Ex-NSA official pleads not guilty to helping reporter

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 24, 2010

A former U.S. intelligence official accused of leaking secrets to the media pleaded not guilty Friday during his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Attorneys for Thomas A. Drake, 53, a former official with the National Security Agency, requested that he be tried by a jury. U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett scheduled a trial for October.

Drake, of Glenwood, was accused in an indictment this month of sharing classified information with a reporter. The charges appear to stem from a series of Baltimore Sun articles in 2006 and 2007 that highlighted mismanagement and other problems within the spy agency. The government does not allege that Drake revealed secrets about the spy agency's methods of intercepting e-mails and phone calls or its efforts to crack codes.

The case has sparked concern among the media because reporters often rely on confidential sources to help uncover waste or abuse in government, and prosecution of those sources is rare. But some government officials say that the release of some classified information could undermine national security and that a stronger stand is needed against anyone who reveals government secrets.

James Wyda, a federal public defender who represents Drake, said after the hearing that his client "loves his country" and has devoted much of his career to public service, serving in the Air Force and the Navy Reserves. He added that Drake has cooperated with the government's investigation and that the defense team looks forward to addressing the evidence in court.

"We have a profound disagreement with the government about the facts, the interpretation of the facts and the important principles at stake in such an unusual prosecution," Wyda said. "There is no evidence that these allegations were motivated by disloyalty, greed or any untoward motive."

Prosecutors did not discuss the evidence against Drake in court and declined to comment outside the courtroom.

The indictment does not name the reporter, but it appears to be intelligence correspondent Siobhan Gorman. Gorman, who worked for the Sun at the time, published articles in 2006 and 2007 about management lapses, technical problems and budget shortfalls at the NSA.

Drake was hired as a full-time NSA employee in 2001 and was assigned to its signals intelligence and engineering directorates. His security clearance was suspended in 2007, and he resigned in 2008.

Drake faces 10 felony counts of mishandling secret information and trying to obstruct the government's investigation into the leaks. During Friday's hearing, the judge ordered that Drake surrender his passport pending trial and restrict his travel to the District, Maryland and Virginia unless he obtains court permission.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company