* Ex-NSA official had been tied to leaks to reporter
* Prosecutors would not object if no prison sentence
By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON, June 9 A former U.S. National
Security Agency official accused of mishandling classified data
and obstructing a probe into leaks of sensitive information
agreed on Thursday to plead guilty to a significantly lesser
Thomas Drake was scheduled to go on trial next week on 10
felony counts, including mishandling classified information by
taking it home, impeding a probe into leaks from the NSA and
making false statements as investigators sought the culprit.
Under the agreement, Drake will plead guilty to a single
misdemeanor of exceeding his authorized use of NSA computers,
punishable by up to one year in prison. He faced decades of
prison time if convicted on the original charges. A plea
hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) on Friday in
federal court in Baltimore.
In plea agreement documents filed in federal court late on
Thursday, prosecutors said they would not object if the judge
decided not to sentence Drake to any prison time. He previously
pleaded not guilty and said he considered himself a
The deal was reached after the judge in the case said
efforts to protect classified information in certain evidence
prosecutors planned to use at trial hampered the defense. As a
result, prosecutors said they would not use some of it.
The case could mark a setback for the Obama administration
as it tries to crack down on leaks of sensitive and classified
information, an effort begun in earnest by the previous Bush
administration but beset with similar problems.
"It seems like in all noteworthy recent cases the same
result is reached, the government is forced to decide whether
to allow the public airing of classified information or drop
its charges," said Glen Donath, a former federal prosecutor and
now a private attorney. "And it's almost always gone the latter
Drake is one of several individuals facing prosecution over
alleged leaks about sensitive government activities and
programs, and the plea could have a significant impact on those
cases as well.
Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to
comment on the plea deal as did Drake's attorney, James Wyda.
Drake worked for several years at NSA headquarters at Fort
Meade, Maryland, as a technical leader in the engineering
directorate and had secret clearance that gave him access to
signals intelligence information.
He left the NSA headquarters in September 2006 to teach at
the National Defense University but still worked for the NSA
and retained his security clearance until it was suspended in
November 2007, according to the indictment. He left the agency
in April 2008 when he faced being fired.
Although prosecutors said Drake discussed classified
information with a Baltimore Sun newspaper reporter, he was
never charged with leaking at a time when the NSA was under
pressure after the failure to detect the Sept. 11 attacks.
The original indictment said he traded hundreds of emails
and met the reporter, identified previously by a U.S. official
as Siobhan Gorman who now works at The Wall Street Journal,
serving as a source for many articles.
Between February 2006 and November 2007, Gorman wrote
dozens of articles involving the NSA, including about its
secret surveillance programs, the spy agency's efforts to
bolster cybersecurity and attempts to stop leaks.
Drake has publicly denied providing her any classified
(Editing by Peter Cooney)