Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s spy case against NSA of­fi­cial wilts

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY SHAUN WATER­MAN

Gov­ern­ment pros­e­cu­tors an­nounced a last-minute plea bar­gain June 9 in a high-pro­file leak case against a se­nior Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency of­fi­cial, drop­ping al­most all the charges in a de­ci­sion hailed by gov­ern­ment-trans­parency ad­vo­cates as end­ing a case of Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion over­reach.

Thomas Drake, whose trial on 10 felony es­pi­onage charges had been slated to be­gin this week, in­stead pleaded guilty to a sin­gle mis­de­meanor count of ex­ceed­ing his au­tho­rized ac­cess to a gov­ern­ment com­puter sys­tem and will not serve prison time, ac­cord­ing to a court fil­ing from the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

No date has been set for the for­mal sen­tenc­ing. The court will ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine the pun­ish­ment, but pros­e­cu­tors said in the fil­ing they “will not op­pose” a non­cus­to­dial sen­tence.

The fil­ing dra­mat­i­cally ends the first in a se­ries of five high­pro­file pros­e­cu­tions by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion against in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials ac­cused of hav­ing leaked in­for­ma­tion im­prop­erly to re­porters.

Mr. Drake ac­knowl­edged com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Siob­han Gor­man, then a re­porter at the Bal­ti­more Sun, about mis­man- age­ment at the su­per­secret NSA, but al­ways de­nied pass­ing her any clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to peo­ple close to the case, he had pre­vi­ously re­fused at least one plea deal, awhich would have re­quired him to ad­mit he mis­han­dled clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.

“He has al­ways said he did noth­ing wrong, that he never passed clas­si­fied ma­te­rial to any- one,” said Steven After­good, an ad­vo­cate for gov­ern­ment trans­parency at the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Sci­en­tists.

Mr. After­good told The Wash­ing­ton Times that he wel­comed the out­come.

“Not a sin­gle one of the orig­i­nal 10 counts was val­i­dated. That’s an in­di­ca­tion that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion mis­cal­cu­lated. The gov­ern­ment over- reached and over­re­acted,” Mr. After­good said.

Mr. Drake, he noted, “ad­mit­ted that he broke the rules. It hap­pens. But he is not a felon. He never en­dan­gered na­tional se­cu­rity.”

Lawyers for Mr. Drake could not be reached for com­ment. A Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment on the pend­ing case.

The doc­u­ments Mr. Drake was orig­i­nally charged with keep­ing im­prop­erly at his home were re­lated to an in­ter­nal dis­pute within NSA, the Fort Meade, Md.-based elec­tronic spy­ing agency, over a $1.2 bil­lion tech­nol­ogy pro­gram at the turn of the cen­tury called Trailblazer. The pro­gram was de­signed to help the agency in­dex and an­a­lyze the vast tor­rents of elec- tronic in­for­ma­tion col­lected from com­puter and phone sys­tems around the world.

Pros­e­cu­tors said the doc­u­ments, three of which Mr. Drake cre­ated him­self and two of which were printed from the NSA in­ter­nal in­tranet, con­tained ma­te­rial clas­si­fied as “se­cret” or “top se­cret.”

De­fense lawyers ar­gued, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments and

At­tor­ney Steven After­good, an ad­vo­cate for gov­ern­ment trans­parency at the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Sci­en­tists, told The Wash­ing­ton Times that he wel­comed the out­come. “Not a sin­gle one of the orig­i­nal 10 counts was val­i­dated. That’s an in­di­ca­tion that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion mis­cal­cu­lated. The gov­ern­ment over­reached and over­re­acted,” Mr. After­good said.

one of Mr. Drake’s at­tor­neys, that the doc­u­ments do not con­tain clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion and that Mr. Drake cre­ated them as part of his sub­mis­sion to the De­fense Depart­ment in­spec­tor gen­eral, who was in­ves­ti­gat­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of or­ga­ni­za­tional fail­ures and mis­man­age­ment of the Trailblazer pro­gram.

Mr. Drake told the CBS “60 Min­utes” pro­gram last month that he and oth­ers at the agency had pushed an al­ter­na­tive to Trailblazer called Thin Thread — a rev­o­lu­tion­ary com­puter sys­tem de­signed to col­lect, iden­tify and con­nect data points such as phone or bank ac­count num­bers from the vast stream of dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion the NSA was suck­ing up. “Thin Thread was fun­da­men­tally ded­i­cated to col­lect­ing and pro­cess­ing and ul­ti­mately an­a­lyz­ing the vast reams of dig­i­tal data. It was a break­through so­lu­tion,” Mr. Drake told CBS.

When Thin Thread was re­jected by NSA man­agers in fa­vor of Trailblazer, and Trailblazer later failed, Mr. Drake and his col­leagues worked with a staff mem­ber on the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence to get the in­spec­tor gen­eral to launch an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. When the re­sult­ing re­port was clas­si­fied, he said, he went to the news me­dia — reach­ing out through an anony­mous email ac­count to Ms. Gor­man.

But he said he only agreed to com­mu­ni­cate with the Bal­ti­more Sun re­porter on con­di­tion that she did not seek any clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion from him.

“That was one of the fun­da­men­tal rules. Whether it was oral com­mu­ni­ca­tion, whether it was writ­ten, elec­tronic or, later on, even in hard copy. It was all un­clas­si­fied. Pe­riod,” he said.

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