Following the first wave of disclosures from Edward Snowden about the mass surveillance state assembled by General Keith Alexander, this essay for Tropics of Meta emphasized the scope of the danger. It also highlighted the gold rush in cybersecurity and the proliferation of enormously dangerous cyberweapons that are Alexander’s legacy as head of the NSA and Cyber Command.
Since leaving the government in 2014, Alexander has struck gold in the “private sector.” He created a “cybersecurity startup” called IrontNet which just raked in over $32 million in funding. The infusion of venture capital will help Alexander sell his anti-hacking software and, as the Wall Street Journal notes, Alexander’s success demonstrates “the continuing ties between Silicon Valley and Washington despite recent tensions.”
There is nothing new about Alexander’s exploitation of those ties. “The transition from the NSA to the cybersecurity industry has become fairly common in an age of data breaches blamed on foreign hackers,” writes Danny Yadron in the WSJ. “Mr. Alexander’s three most recent predecessors went on to work at Washington-area consulting and investment firms.”
What is unique is the fortuitous timing. As head of NSA and Cyber Command, Alexander’s aggressive strategies of penetrating computers in China played a role in the escalating Sino-American cyberwar, a conflict that has dramatically increased demand from corporate clients of cybersecurity firms like IronNet. In effect, Alexander created (or at least exacerbated) a threat to corporate cybersecurity and pivoted to become the high-priced corporate savior. Nice work if you can get it.