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An Anti-Establishment Candidate in Alaska?

Kelly Tshibaka's resume, from the office of the Director of National Intelligence to the United States Postal Service, raises questions.

By now, most tuned-in Americans are likely aware of the bombshell story reported last week by Jana Winter at Yahoo News, concerning the United States Postal Service’s “Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP),” which “tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts” and “involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for…’inflammatory’ postings and then sharing that information across government agencies.”

Interestingly, Kelly Tshibaka—the self-professed outsider candidate challenging Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s 2022 U.S. Senate election—spent three and a half years (from August 2015 to January 2019) in the USPS Office of Inspector General, as both assistant inspector general and chief data officer. Asked whether she had any knowledge of the Postal Service’s domestic spying program, Tshibaka sent the following statement to TAC through a representative:

I was not aware of this program, nor was it conducted out of the Office of Inspector General where I worked. I have always believed that as government grows, freedom shrinks, and as freedom grows, government shrinks. If I were a U.S. senator, I would demand to know more about why the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is conducting surveillance on U.S. citizens with no connection to postal theft or other postal crimes.

Of course, a Senate investigation into USPS misconduct would be welcome, and may at this point be necessary. One can’t help but wonder, though, whether such investigations ought to fall under the purview of the USPS Office of Inspector General. (They do.) Tshibaka’s lack of knowledge about iCOP may not be as exculpatory as she hopes, given the questions it naturally raises about the competence of her office.

In fact, her presence in that office is notable in itself, given Tshibaka’s campaign posturing as a maverick intent on draining the swamp of “insiders” like Lisa Murkowski. Nor is a stint at the apparently delinquent USPS OIG the only point of interest on Tshibaka’s record. In fact, her second gig in the swamp found Tshibaka in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for eight years, from 2005-2013. Tshibaka’s time in that office spanned from the term of John Negroponte, who became the first DNI upon the office’s 2005 creation, to that of James Clapper, a swamp creature through and through. Nearly a decade in not just the D.C. establishment but the D.C. intelligence establishment hardly seems an intuitive background for an America First outsider promising to represent the people of Alaska against that same political establishment.

All in all, Tshibaka spent about 17 years employed in the federal government in Washington, D.C., beginning immediately after her graduation from Harvard Law School in 2002. In 2019, Tshibaka moved back suddenly to Alaska, where she had grown up, to serve as commissioner of the state’s Department of Administration—a move that can hardly be viewed as anything other than early preparation for the 2022 campaign. And after just over two years in Alaskan government, Tshibaka did in fact resign to mount a challenge against Murkowski, branding herself as “not one of those powerful political insiders” and railing against the “D.C. political insiders in Washington, D.C.”

If Tshibaka has in fact had a change of heart, that’s great. But the fact remains that she spent virtually all of her adult life as an inhabitant of the swamp, collecting a government paycheck as a member of the entrenched bureaucracy. Most outsiders have not worked for James Clapper, and anyone who has ought to provide an explanation for it.

And if she has in fact turned her back on the establishment, Tshibaka has a funny way of showing it. The statement quoted above was delivered by Tim Murtaugh of Line Drive Public Affairs, a longtime capital flack who served as communications director for Trump’s 2020 campaign and is currently a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, which is far from an anti-establishment institution. An April 2 press release, meanwhile, proudly announces that Randy Ruedrich—former Alaska GOP chairman and staunch champion of the old guard opposed by Alaskan conservatives like Joe Miller and Sarah Palin—has offered his endorsement and signed on as Tshibaka’s campaign treasurer.

If Tshibaka is in fact opposed to the establishment, it may be worth asking why the establishment is not opposed to her.

about the author

Declan Leary is The American Conservative's editorial fellow and a graduate of John Carroll University. His work has been published at National Review, Crisis magazine, and elsewhere.

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