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Former NSA Executive Accused Of Leaks

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Thomas Andrews Drake once held a senior position at the National Security Agency. He now could face years in prison for leaking classified information to a reporter and lying about it to federal investigators. According to the indictment, Drake was a key source for a series of articles that appeared in the Baltimore Sun during 2006 and 2007.

NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us now to talk about this case. And, Ari, what were the stories about?

ARI SHAPIRO: Well, you know, it's funny, we think - about the National Security Agency in the media and we immediately go to the New York Times and the domestic spying program. That's not what this was. The indictment actually does not name the news organization or the reporter specifically, but we've confirmed that Siobhan Gorman, the intelligence correspondent who used to be at the Baltimore Sun and is now at the Wall Street Journal, it's about a series of stories that she wrote effectively showing that a very expensive, hundreds of millions of dollars plan to modernize the National Security Agency's system for collecting and sorting data was essentially a failure, that this was a massive waste of taxpayer dollars.

Ms. Gorman won a prestigious journalism award for this series of stories. She, through the Wall Street Journal, declined to comment today about this indictment. But, you know, as one person who I spoke with said, these awards for stories about the NSA are like a stick in the eye for the federal government, which says we're sick of seeing journalists rewarded for publishing leaks from our agency.

SIEGEL: Well, tell us about the defendant, Thomas Drake.

SHAPIRO: Well, as you said, he was a senior official at the NSA, and according to the indictment, a congressional staffer connected Gorman with Drake. They set up anonymous email accounts through a company called Hushmail, and he allegedly gave her classified information over that email.

He's also accused of getting information from some of his colleagues at NSA and forwarding that information on to Gorman. He allegedly copied and pasted classified information into Word documents. He printed classified material and brought it home. He even allegedly reviewed and commented on some drafts of Gorman's stories.

Today, Lanny Breuer, who is the head of the Justice Department's criminal division, said: Our national security demands that the sort of conduct alleged here, violating the government's trust by illegally retaining and disclosing classified information, be prosecuted and prosecuted vigorously.

SIEGEL: I assume some groups have raised concerns about freedom of the press being compromised?

SHAPIRO: Of course. You know, there's always a threat that a government official who leaks classified information will be charged with a crime, but it very rarely happens. And so, today, there is concern that this could, you know, squelch the flow of information.

SIEGEL: But these stories in the Baltimore Sun were essentially about mismanagement, you're saying, at the agency or bad management of the agency. Could the man who leaked the information claim he was a whistleblower?

SHAPIRO: Well, no. Whistleblower protections legally protect somebody who goes to the congressional committee that has oversight for the agency that you work for. There is no legal protection for giving classified information to a journalist.

The one upshot of this is that the federal government has been heavily criticized lately for targeting journalists unnecessarily. Well, in this case, a Justice official told me, no journalist was subpoenaed. And as Lucy Dalglish, who is the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said to me today: This is what we want to see. They didn't go after the reporter.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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