Last year, Thomas A. Drake, a former employee of the National Security Agency (NSA), was originally charged with a felony under the Espionage Act, a crime subject to a penalty of 35 years. His defense, in effect, was that he was a whistleblower. Recently, Drake was given a plea agreement of a misdemeanor with an agreement by the prosecution that they, according to The New York Times of June 10, “would not oppose a sentence under which Mr. Drake would serve no time.”
Also, according to The Times, prosecutions against the media – Drake had given classified material to a reporter – prior to President Obama “have been extremely rare.”
The President, in my opinion and to his credit, responding to “a bipartisan belief in Congress…that leaks were getting out of hand,” has directed that five such criminal lawsuits be brought, and never more than one under any other president.
President Obama has been criticized because he “entered office promising unprecedented transparency but in less than three years in office has far outdone the security-minded Bush administration in pursuing leaks.”
I received an e-mail from an op ed writer for an article appearing in the Wall Street Journal which article discussed Drake as a whistleblower. My correspondence follows:
“Dear Mr. Mayor, Are whistleblowers heroes or knaves? The answer would seem to depend upon some specific fact. The Thomas Drake affair, which settled in a surprise plea-bargain on late Thursday, is a case study in ambiguities. I explore them in Friday’s Wall Street Journal…All good wishes”
My response: “An employee who disagrees with his employer's policy (he served in the National Security Agency) does not have the right to violate the law and provide classified information to a reporter. Here, after trying to get the policy changed and failing to do so, his options were to go along notwithstanding his disagreement or quit. I do not agree he was a whistleblower entitled to immunity from prosecution. My question is, why hasn't the WikiLeaker, Julian Assange, been indicted for receiving and publishing classified material? All the best.”
The plea bargain provided was offered “after Judge Bennett ruled last week that the government would have to show some of the allegedly classified material to the jury, prosecutors on Sunday withdrew four of the documents and redacted information from two others about N.S.A.’s targeting of a particular telecommunications technology.”
I believe in cases where there is no jury, the government would proceed showing the evidence “in camera,” so it would not be made public. In jury cases, which would generally be the case, couldn’t the evidence be shown to jurors with an admonition by the court that they would be committing a criminal act if they made it public? My guess is few if any jurors would later violate the law and expose themselves to criminal penalties.
I assume the government will bring a case against Julian Assange, who has violated the law with the distribution of hundreds of thousands of documents to the media. Is the American public better off as a result of the leaks? I think not. Undoubtedly, too many documents are classified when they shouldn’t be. Nevertheless, as a result, I believe at least in the case of Assange, lives may have been put at risk and our country’s ability to deal with other countries has been severely jeopardized.
President Obama deserves support for his ordered change in direction of the country vis-à-vis leakers of classified information.
We are now in four wars, three of them the responsibility of President Obama. The four are Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen. The latter three are Obama’s wars. Afghanistan became his when he sent an additional 30,000 troops there. The other two were directly initiated by him.
With the American public suffering through a severely depressed economy requiring layoffs by local governments of teachers, cops and other needed personnel, and that public being told the cherished and needed programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are now on the chopping block to be changed to the point of disfigurement with major reductions in coverage and benefits, that public is in no mood to see new wars initiated and old wars extended, with more than $100 billion spent annually in Afghanistan.
We have been in Iraq for eight years and in Afghanistan for ten years. We lose young American soldiers every week in Afghanistan, too often in Iraq and the military and others want to extend our stay in both countries for additional years.
At the end of the year, President Obama will be faced with the decision of bringing the troops home or leaving large numbers there. Our troops are now being killed by the very Afghani troops they are training to defend their own country.
In Iraq last week, six American soldiers were killed by mortar fire. The Tines reported on June 10th, “Since March 2009, at least 57 people, including 32 American troops, have been killed in at least 19 attacks in which Afghan service members have turned their weapons on coalition forces. Another 64 were wounded…More than half of the casualties occurred in the first five months of this year, signaling an escalation in the number and intensity of the attacks. But while the Taliban often takes credit for these attacks, NATO officials say the majority of the episodes stem from disagreements and arguments that escalate into violence.” Do you believe them?
We know that the U.S. is spending huge amounts in these wars and paying more than 75 percent of NATO’s budget, while our own country can’t spend needed monies on our crumbling infrastructure and China surges ahead with building the largest dams and bullet trains and other needed works, putting their population to work, while we suffer an ongoing unemployment rate in excess of 9 percent.
How long can this go on before we wake up and change. In the words of a civil rights hymn, “How long? Too long.”
The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served New York City as its105th Mayor from 1978 to 1089.