Retired vice admiral Joseph “Joe” Kernan (USN retired) served as the under secretary of defense for intelligence at the Department of Defense from November 2017 until resigning from his position in November 2020. In that role, “[he] was the principal intelligence, counterintelligence, and security advisor to the Secretary of Defense and the [secretary’s] principal representative to the Intelligence Community.” In addition, Kernan also “established policy and priorities; and oversaw the Defense Intelligence Enterprise, consisting of more than 110,000 component employees, and an annual budget of over $54 [billion].” During this time, he also served as the director of defense intelligence, reporting to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in this capacity.
Shortly after leaving the Pentagon, Kernan joined WestExec Advisors, a strategic consulting firm founded by former under secretary of defense for policy Michèle Flournoy and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as a principal. In late 2020, Blinken and Avril Haines, who was later confirmed as the Director of National Intelligence disclosed that clients they had advised through WestExec included defense contractors Boeing, McKinsey & Company, and Palantir.
While in his position as secretary of defense for intelligence, Kernan oversaw Project Maven, a DOD effort to “build an AI-powered surveillance platform for unmanned aerial vehicles.” Originally led by Google, Palantir took over as the primary contractor on the about $40 million a year project in 2019. In 2020, the New York Timesreported that Kernan had been warned in a memo, that a Palantir employee sat in on government meetings that could give the company an “astounding” advantage in bidding for new work. Ultimately, the memo “accused Maven leadership of skirting Pentagon rules and ethics in giving preferential treatment to the start-up, whose employees had developed unusually close relations with their partners inside the military.”
Kernan did not respond to request for comment.
Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security,