NSA officer indicted for leaking classified material
The indictment of a former U.S. intelligence official accused of leaking secrets to the media marks an attempt by the Obama administration to disrupt a type of transaction that has persisted for decades in Washington, routinely triggering criminal referrals but rarely ending up in court.
The case disclosed Thursday involves a former senior executive at the nation's most secretive spy service. He has been charged with 10 felony counts of mishandling classified information from the National Security Agency and trying to obstruct authorities' investigation of his alleged actions.
Thomas A. Drake, 52, has not been accused of sharing the most sensitive of the NSA's secrets: the means it uses to intercept e-mails and phone calls around the world, or the tools it employs to crack adversaries' codes. Instead, Drake appears to have provided a steady stream of documents and information to a Baltimore Sun reporter whose work exposed NSA system failures and mismanaged programs.
Drake's lawyer said Thursday that his client had cooperated with authorities but would now mount a vigorous defense against the charges.
Prosecutions -- let alone convictions -- of leaks cases have been rare. Many result in efforts to compel journalists to reveal their sources, but in this case the government appears to have identified an alleged leaker directly.
Federal prosecutors dropped charges last year against two former lobbyists for a pro-Israeli advocacy group accused of conspiring to obtain classified information on al-Qaeda and Iraq and provide it to news organizations, including The Washington Post. That effort, launched during the Bush administration, included allegations of espionage, a charge prosecutors have not made against Drake.
Drake isn't telling anyone why he did it, but it has been confirmed that he corresponded with several reporters, and even encouraged them to set up encrypted e-mail accounts to guarantee their security. Additionally, he also served as an editor for a few of the stories to make sure all of the information was correct. He was suspended in 2007 "in lieu of termination" which prompted him to resign. But, according to the WaPo story, after he left the NSA he contracted himself out to them to continue his work.
The indictment states that back in 2007 he began wiping hard drives, and deleting files to cover his tracks because he was concerned he was being watched. His behavior is akin to that of a spy, but instead of passing classified material to a foreign power, he was passing it off to media outlets that revealed the most intricate details of these operations.
The indictment doesn't list the media outlets, but we know that the Times was one of them. They are the ones who broke both the NSA's terrorist surveillance program and the Swift program. What will be interesting to watch is how the Times reacts to having James Risen, Eric Lichtblau, and Bill Keller subpoenaed to testify. Make no mistake, they will likely receive a subpoena, and I'd like to see how cocksure Keller is when he sits on the stand. Remember: It was Bill Keller who basically thumbed his nose at the White House under the misguided idea that the public has a right to know which, when it comes to classified material, is hogwash.
This will be an interesting case to watch, and even though it sticks in my craw, kudos to Barry's Justice department. They are the ones who finally caught this guy. They deserve much of the praise.