Judges Hit DOJ in NSA, CIA Leak Cases

Thomas DrakeA Maryland federal judge denounced Justice Department prosecutors for delays and "tyranny" in their prosecution of former National Security Agency official Thomas Drake, who was being sentenced on a reduced charge of unauthorized use of a computer after years of being investigated on felony charges as a suspected leaker. Drake is shown at right in a photo by Stephen Depolo. Meanwhile, a federal judge in a separate leak/whistleblower case provided extensive protections to New York Times reporter James Risen, whom authorities are trying to pressure for assistance in their leak prosecution against former CIA employee Jeffrey Sterling.

The judicial decisions critical of the Obama Justice Department illustrate why whistleblowers told our Project in a story we reported in January that Obama officials are at least as bad for whistleblowers as were those in the Bush administration. Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald summarized the comments of U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett of Baltimore, a 2003 appointee of President Bush, this way regarding the Drake prosecution:

As for the first issue, the court condemned what it called the "extraordinary position taken by the government, probably unprecedented in this courthouse" of dropping the whole case on the eve of trial after "an extraordinary period of delay." Judge Bennett added: "I find that unconscionable. Unconscionable.  It is at the very root of what this country was founded on against general warrants of the British." As for the second issue, the court reviewed the difficult circumstances of Drake's childhood (he was raised in poverty and sent himself to school with risky military service), his complete lack of any prior criminal record, and -- most of all -- the multiple ways in which the failed prosecution destroyed his life ("the financial devastation wrought upon this defendant"), and flatly refused to impose any fine at all, explaining:  "I'm not going to add to that in any way."

What is most notable about this hearing is that the prosecutor candidly described not only his reasons for wanting a substantial fine imposed on Drake, but (without his saying so) also the motive for the Obama DOJ's broader war on whistleblowers: namely, an attempt to send a "message" of intimidation to future would-be whistleblowers.

The top prosecutor in the case is former Justice Department Public Integrity Chief William Welch, who led the notorious federal prosecution of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska in 2008. This is part of a string of denunciations by judges of Welch and his team: U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan vacated the convictions of the now-deceased senator because of evidence that Welch and his team withheld evidence they were required to provide the defense before trial. An Alabama judge in another major federal corruption prosecution this spring lambasted Brenda Morris, also a prosecutor on the Stevens case, for withholding evidence in another major federal corruption prosecution of gambling and bribery suspects.

Separately, European medical doctor and human rights activist Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli published an extended  attack on what he called Sweden's culture of radical feminism, which he said is being perverted to prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange unfairly. The longtime medical school professor drew on his experience analyzing some 400 Swedish cases of post-traumatic stress syndrome for his critique of the current questioning of Assange in Sweden under suspicion of rape.

 

Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment
 

Below are columns referenced above plus significant articles for this week on legal reform and related political, security and media factors. The articles, including a strong representation from independent blogs and other media, contain a sample of news. See the full article by clicking the link.

Drake Case

OpEd News, Punishment for NSA & DOJ Overclassification in Drake Case, Jesselyn Radack, Aug. 2, 2011. Today's New York Times reports that former classification czar J. William Leonard filed a formal complaint with his former office -- the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) - requesting punishment for the National Security Agency (NSA) and Justice Department officials who improperly classified documents in the Espionage Act case against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake. Leonard articulates the significance of his complaint in the Times: “If you’re talking about throwing someone in jail for years, there absolutely has to be responsibility for decisions about what gets classified.”

Daily Kos, Drake's First Op-Ed Since Sentencing, When The Judge Slammed The Justice Department, Jesselyn Radack, Aug. 1, 2011. The Espionage Act was meant to help the government go after spies, not whistle-blowers. Using it to silence public servants who reveal government malfeasance is chilling at best and tyrannical at worst.  This administration's attack on national-security whistle-blowers expands Bush's secrecy regime and cripples the free press by silencing its most important sources. It's a recipe for the slow poisoning of a democracy.

Washingtonian, William Welch: Obama Administration’s Point Man to Stop Leaks, Shane Harris, July 20, 2011. The prosecutor has been called a tenacious and tough-as-nails lawyer, but also overzealous. On June 10, one of the biggest cases in the Obama administration’s campaign to stanch leaks of sensitive government information to the press collapsed when the Justice Department dropped espionage charges against Thomas Drake, a former senior official at the National Security Agency. But just three days before the trial was scheduled to begin, the lead federal prosecutor, William M. Welch II, told the judge that he couldn’t proceed without revealing details in court about classified systems that NSA uses to eavesdrop on global communications. Welch is now the administration’s point man in its historic anti-leaks campaign. He is prosecuting a former CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling, and he has subpoenaed James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter, to testify about whether Sterling was the source for the journalist’s book State of War, which revealed that the CIA may have botched classified operations against Iran.

Washington Post, Judge: Government’s treatment of alleged leaker Thomas Drake was ‘unconscionable’, Ellen Nakashima, July 29, 2011. A federal judge ripped into U.S. prosecutors’ treatment of a former spy agency official accused of leaking classified material, calling delays in the now-closed case “unconscionable” and comparing it to British tyranny in the colonial era. In 2007, FBI agents raided the house of Thomas Drake, then an official at the National Security Agency, but it took another two and a half years for officials to indict him.

CIA Investigation

New York Times, Judge Agrees to Limit Writer’s Testimony, Charlie Savage, July 29, 2011. A federal judge dealt a setback on Friday to the Obama administration’s crackdown on the leaking of government secrets to journalists, sharply limiting what prosecutors can ask the author of a book about the C.I.A. in court. July 29, 2011. Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of the Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., issued an order that had been sought by the author, James Risen — who is also a reporter for The New York Times — restricting his testimony in the trial of a former Central Intelligence Agency official, Jeffrey A. Sterling, who is charged with providing classified information to Mr. Risen.  Specialists in media law portrayed the ruling as highly unusual, saying it could set an important precedent. While many states have so-called media shield laws that allow judges to quash subpoenas ordering reporters to testify about their sources by balancing the needs of prosecutors with the public interest, the federal government has no such statute.

Salon / Unclaimed Territory, Obama's whistleblower war suffers two defeats, Glenn Greenwald, June 30, 2011. The Obama administration's unprecedented war on whistleblowers suffered two serious and well-deserved defeats. The first occurred in the prosecution of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who was accused of multiple acts of espionage, only for the DOJ to drop virtually all of the charges right before the trial was to begin and enter into a plea agreement for one minor misdemeanor. Today, The Washington Post -- under the headline "Judge blasts prosecution of alleged NSA leaker" -- reports that the federal judge presiding over the case "harshly criticized U.S. prosecutors’ treatment of a former spy agency official accused of leaking classified material."

Assange Investigation

Professors Blogg, Pseudo-Science in Swedish Rape Trials, Dr. Marcello Ferrada de Noli, July 29, 2011. The main aim of this analysis is to clarify research and clinical psychiatric concepts about the diagnosis post-traumatic stress disorder, as improperly or deceivingly used by Swedish radical feminists, professionals or laymen, in rape trials in Swedish courts, as well with the Swedish public through the mainstream media. On the eve of a London court decision regarding the extradition of Julian Assange to Sweden, speculations have been raised as to whether similar "expert documents" on behalf of the prosecution will be also used in the Assange case. The subject is explained against the backdrop of radical and state feminism in Sweden.

One prevalent official thesis spread by the Swedish mainstream media in the Assange case is that the WikiLeaks founder should be held responsible for the damage to the prestige of Swedish institutions, such as the Swedish legal system. This thesis was, for instance, clearly stated by the state-owned television network SVT in their documentary 'Julian Assange -- The World's Love Affair' of 7/4 2011. The documentary opens with the statement, “How could the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange get the world to question Sweden's credibility”?

Beyond a doubt, the objective of the above classic psychological warfare publicist trick was to assemble around the government and the prosecution office a "national", united support for the Swedish public trough, playing on patriotic sentiments such as "Sweden is under attack by Assange", "a foreign born anarchist raped two Swedish girls" ("de här tjejerna" as Claes Borgström used to refer to them). In fact, they are two fully adult women who've had non-violent and repeatedly consensual standard sex with Assange. The psychologists aiding the Swedish command in their psychological warfare strategy to secure support for the military intervention in Afghanistan, support for the open entrance into NATO, support for the sale of information about Swedish citizens to foreign powers, and so forth: They're shooting Sweden in the foot when they try to score with the Assange card. It is these people, as well as the media, that are making an international shame of Sweden.

OpEd News, Whistleblower Says: Obama's DoJ Declares War on Whistleblowers, Andrew Kreig /Justice Integrity Project, Jan. 10, 2011.

More Washington News

Michele BachmannNational Press Club, Bachmann won’t support debt-limit plan that fails to revamp federal spending, Terry Hill, July 29, 2011. Video. With the hours quickly dwindling before the U.S. House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on raising the national debt limit, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann told a National Press Club audience on July 28 that she would oppose any effort to raise the debt ceiling that did not revamp U.S. spending policies. (Bachmann is shown at left in a Press Club photo by Sam Hurd.)John Boehner

Huffington Post, John Boehner Backed Deregulation Of Online Learning, Leading To Explosive Growth At For-Profit Colleges, Chris Kirkham, July 29, 2011. With a mere eight lines buried in an 82,000-word budget bill passed in 2006, Congress eliminated legislation that had for more than a decade limited how many students colleges could enroll in online courses -- rules aimed at protecting students against dubious programs. Those eight lines have proven a potent fertilizer for a for-profit college industry that has since grown to enormous proportions, collecting most of its profits via federal student aid dollars.

 

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