A federal grand jury in Maryland has indicted a former National Security Agency top executive with leaking information to a reporter from a national newspaper.
In this rare case, a 10 count indictment charges Thomas Drake, 52, with the willful retention of classified information, obstruction of justice and making false statements after allegedly providing the information to the reporter.
According to the indictment, Drake allegedly used a secure e-mail account called Hushmail to contact the reporter beginning in November 2005.
The indictment alleges that the reporter published a series of articles that disclosed information about signal intelligence. Drake has been charged with five counts of retaining classified information, stemming from his alleged possession of four classified e-mails, including one that referred to "the collections sites" and a classified document.
"This defendant used a secret, nongovernment e-mail account to transmit classified and unclassified information that he was not authorized to possess or disclose. As if those allegations are not serious enough, he also allegedly later shredded documents and lied about his conduct to federal agents in order to obstruct their investigation," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer in a statement released by the Justice Department.
"Our national security demands that the sort of conduct alleged here -- violating the government's trust by illegally retaining and disclosing classified information -- be prosecuted and prosecuted vigorously," said Breuer.
Reached by ABC News, Drake's attorney, Jim Wyda, said, "We are in the process of reviewing the indictment. We just received it. Mr. Drake has been extraordinarily cooperative with the government throughout this investigation. He loves his country and has served it well for many years. We are deeply disappointed that we could not resolve this matter short of criminal charges being brought. But this is a process. And we now look forward to resolving these matters in a public courtroom."
The case raises a number of important First Amendment questions. Should a former government official provide such highly classified top secret information to a reporter? Is the reporter witnessing and participating in a crime by receiving such information? In an age of terrorism, when resources may be needed elsewhere, should the government be using its investigative powers to go after leaks? And how can the government be held accountable for sometimes wasteful or ineffective classified programs if the public never hears about them?
The Obama administration has acknowledged that in the past, some information has been designated classified when it didn't need to be.
Although disclosing classified and highly sensitive information was at the heart of the CIA investigation into who disclosed the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the only individual charged in that case was I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Libby was charged only with lying to FBI agents and a federal grand jury, not with disclosing the information.