Ex-NSA official Thomas Drake to plead guilty to misdemeanor
By Ellen Nakashima, 9:30 PM
Days before his trial was set to begin, former National Security Agency manager and accused leaker Thomas A. Drake accepted a plea deal from the government Thursday that drops the charges in his indictment, absolves him of mishandling classified information and calls for no prison time.
In exchange, Drake, who was facing 35 years in prison if convicted of violating the Espionage Act, will plead guilty to a misdemeanor of exceeding authorized use of a computer. He will pay no fine, and the maximum probation time he can serve will be capped at one year.
“It’s an unambiguous victory for Drake,” said Jesselyn Radack, director of national security at the Government Accountability Project, who supported Drake on whistleblower issues. “The prosecution’s case imploded.”
The deal brings to a close a five-year ordeal for Drake, 54, who came under investigation in 2006 in leaking to the media and who was indicted in May 2010 on allegations of willful retention of “national defense” or classified information, obstruction of justice and making a false statement.
It also is a setback for the Obama administration’s effort to punish alleged leakers of national security secrets using a widely criticized World War I-era law.
“As a tool for prosecuting leakers, the Espionage Act is a broad sword where a scalpel would be far preferable,” said Stephen Vladeck, a constitutional law professor at American University. “It criminalizes to the same degree the wrongful retention of information that probably should never have been classified in the first place and the willful sale of state secrets to foreign intelligence agencies.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said she could not comment on a pending matter.
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