A former Justice Department spokesman has acknowledged that the prosecution of former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake was “ill-considered.”
In an exchange with Politico correspondent Josh Gerstein about the department’s prosecutions of alleged leakers, former Department of Justice Director of Public Affairs Matt Miller on Saturday said the Drake case, which ended last year in a misdemeanor plea deal, was unlike other cases because “Drake did seem to be trying to expose actual government waste. I think the outcome of the case probably shows that it was an ill-considered choice for prosecution.”
The plea deal was a major embarrassment for the department, which had showcased Drake’s 2010 indictment as a signal to would-be leakers.
Even after the case blew up, Miller continued to defend the prosecution. “It’s an important principle that people who have access to classified information follow the law and the agreements they have signed to protect that information,” he was quoted as saying in The New York Times. He also said, “The indictment was brought on the merits, and nothing else.”
Today, Miller appears to be taking a different tone.
“This is not just backtracking,” said Jesselyn Radack, one of Drake’s attorneys. “It is complete revisionist history.”
The real solution, Miller asserted in a blog item in Saturday’s Daily Beast, is to expand protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act, as the White House has endorsed, so there are more ways for whistleblowers working in the national security field to report claims and be protected against retaliation.
Drake was one of several sources for a Baltimore Sun article about a $1.2 billion NSA experimental program called Trailblazer to comb through electronic communications for national security threats. Drake alleged that the program did not work, violated Americans’ privacy rights, and that was inferior to a rival program called Thin Thread.
The prosecutor in the Drake case was William Welch, who supervised the botched corruption prosecution of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. Welch is also the prosecutor in a case involving a former CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling, accused of leaking classified information on reported efforts to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program to New York Times reporter James Risen.
The controversy in this case is the prosecution’s effort to get journalist Risen to testify and identify his confidential sources. The department’s stance is Risen should have no privilege against testifying, which threatens to draw the administration into a confrontation over freedom of the press.