General Keith Alexander, who oversaw the National Security Agency when Edward Snowden revealed the shocking extent of its illegal wiretapping and data collection programs, has joined Amazon’s board as a director.
Gen. Alexander’s duties on the audit committee and anywhere else he might be needed are not spelled out anywhere. He is currently co-CEO of IronNet Security, the firm he founded six years ago. Before that he was head of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command.
He is perhaps best remembered by the general public as having helped build and operate an enormous set of secret programs for domestic surveillance in the security-first post-9/11 era. There’s a bit more to running the country’s cybersecurity infrastructure than that, of course, but the Snowden leaks ended up defining the end of his career in government intelligence.
Amazon itself has faced accusations of surveilling and profiling its own users via network of Alexa-powered devices (and internet infrastructure, and buying habits, and emotion-monitoring smartwatches), and while it may get a few tips from the more experienced Gen. Alexander, it is more likely his expertise and connections within the wide world of intelligence and military matters that the company seeks.
That sort of thing is helpful when trying to make lucrative deals with the feds, something of a sore spot with Amazon since it lost the excruciatingly drawn-out bid process for the $10 billion JEDI contract to Microsoft. (The award is still being challenged.)
Gen. Alexander will join former and current executives from the likes of Pepsico, Starbucks, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bridgewater Associates, and others on the board director rolls.
I’ve reached out to Amazon for further information and comment and will update this post if I hear back.
Update: Amazon directed me to its official SEC filing for more info, but wanted to emphasize that “There are strict conflict of interest rules for government contracting that we will continue to follow.” In other words, he’s not getting them in the door anywhere — though doubtless his CV will prove invaluable in other ways.
TechCrunch interviewed the General on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt not too long ago to find out how he perceives the need to balance security and privacy.