WASHINGTON — A former senior executive at the National Security Agency was charged Thursday with lying and obstruction of justice in an investigation of leaks of classified information to a newspaper.
Federal prosecutors said Thomas Drake, 52, served as a source for many articles about the NSA in an unidentified newspaper, including articles that contained classified information.
A federal indictment filed in Maryland charges that Drake used a nongovernment e-mail account to transmit classified and unclassified information. Authorities also charge that Drake lied to federal agents about what he'd done.
The indictment does not identify the reporter, the newspaper or the subject matter of the stories. It says the stories were published between February 2006 and November 2007.
The place, time, and type of stories described in the indictment generally match articles published in The Baltimore Sun, though federal officials would not confirm that paper was the one cited in the case. Judy Berman, a spokeswoman for the newspaper, declined to comment.
The Washington Post said that the reporter was Siobhan Gorman, an intelligence correspondent for The Baltimore Sun at the time and subsequently at the Wall Street Journal. Calls to the Sun seeking comment were not returned and the Journal declined to comment.
The Justice Department defended the charges against Drake.
"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 the Justice Department's assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer.
Drake faces five counts of willfully retaining documents related to national defense. He is also charged with obstruction of justice and four counts of making false statements to the FBI.
The most serious charge in the 10-count indictment carries a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors say Drake exchanged hundreds of e-mails with the reporter, researched stories for the reporter by asking other NSA employees questions and accessing classified documents, and sent the reporter copies of classified and unclassified documents.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the case is likely to have "a chilling effect on government employees who have information they wish to share with the public."
Dalglish said prosecutors do not appear to have subpoenaed any reporters in the case, which she called an encouraging sign.
"It is a reminder that if you are going to talk to a reporter and you don't want to be identified, you should not use technology to do it," she said.