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Obama Justice Department Backs Off Espionage Act Prosecution Against NSA Whistleblower After Jane Mayer’s Embarrassing Article In The New Yorker

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BALTIMORE SUN: A former National Security Agency manager accepted a plea deal Thursday that cleared him of espionage charges stemming from the alleged leak of classified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter. Thomas Drake had been charged with 10 felonies but will plead guilty to a misdemeanor: exceeding the authorized use of a computer. If convicted of the felonies, he could have faced 35 years in prison. Under the plea bargain, he is not expected to serve any time. Drake, a former Air Force officer, had been charged under the Espionage Act even though he allegedly leaked information to a newspaper, not an enemy power. The onetime senior NSA manager was indicted last year on charges of taking classified information from the Fort Meade, Md.-based agency for the purpose of leaking it to then-Sun reporter Siobhan Gorman, who wrote a series of articles about waste and mismanagement at the nation’s largest spy agency, which monitors electronic signals such as phone calls and emails. The case is one of five that the Obama administration has been pursuing against those accused of leaking government secrets, a trend that alarmed advocates of greater transparency in government. MORE

RELATED: The government’s willingness to bargain down the charges from ten felony counts to a single misdemeanor drake.jpgsuggests that the case is teetering. The bargaining follows a series of setbacks for the government. The government had wanted to substitute summaries for some of its evidence, which it argued was too sensitive, from a national-security standpoint, to show. The judge, however, ruled that Drake had to be able to refer the jury to the specific details in order to fully defend himself. As Politico’s Josh Gerstein wrote on Monday, the lead federal prosecutor in the case, William Welch, then decided to withdraw all references to that classified material, undercutting his own case. MORE

NEW YORKER: When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years. Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book “Necessary Secrets” (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, “Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon.” MORE

RELATED: It may be a first in the annals of government secrecy: Declassifying documents to mark the anniversary of their leak to the press. But that is what will happen Monday, when the federal government plans to finally release the secret government study of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers 40 years after it was first published by The New York Times. At first blush, it sounds like the release of one of the worst-kept secrets in history — finally unlocking the barn door four decades after the horses bolted. The study, after all, has already been published by The Times and other newspapers, resulting in a landmark First Amendment decision by the Supreme Court. It has been released in book form more than once. But it turns out that those texts have been incomplete: When all 7,000 pages are released Monday, officials say, the study can finally be read in its original form. That it took until the era of WikiLeaks for the government to declassify the Pentagon Papers struck some participants as, to say the least, curious. MORE

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