After renewed outrage over a hacking scandal involving former federal operatives, U.S. lawmakers are considering adopting new restrictions that would limit the kinds of work ex-intelligence officials could do for foreign governments after leaving the service.
As first reported by Reuters, the proposed changes are contained within a measure in the current version of the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2022. The spending bill admittedly still has a long ways to go before getting signed into law, but the bill text shows that the measure would forbid certain ex-intelligence operatives from engaging in “national security, intelligence, or internal security” work on behalf of a foreign government, or a company representing that government, for a period of 30 months after they leave the service. On top of this, if and when such work does occur, new reporting requirements would have to be fulfilled. For a period of 5 years after their role with the U.S. government ends, the operative would have to report information about “post-service employment” to the head of the intelligence “element” that they used to work for. Those who failed to fulfill such requirements could face fines or jail time, the bill text states.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the U.S. House Select Committee on Intelligence, has said that the proposed changes are meant to ensure that U.S. intelligence “skills” aren’t used to “violate human rights.”
“People in the intelligence community develop skills necessary to protect our country against foreign bad actors, and that intellectual property really belongs to the United States,” Schiff told Reuters. “It is not to be used by foreign governments to spy on Americans or to violate the human rights of dissidents…We are going to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Other congressional staff familiar with the bill told the outlet that the legislation was intended to prevent ex-spies from providing security services to foreign countries with “poor human rights records.”
The proposed changes follow renewed controversy surrounding “Project Raven,” a secretive operation carried out by a foreign cybersecurity company, DarkMatter, in the United Arab Emirates. “Raven” saw droves of American ex-intelligence operatives help the UAE government to surveil and hack its critics, including journalists, activists, and people based in the U.S. The project was originally unearthed via a 2019 Reuters investigation, but the case recently spilled back into public view when three men formerly attached to “Raven”—all former NSA operatives—were federally charged in connection to their work for DarkMatter. The men, all of whom were accused of using “illicit, fraudulent, and criminal means” to “gain unauthorized access to protected computers in the United States and elsewhere,” all reached deferred prosecution agreements, allowing them to pay large fines in order to avoid jail.