What the hell? Pierre Omidyar selects one of Edward Snowden's former Booz Allen bosses to be an Omidyar Fellow
Edward Snowden was a Booz Allen Hamilton employee in Hawaii when he worked as a subcontractor for the National Security Agency and made off with hundreds of thousands of the spy agency’s files.
Booz Allen, “the world’s most profitable spy organization,” is one of the NSA’s leading private contractors; the director of US intelligence, James Clapper, was a Booz Allen executive, and former NSA director Michael McConnell is now a Booz Allen VP.
In other words, if you consider yourself an Edward Snowden supporter in any way, Booz Allen is the enemy.
So it may come as a surprise that billionaire Pierre Omidyar — publisher of The Intercept, which owns the only complete cache of Snowden’s NSA secrets; financier of the Freedom of The Press Foundation, where Snowden serves on the board of directors — has just selected one of Snowden’s former bosses at Booz Allen’s Hawaii branch to join the Omidyar Fellows program.
His name is Robert Lietzke, and he’s a “principal” at Booz Allen’s Hawaii branch, where he’s worked for over 15 years. In 2008, Lietzke was reported in the local Hawaiian press as one of “three principals [running] day to day operations” at Booz Allen’s Hawaii branch. Lietzke’s specialty at Booz is information systems and technology, Snowden’s field. Before he joined Booz Allen, Lietzke was a computer systems officer in the US Air Force from 1989 through 1999.
After joining Booz’s Hawaii branch, Lietzke worked “support” for the US Pacific Command, headquartered outside of Honolulu, on protecting critical infrastructure and network operations.
Ironically—as if there isn’t already an entire asteroid belt of irony in this story—Lietzke was featured in a 2009 story on how different Hawaii companies learned to successfully manage their employees and build corporate camaraderie. Under the sub-header “Employee Feedback,” Hawaii Business Magazine reported:
“In a firm that employs 18,000 people worldwide, it’s easy to feel like a small voice that will never be heard by ‘The Man.’ But at Booz Allen Hamilton, a technology consulting firm that mainly services the U.S. military, employees feel that higher-ups are listening.
“One way employees provide feedback is through a ‘people strategy’ survey every two years. ‘One of the things I’ve noticed is that the response rate is very, very high for that survey,’ says Bob Lietzke, principal at BAH’s Honolulu office. ‘It certainly takes in internal communications within the firm, folks talking from the top all the way down, and this is really your chance to be heard. I think it’s important that leadership stresses it and, more importantly, people are seeing that there’s action taken after it.’”
Speaking of “The Man”: Lietzke’s description of his cyber-intelligence expertise on his LinkedIn page gives a pretty good indication of just how close his and Snowden’s paths would’ve crossed when Snowden worked for Booz Allen in 2013:
“At Booz Allen Bob is applying his knowledge of telecommunications systems and joint military operations to emerging national efforts in Mission Assurance. He provides strategic planning and development guidance to a variety of clients in the areas of Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP), NetOps, and Information Assurance (IA). In addition, he currently manages a wide variety of client support projects in the areas of Information Assurance (IA), CIP, Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection (AT/FP), Homeland Defense (HLD), and Continuity of Operation Planning (COOP). In support of these engagements he is helping clients develop an enterprise wide approach to risk management. Bob currently holds a Top Secret (TS/SCI) Security clearance.Specialties:Information Assurance, NetOps, Critical Infrastructure Protection, Cyber Security.”
In other words, every two-three-and-four-letter cyber-military acronym in the book... except for the three-letter agency that starts with “N”.
Omidyar Fellows: “Once a Fellow, Always a Fellow”
Every year since 2012, Hawaii’s richest resident, Pierre Omidyar, selects around a dozen people from Hawaii’s business, nonprofit, and government sectors to become Omidyar Fellows and form a kind of unofficial club of Hawaii’s future leaders.
In a local Hawaii TV news segment on Omidyar Fellows, the program’s director described how each Fellow must conduct a “gruelling” interview with Pierre Omidyar himself:
“Yeah, the interviews are pretty tough. In-person interviews with the board of five directors.”
“With Pierre, yeah. It was great, yeah. I think the Fellows themselves learned a lot—about themselves.”
“They were a little overwhelmed?”
“Yeah, a bit. A bit. It was great, ha-ha!”
The application process for the Omidyar Fellows’ 15-month program is designed to be rigorous. Your company must sponsor your application, which requires personal testimonies and letters from your company CEO.
According to the website,
Omidyar Fellows need the full endorsement of their current employers and must be able to participate in all the activities of the program. The sponsor will recognize the benefit to the organization of a Fellow’s leadership development and be willing to hold the Fellow accountable for putting his/her learning to work.
This includes a “letter of support from your chief executive” that explains “why you are a current and future leader in your organization and how your growth might continue beyond the program.” Meaning, presumably, that Booz Allen CEO Horacio Rozanski wrote to Omidyar’s people pushing for them to select his top Hawaii executive as an Omidyar Fellow.
[Pando reached out to Booz Allen’s Hawaii office and to Omidyar Fellows for this story, but received no comment.]
Snowden’s former Booz Allen boss, Lietzke, was also required to submit, among other things, a 1500 word essay addressing themes such as,
* What does it mean to be a leader in 21st-century Hawaii?
* How will the Omidyar Fellows program help you to achieve your professional aspirations?
* How will the Omidyar Fellows program help you to achieve your aspirations for the larger community and the people of Hawaii?
Those lucky few selected to join the Omidyar Fellows program spend the next 15 months in a leadership training program that combines some of Omidyar’s own New Age fetishes – as skewered by Ken Silverstein and in Vanity Fair — with more traditional power-networking and relationship-building events. When they complete the program, they join what is called the “Forum of Fellows”:
Once a Fellow, always a Fellow… The formal program is just the beginning of a lifelong commitment by Omidyar Fellows to make a positive difference with the knowledge and network gained and to help subsequent generations of emerging leaders.
In other words, Omidyar is building a kind of local Hawaiian cadre of leaders and networked executives under his brand name and sponsorship—a kind of elite Chamber of Commerce loyal to Omidyar and imbued with his New Age libertarian faith.
Hired Spies: More Omidyar-Booz Allen
I asked national security investigative reporter Tim Shorrock, the foremost expert on private contractors and the NSA and author of “Spies For Hire” for his take on Omidyar cozying up with one of the heads of the Booz Allen branch where Snowden worked.
Shorrock pointed me to Omidyar’s Ulupono Initiative in Hawaii, a multifaceted venture capital fund that operates in Omidyar’s home state much the way his Omidyar Network operates in countries around the world, seeking both profits and political influence. Kyle Datta, who serves as General Partner at Omidyar’s Ulupono Initiative, is a former Booz Allen vice president.
Shorrock also pointed me to a major Pentagon contractor expo in Hawaii that Omidyar has been co-sponsoring through his Ulupono Initiative for the past few years with the likes of Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, and NSTXL (National Security Technology Accelerator) — the Defense Department’s version of the CIA’s In-Q-Tel.
“Omidyar's relationship with Booz Allen Hamilton would be perfect for the link-analysis style of reporting on politicians and public figures we see in his pet journalistic project, The Intercept.
“This is the second senior Booz executive he's taken under his wing....Kyle Datta, who has directed Ulupono's investment strategies since 2009, once did the same for Booz, where he ran the contractor's energy practice.
“Under Datta, Ulupono was a lead sponsor in 2014 for a big ‘energy summit,’ where its partners included the Pentagon, Lockheed Martin and Honeywell. That makes sense, because as a major player in Hawaii's energy markets, Ulupono maintains close ties with the state's enormous military industrial complex.”
“Part of its 2014 summit included a DoD ‘industry day’ co-sponsored by Ulupono, its partners, and the United States Pacific Command, which is based on Hawaii but controls all US military forces throughout the Asia-Pacific area. It included presentations on ‘the mechanical, electrical and control system design for cyber-secure microgrids and will address the costs and benefits including the cost of cybersecurity.’
“Now Omidyar has brought in Robert Lietzke, another Booz exec and a former Air Force officer, into his operations. These relationships with Booz raise questions about Omidyar's decision to invest in the Snowden documents and create The Intercept. Did he ‘vet’ Snowden — who formerly worked for Booz in Hawaii — with Datta or Lietzke before he plopped down that $250 million for the Snowden depository at First Look? Did either executive know or work with Snowden when he was employed by Booz in Hawaii?”
Shorrock’s question is the one we’re all trying to make sense of: Why would Omidyar both court and develop Edward Snowden’s former boss and employer at Booz Allen, and also set up an “adversarial” media company based on the NSA leaks taken by Booz Allen Hawaii’s former employee, Edward Snowden? Is the eBay billionaire just trolling us? Is his Kitto Mandala character taking over Omidyar’s vessel and playing tricks on the rest of us?
This is one of those cases where you probably should start with the simplest answer, and the simplest answer here is: It's strictly business.
For one thing, as Shorrock notes, Hawaii is one of the most highly militarized patches of real estate in the U.S. A RAND study estimated that up to one-fifth of Hawaii’s economy is tied to the Department of Defense. Beyond the big new NSA center, there are 10 major military installations, research centers, weapons stores, private contractors, and a local citizenry over-represented by veterans, former officers, and spooks.
A couple of years ago, after Snowden’s name was first revealed as the NSA leaker, a local Hawaiian military studies professor, Carlos Juarez, explained why so many intelligence contractors work in the tourist paradise:
“This is a place that has long had a large intelligence community. The military is of course, headquartered here, the U.S. Pacific Command, and part of that includes a larger intelligence community.”
In other words, Omidyar is the richest man in a state where the military-intelligence complex is the biggest business in town. And since Booz Allen is a big name in Hawaii’s military-intelligence contracting, when it comes to strict business interests, it’s natural that Omidyar and Booz Allen would want to seal their relationships in one of Omidyar’s local leadership cults.
In fact, for all the PR and cant that America’s “most fearless journalists” put out about their billionaire patron — Greenwald telling Amy Goodman that Omidyar “would not start a new business in order to make money. He would only start a new business for some goal, some civic-minded goal”—the hard reality about Omidyar is that he would never start anything unless the goal was strictly business. Period. As Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus once complained to the New Yorker, Omidyar refused on principle to so much as donate a single penny to the world’s poor unless he thought he could profit from it:
“I had a long debate with Pierre. He says people should make money. I said, Let them make money—but why do you want to make money off the poor people?”
Despite publishing several high profile stories on government surveillance and foreign policy -- most recently Jeremy Scahill’s The Drone Papers -- The Intercept hasn’t been such a great business investment in strict profit terms. In response, Omidyar has been altering and “rebooting” the business model of First Look Media almost nonstop.
By contrast, working with and cultivating Booz Allen relationships in Hawaii is a business no-brainer. It makes total sense: Unless, of course, you’ve been fooled into believing that Omidyar is a “different kind of billionaire," too radical and uncompromising to, say, make regular visits to the White House.
Anyway, what are America’s leading adversarial/independent journalists going to do about Omidyar openly courting Edward Snowden’s former bosses at Booz Allen? Criticize him? Ask deeper, more disturbing questions about why Omidyar was so interested in getting his hands on the only complete cache of Snowden’s NSA files?
We’re also left nervously wondering why, out of the hundreds of thousands of NSA files in The Intercept’s possession, not one leaked thus far has mentioned Booz Allen or other private contractors. How is that possible, when we know that 70 percent of the NSA’s operations are run by private contractors (thanks to Shorrock’s reporting)?
After Pando exposed Omidyar’s co-financing role with USAID in funding Ukraine regime-change groups in 2014, Greenwald gave a giant middle finger to everyone who ever fell for his righteous indignation schtick, admitting:
“[P]rior to creating The Intercept with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, I did not research Omidyar’s political views or donations. That’s because his political views and donations are of no special interest to me...”
Chances are, even Snowden won’t criticize Omidyar for courting his Booz Allen adversaries. Hell, he probably doesn’t even care anymore. They’ve all got valuable personal brands to tend to. Like Pacino said — it’s strictly business, Sonny.