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'Unusual' NSA Work Deal Raises Questions About Conflict of Interest

Former NSA director Keith Alexander, who oversaw controversial spying programs, admits the arrangement is 'awkward'

Former NSA director Keith Alexander. (Photo: AP)

A senior official at the U.S. National Security Agency has been cleared to work part-time for a private firm started by former NSA director Keith Alexander, according to exclusive Reuters reporting, raising questions about the blurring of lines between government and business.

The news agency reports that "[u]nder 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 company led by Alexander, a retired Army general and his former boss."

It is unclear whether Dowd has actually started working for IronNet, which is developing technology for financial institutions and private firms to detect, track, and counter cyber-hackers—a venture that has already been criticized as unethical.

The NSA has launched an internal investigation into the arrangement, which Alexander acknowledged to Reuters was "awkward."

Paul Rothstein, a criminal law and ethics professor at Georgetown University law school, told Reuters that the arrangement "seems problematic."

"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."

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