A former high-ranking National Security Agency employee was indicted on 10 felony charges Thursday for his alleged role in leaking classified information to a news reporter.
The federal indictment does not identify the reporter, but several news organizations, citing government sources, named a former national security correspondent for The Baltimore Sun as the recipient of the leaks.
Thomas Andrews Drake, a 52-year-old Howard County man who worked as a "process improvement" official at NSA from 2001 until he resigned in 2008, is accused of copying and storing classified documents at his home and then destroying the documents and lying to investigators when authorities found out.
"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," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, in a statement released with the indictment.
Federal law prohibits government employees from disclosing classified information, which could be "expected to cause damage to national security."
The indictments do not reveal the subject of the information allegedly released, nor do they suggest that any damage to national security resulted. The Baltimore Sun's reporting on the NSA during the time period in question, about mid-2005 to late 2007, focused primarily on institutional shortcomings, not the specific nature or source of information gathered at the agency.
James Wyda, a federal public defender representing Drake, said his client has been "extraordinarily cooperative" with the government.
"He loves his country and has served it well for many years," Wyda said. "We are deeply disappointed that we could not resolve this matter without criminal charges being brought."
Drake has been charged with five counts of retaining classified documents, four counts of making false statements to the FBI and one count of obstruction of justice.
Media advocacy groups say the prosecution of an alleged source of leaked government secrets is uncommon but not unheard of, offering the case against former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby as a recent example. As Congress and the president continue to consider creation of a federal "shield law" that would protect reporters from being forced to disclose confidential sources, some wonder if the indictment represents a message from the Obama administration that such protections go only so far.
"It suggests to me they're trying to make a point to the press and to their employees: OK, you can have a shield law, but we're still going to go after sources," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
According to the indictment, Drake was introduced to the reporter — identified only as "Reporter A" — after a congressional staffer passed along the journalist's contact information in late 2005. Drake contacted the journalist by e-mail, the document said, and the two subsequently exchanged "hundreds" of messages through encrypted e-mail accounts established with a service known as Hushmail, with servers based in Canada.
The reporter and source met as many as six times at various locations around Washington, the indictment said.
Information that Drake provided to the reporter included scanned copies of "certain classified and unclassified documents," according to the charging document.
The reporter agreed to identify Drake only as a "senior intelligence official" and wrote several articles about the NSA over that period using Drake as a source, the indictment claims. The organization employing the reporter is described in the indictment as a "national newspaper."
Wyda and attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to identify the journalist, but national news organizations, including Fox News, Reuters and The Washington Post, said government sources named her as Siobhan Gorman, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who worked for The Sun during the time period discussed in the indictment.
A spokeswomen for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, the parent company of The Sun, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Wall Street Journal parent Dow Jones & Co., who responded to a message left for Gorman.
Gorman won a national award from the Society of Professional Journalists for her coverage of the Fort Meade-based NSA in 2006. Her articles, which sometimes quoted anonymous sources, exposed management and programmatic troubles within the agency, and did not focus on the substance of the electronic intelligence information the agency gathers and analyzes.
One notable story, published Feb. 26, 2006, described the shortcomings of NSA software and computer systems that cost billions of dollars yet were hampering the agency's ability to fight terrorism.
"To me, that was just dogged beat reporting about government activities," Dalglish said. "If that's the story they're talking about, you could make the argument that the public had good reason to know that the NSA had a very expensive program, funded by public dollars, that didn't work."