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NSA sued over fears that former director is selling secrets

Published time: July 30, 2014 21:28
General Keith Alexander (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

General Keith Alexander (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

The National Security Agency has received its fair share of lawsuits since former contractor Edward Snowden began to disclose secret documents last year, and now the NSA is being taken to court for failing to produce files about its former director.

Motherboard reported on Wednesday this week that journalist Jason Leopold has filed a complaint against the NSA because the agency has refused to honor his request for public financial disclosure statements pertaining to Gen. Keith Alexander, the former head of the NSA who now offers cyber-consulting to corporations for the cost of $1 million a month.

According to motion filed in United States District Court for the District of Maryland, attorneys representing Leopold are asking that the NSA be ordered to come forth with some of Gen. Alexander’s records for an upcoming story he plans to write about the former director’s finances while at the helm of the secretive spy agency.

Daniel Stuckey, a journalist for Motherboard, wrote that Alexander’s finances are of particular interest because the four-star general has made it no secret since retiring earlier this year that he’ll consult on behalf of big businesses for the price of $1 million per month. Indeed, RT reported only earlier this month that the top-trade group on Wall Street, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, has retained Alexander’s services. That agreement and others have raised concerns among those who’ve said Alexander — who is privy to the NSA’s vast surveillance programs and signals intelligence gathering operations — may be disclosing state secrets for any company with a budget big enough to afford his services.

“But some aren't simply laughing off the retired four-star general's new endeavor,” Stuckey wrote on Wednesday. “Some, like Leopold, are concerned that Alexander might actually plan on selling high-level state security secrets for his hefty price tag.”

In the complaint, Leopold’s attorneys write that “Alexander has become a cybersecurity consultant, and questions have arisen as to whether he improperly used his government position for personal financial gain.”

According to Motherboard, some members of Congress have already spoken out about Gen. Alexander’s new gig, including Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Florida). Previously, Stuckey reported, Grayson wrote to the deputy counsel of the NSA saying the former director’s disclosures must be made public “unless the President finds that the release of the form would ‘reveal sensitive information,’ or ‘compromise the national interest.’"

Additionally, Grayson reportedly wrote SIFMA as well to caution Wall Street that “without the classified information that [Alexander] acquired in his former position, he literally would have nothing to offer” through his consulting company. Cryptographer and security expert Bruce Schneier has also suggested that Alexander could be giving “classified information” to clients willing to cut him a check.

In his pursuit for answers, Leopold first asked for the public financial disclosure statements earlier this year with a request filed through the Ethics in Government Act, or EGA, but was rebuffed by a denial letter sent by the NSA last week. According to the reporter’s attorneys, the agency lacks reason to withhold the documents.

Because the NSA wrongfully withheld these records,Mr. Leopold brings this action to compel the NSA and the appropriate agency official to perform their duty to process his request pursuant to the EGA and produce the disclosure statements without further delay,” the complaint reads in part.

And, according to the plaintiffs, the US government lacks good reason to withhold the requested documents, especially not through National Security Agency Act provisions as the refusal letter insisted.

Mr. Leopold’s request does not seek the disclosure of the organization, function or activities of the NSA or the names, titles, salaries or number of persons employed by the NSA,” the complaint reads in part. “Instead, he seeks the public financial disclosure statement of a former director of the NSA. The National Security Agency Act, by its own terms, does not apply to Mr. Leopold’s request. If the court were to find that the NSA Act does apply, it would necessarily follow that all NSA employees’ public disclosure forms could be withheld, and this would render superfluous the provision of the EGA, discussed below, which authorizes the President to exempt from public disclosure particular NSA employees public disclosure reports.”

In the wake of last year's NSA disclosures attributed to Snowden, a former contractor for the agency, the US intelligence community has been hit with numerous lawsuits, including one filed earlier this month after failing to disclose details on the government's use of computer exploits to spy on targets.