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Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Ex-NSA boss won $700,000 Saudi consulting deal after Khashoggi death - The Washington Post

Retired NSA director won lucrative consulting deals with Saudis, Japan

Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, arrives at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in June 2013. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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"Retired Army Gen. Keith Alexander, who led the National Security Agency under Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, secured $2 million in consulting deals with foreign governments after leaving office, including a $700,000 contract to advise Saudi Arabia on cybersecurity after the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, newly released records show.

Alexander’s consulting firm also won a $1.3 million contract from the government of Japan to provide advice on cyber issues, according to additional documents obtained by The Washington Post as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.

Details of those lucrative contracts are among records disclosed by the Pentagon for the first time about retired generals and admirals who have leveraged their military service over the past decade to obtain work from foreign governments. The disclosures by the Pentagon came in response to The Post’s lawsuit and demands from Congress, which has scheduled a hearing on the issue Wednesday.

In an investigation last year, The Post found that more than 500 retired U.S. military personnel — including scores of generals and admirals — had accepted employment from foreign governments, mostly as contractors in countries known for human rights abuses and political repression. Under federal law, retired service members must obtain permission before they can accept any compensation from foreign powers, out of concern that the payments could compromise their allegiance to the United States. The U.S. government withheld virtually all information about the foreign jobs until The Post won a two-year legal battle with the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marine Corps and the State Department.

The latest batch of records shows that Alexander, who led the nation’s largest intelligence agency from 2005 to 2014, reported the most foreign compensation of any retired U.S. service member since 2012. The second-highest earner has been retired Navy Vice Adm. William Hilarides, 63, who since 2016 has won naval consulting contracts from the government of Australia worth up to $1.6 million, according to figures released last week by the Australian Department of Defense.

Hilarides served as a key adviser to the Australian government over the past 18 months while it finalized a landmark deal with the United States and Britain to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. On Tuesday, Australia announced that it has tapped Hilarides for a new high-profile assignment: to lead a review of the size and structure of the Royal Australian Navy’s surface fleet.

Hilarides has charged the Australian government $4,000 a day for his consulting services, according to documents that the U.S. Navy recently released in response to The Post’s FOIA lawsuit. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Another retired U.S. admiral who was recently hired by the Australian government charges even more. Retired Adm. John Richardson, who headed the U.S. Navy from 2015 to 2019, receives $5,000 a day as a part-time consultant for the Australians, according to documents the Pentagon released to Congress last month.

Richardson was hired in November to advise Australian defense officials during their negotiations to acquire top-secret nuclear submarine technology from the United States and Britain. Australian officials said he is working on a year-long contract, with extensions that the government can renew for two more years.

“I spent most of my life helping to keep America and our allies and partners safe and secure,” Richardson told The Post on Monday. “It’s a privilege to be invited to be able to use my experience, and help where I can to continue that work.”

Alexander, who declined interview requests, is among 22 retired U.S. generals and admirals who have landed consulting contracts and other work in the past decade from Saudi Arabia, according to records obtained by The Post and data that the Pentagon disclosed last month to Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Most of those retired personnel have served as advisers to the Saudi Defense Ministry, which was led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman until last year. According to U.S. intelligence agencies, Mohammed approved the 2018 killing of journalist Khashoggi, a Post contributing columnist, as part of a brutal crackdown on dissent.

The oil-rich Saudis pay well. Retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, who was a national security adviser to Obama, reported in 2017 that he expected to collect between $40,000 and $60,000 a month as a consultant to the Defense Ministry, according to FOIA documents that the Marine Corps released this month to The Post.

Jones’s consulting firm, Jones Group International, has expanded its work since 2017 for the Saudis and employs several other retired U.S. generals, who reported receiving between $24,000 and $30,000 a month. Jones did not respond to a request for comment.

After The Post published its investigation, Grassley, Warren and other lawmakers in December pressed the Pentagon and State Department for more transparency, demanding records about retired military personnel working for foreign governments.

On Wednesday, Warren is scheduled to chair a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on the issue, with testimony expected from Pentagon lawyers and other witnesses.

In advance of the hearing, Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr., the Pentagon’s undersecretary for personnel, ordered the civilian leaders of the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps to “analyze the rigor” of their foreign employment policies and report back within 90 days. “It is imperative that the [Defense] Department remain vigilant to protect against foreign influence that could be harmful to the interests of the United States,” he wrote last week in a memo.

The Post investigation found that approval of foreign employment requests is almost automatic. Of more than 500 applications submitted between 2015 and 2021, about 95 percent were granted.

Records show that the United Arab Emirates has hired more retired U.S. service members than any other country in the world, with 280 taking jobs as military contractors and consultants since 2015.

Among them is retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, who served as a military adviser to the UAE before becoming secretary of defense for President Donald Trump in 2017. Shortly after he resigned as Pentagon chief, Mattis received federal permission to work with the Emiratis again in 2019 so he could give a speech in Abu Dhabi.

Mattis has previously said through a spokesman that he did not request or accept payment from the UAE government, other than travel expenses, because of “his belief in the importance of ethical conduct” and his strong support for the U.S.-UAE strategic partnership.

Mattis’s application for permission to give the Abu Dhabi speech, however, stated that he would be paid a “standard honorarium” of $100,000, plus reimbursement for airfare and lodging, according to documents that the Marine Corps disclosed this month in response to The Post’s FOIA lawsuit.

Asked for comment, Robert Tyrer, co-CEO of the Cohen Group, a Washington consulting firm where Mattis works as a senior counselor, repeated Mattis’s statement that he did not accept compensation for the speech. He said Mattis listed the $100,000 honorarium figure on his application because he wanted the Marine Corps’ and State Department’s “most detailed and rigorous review” of his UAE speaking engagement.

The Saudi’s compensation for Alexander, the former NSA director, had been kept under wraps by the Pentagon. But last month, it reported to the Senate that he received $700,000 for the work.

Records previously obtained by The Post show that Alexander’s consulting firm, IronNet Cybersecurity, signed a contract with the Saudis in July 2018 to develop the Prince Mohammed bin Salman College of Cyber Security. The State Department approved Alexander’s request to serve on the college’s board of advisers in January 2019, three months after Khashoggi’s slaying.

Retired Army Gen. Keith Alexander, founder and CEO of IronNet Cybersecurity, speaks at a tech conference in 2017 in New York. (Noam Galai/TechCrunch/Getty Images) 

IronNet has said that the firm provided educational and consulting services for the Saudi cyber college until the contract ended in 2020, but that Alexander did not personally perform any of the work or attend board meetings as he originally planned. An IronNet spokeswoman declined to say how much revenue the company received. Alexander is the founder, chief executive and chairman of the firm. The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to request for comment.

Alexander also received federal approval in 2017 to serve as a consultant on cyber issues to the government of Japan. His application stated that his company would receive $1.3 million from the Ministry of Economy, Transportation and Industry for Alexander to attend two advisory meetings and for IronNet to provide an unspecified amount of cybersecurity training.

Nancy Fazioli, an IronNet spokeswoman, declined to comment on the company’s or Alexander’s work for the Japanese government. She said the Japanese government signed the contract with IronNet, not Alexander in his personal capacity.

In addition, Alexander received federal permission to serve as a cyber adviser for the government of Singapore, receiving three separate consulting contracts worth more than $25,000, records show.

The Japanese government has also financed the $250,000 annual salary for retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to work for the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank, records show. McMaster received federal approval to take the job in 2019, a year after he stepped down as Trump’s White House national security adviser.

According to McMaster’s application, the Japanese Foreign Ministry provided a $500,000 grant to the Hudson Institute so he could become the new chair of its Japan program. McMaster also reported that the Japanese government was considering giving the think tank a second $500,000 grant.

McMaster, the Hudson Institute and the Japanese Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment."

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