US reaches plea deal with NSA spy whistle-blower

National Security Agency (NSA) Fort Meade, Maryland
© AFP/NSA/File


WASHINGTON (AFP) – An ex-senior official in the top secret US National Security Agency will plead guilty to exceeding authorized use of a computer in a classified information leak case, according to court papers.

Thomas Drake, 54, had been accused of illegally retaining classified information, obstructing justice and making false statements, charges for which he could have faced up to 35 years behind bars.

Under the plea deal, Drake will plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge of misusing a government computer to share data with someone without authorization. Misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of one year behind bars.

All charges in the indictment will be dropped, and Drake will no longer stand accused of mishandling classified information, will pay no fine and will avoid jail time, according to The Washington Post.

Drake was first charged in a 10-count indictment in April of last year. His trial had been due to begin Monday in US District Court in Baltimore, Maryland.

The latest court documents said that if the case had gone to trial, the government would have proven that Drake “intentionally accessed” the NSA’s internal intranet NSANet from about February 2006 to March 2007.

It would have proven that he “obtained official NSA information, and provided said information orally and in writing to another person not permitted or authorized to receive the same.”

In doing so, Drake “knew that he exceeded his authorized use of NSANet each time he accessed” it, the papers added.

A high-ranking employee at the NSA between 2001 and 2008, Drake is alleged to have provided information to a reporter for a series of articles published between February 2006 and November 2007 about the NSA and its activities.

The information concerned the Signals Intelligence programs (SIGINT), which involve capturing and processing foreign communications.

While the indictment did not identify the reporter, she is believed to be Siobhan Gorman, who works for The Wall Street Journal.

According to the indictment, Drake left the agency’s Fort Meade, Maryland headquarters in 2006 to work at the National Defense University in Washington but remained an NSA employee.

His security clearance was suspended in November 2007 and he resigned from the NSA in April 2008.

Using Hushmail, a secure email service, Drake allegedly exchanged hundreds of emails with “Reporter A,” and they met on six occasions in the Washington area, according to the indictment.

He used the email service to transmit both classified and unclassified documents never intended to be made public and then allegedly shredded them and lied to federal agents about his conduct, according to prosecutors.

President Barack Obama’s administration abandoned plans to charge Drake with espionage last year.

The government had charged Drake using the 1917 Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to hold classified material without authorization. But he was not charged with spying.

Drake says he had maintained several files with unclassified information to back a complaint he had pursued with others that the NSA was wasting public funds on inefficient surveillance technology that had little effect, even though cheaper options were available.

© AFPPublished at Activist Post with license.

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