Top NSA official under ethics cloud for work with former boss

The National Security Agency is reviewing a top employee’s part-time work for the private corporation founded by his former boss.

The spy agency’s chief technical officer, Patrick Dowd, is currently allowed to work up to 20 hours a week at IronNet Cybersecurity Inc., the private firm co-founded by former NSA Director Keith Alexander, Reuters reported on Friday.

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While the news outlet reported that the arrangement was approved by other officials and does not violate any laws, it nonetheless raises questions about the division between government and corporate work — especially because the secrets learned at the NSA could be tremendously valuable for a private corporation.

“This matter is under internal review,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said in a statement shared with The Hill. “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 added.

Alexander had already been criticized for charging companies high fees for the knowledge gained during years of work at the NSA and as the head of the U.S. Cyber Command, a split role in which he worked both to protect the U.S. and find vulnerabilities in foreign networks.

According to reports, Alexander is offering his company’s services for as much as $1 million per month.

Alexander told Reuters that Dowd’s unusual employment circumstances were a result of his desire to have him stay at the NSA and Dowd’s desire to hop onboard with Alexander’s new company.

The arrangement “is awkward,” Alexander told Reuters, but "I just felt that his leaving the government was the wrong thing for NSA and our nation."

Vines, the NSA spokeswoman, said that all employees have the option to request ethics advice but that the NSA generally does not comment whether or not one person did. Senior officials are required to take ethics training once a year, she added.

Alexander was the longest-ever head of the NSA and oversaw the agency through its most tumultuous months in the wake of last summer's revelations from former contractor Edward Snowden.

He retired earlier this year and was replaced by Navy Vice Adm. Michael Rogers.