* No prison time sought for former top NSA official
* Drake had been accused of leaks to newspaper reporter
(Adds comment by Drake's attorneys, paragraph 6, case number)
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON, June 10 A former National Security
Agency official pleaded guilty on Friday to a minor offense in
a deal in which the U.S. Justice Department agreed to drop more
serious charges about possessing and leaking classified
information to a newspaper reporter.
Thomas Drake, 54, pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court in
Baltimore to a single, less serious misdemeanor count of
exceeding his authorized use of a NSA computer in 2006 and
2007, the Justice Department said.
The deal was reached after the judge in the case ruled that
the U.S. government's efforts to protect classified information
in certain evidence that prosecutors planned to use at trial
hampered the defense. As a result, prosecutors said they would
not use some of it.
Under the plea deal, the Justice Department agreed to drop
all 10 more serious previous criminal charges against Drake
accusing him of illegally possessing classified information,
obstructing the investigation into the leaks and lying to the
His case was among a number of Obama administration
prosecutions of current or former U.S. officials suspected of
leaking classified information to the news media.
Defense lawyers Debbie Boardman and Jim Wyda said the
dismissal of the indictment was a just result. "Tom Drake never
should have been charged under the Espionage Act. Tom never
intended to harm his country. And he didn't," they said in a
Drake was employed by NSA from August 2001 through April
2008 and was a high-ranking official. The NSA, which has its
headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland, is one of the U.S.
Prosecutors had accused him of discussing classified
information with a Baltimore Sun newspaper reporter, but Drake
denied providing her any classified information.
Some of the stories by the reporter, Siobhan Gorman, who
now works at the Wall Street Journal, involved problems with
NSA's secret surveillance programs.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, head of the
department's criminal division, said in a statement, "Today,
Thomas Drake admitted that he illegally accessed classified NSA
computer systems to obtain information that he then provided to
another person who had no authorization to receive it."
In the plea deal, the Justice Department agreed not to seek
any prison time for Drake, who had previously faced up to 35
years. The deal also ended the need for a trial, which had been
scheduled to start on Monday.
The Justice Department also has been investigating
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for leaking classified U.S.
diplomatic cables and U.S. military information about the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The result in the NSA case was widely seen as a setback for
the Obama administration's efforts to prosecute leaks of
classified information. The previous Bush administration also
encountered similar problems in leak cases.
"This is a victory for national security whistle-blowers,"
said Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department official who
now works at the Government Accountability Project, a group
that has helped represent Drake.
Groups supporting whistle-blowers and openness in
government criticized the Drake prosecution at a meeting with
President Barack Obama earlier this year, but he defended it by
saying classified information cannot be disclosed, a U.S.
The sentencing date is scheduled for July 15.
The case is USA v. Thomas Drake, No. 10-cr-181 in U.S.
District Court for the District of Maryland.
(Editing by Will Dunham)