Apparently the government has learned nothing from the spectacular collapse of the ill-fated criminal prosecution of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake. Drake was charged with 10 felony counts, all of which the government abandoned days before trial when the prosecution's case fell apart in the face of adverse court rulings and overwhelmingly negative media coverage (such as in The New Yorker and 60 Minutes). Drake pleaded to a minor misdemeanor, and, at sentencing, a federal judge lambasted the prosecution, calling delays in the case "unconscionable" and saying that the government put Drake through "four years of hell."
Despite the Justice Department's glaring defeat in the Drake case, the government is refusing to make amends with the whistleblowers it so egregiously mistreated. A front-page top-of-the-fold Baltimore Sun story reports that Drake and four other whistleblowers filed a lawsuit seeking to recoup property that the government seized in retaliatory raids back in 2007. Drake said the request is simple:
We'd like our stuff back.
The Sun reports:
The court motion filed by Drake and the four others is brief and cites a federal rule governing property seizures. It says the computers are being held in an FBI storage facility on Beltsville Drive in Calverton. "When asked why they have not returned the property," the court motion says, "the FBI responds that it has been waiting for months for the NSA to provide the FBI with its policy regarding this matter."
What is this significant information the government is insisting on holding? It is far from a matter of national security.
Another ex-analyst at NSA, Westminster resident John K. Wiebe, said the FBI returned four of his computers but still has two, taken from his bedroom and recreation room. He said they contain old photos of his ancestors from Ireland and of his parents from Indiana, along with family recipes for fish chowder from Scotland.
The intelligence community's priorities on classification are equally skewed and absurd in recent disputes over pre-publication review, the process used to approve publication of employees' materials. Steven Aftergood, of Federation of American Scientists, reported on a suit brought by author Anthony Shaffer claiming that intelligence agencies violated his First Amendment rights in censoring his Afghanistan war memoir:
. . . the government wants to limit his ability to present his challenge . . . Shaffer has been denied access to the original text of his own book. The text contains classified information, the government says, and he no longer holds a security clearance. So he is out of luck.
The government is even insisting that unclassified information Shaffer might submit in a declaration be hidden from the public because, "the association of that open source information with the book's redaction may make the . . . declaration classified." As if denying an author access to his own manuscript is not ridiculous enough, Aftergood astutely points out the added absurdity in light of the fact that,
. . . the unredacted text of his book has been publicly released in limited numbers, and portions of it are even available online.
Let's get this straight. According to our "intelligence" community, Shaffer cannot read his own manuscript, even on a secure government computer, but the public can access unredacted portions of it on the Internet. Meanwhile, former NSA employee Wiebe's "fish chowder" recipe remains safely in FBI custody. It is no wonder after the case against Drake collapsed, George W. Bush administration classification czar J. William Leonard wrote that
Every 6-year-old knows what a secret is. But apparently our nation's national security establishment does not.
Judging from the secrecy shenanigans continuing today, it appears the intelligence community has yet to figure it out.
Kathleen McClellan is National Security & Human Rights Counsel for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.