Buzzfeed’s Aram Roston has uncovered more evidence linking the NSA’s SIGINT (signals intelligence) director to a number of private contractors known to do business with the US government — perhaps even the agency itself.
Roston previously exposed the close ties between Teresa Shea’s position and her husband James’ employer, DRS Signal Solutions, a company focused on “SIGINT systems.” Not only that, but business records indicated that James Shea apparently runs Telic Networks, another SIGINT-focused business operating out of their hometown (Ellicott City, Maryland).
Needless to say, neither Teresa Shea, her husband, her husband’s employer, nor the NSA itself have offered anything in the way of comments on this suspicious-looking arrangement. The NSA did offer some boilerplate about “robust internal controls,” but simultaneously stiff-armed Buzzfeed’s request for Teresa Shea’s financial disclosure statements, citing the National Security Act of 1959. (This citation is also agency boilerplate, or at least was until Jason Leopold challenged it with a lawsuit. This move forced former NSA head Keith Alexander’s financial disclosure statements out of its hands. In light of this recent decision, it appears Shea’s statements will be released as well.)
This all looked conflicted enough, but Roston has uncovered more suspicious-looking information.
Yet another company, apparently focused on the office and electronics business, is based at the Shea residence on that well-tended lot.
This company is called Oplnet LLC.
Teresa Shea, who has been at the NSA since 1984, is the company’s resident agent.
The company’s articles of organization, signed by Teresa Shea, show that the firm was established in 1999 primarily “to buy, sell, rent and lease office and electronic equipment and related goods and services.” An attorney who also signed the document, Alan Engel, said he couldn’t comment on client matters.
Roston and Buzzfeed were unable to come up with any hard evidence linking Teresa Shea’s home business with federal contracts, but it did uncover a very interesting purchase.
Records show Oplnet does own a six-seat airplane, as well a condominium property with an assessed value of $275,000 in the resort town of Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Flight records for this aircraft show it has made a majority of its landings at three airports — one of them being Ft. Meade, Maryland, home of the NSA. It is not uncommon for people who own their own planes to actually set up a company to own that plane for a variety of legal and tax reasons — and it’s possible that’s what’s happened here — though it is notable that James Shea has a pilot’s license, while Teresa does not.
Perhaps it’s indicative of nothing at all, other than the overwhelming gravitational pull of the Beltway. But then, there’s this timeline.
1984 – Teresa Shea joins the NSA as an engineer working in SIGINT issues.
1990 – James Shea sets up Sigtek, Inc., which goes on to receive “hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts with the federal government, according to a federal contracting database.”
1999 – Teresa Shea registers Oplnet, using their home address.
2000 – James Shea sells Sigtek, Inc. for $20 million to a British firm, while remaining listed as President of the company.
2007 – James Shea sets up Telic Networks, his newest SIGINT-focused company. This too is “based” at the Sheas’ shared home address.
2010 – Teresa Shea is promoted to Director of SIGINT. Nearly simultaneously, James Shea is named vice president of major SIGINT contractor DRS Signal Solutions.
Much of the Sheas’ shared success hinges on SIGINT — both the government’s expansion of dragnet surveillance and simultaneous growth of SIGINT-focused contractors. Maybe there’s nothing to this, but the silence from everyone involved seems to indicate there’s at least the “appearance of impropriety,” if not flat-out misconduct and abuse of power.
More will be known when (and always appended when dealing with the NSA, if) Shea’s financial disclosure documents are released. At the very least, they’ll at least confirm the information Buzzfeed has dug up and prevent the NSA from boilerplating this whole situation into non-existence. The NSA is taking a second look at Keith Alexander’s post-NSA activities. If it’s willing to go that far, it’s willing to dig up dirt on lower-level officials. You can’t be too careful in the intelligence business these days, not with the eyes of legislators, activists and a whole bunch of pissed-off Americans watching your every move.