Former National Security Agency whistleblower Thomas A. Drake says continuing mismanagement and malfeasance have turned the nation's premier electronic spy agency into “the Enron of the U.S. intelligence community.”
Mr. Drake, whose federal criminal case concluded last week, said in an interview with The Washington Times that he thinks management failures at NSA related to electronic surveillance and other issues that he protested — first through internal channels and then by sharing unclassified data with a Baltimore Sun reporter — are continuing.
“The agency never even accepted the basis for the [Pentagon inspector general’s] investigation in the first place,” he said, referring to the internal audit launched after he and others at NSA’s Fort Meade headquarters in Maryland complained about contract fraud and mismanagement.
He compared the agency to the Texas-based energy trading giant Enron Corp., which went bankrupt in 2001 and became a symbol of corporate fraud and corruption.
Mr. Drake was sentenced to one year’s probation and community service last week after the government’s 10 felony counts against him were withdrawn. He instead pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of exceeding authorized access to a government computer.
The judge called the prosecutors’ handling of the case “unconscionable” because it took 2½ years to charge Mr. Drake and another 14 months to bring him to trial before all the major charges were dropped at the last minute.
The Justice Department said this week that it will continue pursuing other cases against intelligence officials accused of leaking classified information.
“The guilty plea of the Drake case has no affect on other pending matters,” Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney told The Times. “Each case is unique, based on its fact and circumstances, and the department is proceeding in the pending cases.”
They include the prosecutions of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling and State Department contractor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, both involving accusations of leaks to reporters.
Another major case is that of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, who is facing military charges related to hundreds of thousands of classified documents obtained in Iraq and passed to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks.
Mr. Drake’s whistleblowing is related to NSA’s multibillion-dollar plan to develop a digital eavesdropping and data storage system called Trailblazer, which would index and analyze large amounts of electronic data that the agency gathers from monitoring computers and telephones around the world.
“There was a cover-up,” Mr. Drake said. “The truth is Trailblazer was an even more abysmal failure than they let on in public.”
In 2005, NSA Director Michael Hayden told Congress that Trailblazer was “a couple to several hundred million” dollars over budget and months behind schedule. The program was abandoned in 2006.
“In the end, they delivered nothing,” Mr. Drake said of contractor SAIC, which was paid $280 million for the demonstration phase of the program. Mr. Drake said executives at NSA, including the deputy director at the time, William B. Black, were former SAIC employees and the contract was “hard-wired for SAIC.”