An Obama campaign bundler and prominent Washington, D.C., attorney has been tapped as the new general counsel for the National Security Agency, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
Glenn Gerstell has decades of experience helping to run a major law firm, and he has served on public boards and a presidential commission. But while he is well known in Washington legal circles, he’s a relative outsider among national security lawyers and experts who have recently composed the recruiting pool for the top legal position at the nation’s largest intelligence agency.
Gerstell was a managing partner in the firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. But his résumé shows no deep experience working with intelligence and national security issues that the NSA’s counsel contends with on a regular basis. That said, sources familiar with his appointment, who requested anonymity when discussing internal NSA matters, noted that his experience running a large law firm would prepare him for overseeing the team of more than 100 lawyers in NSA’s general counsel’s office, who provide advice and guidance on everything from surveillance operations to contracts and procurement.
Gerstell’s appointment hasn’t been announced publicly.
The Daily Beast had previously reported that Matthew Waxman, a former senior Bush administration official, had been tapped to be general counsel. But Waxman withdrew his name from consideration due to a family health issue, according to people familiar with the matter.
Gerstell was also a significant Obama fundraiser, collecting at least $50,000 in contributions for the president’s 2012 reelection campaign, according to public records. Between 1990 and 2012, he donated or collected more than $112,000 in contributions for federal candidates, records show.
In 2011, Obama appointed Gerstell to the National Infrastructure Advisory Committee. The group, which is part of the Homeland Security Department, advises the president and other U.S. officials on matters of infrastructure and cybersecurity. Gerstell served in a volunteer part-time position, according to his online résumé.
Gerstell also served as the chairman of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority from 2001 to 2007.
As the NSA’s top lawyer, Gerstell would be a part of the agency’s senior leadership team and advise the director, Admiral Michael Rogers. In the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, the general counsel has also been tasked with speaking publicly about the NSA’s actions and defending their legality.
Gerstell didn’t respond to an email seeking comment about his appointment. The NSA also didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Gerstell graduated from Columbia University School of Law in 1976 and obtained his bachelor of arts from New York University in 1974.