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Report | Oct. 21, 2021

Review of the Selection Process and Administrative Leave of the Former National Security Agency General Counsel (DODIG-2022-002)

Administrative Investigations

This report presents the results of the DoD Office of Inspector General (OIG) review of the selection of Mr. Michael J. Ellis, then-Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Intelligence Programs, National Security Council (NSC), for the civil service position of the National Security Agency (NSA) General Counsel (GC). Specifically, our review examined the process to select Mr. Ellis as the NSA GC and the placement of Mr. Ellis on administrative leave pending an NSA inquiry into alleged security incidents involving Mr. Ellis by General (GEN) Paul M. Nakasone, U.S. Army, U.S. Cyber Command, Commander, and NSA Director.

In total, eight DoD officials evaluated Mr. Ellis’s application in three levels of review. In the first level of review, Mr. Ellis made the list of qualified applicants. In the second level of review, all the DoD officials who evaluated Mr. Ellis’s packet placed his application in the top 3 of the 29 applicants. In the third level of review, the selection panel interviewed Mr. Ellis and two other candidates. Mr. Paul C. Ney, then-DoD GC and the selecting official for the NSA GC position, had conversations with two then-White House administration officials who supervised Mr. Ellis, about Mr. Ellis’s work performance and qualifications. We consider those conversations appropriate and consistent with a candidate’s supervisors providing unsolicited references to selecting officials during the hiring process. Mr. Ney decided to select Mr. Ellis as the NSA GC. As required by DoD policy, Mr. Ney consulted with GEN Nakasone about the decision. None of the witnesses involved in the hiring process, including Mr. Ney, indicated that they were under any pressure by the then White House administration or anyone else to select Mr. Ellis.

We concluded that there was no improper influence or failure to comply with DoD guidance in the process and decision to select Mr. Ellis as the NSA GC.