Leak-plagued NSA called the ‘En­ron’ of in­tel­li­gence

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY SHAUN WATER­MAN

For­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency whistle­blower Thomas A. Drake says con­tin­u­ing mis­man­age­ment and malfea­sance have turned the nation’s premier elec­tronic spy agency into “the En­ron of the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.”

Mr. Drake, whose fed­eral crim­i­nal case con­cluded ear­lier this month, said in an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Times that he thinks man­age­ment fail­ures at NSA re­lated to elec­tronic sur­veil­lance and other is­sues that he protested, first through in­ter­nal chan­nels and then by shar­ing un­clas­si­fied data with a Bal­ti­more Sun re­porter, are con­tin­u­ing.

“The agency never even ac­cepted the ba­sis for the [Pen­tagon in­spec­tor gen­eral’s] in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the first place,” he said, re­fer­ring to the in­ter­nal au­dit launched af­ter he and oth­ers at NSA’s Fort Meade head­quar­ters in Mary­land com­plained about con­tract fraud and mis­man­age­ment.

He com­pared the agency to the Texas-based en­ergy trad­ing gi­ant En­ron Corp., which went bank­rupt in 2001 and be­came a sym­bol of cor­po­rate fraud and corruption.

Mr. Drake was sen­tenced to one year’s pro­ba­tion and com­mu­nity ser­vice two weeks ago af­ter the gov­ern­ment’s 10 felony counts against him were with­drawn. He in­stead pleaded guilty to a mis­de­meanor of­fense of ex­ceed­ing au­tho­rized ac­cess to a gov­ern­ment com­puter.

The judge called the pros­e­cu­tors’ han­dling of the case “un­con­scionable” be­cause it took 2 1/2 years to charge Mr. Drake and an­other 14 months to bring him to trial be­fore all the ma­jor charges were dropped at the last minute.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment said last week that it will con­tinue pur­su­ing other cases against in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials ac­cused of leak­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.

“The guilty plea of the Drake case has no af­fect on other pend­ing mat­ters,” Jus­tice spokes­woman Laura Sweeney told The Times. “Each case is unique, based on its fact and cir­cum- stances, and the depart­ment is pro­ceed­ing in the pend­ing cases.”

They in­clude the pros­e­cu­tions of for­mer CIA of­fi­cer Jef­frey Ster­ling and State Depart­ment con­trac­tor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, both in­volv­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of leaks to re­porters.

An­other ma­jor case is that of Army Pvt. Bradley Man­ning, who is fac­ing mil­i­tary charges re­lated to hun­dreds of thou­sands of clas­si­fied doc­u­ments ob­tained in Iraq and passed to the anti-se­crecy site Wik­iLeaks.

Mr. Drake’s whistle­blow­ing is re­lated to NSA’s multi­bil­lion-dol­lar plan to de­velop a dig­i­tal eaves­drop­ping and data stor­age sys­tem called Trailblazer, which would in­dex and an­a­lyze large amounts of elec­tronic data that the agency gathers from mon­i­tor­ing com­put­ers and tele­phones around the world.

Even though the pub­lic ver­sion of the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port is heav­ily cen­sored, Mr. Drake said: “It is clear that NSA dis­putes the find­ings. [. . . ] They have never ac­cepted they did $280 mil­lion for the demon­stra­tion phase of the pro­gram. Mr. Drake said ex­ec­u­tives at NSA, in­clud­ing the deputy di­rec­tor at the time, Wil­liam B. Black, were for­mer SAIC em­ploy­ees and the con­tract was “hard-wired for SAIC.”

Mr. Black re­turned to work at SAIC af­ter his re­tire­ment from the NSA in 2006.

Through a spokesman, SAIC said the com­pany and its ex­ec­u­tives de­clined to com­ment.

Mr. Drake, who held a se­nior po­si­tion at NSA from 2001 un­til

Thomas A. Drake’s whistle­blow­ing is re­lated to NSA’s multi­bil­lion­dol­lar plan to de­velop a dig­i­tal eaves­drop­ping and data stor­age sys­tem called Trailblazer, which would in­dex and an­a­lyze large amounts of elec­tronic data that the agency gathers from mon­i­tor­ing com­put­ers and tele­phones around the world. “There was a cover-up,” Mr. Drake said. “The truth is Trailblazer was an even more abysmal fail­ure than they let on in pub­lic.”

any­thing wrong.”

“There was a cover-up,” Mr. Drake said. “The truth is Trailblazer was an even more abysmal fail­ure than they let on in pub­lic.”

In 2005, NSA Di­rec­tor Michael Hay­den told Congress that Trailblazer was “a cou­ple to sev­eral hun­dred mil­lion” dol­lars over bud­get and months be­hind sched­ule. The pro­gram was aban­doned in 2006.

“In the end, they de­liv­ered noth­ing,” Mr. Drake said of con­trac­tor SAIC, which was paid 2008, said the agency had planned to spend more than $4 bil­lion on the pro­gram with SAIC and dozens of other con­trac­tors, and that fraud and abuse were wide­spread in Trailblazer and re­lated pro­grams.

“It re­ally be­came a feed­ing frenzy as con­trac­tor af­ter con­trac­tor bellied up to the Trailblazer bar,” he said.

Mr. Drake said NSA’s ac­counts, like most other De­fense Depart­ment book­keep­ing sys­tems, were “unau­ditable.”

The agency’s bud­get is classi- fied, but even for those in­side the agency, “It was very dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine where most of the money was go­ing ex­cept at a very gen­eral level,” he said.

The gov­ern­ment “fought very hard” to keep any ref­er­ence to the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port, or his other whistle­blow­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, for in­stance to Congress, out of the court case.

“Why were they so afraid of that get­ting into court?” he asked. “It’s the con­tin­u­ing coverup.”

The NSA press of­fice re­ferred a re­quest for com­ment to the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

Ms. Sweeney, the Jus­tice spokes­woman, said: “The depart­ment has long val­ued the le­git­i­mate ex­po­sure of waste, fraud and abuse if it oc­curs while at the same time pro­tect­ing the rule of law.

“There are laws pro­hibit­ing gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees who are en­trusted with the nation’s most sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion from dis­clos­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion to any­one not au­tho­rized to re­ceive it.”

De­spite the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pur­suit of leaks, some ob­servers say, such cases of­ten are dif­fi­cult to pros­e­cute with­out ex­pos­ing se­crets that the gov­ern­ment wants to pro­tect.

A for­mer U.S. of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the Drake case called leak cases chal­leng­ing.

“You have to make ab­so­lutely sure that the vic­tim agency un­der­stands very clearly who will be called as a wit­ness and what they might be asked about,” the for­mer of­fi­cial said. “They have to be OK with that. [. . .] If that is not ad­e­quately or suf­fi­ciently dis­cussed, prob­lems can come up.”

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