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Don't Leak National Secrets Unless It's For Wall Street
July 2, 2014 4:52 PM   Subscribe

"What could he possibly have that's worth $1 million a month other than classified information?" Former NSA head Keith Alexander goes directly into consulting for large financial associations, with a potential Congressional investigation to follow.
posted by blankdawn (44 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Answer: access. No need for it to be anything more: the NSA has a huge budget and Alexander no doubt knows many people elsewhere in the broader defense–industrial complex. If having him making phone calls closes a massive contract, any business will look at this as money well spent — and unlike those former presidents, he is likely to know the actual people who are selecting vendors and reviewing offers.
posted by adamsc at 5:09 PM on July 2 [9 favorites]


I have high hopes for Snowdon's future employment prospects should he return to the USA.
posted by fredludd at 5:13 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


While I'm not looking to defend the military-industrial complex, I do think it's irrational and wrong to start the witch-hunt without any direct evidence of wrong-doing. The article basically says some people in Congress have questions about his role in private industry. That's fine, and it's probably worth investigating. But it's not worth being up in arms until we know corruption has actually occurred.
posted by thermopoetics at 5:16 PM on July 2 [4 favorites]


While I'm not looking to defend the military-industrial complex, I do think it's irrational and wrong to start the witch-hunt without any direct evidence of wrong-doing.

He's the head of the NSA. Assuming he's done wrong is the rational choice.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:18 PM on July 2 [37 favorites]


Everything adamsc said, plus any classified information he has will stale very quickly. Information stops being useful long before it stops being injurious to national security. I can see a million dollars for each of the first two months, but after that it's all going to be about contacts, deep understanding and the fact that he's run a major, high tech organisation.
posted by Dreadnought at 5:19 PM on July 2


Alexander is already a criminal for his violation of our 4th amendment rights and perjury before Congress.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:19 PM on July 2 [7 favorites]


Besides, if we call it "lobbying" or "donations" then we NEVER have to call ANYTHING corruption
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:19 PM on July 2 [5 favorites]


His rolodex!

because everyone's in it
posted by zippy at 5:22 PM on July 2 [7 favorites]


Answer: access. No need for it to be anything more: the NSA has a huge budget and Alexander no doubt knows many people elsewhere in the broader defense–industrial complex. If having him making phone calls closes a massive contract, any business will look at this as money well spent — and unlike those former presidents, he is likely to know the actual people who are selecting vendors and reviewing offers.

I'm sure he is not dumb enough to do this by phone.
posted by srboisvert at 5:25 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Yeah, he certainly didn't run a governmental agency with an estimated $10B budget and tens of thousands of employees that uses bleeding-edge technology. Nor was he a four-star general who reported direct to the Secretary of Defense and the President of the United States.

So without all that on his resume, yeah, he's totally selling intelligence product, because mishandling classified material has never brought down anyone even when it was unrelated to their actual work.

[/hamburger]

There's plenty to dislike Alexander for. We don't need to trump up reasons.
posted by Etrigan at 5:26 PM on July 2 [4 favorites]


1 million a month for the opposition playbook? Shit, the relative nickel and dime operation that is an NFL team would pay for that.
posted by cmfletcher at 5:30 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


I have high hopes for Snowdon's future employment prospects should he return to the USA.

Stamping licence plates is a huge growth industry.
posted by Coventry at 5:32 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


I'm sure he is not dumb enough to do this by phone.

When I stop and think about it, this is actually a fascinating question. How does a guy like this conduct private business, knowing what he knows? Does he have a phone? Email accounts?
posted by werkzeuger at 5:36 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


This Vice article takes a lamentably strong political stance with little evidence for corruption. A word like "Mastermind" is clickbait bullshit in a headline. The Bloomberg article on the same story is significantly more neutral. The main contribution of the Vice article is getting a bunch of critical quotes on the record, including at least one Congressman. It's useful for advancing the discussion, but it's a bit much.

As revolving door corruption goes, this doesn't seem quite as bad as the FCC/Telecomm partnership, not to mention SEC/Wall Street's back and forth game. In particular I think it's strange that Wall Street would go straight to the ex-NSA guy for briefings on hacking; they could learn a whole lot more by buying a couple of joints for the scruffy goth kid in a Brooklyn coffeeshop with an EFF sticker on his laptop. Or going to DEFCON, or working the existing grey network of security researchers who quietly share notes on APTs. It seems more likely Wall Street is just buying more influence on how to comply with whatever cybersecurity mandates SEC is handing them.
posted by Nelson at 5:36 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


who is supposed to work for wall street? Naderites? They don't apply.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:47 PM on July 2


I'm sure he is not dumb enough to do this by phone.
Why? It's almost certainly legal unless he's actually trading secrets, setup a quid-pro-quo deal, or is bribing his former colleagues — and there's no evidence of any of that. The revolving door is a time-honored tradition at this point, particularly in anything defense related.

My 10¢ plan to save the government money would be to have the equivalent of non-competes at the senior level where we pay them on the condition of not working for a company which does business with the government but that would be incredibly hard to structure in a way which isn't trivial to bypass with a consulting company like he's using. Still, even if we paid them to sit on the beach it'd probably be cheaper than one unwanted weapon system.
posted by adamsc at 5:51 PM on July 2


Seriously, Wall Street pays guys more than that just to have their name on the letterhead.
posted by The World Famous at 6:06 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Being familiar with pricing of lower-tier IT consulting services, it's actually pretty feasible to me that someone with this background and experience could possibly provide services with a market value of a million dollars a month to the sector of the economy that specializes in having money, even without conveying classified information or engaging in some kind of influence peddling.

I mean he may have actually planned and executed attacks against banks and financial infrastructure, maybe even against the particular companies he's now soliciting consulting business from, and could have quite a comprehensive idea of where vulnerabilities are and how to mediate them while coordinating from a high organizational level.

(Not saying he's definitely not selling secrets or peddling influence, just that it's pretty believable he could be selling the kind of sophisticated security and IT consulting services where the most expensive opening pitch offers a million-dollars-a-month "solution".)
posted by XMLicious at 6:14 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Lets say you want some prospective customers to show up to your seminar, retreat, whatever. Keynote: Keith Alexander. They will show up. Or he writes an article in your newsletter. Or is offering advice on the direction of intelligence (in a very broad way, as in where the money will be spent). In the big leagues that is very much likely to be easily with $1M/month.
posted by Bovine Love at 6:17 PM on July 2


From the skeptical tone of some commenters it seems like it's not common knowledge that the NSA routinely engages in economic espionage on a massive scale.

And a million dollars a month might be plausible fees for a whole team of consultants, but not for one lifelong military dude with no (recognized) background in the financial sector.

ps - Whatever else you think about him, how was he not a "surveillance mastermind?"
posted by blankdawn at 6:33 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Seriously, how is this not just clickbait, speculation, and GRARfilter?
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 6:35 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


@Guernsey

Because the vast majority of people who might know even just the verified details about it would be very opposed to it? Yet it will probably still happen anyway? So therefore it's a valid topic of discussion even if it upsets you a bit?
posted by blankdawn at 6:39 PM on July 2


And a million dollars a month might be plausible fees for a whole team of consultants, but not for one lifelong military dude with no (recognized) background in the financial sector.

I'm really not a fan of Alexander, but this isn't way off from, say, the ~$18M that Rahm Emanuel made as a banker in about two years of work (and he had much, much less in the way of any sort of managerial expertise than Alexander). Like it or not, if the government is going to be a large part of the economy, then people with deep connections to senior government officials are going to be very valuable to private sector employers.
posted by dsfan at 6:40 PM on July 2


@dsfan

I get what you are saying and I also dislike Emanuel, but he made the money by making deals at an investment firm. Keith Alexander is not going to be hired by anyone as a banker.
posted by blankdawn at 6:43 PM on July 2


Also the Bloomberg piece notes that he's leasing office space, so it may not just be him alone.
posted by XMLicious at 6:44 PM on July 2


Because the vast majority of people who might know even just the verified details about it would be very opposed to it?.

Serious question: what verified details exactly are you opposed to?
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 6:46 PM on July 2


When I stop and think about it, this is actually a fascinating question. How does a guy like this conduct private business, knowing what he knows? Does he have a phone? Email accounts?


It's not like he's a guy who actually trained agents in Counter-Espionage, like Snowden. I'm guessing he uses a Blackberry and considers it good enough because all the Beltway Village Idiots do the same thing.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:50 PM on July 2


@Guernsey

1) Keith Alexander lied to our elected officials who are supposed to be overseeing him.

2) He, by most legal scholars' accounts, seriously infringed on our constitutional right to be free from unwarranted searches.

3) He is not being investigated, let alone charged with, any crimes.

4) He has presided over massive economic espionage with virtually no oversight.

5) It requires a massive (and based on his record, unwarranted) leap of faith in Keith Alexander to assume that he would not use any of that information for financial gain for himself or any paying clients.

6) Generally speaking someone who has already enriched themselves at the public trough by violating the privacy of the entire world ("because terrorism") should not then be rewarded even more handsomely because of their previous access to this illegally gathered information.

I could go on but that is probably enough for the average person.
posted by blankdawn at 6:56 PM on July 2 [5 favorites]


If you're outraged because Alexander lied to and spied on the public, I'm right there with you. If you think Alexander should be in a jail cell instead of earning millions, I can't disagree. But it's point 5 where this turns into speculation, and that speculation is the way the entire article (as well as the post) was framed.

Maybe from your view a statement like "What could he possibly have that's worth $1 million a month other than classified information?" rings true, but that is in no way a "verified detail," as you put it. We don't know what Alexander is telling these banks. In fact, we don't even know that he's even talking specifically to banks; the article just references "shady business lobbies" and mentions one, whose membership runs from the big investment banks to discount brokers to a few insurance companies.

Look, you want to hate this guy for what he's done at the NSA? No argument here. But if you want to accuse him of selling secrets to Wall Street, you're going to need something a little stronger. It seems to me that once you dig past the clickbaity headline, there's really nothing concrete here.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 7:21 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


The article points out that it's something that should be investigated and / or prevented. Obviously there is no verification that he has been paid by any company as of yet, he's just getting started.

Do you also think former Rep Brad Miller, one of Congress's leading authorities on financial oversight and investigations, is being "clickbaity" when he expresses concern in the article that Alexander's new line of work is "especially troubling" and that what others dismiss as paranoia now seems "more than plausible?"

Also curious if you're disputing that NSA economic espionage is a fact.
posted by blankdawn at 7:38 PM on July 2


blankdawn: members of Congress grandstand all the time when they have a pet cause or need to score points with a key group (*cough* Benghazi *cough*). I'm not saying Miller is doing that now but there's no public evidence to support any of the speculation so it's premature to jump straight from talk of an investigation to your assumption of guilt.

As with Guernsey, I despise the NSA's actions and the larger trend of executive overreach and unaccountability but … do you really want to be one of the people who automatically repeats any rumor which is politically useful? All we know now is that there are reasonable grounds for some level of monitoring of his business activities, as there should be for any former high official, and that the NSA desperately needs stronger independent oversight to reduce the potential upsides for a financially-minded spook.
posted by adamsc at 7:48 PM on July 2


I should also note that my perspective is adjusted by the fact that most of the officials responsible for torture, murder, etc. are still walking free and we have recent stories about things like mercenaries successfully using death threats against government agents to protect contracts going on — I hope any credible evidence of peddling secrets is investigated but it's not really at the top of the threats-to-the-republic list…
posted by adamsc at 7:54 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


OK, I don't think you understand my issue here. It is one thing to say that a former congressman expresses concern and finds Alexander's activities "especially troubling," and another to say that Alexander is undoubtedly selling national secrets to Wall Street. The first is interesting; the second is click-bait. And the second is how the post is framed.

Show me some facts and I'll be on board with you. If all we have is a former congressman "expressing concern" and demanding an investigation to prove guilt, we might as well lock up Lois Lerner, case closed, as that's the extent of the hard evidence in that case too.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 7:54 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Interestingly enough, one of the links in the article speculates that Alexander might actually be taking the banks for a ride by scaring them about computer security. The problem is not knowing what Alexander talked about in those meetings, but the point isn't really about national secrets. Story after story tells us that the NSA is trying to know everything. Knowledge is power, and the banks don't need any more.

And I think people are upset because the precedent has been set so many times that high-ranking government officials should not suddenly and immediately become business consultants or lobbyists or what-have-you, lest there be corruption.

Personally, my outrage is basic and aimed at the distinction between white collar and blue collar crimes. Like pulling economic strings and driving people beneath the level of survivability is more acceptable than driving a knife through their chests.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 8:01 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Please point out to me where I or the article said point blank that he is going to sell classified information.

I actually think it's more likely than not, but that's not what I have claimed, just that it's something that should be thoroughly and transparently investigated, though it probably won't be due to a culture of impunity for those in high govt positions and a lack of coverage by media, etc.

As for "congress people sometimes make up dumb stuff to get worked up over like Benghazi" - false moral equivalency alert.

It's not so common for Democratic congress members to go out of their way to make trouble for appointees of a Democratic administration in any case.

But the bigger point is to take every claim of potential scandal on it's own merits, given the record of those involved (both Alexander and major US financial institutions).
posted by blankdawn at 8:01 PM on July 2


Please point out to me where I or the article said point blank that he is going to sell classified information.

Seriously? From the article: " 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"

Your post title: ""What could he possibly have that's worth $1 million a month other than classified information?"

You may not have said it outright, but it's very clear what both you and the article implied. It's clear to me you are not arguing in good faith. I am done here.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 8:12 PM on July 2


@Guernsey

The quote is not mine, it's from the head of a government watchdog group. Even that is in the form of questioning.
posted by blankdawn at 8:15 PM on July 2


Concern by elected officials tasked with overseeing financial crimes and government watchdog NGOs are all hearsay? Why investigate....

Let's just wait for some high level dignitary from the executive branch that has convicted nobody in the world of high finance and which supports Keith Alexander as an "American hero" to tell us something is going wrong.
posted by blankdawn at 8:17 PM on July 2


Everything adamsc said, plus any classified information he has will stale very quickly. Information stops being useful long before it stops being injurious to national security. I can see a million dollars for each of the first two months, but after that it's all going to be about contacts, deep understanding and the fact that he's run a major, high tech organisation.

All very true; therefore the most likely explanation for this extravagant salary is that it is payment for services rendered.
posted by jamjam at 8:39 PM on July 2 [4 favorites]


One reason this is a problem is because Wall Street is an enemy of the American people.

And now they are hiring the former head of the agency that was charged with protecting the American people.

Yeah, there are plenty of reasons for Keith Alexander to be in jail; but there are also plenty of reasons for wide swaths of Wall Street to be in jail, too.

Put the two together, and "a million dollars a month" doesn't pass the smell test.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:41 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


C'mon, they have to scratch his back a little for getting that troublesome asshole Spitzer out of office.
posted by benzenedream at 11:35 PM on July 2 [3 favorites]


This is the equivalent of Michael Jordan endorsing Nike shoes for $12 million a year. Celebrity ex-government officials are going to be the next hot talent repped by Hollywood agencies.
posted by bigbigdog at 12:40 PM on July 3


Regarding Alexander's successor: New NSA Boss Says The Sky Is Not Falling Because Of Snowden Revelations
posted by homunculus at 8:19 PM on July 3


"NSA in da house" illuminates U.S. embassy in Berlin
posted by jeffburdges at 4:58 AM on July 20


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