Ethical concerns face nominee for spy chief
McConnell was told to be ready for questions about his job.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush's choice for the nation's next spy chief would give up his 2-million-a-year job at one of Washington's premier consulting firms for a position that provides him with considerable influence over lucrative, secret government contracts.
Retired Vice Adm. Mike McConnell could face an unusually daunting challenge avoiding ethical entanglements over his decade-long work as a senior vice president for Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., the consulting giant with sales of 3.7 billion worldwide, according to an Associated Press review of McConnell's personal finances and business deals.
McConnell has worked as a consultant with some of the same senior U.S. military and intelligence officials he would supervise as director of national intelligence.
In May, for example, McConnell and other company executives met privately in San Antonio with Major Gen. Craig Koziol, a top Air Force intelligence chief in charge of cyberwarfare, according to records obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act. The company bid months later on a related contract from the Air Intelligence Agency, part of the U.S. intelligence community that McConnell would oversee as the national director.
More than half of Booz Allen Hamilton's sales come from such U.S. government contracts. McConnell's closest colleagues at the company anticipate intense scrutiny over its future relationship with him as the overseer of the nation's 16 spy agencies.
"I will never be able to go in and see him in his office," said Richard Wilhelm, another Booz Allen Hamilton senior vice president who has worked with McConnell for more than 30 years. "He's said, 'Unfortunately, I'll not be able to talk to you guys anymore.' We'll have to be very careful."
McConnell's Senate confirmation hearing is set for Thursday. An Intelligence Committee member, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he already has urged McConnell to be prepared to discuss his work as a consultant and its implications on the job of chief over all U.S. intelligence agencies. Those agencies rely heavily on work by outside consultants, who often are hired under contracts kept secret for national security reasons.
"I'm going to bring it up," Wyden said. "I made it clear that I was going to be asking questions about issues relating to his work with contractors."
Efforts to reach McConnell through the White House and through Booz Allen Hamilton were unsuccessful. Presidential nominees routinely do not speak publicly or with reporters before Senate confirmation hearings.
The White House promised that McConnell will divest any financial holdings in Booz Allen Hamilton if he is confirmed as intelligence chief. In addition to his 1,999,840 salary, McConnell owns 1 million to 5 million in company stock, plus up to 1.15 million more in other investment funds owned through the company, according to financial records he submitted to the White House. McConnell will earn 186,600 annually as director of national intelligence.
Booz Allen Hamilton and the intelligence director's office separately said each will vigorously enforce ethics rules related to McConnell and the company.
A Booz Allen Hamilton spokesman, George Farrar, said the company will establish contracting firewalls to avoid conflicts with McConnell. "That has to be the case," Farrar said. "You have to maintain absolutely by-the-rules contracting."
McConnell's nomination comes in the midst of a broad, government-wide review by the intelligence director's own office about the role of private contractors in U.S. spy agencies. That report, which will examine whether the government hires too many such contractors, is nearly finished but has not yet been sent to Congress.
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