Breaking: NSA exec charged with leaking classified info in 2006, 2007

When the New York Times published a series of articles on top-secret counterterrorism efforts at the National Security Agency in 2006 and 2007, supporters of the Bush administration reacted with outrage.  Oddly, though, the same people who expressed outrage over the exposure of Valerie Plame as a CIA analyst never got terribly exercised over these breaches of national security (and to be fair, the same holds true in reverse).  The Bush administration complained loudly about the Times’ decision to expose these programs but never made a public show of a probe to discover the source of the leaks.

Ironically, that effort apparently succeeded in uncovering at least one leaker — and the Obama administration gets the credit for it:

A former senior executive with the National Security Agency has been indicted on 10 felony charges related to the leaking of classified information to a national newspaper in 2006 and 2007, the Justice Department announced Thursday morning.

Thomas A. Drake, 52, headed an office in the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate at Fort Meade between 2001 and 2005, and continued to work with the agency as a high-ranking contractor through 2008, U.S. officials said. The indictment alleges that Drake allegedly exchanged hundreds of e-mails with an unidentified reporter for a national newspaper and served as a source for its articles about Bush administration intelligence policies between February 2006 and November 2007, U.S. officials said.

Drake was indicted by a federal grand jury in Maryland, the Justice Department said.

The indictment doesn’t name the paper or identify the subject matter, but it also doesn’t appear too difficult to connect dots in this case.  The Times produced most of the original reporting on these secret programs, including the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) that eventually got retroactive cover in a rewriting of FISA laws.  They also exposed the secret bank-tracking program Swift that turned out to be both completely legal and extraordinarily effective — before the Times blew its cover.

Kudos to the DoJ for pursuing the leaker.  Having the Obama administration press this case makes it even stronger, I believe.  It eliminates any hint of retribution and puts it firmly in the frame of violating our national security.  If Drake is guilty, he had other options than leaking to the Times if he disagreed with the operations at the NSA.   He could have gone to the White House, or failing that, to the leadership of the intelligence committees in Congress, which certainly would have provided him with an audience.  Instead, the leaker (whoever he is) kneecapped our ability to track terrorists and politicized national security unnecessarily.

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