Michael J. Ellis joined The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies as visiting fellow for law and technology. In this role, Ellis uses his distinguished background in technology and national security to work on cutting-edge and pressing legal issues that intersect with the field of technology.
Prior to joining Heritage, Ellis was general counsel of the National Security Agency (NSA) from January to April 2021. Ellis also served in several different roles in the Trump administration, including as the deputy assistant to the president and senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council (NSC). In this role, he planned, directed, and coordinated policies and programs across the U.S. intelligence community. He advised senior White House officials on some of the nation’s most sensitive intelligence activities, including covert action, sensitive activities, counterterrorism and cyber operations, and technical intelligence.
From 2017 to 2020, Ellis was the special assistant to the president, senior associate counsel to the president, and deputy NSC legal advisor. As the lead White House associate counsel for national security, he provided advice to White House officials and coordinated the views of senior executive branch lawyers on a wide variety of issues, including uses of force, international agreements, diplomatic and foreign policy initiatives, intelligence activities, cybersecurity, litigation related to national security, congressional oversight, and electronic surveillance, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the Pen Register and Trap and Trace statute, and Executive Order 12333. He was also the lead lawyer for the National Space Council.
Prior to his service at the White House, Ellis was general counsel of the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. As the senior attorney for the committee, he drafted and reviewed legislation related to FISA, including the USA FREEDOM Act, annual intelligence authorization acts, and cybersecurity, including the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015. He led multiple congressional investigations, including the committee’s bipartisan review of unauthorized disclosures of a former NSA contractor and a bipartisan investigation of a joint NSA-National Reconnaissance Office program.
Since 2007, Ellis has served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. His assignments have included the Defense Attaché System, the U.S. Africa Command intelligence directorate, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Joint Staff intelligence directorate.
Ellis is a graduate of Yale Law School and Dartmouth College. Following law school, he served as a law clerk for Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit and for Judge Amul Thapar, then of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
Ellis is a recipient of the Secretary of Defense Outstanding Public Service Award, the National Intelligence Meritorious Unit Citation, and the Joint Service Commendation Medal (with oak leaf cluster). He is a “Jeopardy!” champion.