigns.

This month, it emerged that Alexander was pitching his company's services to financial institutions for as much as $1 million a month. In an interview, Alexander said "it would be devastating if one of our major banks was hit, because they’re so interconnected," and so has met with large banking trade groups to offer his firm's services.

According to Bloomberg, Alexander offered the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, known as Sifma, advice for $1 million a month — a price that later dropped to $600,000 in private negotiations.

However, IronNet Cybersecurity has come under scrutiny because of these high consultancy fees, and Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) is pushing for a formal investigation into the activities of the former NSA chief.

There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by the former intelligence chief, but in letters to Sifma (PDF), Grayson notes such excessive fees are likely to be seen as unreasonable, and questions whether Alexander would have any information of this value for the financial industry without disclosing secrets learned through his governmental work. Grayson writes:

Disclosing or misusing classified information for profit is, as Mr. Alexander well knows, a felony.

I question how Mr. Alexander can provide the services he is offering unless he discloses or misuses classified information, including extremely sensitive sources and methods. Without the classified information he acquired in his former position he literally would have nothing to offer to you.

Grayson is not the only one interested in discovering what exactly is on offer for $600,000 a month. Security expert Bruce Schneier writes:

Think of how much actual security they could buy with that $600K a month. Unless he's giving them classified information.

The Representative has asked for Sifma to send him copies of all documents relating to negotiations with Alexander so Congress can investigate whether or not he is "selling military or cybersecurity secrets to the financial services industry for personal gain."

Last year, the former intelligence chief said that cyber threats are "only going to get worse," and admitted that US cybersecurity advancements fell behind the sophistication of today's cyberattacks. In order to keep up, the general said that different skill sets — including networking, communications and data storage — should be combined.

This could have been part of the reason behind Alexander's decision to launch his own security company — or perhaps the challenge of security consultancy was a better alternative to the constant heat and pressure the NSA has been under over the past year.

Topics: Security, Government US, Privacy

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  • If it walks and quacks like a thief..........

    ....it IS a thief!
    • Considering this is a tech blog, I might as well respond

      with one of MY favorites:

      If it LOOKS like a duck ...
      and WALKS like a duck ...
      and QUACKS like a duck ...

      ... It could be animatronics!
  • It's not that big a jump...

    ...from copying individuals' personal and private information to selling how it's done.

    One wonders where the General got his education in cyber-security. Actually, strike that - I have a fairly good idea.
  • Protection Racket

    pure and simple. The guy is running a racket. He is just parlaying (or trying to) his fruit salad medals into a lifetime of easy living.

    Can you imagine him providing advice on security, having presided over the biggest lapse of security; and brazenly, patently, lying about it?

    He and Mr. Crapper deserve to be dragged into a grand jury and indicted for having lied under oath to the congress. The evidence here is far stronger that that for Mr. Libby.
  • Public Trust

    If the .gov is worried about public trust, they need not be. Than train left the station long ago.
  • Scale

    It's a tried and true Washington move to jump from government service into the Military Industrial Complex. Cheney being the prototypical example.

    I presume Alexander's crime is simply the scale of his greed could not be overlooked. That or he made a lot of enemies in Washington who were looking for an opportunity for payback. Or both.
  • First of all remember the the source

    Grayson is nuts about everything he touches. Check out his statements and demeanor in other situations. He is just trying to deflect all the other misbehavior of the lying curs of the Obama administration.
    • Am I correct...

      ...that you judge a politician's character by his party affiliation?
      John L. Ries
  • Does this remind anyone else of convicted hackers doing security consulting

    or a veteran burglar setting up a home security company? Alexander hasn't been convicted of anything yet in connection with NSA misdeeds, but he was pressured to resign over them. If he doesn't get a Ford/Nixon-style blanket pardon, he may end up in court over them. It will be interesting to see if he is allowed to continue running his cybersecurity consulting firm after that. Maybe he's charging big fees now to build up a legal defense fund.
  • NSA ? Google ?

    No need for the NSA anymore, Google does a far better job for free.