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Ex-NSA official accused in leak case gets one year probation

By Carol Cratty, CNN Senior Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thomas Drake is sentenced to one year probation and 240 hours of community service
  • He pleaded guilty to exceeding his authorized use of an agency computer
  • Prosecutors had accused Drake of leaking information to a reporter

Washington (CNN) -- A former National Security Agency official was sentenced to one year of probation and 240 hours of community service Friday for exceeding his authorized use of an agency computer.

Thomas Drake pleaded guilty to that misdemeanor charge in June after government prosecutors agreed to drop more serious charges -- some of which fell under the Espionage Act -- which carried maximum penalties of 35 years in prison.

Prosecutors had accused Drake, 54, of leaking information to a reporter and charged him last year in a 10-count indictment of willful retention of national defense information, obstruction of justice and making false statements. But prosecutors decided they could not pursue those charges in the controversial leak case after a federal judge in Baltimore, Maryland ruled classified information would have to be presented in open court.

Drake could have been sentenced to a year in jail, but as part of the plea deal the government agreed not to push for him to serve time.

In a sentencing memo, Drake's defense lawyers argued against their client spending time behind bars.

"The crime does not involve the handling or mishandling of classified information," said his lawyers. "Rather, it relates to Mr. Drake's decision to communicate with a Baltimore Sun reporter about his belief that NSA was engaged in waste, fraud, and abuse."

The defense memo also said that since the investigation began in 2007, Drake "has suffered emotionally, physically, professionally, and financially." According to the memo, Drake's reputation has been so tarnished he'll never be able to work in the intelligence community again.

He lost his security clearance and left government service five years before he would have been eligible for a federal pension. The memo said Drake had a part-time teaching position at Strayer University, but was let go after he was indicted.

Drake worked at the NSA from 2001 until he resigned in April 2008. According to the defense lawyers' memo, he then went to work at an Apple retail store. The document said he had to take a second mortgage out on his home to help pay for a private attorney during the government's investigation. After the government indicted him, Drake qualified for the services of federal public defenders.

Drake maintained he was acting as a whistleblower and raised objections to some of the NSA's actions within the NSA, to Congress and to a Defense Department Inspector General.

According to the Washington Post, he was concerned about a $1.2 billion dollar data-sifting program called Trailblazer and about NSA efforts to collect Americans' e-mail and phone call information without court orders.

In a statement of facts submitted in June, Drake admitted to accessing the NSA's intranet site, from approximately February 2006 through March 2007, where he "obtained information, and provided said information orally and in writing to another person not permitted or authorized" to receive it.

Neither Drake's defense lawyers nor the Justice Department would comment after Drake was sentenced.

But in June, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Lanny Breuer said in a written statement: "Individuals who are granted special access to our nation's most sensitive information cannot unilaterally decide to disregard the law and agreements they make with the government on how that information may be handled."