Now That This Man Has Been Brought To Justice, I Say We Redouble our Tommy Chong Efforts

This was certainly worth it:

A former spy agency employee agreed late Thursday to plead guilty to a minor charge in a highly publicized leak prosecution, undercutting the Obama administration’s unusual campaign to prosecute government officials who disclose classified information to the press.

The National Security Agency official, Thomas A. Drake, had faced a possible 35 years in prison if convicted on felony charges under the Espionage Act. Instead, he agreed to admit to a misdemeanor of misusing the agency’s computer system by providing “official N.S.A. information” to an unauthorized person, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. Prosecutors said in the written plea agreement that they would not oppose a sentence under which Mr. Drake would serve no time.

A formal plea hearing was set for Friday morning in Baltimore. The presiding judge, Richard D. Bennett of the district court, could impose a sentence of up to a year in prison. But legal experts said it would be highly unusual to impose a prison term when the Justice Department was not seeking incarceration.

The deal represented the almost complete collapse of the government’s effort to make an example of Mr. Drake, who was charged last year in a 10-count indictment that accused him of obstructing justice and lying to investigators. It is uncertain whether the outcome will influence the handling of three pending leak cases or others still under investigation.

Ten counts and 25 years to a misdemeanor charge with a slap on a wrist. Sure seems like someone was overdoing things and wasted years and millions prosecuting someone who should have just been fired.






51 replies
  1. 1
    Aardvark Cheeselog says:

    Actually the guy should have been given a medal, it sounds like.

  2. 2
    Corner Stone says:

    Why do you hate President Obama and his fierce interest in the full prosecution of law breakers?
    Why do you hate America?

  3. 3
    Corner Stone says:

    Where is Uncle Clarence Thomas when we so desperately need his mature wisdom and guidance on this complicated legal issue?

  4. 4
    david mizner says:

    One issue where your tag “Worse than Bush” is not ironic.

  5. 5
    Corner Stone says:

    @david mizner: I keep waiting for the /irony tag to get addended. Somehow, I doubt it will be.

  6. 6
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    From all I’ve read about Drake, he was concerned with two things:

    1. That the activities of NSA in massive datamining was illegal and violated the Constitution (see the utterly quaint 4th Amendment)

    2. That the entire thing was, just as important, counterproductive to actually finding the “bad guys” and preventing them from carrying out their plans.

    Obviously, these are both obscene criminal acts, unlike, say, launching unnecessary wars and engaging in torture.

  7. 7
    MikeJ says:

    It’s always tough to prosecute cases like this or espionage. The only reason they bargained was because the judge said that the government would have to show the actual classified documents to a jury rather than having the judge examine the documents and rule on whether or not they were classified.

    There’s no need for the jury to see the actual document. What is in the documents is really irrelevant as the only thing at issue is if they are classified.

  8. 8
    Corner Stone says:

    I’m pretty cynical and pessmistic, but even I thought significant massive long term unemploymment would cause politicians to at least pretend to try to do something about it.

    -Atrios

    Another case of “Not being cynical enough”.

  9. 9
    lacp says:

    Maybe it’s a John Kerry thing; you know, the Justice Department was for a vigorous prosecution before it was against it. Or something.

  10. 10
    j low says:

    wasted years and millions prosecuting someone who should have just been fired promoted.

    Fixed.

  11. 11
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @MikeJ:

    Which is a problem, because someone with classification authority can classify a laundry list.

    Or, with equal caprice, unclassify the covert status of a CIA agent when it’s politically expedient to do so.

    The fact that it’s “classified” really is a lame reason to engage the courts. The judge forced the prosecution to shit or get off the pot. They’ve elected to get off the pot.

  12. 12
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    @david mizner: It’s funny how Bush so completely disgraced the office of the Presidency that the lackluster efforts of the Obama administration look positively stellar in comparison.

    Before Bush completely abolished any hope for executive competence, a long-term high unemployment rate or tanking economy would be the death knell of a Presidency. That is to say, perhaps nothing could really be done, but people would be sweating bullets trying to look like they were doing something.

  13. 13
    cleek says:

    again, security is a ratchet. no president or agency head will voluntarily reduce ‘security’ because he/she will receive the blame, should anything happen in the future which may, in the ignorant minds of the press and political opposition, be seen as being caused by the reduction in ‘security’. the only way to go is more and more, tighter and tighter. the risks are too great otherwise.

    the next president will make Obama and Bush look like raging libertarians.

  14. 14
    patrick II says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:
    I will add a third thing. He was concerned because his agency had spent large money on a surveillance program that could not obsure names of non-suspects and chosen it over a cheaper in-house version that had the sophistication to pre-redact (not really a word I think) non-suspect names.

    His agency went ahead with the more expensive program for all of the usual reasons, big money, but contract, arrogance, and screw the bill of rights to show how manly and serious you are.

  15. 15
    Corner Stone says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead: Why shouldn’t President Obama and his economic advisers’ mandate to focus on the deficit as the main threat to this nation count as “doing something” ?
    Anyone paying attention would know that if you aggressively engage on the cutting spending, reducing government initiatives and deficit debate then jobs production will naturally follow.

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @patrick II:

    Yup, I stand corrected. The more expensive “private” alternative which is in effect allowing your cronies to loot the treasury is always a deserting coward malassministration favorite.

  17. 17

    … and putting Martha Stewart in federal prison scared the Wall Street elites. It could have been really, really bad.

  18. 18
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Anyone paying attention would know that if you aggressively engage on the cutting spending, reducing government initiatives and deficit debate then jobs production will naturally follow.

    You left out tax cuts. Those are needed to give the parasite overclass an incentive to hire more garden staff.

  19. 19
    PeakVT says:

    @cleek: I think you’re right about the ratchet effect. It will take a SCOTUS ruling or severe depression to knock the security complex back, because the combination of authoritarians and cowardly careerists in Congress means the ratchet effect also applies there.

  20. 20
    Poopyman says:

    Here’s a novel thought. There are literally tens of thousands[*] of people in the Baltimore area that have the same level of clearance as Drake. Why not empanel a jury composed entirely of cleared people? I’m pretty confident that you really could get an impartial jury. Of course, the fact that the majority of these people are the ones to be dismissed from your regular jury pool for being too educated and/or logical makes the whole enterprise problematic.

    [*]This is probably not the post to discuss why there are that many cleared people in the area. But there are.

    ETA:
    @Villago Delenda Est:

    The fact that it’s “classified” really is a lame reason to engage the courts. The judge forced the prosecution to shit or get off the pot. They’ve elected to get off the pot.

    Knowing you have to show your work to people who are cleared to see it would make the prosecution get off the pot a lot faster, IMO.

  21. 21
    eemom says:

    hey, what ever happened to Julian Assange? Nobody talks about him anymore.

  22. 22
    Poopyman says:

    @eemom: Pushed out of the news by a Weiner.

  23. 23
    Brachiator says:

    I was looking for the goverment’s rationale for pursuing the prosecution

    Officials say they have been prompted by a bipartisan belief in Congress and in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations that leaks were getting out of hand.

    And the horrible crime committed?

    the agency was rejecting a $3 million in-house program called ThinThread in favor of a $1-billion-plus contractor-run program called Trailblazer. His supporters have portrayed him as a diligent public servant who was trying to save taxpayers’ money and strengthen national security, not damage it.

    Elected officials, no matter how much they claim to be outsiders or Mavericks or independent or promise transparency often seem to end up getting sucked into the bureaucracy and its crazy mindset. So, government “secrets” must be kept even if the government is really just hiding evidence of its own stupidity.

  24. 24
    Bloix says:

    Fired? The guy should have been put in charge of the entire fucking agency.

  25. 25
    me says:

    @eemom: He’s stuck in a very long and slow British appeal process. Nothing’s going to happen there for a while. A document came out of Wikileaks a couple of days ago though showing that nobody gives a fuck about who runs Haiti at this point.

  26. 26
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Brachiator:

    So, government “secrets” must be kept even if the government is really just hiding evidence of its own stupidity.

    “A man was arrested one night for running across Red Square yelling
    “Khrushchev is a fool! Khrushchev is a fool!”

    He was arrested and given 10 years – 5 for slandering the leader, and 5 for
    revealing a state secret.”

  27. 27
    singfoom says:

    What doesn’t make sense to me is why Drake agreed to the plea bargain. If the Government wasn’t going to show it’s cards because they would have to spill secret information, then why didn’t he just keep maintaining his innocence of any crime?

  28. 28
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    We need a truthteller like Drake in our prison system, on the inside.

  29. 29
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @singfoom:

    Less of a roll of the dice than going to a jury would be.

    Gets him a near-certain off the hook with a wristslap.

  30. 30
    Will says:

    The New Yorker piece on Drake was incredible:

    http://www.newyorker.com/repor.....fact_mayer

  31. 31
    Cat says:

    @Poopyman:

    Here’s a novel thought. There are literally tens of thousands[*] of people in the Baltimore area that have the same level of clearance as Drake.

    Depending on the level the documents were classified at you still might not be able to see them due to compartmentalization.

    Because getting a renewal on your security clearance isn’t a forgone conclusion?

    Even if you are cleared you can still be barred access for any reason. Whose going to risk their meal ticket, their security clearance, by siding against the government and with a whistle blower?

  32. 32
    Brachiator says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    He was arrested and given 10 years – 5 for slandering the leader, and 5 for revealing a state secret.”

    Sigh. Same as it ever was.

    As an aside, this obliquely reminds me of a story about attempts to force workers at JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) to submit to a far more intrusive security clearance process and NDA agreement even though many have worked there for years already and do not handle sensitive information. The excuse was, you know, that vigilance is needed because of the war on terror and stuff. Some employees balked, and some even cited personal experience living and working under repressive regimes. And yet a lot of the public reaction was STFU, if you work for the government they can do whatever they need to do.

  33. 33
    Brachiator says:

    @singfoom:

    What doesn’t make sense to me is why Drake agreed to the plea bargain. If the Government wasn’t going to show it’s cards because they would have to spill secret information, then why didn’t he just keep maintaining his innocence of any crime?

    Good question. I wonder if part of the answer might be that the government can be relentless, especially when it is wrong, while individuals do not have infinite resources.

  34. 34

    Points up the tension between a government’s actual need to keep some things secret, the desire of a government to cover its ass, and the needs of a free society to know what the hell is going on. It isn’t going away anytime soon and most people could give a rat’s ass and the word “Security” trumps all else with them.

  35. 35
    patrick II says:

    @Poopyman:
    Here’s another thought. Give some judges clearances so they may review disputed material.

  36. 36
    singfoom says:

    Alright, I can understand that, but from everything I’ve read, the government’s case just imploded because they wouldn’t discuss secret information.

    I don’t know. It’s probably something just Drake himself would be able to answer, but having read a bunch about the case, when I put myself in his shoes and try to figure out what to do, the last thing I would do would be to admit any wrongdoing, regardless of the chances.

    But maybe I’m a worse card player than Drake.
    (Sorry for the double post, I must have used a forbidden word)

  37. 37
    Bloix says:

    “why didn’t he just keep maintaining his innocence of any crime?”

    Drake is 54 years old and unemployed. Paying defense lawyers in a complex case is expensive. This is the best way for him to try to resume a normal life.

  38. 38
    Raven Rant says:

    The judge should have forced the DOJ to pay all court costs, including the all defense expenses.

    Another DOJ whistleblower case is crumbling:

    “U.S. used ‘unmitigated gall’ and B.C. court to jail exec
    Judge’s stinging rebuke aimed at Cisco and U.S. prosecutors”

    http://www.vancouversun.com/ne.....story.html

    Apparently the DOJ lied through its teeth, and trumped up charges at the behest of Cisco Systems. Good to know our nation’s highest law enforcement branch are nothing more than hired goons for corporations.

  39. 39
    Mike G says:

    @Brachiator:

    And yet a lot of the public reaction was STFU, if you work for the government they can do whatever they need to do.

    Usually the loudest from the “Freedum/Don’t touch mah guns” crowd. Who are also the biggest proponents of the “freedum” of corporations to make you pee in a cup and submit to any manner of humiliations to keep a job.

    I guess you’re only really free if you’re so blessed by Jeebus as to be independently wealthy. Otherwise, STFU and submit to authoritarian overlords.

  40. 40
    j low says:

    @Brachiator: He was arrested and given 10 years – 5 for slandering the leader, and 5 for revealing a state secret.”

    While I am sure the people were sent to prison in the USSR for even lesser crimes, I don’t think that was a news item.

  41. 41
    David in NYC says:

    Good to know our nation’s highest law enforcement branch are nothing more than hired goons for corporations.

    Is this really a surprise to anyone here? And why do I keep thinking of this:

    Michael: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a president or senator.
    Kay Adams: Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don’t have men killed.
    Michael: Oh. Who’s being naive, Kay?

  42. 42
    Raven Rant says:

    In the Drake case, the material was declared classified retroactively.

    Also, he first brought the problems confidentially to the Pentagon IG, who ignored him.

    After four years of ongoing abuses, he finally passed nonclassified material to a Boston Sun reporter.

  43. 43
    Raven Rant says:

    Yeah, it’s getting harder to deny that, Dem or Repub, our corporate government is indistinguishable from organized crime.

    My motto for the Democrats in 2012:

    “Sure, we’re corporate whores, but at least we’re not batshit crazy corporate whores!”

    Inspirational.

  44. 44
    dmbeaster says:

    @singfoom:

    If the Government wasn’t going to show it’s cards because they would have to spill secret information, then why didn’t he just keep maintaining his innocence of any crime?

    Actually, Drake was candid acknowledging that he may have crossed some lines in his whistleblowing effort (See the New Yorker’s long article on this . There were borderline gray areas in what he had done. There always is when the whistleblower is in a security agency.

    The government response here was part of a wider attack on security personnel leaking classified info to the media. Drake became a pawn in that game. What was notable is that this was a Bush era prosecution that Obama continued.

  45. 45
    dmbeaster says:

    @Raven Rant: Actually, I don’t think it was a case of retroactive classification. According to the New Yorker article, there were five documents that he allegedly should not have had. Three were classified. Two were internal use only and allegedly should have been classified. Maybe it is those two that you are referencing.

    The boxes in his basement contained copies of some of the less sensitive material that he had procured for the Inspector General’s Trailblazer investigation. The Inspector General’s Web site directs complainants to keep copies. Drake says that if the boxes did, in fact, contain classified documents he didn’t realize it. (The indictment emphasizes that he “willfully” retained documents.) The two documents that the government says it extracted from his e-mail archive were even less sensitive, Drake says. Both pertained to a successor to Trailblazer, code-named Turbulence. One document listed a schedule of meetings about Turbulence. It was marked “unclassified/for official use only” and posted on the N.S.A.’s internal Web site. The government has since argued that the schedule should have been classified, and that Drake should have known this. The other document, which touted the success of Turbulence, was officially declassified in July, 2010, three months after Drake was indicted. “After charging him with having this ostensibly serious classified document, the government waved a wand and decided it wasn’t so classified after all,” Radack says.

    Read more http://www.newyorker.com/repor.....z1OuimmB2i

  46. 46
    Three-nineteen says:

    @david mizner: I just watched the new HBO documentary on Bobby Fischer. In 2001 Fischer was living in Japan, not being able to come back to the US for the crime of playing chess in Yugoslavia during a UN embargo. After 9/11, Fischer (suffering from paranoia and various other mental problems) called a radio station in the Philipines and delivers a hate-filled rant about how the US “had it coming” and how someone needed to “finish off the US once and for all”. Bush had Japan arrest Fischer and was going to extradite him. Iceland had to give him citizenship and let him live there to save Fischer jail time. All because a mentally ill famous person said bad things about the US.

  47. 47
    dmbeaster says:

    The backstory on Drake is that the Bush administration was very aggressive about trying to find who leaked to the NY Times the NSA warrantless wiretapping scandal. Obama continued that effort, and his point of view may have been influenced by the whole Manning/Wikileaks episode. Drake got caught up in that dragnet, and I imagine was part of an indict and flip routine. Or else they thought he had some role in that leak – I dont know. He was clearly overcharged in an attempt to try and get more info. An overzealous government prosecutor can be a very dangerous thing, but these are also the techniques that break mobsters and other real criminals. However, the decision to let him go is still a positive sign.

    It is worth noting that Drake is (or was?) a conservative Republican.

  48. 48
    Fred says:

    I’m sure your libertarian buddy Johnson would have taken care of this much better. By eliminating the NSA all together.

  49. 49
    dmbeaster says:

    I would add that I do not believe the tripe that the government buckled because it would have to show secrets to the jury. They have shown much more sensitive stuff in major criminal spy cases.

    I suspect this is government ass covering instead of admitting that the effort against Drake was misguided in the first instance. “We wanted to get him but we had this problem” sounds a whole lot better than admitting that someone made a serious judgment error in this case. Overcharging to make a lower level criminal flip is an accepted prosecution device, but it requires good judgment and a clear conscience by those employing the tools. No one wants to admit to the eff up in Drake’s case.

  50. 50
    Raven Rant says:

    I don’t get the impression that this was the Obama administration or the DOJ ‘coming to its senses’ or ‘doing the right thing’ as much as the realization that they were about to get their asses handed to them in open court.

    Drake should have been commended for his efforts. The judge, not Obama or the DOJ, gets credit for derailing this travesty of justice.

  51. 51
    Raven Rant says:

    “derailing” not “detailing”.

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