Thomas A. Drake, Former NSA Exec, Pleads Not Guilty In Leak Case

06/23/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

BALTIMORE — A former National Security Agency official pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that he lied and obstructed justice in an investigation of leaks of classified information to a newspaper.

Prosecutors say Thomas Drake, 53, was a source for many articles about the agency in an unidentified paper, including some that contained classified information.

His public defender described the charges as disappointing and unusual considering his client's long history of service to his country.

"There is no evidence that these allegations were motivated by disloyalty, greed or any untoward motive," public defender James Wyda said in a statement after the hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Wyda said the defense is in "profound disagreement" with prosecutors over the facts, interpretation of those facts and principles at stake in what he called an unusual prosecution.

Drake was allowed to remain free pending trial tentatively set for Oct. 18, but surrendered his passport and may not travel outside Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia without approval.

Wyda said Drake served in the U.S. Air Force and later in the Naval Reserves before a long career of public service. Drake told U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett that he was employed by the NSA between 2001 and 2008 and previously was a principal at what he described as several boutique dot-coms.

Department of Justice attorney William Welch said the government expects to call 12 to 15 witnesses in what Bennett estimated would be a two- to three-week jury trial.

The indictment does not identify the reporter, the newspaper or the subject of the stories, but says they were published between February 2006 and November 2007.

The place, time, and type of stories described generally match articles published in The Baltimore Sun about management, technical and budget problems at the intelligence agency, though federal officials have not confirmed that paper was the one cited in the case. A newspaper spokeswoman has declined to comment.

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 sentence of 20 years in prison.