A Win (of Sorts) for Truth, Justice & the American Way

I try to avoid joining the Parade of the Front-Pagers, where everyone feels required to chip in on some crucial national issue like a congresspod’s twitpics, but the collapse of the government’s prosecution against whistleblower Thomas Drake seems like a big fvcking deal:

A former official with the National Security Agency who faced felony counts of mishandling classified documents pleaded guilty Friday to a misdemeanor in a deal with prosecutors. The deal avoided a trial that could have created political problems for the Obama administration and sent the official to prison for the rest of his life.
Thomas Drake’s plea pleased civil-liberties advocates who are generally sympathetic to Obama, but is a setback for the administration’s effort to crack down on leakers. The administration is pursuing charges against four other accused government leakers under the Act, regarded by some lawyers as vague and overbroad…
The government claimed in its indictment that he had secretly passed information from the documents to an unnamed reporter for a national newspaper. Court documents identified the reporter as Siobhan Gorman, who published a series of articles detailing management malpractice and dubious legal activities by the NSA in The Baltimore Sun in 2006 and 2007.
The government never disclosed the contents of the highly-classified documents they accused Drake of leaking. But they are thought to be related to the NSA’s internal debate over TrailBlazer, an ill-fated project launched in 2002 to overhaul the agency’s vast computer systems that capture and screen information flooding into the agency’s computers from around the world.
Drake and a small group of internal critics regarded Trailblazer as a billion-dollar boondoggle that benefitted defense contractors, and lost a struggle to get the NSA to adopt an internally-designed system called ThinThread at a fraction of the cost. Some of those critics claim that ThinThread might have alerted the U.S. to the 9/11 plot…

The difference between the NYTimes report John quoted earlier and the Washington Post story I’m quoting here is that the WaPo, in its role as the paper of record for the DC company town’s local industry, understands that such prosecutions involve not just some abstract vision of good government practice but the daily workdays of a significant chunk of its readers:

James Bamford, the author of “The Shadow Factory” and two other books on the NSA, says it is the country’s largest, costliest and most secretive spying organization. “And it’s arguably the most influential,” he said.
He sat in on Friday’s hearing and said defense attorneys had asked him to testify in the trial as an expert witness. As far he knows, Drake was the first NSA official accused of leaking to the press.
Bamford called the Drake prosecution “a very important case” because it set a precedent for the four similar Espionage Act trials to follow.

If you have any interest at all in civil liberties, much less this particular case, Jane Mayer’s NYorker article “The Secret Sharer” is an excellent weekend read:

… One afternoon in January, Drake met with me, giving his first public interview about this case. He is tall, with thinning sandy hair framing a domed forehead, and he has the erect bearing of a member of the Air Force, where he served before joining the N.S.A., in 2001. Obsessive, dramatic, and emotional, he has an unwavering belief in his own rectitude. Sitting at a Formica table at the Tastee Diner, in Bethesda, Drake—who is a registered Republican—groaned and thrust his head into his hands. “I actually had hopes for Obama,” he said. He had not only expected the President to roll back the prosecutions launched by the Bush Administration; he had thought that Bush Administration officials would be investigated for overstepping the law in the “war on terror.”
“But power is incredibly destructive,” Drake said. “It’s a weird, pathological thing. I also think the intelligence community coöpted Obama, because he’s rather naïve about national security. He’s accepted the fear and secrecy. We’re in a scary space in this country.”…

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, says of the Drake case, “The government wants this to be about unlawfully retained information. The defense, meanwhile, is painting a picture of a public-interested whistle-blower who struggled to bring attention to what he saw as multibillion-dollar mismanagement.” Because Drake is not a spy, Aftergood says, the case will “test whether intelligence officers can be convicted of violating the Espionage Act even if their intent is pure.” He believes that the trial may also test whether the nation’s expanding secret intelligence bureaucracy is beyond meaningful accountability. “It’s a much larger debate than whether a piece of paper was at a certain place at a certain time,” he says.
Jack Balkin, a liberal law professor at Yale, agrees that the increase in leak prosecutions is part of a larger transformation. “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state,” he says. In his view, zealous leak prosecutions are consonant with other political shifts since 9/11: the emergence of a vast new security bureaucracy, in which at least two and a half million people hold confidential, secret, or top-secret clearances; huge expenditures on electronic monitoring, along with a reinterpretation of the law in order to sanction it; and corporate partnerships with the government that have transformed the counterterrorism industry into a powerful lobbying force…

29 replies
  1. 1
    cat48 says:

    So glad this loyal Bush/Republican employee was set free to roam./Snark mostly

  2. 2
  3. 3
    Epicurus says:

    I had read about this case and found it absolutely chilling. This was a good ruling, and I”m glad Mr. Drake will not face further prosecution (or so I would hope and assume.) Thanks, Georgie, thanks President Obama. I really liked this country when we had a Constitution….

  4. 4
    MikeBoyScout says:

    You do know this blog is being monitored, right?

  5. 5
    JPL says:

    @MikeBoyScout: We are all being monitored.

  6. 6
    SnaqrkyShark says:

    O noes, you published an article that criticizes Obama. Cue the O-bots and Glenn haters in 3…2…1…..

    I worked for Obama in 2008 but his record on civil rights is terrible. I hope he gets bit in the ass on everything he threw over the constitution for.

    Nuke the university of Chicago also too

  7. 7
    jo6pac says:

    Yep, the govt. hates those that point out fraud by trusted banksters or dod vendor. Yes a win

  8. 8
    Mike Kay (True Grit) says:

    slightly off topic

    What ever happened to the whole free-bradley-manning-he’s-only-a-whistleblower movement?

    it’s a bitch being the flavor of the month. bloggers raise money off your name and when your no longer bring in cash or page views, they leave you at the curb.

  9. 9
    Keith G says:

    “But power is incredibly destructive,” Drake said. “It’s a weird, pathological thing. I also think the intelligence community coöpted Obama, because he’s rather naïve about national security. He’s accepted the fear and secrecy. We’re in a scary space in this country.”

    This is a huge source of my disappointment in Obama. For me, this is one of the most important catagories for evaluation. I find his decisions here quite distressing.

  10. 10
    dollared says:

    This is great news. And after Fukushima, who is going to attack Wikileaks? We really need to understand that the incentives to lie and hide facts are far too great to allow the level of information control we have right now.

  11. 11
    srv says:

    This guy wouldn’t have gotten away if we privatized the TLAs.

  12. 12
    Tonal Crow says:

    @Keith G: Incoming in 5…4…3….

  13. 13
    Maude says:

    @Tonal Crow:

    I can hear it now.

  14. 14
    Litlebritdifrnt says:

    In other news the North Carolina Wingnut Legislature has gone totally batshit insane and are passing wingnut bills like there is no tomorrow (hopefully if people wake up in 2012 that will be true)

    The Woman’s right to know bill (forcing women seeking an abortion to have a waiting period, a sonogram and counselling with a rabid anti-abortion counselling service)

    The Voter ID act, requiring a picture ID in order to be able to vote.

    Product Liability and Medical Malpractice reform that will essentially leave victims of either tort without any redress.

    Massive increases in Court Costs and fines which will essentially make felons of traffic offenders, increase the jail population and make even the most basic of civil litigation out of reach for the common folk.

    Immigration reform that circumvents the Federal requirements to educate children regardless of their immigration status by requiring a long list of immunization records before being allowed to register for school.

    There is lots more, Bev Purdue is exercising the Veto pen as much as she can but some of the bills have enough votes that they are veto proof.

    It is insane.

  15. 15
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    That’s all the more reason for those in positions of power to want to double down on the hiding and lying.

    With the world rapidly approaching an entire series of social, economic, and ecological crises, the motivation for those a the top to hide the truth only gets more intense.

  16. 16
    Tonal Crow says:


    This is great news. And after Fukushima, who is going to attack Wikileaks? We really need to understand that the incentives to lie and hide facts are far too great to allow the level of information control we have right now.

    Yes. We can’t control our governments if we don’t know what they’re doing. What was that catchphrase? “The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance”? We can’t let down our guard just because the President is a Democrat.

    Ah well, I needed another excuse to donate to the ACLU.

  17. 17
    Dennis SGMM says:

    …because he’s rather naïve about national security.

    After upholding the Constitution, I’d say that national security is the President’s most important responsibility. Whether Obama is naive or just reluctant to give up any of the power so scrupulously gathered by the Bush administration is an interesting question. In either case, he’d be well advised to leave the words “openness and transparency” out of his future stump speeches.

  18. 18
    dollared says:

    @Tonal Crow: You really do hate America, don’t you? I can send you to eemom for counseling….

  19. 19
    Corner Stone says:

    Oh good fucking Christ. This guy criticized Obama on his way out the door?
    We’re never gonna hear the end of this until he’s staked naked on an anthill with honey drizzled all over him.
    Poor bastard.

  20. 20
    nancydarling says:

    @Dennis SGMM: Dennis, Sy Hersh was on DemocracyNow a few days ago. He says Pres. Obama was blind-sided by the military/security folks when his administration was still wet behind the ears, and now Obama is in a bubble where different or opposing views aren’t getting through to him. Iran was one instance he spoke of where he thinks the President is not being well served. I also think he is paranoid about something like the Twin Towers happening on his watch and is reluctant to give up those powers he thinks he can use to prevent it. Sad that we hold him and others accountable in that way, because something will happen again, whether it is home grow like McVeigh or coming from abroad.

  21. 21
    Corner Stone says:

    @dollared: If one already knows how to spell the phrase “tee hee” I’m not sure there’s much else to be learned from that individual.

  22. 22
    Corner Stone says:

    @nancydarling: Obama isn’t naive, or trapped in a bubble, or misinformed, or any of that nonsense.
    President Obama is a highly, and IMO, rarely intelligent individual at this level of elected office.
    IOW, he knows what he’s doing.

  23. 23
    Dennis SGMM says:

    …and now Obama is in a bubble where different or opposing views aren’t getting through to him.

    If you, and I, and multitudinous bloggers are aware of these things then the bubble around Obama must be made of titanium. Occam’s Razor suggests that he’s just another pol.

  24. 24
    socraticsilence says:

    Mike- I think the Manning case started ro lose sympathy after the sheer volume of the information he allegedly disclosed came to light– I mean even most civil libertarians that I know thought leaking the diplomatic cables and the Bin Laden stuff did nothing but risk lives.

  25. 25
    tkogrumpy says:

    @socraticsilence: Oh, please Manning is a PFC with a history of instability. If there is a crime there it was committed by his superior officers.

  26. 26
    Villago Delenda Est says:


    I’d like to know how a guy with “a history of instability” got a clearance and started working SCI stuff.

    Just wonderin’.

  27. 27
    liberal says:

    @Dennis SGMM:

    Occam’s Razor suggests that he’s just another pol.

    Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

  28. 28
    boss bitch says:

    only 27 comments? is it because its Friday or because no one really cares? awwwww…

  29. 29
    Tehanu says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    History of instability? Wanna bet that means whatever the prosecution wants it to mean, such as, “Once in high school, he visited a counselor and asked for advice about his personal life, ergo he’s a raving nutjob.” Or maybe, “He told his best friend he was gay, so that proves he’s untrustworthy.” Or — well, you get the idea.

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