The head of the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate may be involved in a serious conflict of interest with a major defense contractor.

DRS Signal Solutions, a contractor offering signals intelligence (SIGINT) services to the defense industry, appears to be providing or seeking to provide services to the NSA even as it employs a vice president married to Teresa H. Shea, the head of the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate. Buzzfeed’s Aram Roston, who broke the story , writes:

“Teresa H. Shea is director of the Signals Intelligence Directorate, which means she oversees electronic eavesdropping for intelligence purposes….As for Shea’s husband, James, he is currently a vice president at DRS Signal Solution…. According to its own website, DRS is seeking 15 workers for a potential SIGINT-related contract at Fort Meade, Maryland, which is the headquarters of the NSA.”

Neither the NSA nor any of the individuals involved in this story would provide a direct response to inquiries by Buzzfeed. In turning down a public records request from the publication for Shea’s financial disclosure forms, the NSA cited the 1959 National Security Agency Act, which shields the NSA from being forced to disclose its activities or “the names, titles, salaries, or number of the persons employed by such agency,” among other things.

In other words, even when it comes to some of the most basic questions of ethics and integrity in federal service, the NSA invokes its right to stay in the shadows. The agency’s refusal to answer questions about the apparent conflict or provide any other information simply contributes to the perception of a dubious business relationship. That perception, in turn, undermines Shea’s own court declarations that the program of mass data collection on American citizens revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was subject to the strictest possible oversight. How can the American people be expected to simply trust that the NSA will protect their civil rights within such surveillance programs if it turns out NSA officials engage in dubious ethical practices generally?

(Photo: NSA/Getty Images)