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Exclusive: Top NSA Surveillance Official Is A Multi-Millionaire

NSA bureaucrat Teresa Shea and her intelligence-contractor husband are worth at least $3 million, records show. She ran controversial surveillance programs for years, and recused herself last year from decisions about her husband’s employer.

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The departing head of signals intelligence at the National Security Agency, Teresa Shea, who presided over a worldwide web of surveillance, is worth millions of dollars, according to financial disclosure records the NSA has recently released to BuzzFeed News. That wealth includes the assets of her husband, James Shea, a businessman who works in signals intelligence, also called SIGINT.

The records show that in 2013, Shea, who presided over electronic eavesdropping, promised to recuse herself from direct involvement in contracts involving a SIGINT contracting company that has employed her husband for several years.

The financial disclosure forms don’t list exact asset values but rather ranges, such as $50,000 to $100,000, making it impossible to precisely tally up the Sheas’ holdings. But the documents suggest that their wealth has risen.

At the end of 2013, the Sheas’ holdings were worth between $3.23 million and $12.7 million. In 2009, the couple’s assets were valued in the range of $1.9 million to $7.1 million.

During that period, the stock market soared, with the Dow Jones Industrial Index rising 69%. Because of that, and because NSA contracts are almost never disclosed, it’s impossible to know how much, if any, of their wealth stems from NSA-related business.

The NSA decided to move Shea, a 30-year NSA employee, out of her powerful position, a move that came after a BuzzFeed News series of reports about her financial interests. The NSA said that her transfer was unrelated to “recent news articles.” The NSA didn’t say, though, whether Shea has already cleaned out her desk as SIGINT director and moved on to her next assignment. The NSA has also steadfastly declined to comment on Shea's financial ties but has said it takes ethics laws seriously.

The series disclosed that Shea’s husband works for a SIGINT contractor, DRS Signals Solutions, and that he is the resident agent of a SIGINT-related government and commercial contracting and consulting business incorporated at the Shea residence.

The series also reported that Shea herself had incorporated an “office and electronics equipment” company, Oplnet LLC, at her home in Ellicott City, Maryland. According to her 2013 disclosure form, the company was worth worth between $500,000 and $1 million and earned rental income of between $5,000 and $15,000 per month. She and her husband did not respond to two voicemail messages left on their home phone.

As BuzzFeed News previously reported, the company owns a condominium with an assessed value of $275,000 in the resort town of Hilton Head, South Carolina, and a six-seat airplane.

In her role as NSA SIGINT director since 2010, Shea oversaw the most important and controversial NSA programs, including those disclosed by former contractor Edward Snowden. Her SIGINT directorate also oversaw the mass domestic surveillance program that tracks information on virtually every phone call made by Americans. Since Snowden disclosed the program, Shea has filed declarations in federal court, saying that the program is “subject to rigorous, technical, and legal controls, and received intensive oversight.”

The Buzzfeed News efforts to obtain the Shea records began months ago, in June. Initially, the NSA rejected a Freedom of Information Act request for the documents. Then, in October, the agency released a separate set of public financial documents to Vice News journalist Jason Leopold, who had filed a federal suit to demand the records of General Keith Alexander, the NSA’s former director. After that, BuzzFeed News requested the Shea records again, and this time the NSA complied.

The records, which go back to 2008, help explain not only how wealthy the Sheas are, but how they invest their money. Among their accounts are over $1 million in Vanguard Funds, and over $500,000 in securities in an E*Trade account.

Shea’s public financial disclosure forms do not differentiate between her assets and her husband’s, though in the case of two funds, worth between $1 million and $5 million, the form makes it clear that the assets belong either to the couple together or to Ms. Shea herself.

The records make no mention of Telic Networks LLC, a firm for which Mr. Shea is the resident agent, and which is based at the Shea residence. Until recently, the firm’s website said that it specialized in “SIGINT and ELINT” (electronic intelligence) technology, and its incorporation papers say it is a “government and commercial contracting and consulting” company. The company’s website has been removed since the last BuzzFeed News story.

From 2008 to 2012, Shea’s supervisors signed forms every year certifying that she had no conflicts of interest. Her husband’s affiliation with DRS Signals Solutions, a SIGINT contractor that is a subsidiary of huge defense contractor DRS Technologies, started in 2010.

In May 2013, Shea directed a memorandum to her supervisor, the deputy director of the NSA, disclosing a potential conflict of interest and essentially recusing herself from direct involvement with DRS. “I am disqualifying myself” from decisions to do with DRS, she wrote. DRS declined to comment.

Teresa Shea is not the only NSA official who has attracted scrutiny. Earlier this year, Bloomberg reported that former director Alexander tried to charge a bank as much as $1 million per month for his consulting services, later dropped to $600,000. Leopold, in October, reported in Vice News that Alexander had invested in high-tech firms during his tenure at the NSA.

Shortly after that, Reuters disclosed that a top NSA official would continue to work at the agency while moonlighting 20 hours a week for Alexander’s new firm. Within days, though he insisted there was nothing inappropriate, Alexander said the arrangement was canceled.

Aram Roston can be reached at aram.roston@buzzfeed.com