WASHINGTON -- Retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was hired by Sprint Nextel Corp. Friday as security director, part of the telecom giant's bid to win approval for its merger with Japan's SoftBank Inc.
Mullen, 66, the nation's highest ranking military officer when he retired in 2011, will "oversee Sprint’s compliance with a national security agreement" the company struck last month with the U.S. to ease government and investor concerns about SoftBank's bid for control of Sprint, the company said in a statement. He will serve on the company's board of directors and as "the U.S. government’s contact for all security-related matters," Sprint said.
Mullen's hiring comes after Sprint last month cleared a major regulatory hurdle to SoftBank's agreement to buy 70 percent of Sprint. Sprint operates a broadband network in the U.S., and regulators had concerns about the potential use of SoftBank's Chinese-manufactured equipment on a major U.S. broadband network.
The U.S. is especially sensitive to cybersecurity issues with China, as Chinese hackers have reportedly broken into some of the nation's most secure systems. Sprint signed the national security agreement to quell U.S. regulatory, congressional and investor concerns about the SoftBank deal.
Mullen's new role at Sprint may also require him to address public questions about the role that U.S. phone companies play in helping spy agencies conduct broad surveillance of Americans' telephone and email communications.
On Thursday, The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald published a top-secret court order compelling one of Sprint's major competitors, Verizon, to give U.S. intelligence agencies the records of millions of calls made by its business customers inside the United States.
Senior members of Congress and President Barack Obama quickly defended the surveillance program as legal and limited. Other media outlets reported the surveillance extends to other telecom and Internet companies. Sprint is the nation's third largest wireless carrier, and Mullen serves on an special advisory board of the Central Intelligence Agency, in addition to a separate board at the State Department.
Mullen, a career Naval officer, retired from the military after serving two terms as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the administrations of both George W. Bush and Obama. During that time, he was an influential voice in the military's decision to end the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, which prohibited gay Americans from serving openly in the U.S. armed forces.
“Admiral Mullen is an admired leader with an impeccable record,” Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said in a statement Friday. “We are fortunate that a person with his experience, accomplishments and reputation will be a member of our new board.”
It's not uncommon for retired high-ranking military officers to be invited to join the boards of major corporations, a lucrative arrangement that typically comes with a six-figure compensation package. Mullen is already on one corporate board, having joined big-three auto maker General Motors as a director in January. Mullen's fellow officer, former CIA Director David Petraeus, recently joined investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.