Amazon appoints former NSA chief involved in the Snowden leaks to its board

Image: Amazon appoints former NSA chief involved in the Snowden leaks to its board
Amazon has just appointed retired Gen. Keith B. Alexander to its board of directors. A former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, Alexander retired in 2013, but not before becoming the face of U.S. government surveillance during the Edward Snowden leaks.

News of the appointment comes from a Securities and Exchange Commission filing made by Amazon on Sep. 9. Alexander’s name has also been added to the company board’s official site since then.

Alexander was involved in the Snowden leaks

Alexander remains a controversial figure within the tech community due to his involvement in the widespread surveillance systems revealed in the Snowden leak. Included in these is PRISM, a broad data collection program that collected private electronic data belonging to users of Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo – but not at Amazon.

More recently, another one of the NSA’s programs under Alexander’s tenure that involved mass surveillance of American’s telephone records, was found to be illegal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

While Snowden blew the whistle on many surveillance programs that the NSA had during Alexander’s tenure, it was the revelation the agency was spying on American phone records that was the most explosive.

Prior to the reveal of that program, intelligence officials publicly insisted that the NSA never knowingly spied on Americans. Once the word got out, however, officials changed their tune and claimed that the spying had played a crucial role in keeping the country safe and fighting terrorism.

When all this was going on, Alexander not only defended the agency’s actions, but he was also critical of reporting on the program and other surveillance efforts that were leaked. In one instance, he even suggested that reporters should be legally restrained from covering the leaks.

“I think it’s wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000-whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn’t make sense,” stated Alexander in a 2013 interview with the Verge. “We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policymakers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on.”
In the same interview, Alexander compared the public’s negative reaction to the surveillance programs to a child’s refusal to take a bath.

“It’s like when you were younger – well, this is for boys,” he said. “You know, when you’re younger, you say, ‘I don’t want to take a bath.’ You say, ‘No, I’d never take a bath. Why would we want to take a bath?’ Well, you’ve got to take a bath, cleanliness, (et cetera). I said, ‘But isn’t there a better way?’ Well we don’t, so we had to take baths, right, or showers. What about here, what’s a better way to stop terrorists?”

Amazon could be looking to bolster government contracts by hiring Alexander

Alexander’s appointment to Amazon’s board of directors isn’t the first time that the former general will be taking on a corporate role in a tech company. Following his retirement, Alexander founder IronNet Cybersecurity, a company whose stated goal was “to defend companies, organizations, sectors and nations against highly organized cyber adversaries and sophisticated attacks.”

More recently, Alexander was also appointed as an inaugural member of the advisory board of Ashburn, Virginia-based security company Telos.

It’s likely that his experience in cybersecurity and surveillance, alongside his connections in the industry and in government, played a factor in Alexander’s appointment to Amazon’s board. The company already oversees the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Commercial Cloud Enterprise.

The company, however, lost out to Microsoft in its bid to build the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud. With this in mind, Amazon could be looking to Alexander to make sure they don’t miss out on future contracts beyond JEDI.

In addition, Amazon’s ownership of the Washington Post also means that any future surveillance efforts Amazon gets into with or without the government will be somewhat shielded from press scrutiny. Beyond that, access to such a large outlet could allow Alexander and Amazon a degree of control over narrative if any future surveillance efforts on Americans become public.
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