I have a great respect for Bill Arkin, especially his reporting on Top Secret America. He is known for being a thorough investigator and researcher, hence, my surprise and confusion that someone way too smart for such carelessness makes so many careless errors about a case as widely-reported as that of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake.
I have to wonder what is going on behind the scenes that Arkin completely misses the widely-reported facts about the Drake case and lashes out at Drake for pointing out what nearly every expert has agreed on and the facts reveal: that the Obama has used the Espionage Act to target so-called "leakers" (who are usually whistleblowers) more times than all past presidents combined.
(1) Arkin says in response to Drake's claim "That Obama has gone after whistleblowers and leakers more than Bush ever did. . . . . I doubt that this is true but would be interested in being corrected if someone’s got some facts."
Here are some facts. Far from being the statement of Salon or lefty bloggers, every mainstream media outlet has documented that Obama has launched an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, including editorials in the Washington Post (here and here), theNew York Times, the L.A. Times, and the Economist, to name a few.
(2) Arkin also criticizes a Salon interview with Drake: "Salon says rather casually that Drake never disclosed classified information. Drake opines that 'it is not a crime to reveal government wrongdoing to a reporter.' . . . The problem with Salon’s characterization and Drake’s bluster is that they are both wrong."
It is downright shocking that after the widespread media coverage on the Drake case a journalist of Arkin's caliber manages to get this wrong. Drake never leaked classified information. He was never indicted for disclosing classified information. The original indictment charged Drake with improper retention - NOT DISCLOSURE - of allegedly classified information. No one - not even the Justice Department, which certainly wanted to convict Drake on as many counts as possible - charged Drake with leaking classified information.
Drake did go to the Baltimore Sun with unclassified information about massive waste, fraud, and abuse at NSA, something the First Amendment unequivocally protects. In case Arkin missed the coverage, he can read up on the facts of the Drake case here,here, or here or watch 60 Minutes.
(3) Arkin also gets the conclusion of Drake's case wrong, saying Drake ". . . was indicted on numerous felony counts of espionage before the prosecution decided to reduce the charges to misdemeanors."
Wrong again. The Obama administration did not "reduce" the charges. The Justice Department dismissed the entire original indictment, dropped all felony charges, and Drake agreed to plea to a single, minor, misdemeanor of his choice (a misdemeanor not involving classified information).
(4) Arkin mis-characterizes the problems with NSA's billion-dollar privacy-invading boondoggle Trailblazer as simply Drake's "allegations." ("Drake alleged that the program did not work, violated Americans’ privacy rights, and that was inferior to a rival program called Thinthread.")
Arkin forgets to mention that Drake was the key material witness for a years-long Department of Defense Inspector General investigation, which completely substantiated Drake's concerns and the four original complainants to the Inspector General (J. Kirk Wiebe, Bill Binney, Diane Roark, and Edward Loomis). Lest there be any doubt, Trailblazer itself tanked before delivering anything.
If Arkin doesn't want to take my word about the Drake case or the words of the editorial boards at the Washington Post, the New York Times, or the L.A. Times, he can listen J. William Leonard, classification expert and former classification czar. Leonard filed a formal complaint against the NSA and DOJ officials who overclassified the information the prosecution accused Drake of mishandling. Leonard said he had
never seen a more deliberate and willful example of government officials improperly classifying a document . . .Or, Arkin could listen to the ire of federal judge Richard D. Bennett, who, at Drake's sentencing, lambasted the Justice Department calling the treatment of Drake "unconscionable" and saying it "did not pass the smell test."
With so many sources getting it right, I have to wonder who is "informing" Arkin that he gets the Drake case so badly wrong.
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.