WASHINGTON (AP) — A former spy agency official who was the target of a government leak investigation says he feels a “significant kinship” with National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
Thomas Drake, who was a top NSA official, assailed the Obama administration Tuesday for what he called an “unprecedented and ruthless campaign” against leakers of secret government information.
The government ended up dropping its felony espionage case against Drake and he received a year’s probation in 2011 after acknowledging that he gave inside information to The Baltimore Sun about a major government electronic espionage program. The judge in the case criticized the government for putting him through “four years of hell.”
Snowden is facing espionage charges for revealing two highly classified surveillance programs. He remains in hiding, having left Hong Kong for Russia.
Drake spoke during a panel discussion at the American Society of News Editors convention. Also on the panel were Associated Press Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll and Fox News journalist James Rosen.
Carroll criticized the Justice Department for the secret seizure of thousands of AP phone records as part of its investigation into who leaked information for an AP story in 2012 about a foiled plot in Yemen to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner. DOJ informed the AP of the seizure last month.
She said the government should have notified the AP before issuing the subpoenas, which would have allowed AP to try to narrow the scope of the information sought before it was released to the Justice Department.
“It is an administrative branch taking unto itself power that it believes that it has under this increasingly wide, deep, thick, oppressive, blanket of national security,” Carroll said.
Attorney General Eric Holder has defended the secret gathering of AP phone records, saying a serious national security leak required it. But more recently, Holder acknowledged that a better balance needs to be struck between press freedoms and keeping national secrets safe. He has been meeting with the news media as the department reviews how it treats the media when it investigates national security leaks. The discussions were ordered by President Barack Obama, who has set a July 12 deadline for Holder to recommend any changes to the department’s procedures.
Rosen has been tied to the leak investigation of a State Department expert on North Korea. The reporter hasn’t been charged, but an FBI agent seeking a search warrant called the reporter “a co-conspirator” and said there was probable cause to believe he committed a violation of criminal law. The State Department adviser awaits trial.
Rosen said he thought a series of his stories on North Korea and Iran may have led investigators to try to track his contacts in the government.