Keith Alexander, the former chief of the National Security Agency (NSA), has been appointed to be on Amazon’s board of directors, according to a filing yesterday in the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Alexander is a retired army general who led the NSA during its long and mostly unfruitful mass surveillance program. He is perhaps best known as being the United States’ public face during the Edward Snowden leaks in 2013. Alexander retired from public service not long after the scandal’s peak.
According to Amazon’s filing, Alexander will sit on the company’s Audit Committee, which ensures Amazon’s compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. The Audit Committee also works on Amazon’s financial reporting to the public.
Amazon did not make a big fuss over announcing Alexander’s appointment to its board — likely because, as one of the top web-hosting companies, it might be seen as just a little bit sketchy.
Snowden responds — When Edward Snowden leaked highly classified information about the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, it was Keith Alexander who led the agency’s charge against him. So it’s no surprise that Snowden would feel the need to speak out about Alexander’s appointment.
“It turns out ‘Hey Alexa’ is short for ‘Hey Keith Alexander,’” he wrote.
Snowden points out that Amazon hosts roughly 6 percent of all websites on the internet today through its Amazon Web Services (AWS) subsidiary. Don’t let this seemingly low market share fool you, though — Amazon hosts, by far, the most high-trafficked websites, according to W3Techs, a web tech survey site.
Amazon loves spying — Though Amazon has by no means been caught (yet) in the kind of privacy scandals associated with the NSA and Edward Snowden, the company has, indeed, shown an affinity for spying.
Amazon’s most recent spying tactics have been in an effort to squash union-building activities. The company has been seen posting positions that explicitly list union-snooping as a key responsibility — postings that, once discovered and reported upon, were swiftly deleted. A recent report also revealed evidence that Amazon has been infiltrating workers’ semi-private Facebook and Twitter conversations to monitor for collective action.
With these recent stories in mind, Alexander’s appointment is a little too on-the-nose to be comfortable. Though Alexander is joining the Audit Committee, it is very possible Amazon is looking to use his unique skillset elsewhere — like in its fight with the Department of Defense over that $10 billion cloud computing contract.