Criminal Justice

Ex-NSA Official Pleads to Misdemeanor as DOJ Drops More Serious Espionage Charges

Former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake pleaded guilty Friday to a minor offense in a deal in which the Justice Department agreed to drop more serious charges of possessing and leaking classified information to a reporter.

Drake’s plea to the misdemeanor count of exceeding his authorized use of a NSA computer was entered in a federal court in Baltimore, reports Reuters and the New York Times.

Reuters notes that a deal was reached after the judge ruled that the government’s efforts to protect classified information in certain evidence that prosecutors planned to use at trial was hampering the defense. As part of the plea deal, the Justice Department has agreed not to seek prison time for Drake, who had faced more than 35 years if convicted of the more serious charges.

The American Journalism Review dubbed the plea deal a “Victory for Whistleblowers” in a headline over a story about the case.

Writing for AJR, Rem Rieder asserted that, “The plea bargain represents an ignominious collapse for a prosecution the government had no business bringing.

“Drake isn’t a spy. He’s a classic whistle-blower,” Rieder maintained.

Jesselyn Radack, a lawyer for the Government Accountability Project, which supported Drake, also hailed the plea deal as a victory.

“This is a victory for national security whistle-blowers and against corruption inside the intelligence agencies,” Radack told the New York Times. “No public servant should face 35 years in prison for telling the truth.”

The Justice Department pursued charges against Drake as it cracked down on unauthorized disclosures. But Drake was held up by his supporters as a diligent public servant trying to save taxpayer money and strengthen national security, the Times reported.

Related coverage:

New Yorker: “The Secret Sharer: Is Thomas Drake an Enemy of the State?” Obama Admin Already Holds Record for Most Leak Prosecutions, NY Times Says

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